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Kansas Wesleyan University

EDITOR’S NOTE: This continues a series of feature stories on 2022 graduates.
Celine Wetiba — May 4

The decision to transfer from Bethany College after one semester was firm, but the looming question was, where Karley Benson would go?

Tennis was a big part of the equation, as was academics, and she sought a place that would help her choose the right career path and give her the tools to succeed. Benson had played tennis at Salina Central High School, wasn’t ready to hang up her racquet and was acquainted with Kansas Wesleyan coach Josh Molino.

She opted to come home to Salina and KWU.

“I had a lot of connections here and probably a few more opportunities than I would have had if I went somewhere else,” she said.

Selecting a suitable major was the next important step. Enter Wesleyan’s Department of Business and Accounting and Dr. Tricia Petak, who coaches KWU’s DECA team.

“I really didn’t know a lot about it until my sophomore year,” Benson said. “I’m a really big fan of the Business faculty, so when they told me that they thought that it would be a good idea to do that and compete, I took their advice. I had a couple of teammates also on the tennis team that had competed in the past and they enjoyed it.”

Three years later, with a degree in Business Management and Accounting nearing completion and graduation on the horizon, Benson’s ready for life after KWU – her college experience enriched by competing and succeeding in DECA and tennis.

And she’s leaving after a monumental final semester. Benson placed first in Restaurant and Food Management and first in Hotel and Lodging at the DECA state competition Jan. 28 in Hillsboro, then took second in Restaurant and Food Management at the International DECA Competition April 9-12 in Baltimore – her second consecutive top 3 finish.

“You get a set of facts and information on a problem that an organization or a company might be having,” Benson said of a DECA event. “You have to build a strategy and create a presentation about how you would go about solving that problem and you present it to a judge. They can ask you questions, it’s really interactive. There’s also certain performance metrics you have to hit throughout the presentation that are non-negotiable.”

Petak, an associate professor of Business and Accounting, said Benson would have been successful in any DECA endeavor.

“Karley is the one student I could place in any category and she would still be at the top – any management, marketing or financial type of event she understands all facets of business extremely well,” she said. “Karley’s ability to communicate complex ideas strategically allowed her to reach high-level DECA finishes in 2021 and 2022.”

Various experiences working at Martinelli’s Little Italy while in high school, and at The Library Sports Bar & Grill currently, led Benson to choose Restaurant and Food Management.

“I’ve worked basically any job that you can do at a restaurant,” she said.

There is a drawback, though – going out to eat isn’t as enjoyable as it once was.

“What I think when I go into a restaurant is ‘I’m glad this place isn’t mine’ because I can see all of the problems and all of the things that you would have to address,” she said. “I’m thinking about the servers and how many other tables they have, what the wait time is, how long people have been sitting there … I’d never sleep because I wouldn’t be able to calm down.”

On the tennis courts, Benson played singles and doubles and was named All-Kansas Conference Honorable Mention this spring for the second consecutive season.

Though seemingly unrelated, Benson said, tennis has attributes that benefit DECA.

“Tennis is an individual sport that teaches you a lot about perseverance and a lot about how important confidence is and problem solving,” she said. “It’s a really mental sport. You can have the best technique and be the fastest and be the most athletic but if you’re not making good decisions on the court, you’re not going to be successful.”

DECA successes aside, Benson’s initial career path will be in another direction.

“I’m not pursuing any restaurant or food service just because it’s really hard to find a job in a management capacity if you don’t have any management experience,” she said. “I want to go to law school eventually. I’m really interested in a few finance firms that I can see myself working at for one or two years.”

DECA, Benson said, will help in a law career as well.

“I feel like it has helped me be more confident with my public speaking skills and trusting myself when I’m talking,” she said. “(As an attorney) you’re in a conversation (with a jury) and you can’t plan out everything you’re going to say, so you have to be quick on your feet.”

Story by Bob Davidson