WORTHINGTON - One was an old hand and the other a relative greenhorn, but the two Worthington High School (WHS) seniors who attended last weekend’s National Business Professionals of America Leadership Conference in Anaheim, Calif., both represented their school and community proudly.


“They were great representatives,” assured Penny Troe, the WHS BPA adviser for over 22 years.


Alvaro Fernandez-Rodriguez - a four-year BPA member who qualified for the national conference by virtue of compiling the necessary 70 “Torch points” in each of seven categories since joining BPA as a ninth-grader - and New Bu, a first-year BPA member who made it due to his high finish in the digital media production category at the state level, found their May 1-5 trip to Anaheim both meaningful and motivating.


“It was a very inspirational experience,” said Fernandez-Rodriguez. “I was really inspired to work harder in the upcoming years, and I’d like to continue in BPA at the post-secondary level.”


Added Bu, “There were a lot of people everywhere, and they were from all over the U.S.


“Seeing all the other kids striving to get top places in the various events they were doing, and meeting new people, was really fun and worthwhile.”


Troe has taken at least one student to the annual National BPA Leadership Conference in all but a couple of the 20-plus years she has led the WHS BPA chapter.

“We’ve been very successful over time,” she said. “There are maybe as many as 15,000 students at the national conference - there are different levels, including middle, high school, post-secondary and alumni - and they compete to earn awards and certifications.”


Fernandez-Rodriguez, the fifth and youngest child of Antonio Fernandez and Oliva Rodriguez, Worthington, joined BPA in ninth grade.


“My first area of competition was graphic design, and I continued exploring other competitions I liked from there,” said Fernandez-Rodriguez. “I went to state BPA in my sophomore, junior and senior years.”


As he watched upperclassmen advance in BPA, and his Class of ’19 peer Andy Garcia achieve the necessary number of Torch points to qualify for a trip to nationals in 2018, Fernandez-Rodriguez aspired to do the same.


“BPA supports and encourages students in striving for the positive qualities represented by the seven Torch categories [Leadership, Service, Cooperation, Knowledge, Friendship, Patriotism and Love/Hope/Faith],” said Fernandez-Rodriguez.


He explained that Torch points are earned in five- to 10-point increments for things such as his initiative in setting up a local BPA chapter recruitment night and corresponding activities, and for discussing Minnesota education policy with District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton during a field trip to St. Paul with his AP U.S. History class.


“BPA has a lot of opportunity for students,” said Fernandez-Rodriguez. “At the national conference, I learned about even more awards I wasn’t aware of before.


“BPA has been a valuable and important part of my high school experience.”


While BPA has, indeed, been a central pillar of Fernandez-Rodriguez’s time at WHS, (along with soccer and work in the electronics department at Walmart), Bu came relatively late to the organization.


Bu was previously occupied in numerous ways at WHS; a trombonist, he plays in the WHS band and jazz band, and he also sings in the Concert Choir and Vox.


Additionally, Bu played soccer, ran track, is a National Honor Society member, participated in Knowledge Bowl, was in speech, has been a SADD member since his sophomore year and played a lead role in the February 2019 musical “The Secret Garden.”


“Keeping busy with all these activities helped me manage my time between studying and extracurriculars,” said Bu, the son of Nyi Bu and Mue Tah, Worthington. He’s the second of their four children.


“It’s my last year of high school, so I decided to try whatever things were left; you just have to go out and do it and give it your all or don’t do it at all,” he continued.


“I’m busy, but it’s more fun if you’re involved, and being involved helps you learn new things.”


Two of Bu’s friends - Ben Lopez and Andy Garcia - recruited him and a few other classmates into BPA late last fall because they wanted to form a BPA Parliamentary Procedure team, which requires at least six participants.


Bu agreed to try it, and he also created an entry in the digital media production category based on the 2019 BPA theme of “BPA Cares.”


“That focuses on service, like when students get involved to help with their community,” Bu explained.


Bu’s entry was good enough to achieve runner-up national status at the state BPA contest in early March, and when another candidate just above him was unable to go, Bu was called up for the national conference.


Fernandez-Rodriguez, meanwhile, placed fifth at state as one of four members of the WHS broadcast news production team; he also competed in Interview Skills and Spreadsheet Applications.


“I enjoyed competing in those,” he said. “Especially in Interview Skills, it really helps you learn how to be comfortable in those types of real-life situations.”


Because BPA adviser Troe knows the ropes at nationals, she encouraged her two students to compete in all 10 of the Open Event categories (such as Computer Programming Concepts, Financial Math and Analysis Concepts and more) there.


“Those are 50-question tests,” explained Fernandez-Rodriguez. “We were taking them with 300 to 500 other students at a time.”


Incidentally, at the national Open Event competition on Parliamentary Procedures Concepts, Bu placed 188th out of 346 test-takers; Fernandez-Rodriguez was 145th out of 337 in the Digital Communication and Design Concepts-Pilot test.


But it wasn’t all work and no play for Bu and Fernandez-Rodriguez; with temperatures in the mid-70s, they had a chance to visit both the Santa Monica and Newport beaches, plus spend some time at the Disney California Adventure Park.


“It was worthwhile,” said Bu, who will attend St. Cloud State University next fall with the intent to pursue a career in mechanical engineering.


“I’m really glad I joined BPA, and I’ve got to thank Mrs. Troe for helping us and keeping us on task; she’s a big factor in how we got to California in the first place.”


Fernandez-Rodriguez, who will attend Minnesota West Community and Technical College next year before advancing to a state university as a likely computer science major, agrees.


“Mrs. Troe has been extremely supportive,” he said. “She’s the best adviser, in my opinion, and a great person who pushes us to work harder and get our stuff done.”


Indeed, Troe and the National BPA Conference have prodded Fernandez-Rodriguez to set his sights high.


Asserted Fernandez-Rodriguez, “I’d like to be a national BPA champion at the post-secondary level some day.”


Bu and Fernandez-Rodriguez are among the 10 WHS BPA chapter members who will receive BPA letters for their achievements this season at the WHS Academic Awards Ceremony at 1:30 p.m. next Wednesday.