Learning to lead in a virtual world

The Pennsylvania TSA State Conference was held virtually this year. As a result, event preparation, live competition, and interviews all had to adapt to this new format. Read to learn more about these chances.

LM’s Technology Student Association (TSA) chapter has been hard at work this school year, collaborating with one another to complete their events. TSA members anxiously anticipated the PA State TSA competition, which occurred online for the first time ever. Usually, the State competition is a big and exciting endeavor: a multi-day-long trip at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in western Pennsylvania.

As a club, TSA covers a wide range of topics and skills. It can be very research and construction-based, but also artistic for those who like that aspect. On one hand, TSA offers technology-oriented events, like coding and Engineering Design, but students can also compete in fashion design technology or promotional design, both of which are more art-focused. It’s not quite as clear cut, however, with design and digital display components of Engineering Design and technological work as part of Fashion Design.

Many events require problem-solving skills to come up with solutions for a given scenario. Some events have even adopted COVID-19-themed problems; Architectural Design’s theme was to take a public building and make it safe for the pandemic. Maya Taylor ’23 competed in this event, working with her group to adapt the local restaurant, True Food. Her group rearranged the seating so that it would be spaced further apart for COVID, taking into careful consideration the traffic flow of customers. She described the process, stating, “Some people designed and sketched everything, the old and new to show the changes. My job was working on the portfolio. We had to do a ton of research about the different systems like heating and ventilation and lighting and plumbing; all the nitty gritty details. We had to talk about how we changed the restaurant from what it was.” 

Officer Katie Fang ’23 describes the contrast between this year’s altered conference and the usual competition, stating that “many events this year utilized a pre-conference submission period of about a week in which we submit our portfolios and projects.” Once the judges decided semi-finalists, the winning groups completed an interview to determine the final placements. The interviews, due to the unique nature of this year, were held over Zoom. Other events, such as Chapter Team, took monitored online tests. 

While a virtual TSA State conference felt less than ideal for some students, the officers accommodated in any way they could to ensure that they made the most of this year. After all, with States normally occurring in the spring, last year’s competition was yet another casualty of the beginning of the pandemic. Officers have been working hard to keep things running. Fang describes the workload: “We’ve mostly just been focusing on trying to keep the club running so a lot of logistics stuff. And we also had a sweatshirt design competition recently. We had members enter their designs and then we had them vote on them. So that’s one of the fun things we did to try to get members engaged and have something fun to do.” General membership also felt the effects, of course. Taylor reflects on her experiences this year, noting that the special circumstances have led to more last-minute work than usual. Furthermore, overlapping Zoom calls proved an issue, complicating the times that groups could meet, and families, pets, phones, and more served as distractions for fatigued group members. However, Taylor insists there were some benefits of the virtual formatting, asserting, “It’s also easier because we could meet the day of [the submission deadline]. We could meet at 10 at night if we needed to, and stay much later than in person. Now, there’s more flexibility to meet later or earlier in the morning.”

States took place from April 14 through April 17. The officers, club members, and advisors have all worked hard to ensure the success and continuity of the TSA competition season, and the results reflected this dedication. 42 teams and individual students placed in the top ten in their respective events. 17 teams and individuals placed in the top three. Finally, at the end of the awards ceremony, LM took home the trophy for the event Chapter Team, a prominent achievement in TSA. As shown by their spectacular performance, the perseverance and tenacity of the students involved is undeniable.