The entire Gahanna Lincoln High School DECA chapter will compete at the International DECA Competition April on 21-24 in Atlanta after qualifying at a state contest earlier this month.

Adviser Christopher "Kit" Lynch said he's proud of the chapter's 26 students, who all are seniors.

"Thinking about the past decade, there's only been a couple years where the entire chapter has qualified to compete at the international level," Lynch said. "This year's class has put a lot of extra time into their projects, including snow days and some weekends, and the depth of their research and marketing plans has really set them apart."

More than 2,000 high school students from across the state competed at this year's Ohio DECA State Marketing Competition on March 9 and 10 in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

The Gahanna Lincoln DECA chapter students finished within the top four in their event areas to qualify for the international competition.

In the months preceding the competition, Gahanna students completed 30-page research projects to help area businesses solve real-world problems. During the competition, students presented and defended their projects before a panel of business professionals.

Ankita Satish and her project partner, Kristopher Sutter, took first place in Business Service Operations Research.

"We got to pick the topic, and we chose Uber, because Mr. Lynch has a former student who works for Uber," Satish said. "We made a project to improve the overall customer experience of Uber."

Satish said they conducted research and found the main problem Uber faces is riders trying to find their drivers and poor public relations.

"What we did was introduce some new features, including a flashing display through the Uber app that's customizable," she said.

"Recently, Uber implemented a beacon system that's a device on the driver's side of the dashboard. We wanted to put something on the rider's side that would be a flashing display through their phone.

"Currently, you can only change the color of the beacon device. We wanted to create something along with the beacon system. It's a screen you can pull up from your Uber app," she said.

The students also suggested creating a partnership with Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology fields.

"We suggested certain proceeds could benefit the nonprofit, and it would help their overall image," Satish said.

She said it was exciting that their project advanced to the internationals.

"Everyone in DECA qualified for internationals, which is really crazy," Satish said. "None of us really knew how it worked or what to expect. It was cool to place first and to have everyone in our chapter qualify."

Lauren Brehm and her teammate, Mallory Moehring, placed first in Sports and Entertainment Marketing Research.

"My partner and I decided to work with COSI to improve the customer experience," Brehm said.

After talking to the organization's leaders to identify a challenge, a goal was to find ways to improve attendance and the visitor experience.

"We held a focus group with long-time guests," Brehm said.

"One thing they shared was hours of operation were hard for people to get to. We suggested improving their hours. They also told how COSI's exhibits don't have hands-on activities and it was more like a museum," she said.

The students suggested a jungle-gym feature and integrating some technology to improve the organization's mobile app to make it more interactive.

Satish said she and her partner are prepared to "step up our game" for the internationals.

"We're working on improving our presentation to make it look as professional as possible. We're also trying to improve our presentation technique. I think that will give us an edge," she said.

While in Atlanta, Gahanna students plans to tour the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium.

Gahanna students at the Ohio DECA State Marketing Competition, listed with their event, client and placing, were:

* Ankita Satish, Kristopher Sutter; Business Services Operations Research; Uber; first.

* Lilly Bedell, Elizabeth Reese, Long Tran; Creative Marketing Project; city of Gahanna; first.

* Imad Faqih, Hannah Snedden; Hospitality and Tourism Operations Research; the Roosevelt Coffeehouse; first.

* Lauren Brehm, Mallory Moehring; Sports and Entertainment Marketing Research; COSI; first.

* Eric Johnson, Erin Patterson; Buying and Merchandising Operations Research; Abercrombie & Fitch; second.

* McKenna Carr, Mitchel Megias, Sammy Polonia; Business Services Operations Research; Mount Carmel Hospital; second.

* Natalie Chen, Joshua Russell; Hospitality and Tourism Operations Research; Fusian; second.

* Jordan Foulke, Allison Groves; Sports and Entertainment Marketing Research; the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium; second.

* Kelsey Thorpe, Kelly McCarter; International Business Plan; Express; second.

* Braden Eves, Bradley Sheeran; Franchise Business Plan; Matco Tools; third.

* Mason Coleman, Claire Steigerwald; Buying and Merchandising Operations Research; Second Sole; fourth.

* Gabriella Christoff, Ryan Taylor; Finance Operations Research; Heartland Bank; fourth.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla