UNI student Wesley Clark competes at national Microsoft Excel competition
When Wesley Clark (Accounting and Finance, ‘24) sat down to take his Excel certification exam as part of the Introduction to Information Systems course at the Wilson College of Business, he had no idea the path it would send him down. He had prior experience with Excel in previous internships, so he was proficient, but when he received an email a few months later indicating he was chosen to compete at Certiport’s 2023 Microsoft Office Specialist U.S. National Championship in Orlando, Florida, he was shocked.
“Honestly, the first thing I did was check who the email was from. I thought it was spam. I had no clue what it was talking about,” Clark said with a laugh. But when Betsy Ratchford, instructor of management information systems, confirmed it in a follow-up email, he realized it was real. “Then I realized what a cool opportunity this was, and it was a great experience.”
Turns out, Clark scored 975 out of 1,000 points, and that earned him a ticket to the national competition this past June. He competed against students from all over the country in a battle of Excel wits to earn scholarships, prizes, trophies, certificates and an all-expenses-paid trip to the international championship. While Clark didn’t place in the top 3, he gained valuable experience and added a nice accolade to his resume and LinkedIn profile.
“In the two interviews I had after the competition, they both asked about it,” Clark said. “So it was an instant talking piece, and it draws their eyes right away.”
There were also activities outside of the competition, like attending Disney Springs, or eating dinner with other competitors to network. At the award ceremony, every student was named, called up to the stage, then grouped by which state they were from. They called it the “Parade of Champions.”
Ratchford also attended, participating in sessions for the educators and, learning about various types of program certifications. Since returning, she has already started looking into adding some of those certifications into her courses and the program.
“This was such a great opportunity for him, and we’re very proud of him for representing us in such a neat competition,” Ratchford said. “They really make you feel special when you’re there, and Microsoft makes this a big production to make the students and faculty feel special.”
Gaining hard skills is a priority at the Wilson College of Business. Not only are courses on Excel and other programs offered through the Professional Readiness Program – some of which are required for business students to take – but they are often intertwined with regular coursework, as was the case for Clark and Introduction to Information Systems. All students who take the class are required to take the associate-level Excel exam, which tests students in basic and some advanced Excel functions.
Ratchford said employer demand for graduates with Excel skills is why the College places such an emphasis on providing opportunities to learn the program.
“We’ve learned over time that Excel is one of the top two skills necessary in entry-level business positions, regardless of major,” Ratchford said “So we thought giving them this opportunity to take the exam wouldn’t just be beneficial to employers, but also to the employees who are ready for business after graduating.”
For Clark, gaining those hard skills is essential. Not only does he use Excel and other programs daily at his internships, but he also expects to use them throughout his professional career. It doesn’t hurt that he earned an external recognition for his Excel skills at a national level either.
“Learning hard skills is important,” Clark said. “Like with Excel itself, you can apply it right away when you start that job. UNI does a good job teaching those skills that you wouldn’t necessarily get in a traditional classroom setting. UNI digs into all these programs and topics and gives you a leg up on others who may not know as much about these topics.”