What are CTSOs and how do they benefit our future?

The members of Career and Technical Student Organizations will become our future business employees, owners, community leaders and engaged citizens who we can vote for in elections in our lifetime.

FBLA is one of eight Career and Technical Student Organizations offered through career and technical education programs. Pictured are Hatton-Northwood FBLA members Elizabeth Pinke and Addison Uglem, following their broadcast journalism event at State FBLA, April 3, 2023 in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

Name a CTSO.

You most likely know of Career and Technical Student Organizations, or CTSOs as they’re called in education circles. You most likely participated in one or a few yourself. Why do they matter today, to our futures?

The members of CTSOs — who will become our future business employees, owners, community leaders and engaged citizens who we can vote for in elections in our lifetime — are developing skillsets and leadership qualities through their participation in the programs.

FFA is one CTSO that many in and around agriculture are most often connected to through schools, states and the national level. Our now-adult son was most active in FFA.

FFA is one of eight CTSOs, or Career and Technical Student Organizations. FFA chapters accompany agriculture education programs in schools in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

Working and living in agriculture, I connect the importance and value of agriculture education and the impact of FFA chapters directly on the future of agriculture, our rural communities and nation. My husband was an active FFA member. I’ve been a FFA volunteer and advocate for decades.


Today, our son, Hunter, doesn’t live and work in agriculture. He’s a graduate student. I see how his FFA skills transfer into the public speaking he does in schools and at events.

While he doesnt work in agriculture today, Hunter Pinke uses the speaking and communication skills he honed in his years as an FFA member. Pictured is the 2021 North Dakota State FFA convention in Fargo, North Dakota, where Pinke was an opening keynote speaker. He was an active FFA member from 2012-16.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

This month, our ninth-grade-daughter Elizabeth participates in two CTSO statewide conferences in North Dakota : FBLA and HOSA. Both are organizations she’s chosen based on her interests and thinking of her future career options.

CTSOs include:

  1. Business Professionals of America
  2. DECA
  3. Family, Career and Community Leaders of America
  4. Future Business Leaders of America
  5. HOSA - Future Health Professionals
  6. National FFA Organization
  7. SkillsUSA
  8. Technology Student Association

First up for Elizabeth was state FBLA scheduled for this week. Later this month is state HOSA.
Due to an April blizzard in the forecast, our trip to the state FBLA conference was cut short, condensed into a Sunday evening and Monday. Despite wanting to complain about the winter that continues into the spring, holding a shortened statewide conference far outweighs the zero options of three years ago when the entire spring of in-person school activities was canceled due to the pandemic.

I overheard one FBLA advisor say, “Some day these kids will get a normal state conference!”

Thirty nine students attended from our rural school co-op, taking business tests and presenting an array of relevant business categories, all in 24 hours before we drove back to our homes, ahead of the impending blizzard. I served as a parent chaperone for the second year, utilizing volunteer hours my employer Forum Communications Company gives us each year to use.

Katie Pinke, left, attended the North Dakota Future Business Leaders of America convention with her daughter Elizabeth, right in 2022.
Katie and Elizabeth Pinke at FBLA in 2022.

Late Sunday night, Elizabeth and her friend and presentation partner Addison practiced their broadcast journalism presentation in my hotel room. I sat and listened, seeing the skills I've seen them use in 4-H and speech come together in their FBLA presentation.

The content of their newscast included real-world topics from the war in Ukraine, inflation, weather and a small business story of a local farmer.


Career and technical education and the respective student organizations contribute to building leadership skills and developing career paths for our youth. Students use math, science, English — all core subjects — to develop their career and technical education skills. This may be basic for educators to read, but as a bystander parent chaperone and business owner, I place it on a pedestal of success and want to champion more CTSO engagement for more students.

Another takeaway of seeing state FBLA in action is there are a lot of business leaders collaborating with CTSOs to raise up strong student leaders for our future businesses, schools and communities. I listened in and attended workshops during the state FBLA sessions. Support your local schools and CTSOs when they ask for donations, speakers and assistance in different ways.

During a week of gut-wrenching, horrific news stories that make me want to keep my kids home and protect them from the world’s atrocities, I flipped to find deep gratitude and shining hope for our future generations in our short time at state FBLA.

Whether it’s FBLA, HOSA, FFA or another CTSO, engaging our kids to participate in these organizations proves to be fantastic space and place for developing our future leaders, in our communities, on our farms, in our businesses, no matter the career path they choose.

Thank you to the many who contribute to CTSOs and career and technical education. I see you and am a parent who will show up and support your students and programs into the future.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

Katie Pinke serves as Agweek and AgweekTV's publisher and general manager and since 2015 has written a weekly column. Pinke resides in rural North Dakota with her husband and children where she is a 4-H leader, active community volunteer, and a proud fifth-generation farmers' daughter.
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