More than 45,000 students in 25 states and Puerto Rico are members of the Business Professionals of America this year.
Just eight of those students were from Colstrip High School, and one of them, 18-year-old Bailey Quin Menahan, recently won the organization’s first ever Secondary Student of the Year Award.
Jeannette Barreto, the BPA chapter adviser in Colstrip, said the group was “extremely surprised” when the award was announced. Barreto quickly clarified that, saying she wasn’t particularly surprised that Bailey had won.
“Given what she did throughout the four years, no, I was not,” she said. “But when you look at the number of students running for the award, we just didn’t think anyone from Montana would win.”
Bailey was more than surprised herself. When she first saw the email announcing she’d won, she thought it must be about the interviewing-skills competition she would be competing in at the BPA’s national conference in May. Even when she read the email more closely it was hard to believe.
But then she went to the BPA website and she saw her essay, the one she wrote as part of the competition, on the home page.
“It had my name on it, and the title ‘Student of the Year,’ so that’s when it really hit me,” she said.
The Colstrip chapter of the BPA meets once a week at lunchtime during the school year, working on finance, accounting, marketing, interviewing, entrepreneurship, software programming and other skills. But a big part of belonging to the BPA also means getting involved in community service projects all year long.
During her four years at Colstrip High—Bailey graduated on May 21, six days after returning from the BPA conference in Orlando, Fla.—she has been a strong supporter of Special Olympics and Relay for Life of Rosebud County and she was a page in the state House during the 2017 Legislature.
She also played a big role, one usually filled by a school administrator, in establishing a Graduation Matters program at Colstrip High, created under former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau to increase graduation rates statewide.
Bailey also spent four weeks in Thailand last summer, in an exchange program organized by the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana, studying climate change and working at an organic garden and at a school, teaching English.
At Colstrip High, she was active in track, volleyball, softball, pep band and cheerleading, and by her senior year she had earned enough credits to take a work-study job in the document management department at Talen Energy’s Colstrip power plant. She worked there five days a week from 6 to 10 a.m., starting her school day at 10:30.
“She’s very involved,” Barreto said. “She’s very busy all day, all year long.”
Baretto said about 375 Montana students attended the national conference this year, part of a gathering that included about 12,000 students, advisers and chaperones. When Bailey was given her award at the conference, she gave a short speech before an audience numbering in the thousands.
“It was a little bit overwhelming, but she did well,” Baretto said. “It was pretty cool.”
This was Bailey’s fourth national conference, which students can attend by earning enough points in each of nine “pillars” of BPA membership, including leadership and service. Borreto said Bailey was one of very few Colstrip students to earn enough points during all four high school years to attend the national gathering.
This year she qualified another way, by winning the advanced interviewing skills competition at the state conference in Billings, qualifying her to compete in the nationals. There she placed 18th out of 46 competitors. She also placed 17th of 651 participants in the Merit Scholar Exam.
How does she find the time for everything she’s involved in?
“I guess I just manage everything really good, and I don’t say ‘no,’” she said. “I’m an opportunist, I like to call myself.”
She’s also inspired by her parents, Pat, a tipple operator at the Westmoreland Coal Co.’s Rosebud Mine, and Brenda, who is in charge of work management programs and systems at the power plant.
“They are so supportive,” Bailey said. “They just pushed me to be the best I could be.” They also showed her the way in community service. “They’re always willing to give back,” she said. “They’re the most selfless people I know.”
She’ll be attending the University of Montana in Missoula starting in the fall, with plans to major in political science and minor in environmental science. She has also been accepted as a fellow in the Franke Global Leadership Initiative, a four-year, 12-credit certificate program that seeks to train future leaders.
Law school is a possibility, too, as is getting involved in politics—what she called “following the family footsteps.”
Her paternal grandfather was William “Red” Menahan, an Anaconda Democrat who served in the state House from 1970 to 2000. Her uncle, Mike Menahan, served two terms in the state House and is now a District Court judge in Helena. On her mother’s side, Bailey said, is Rosebud County Commissioner Doug Martens, who’s married to her mother’s cousin.