Going where no RC student has gone before
Sophomore Eric Shaffer becomes first Rancho Cotate student to qualify for FBLA national competition
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By Dave Williams  May 17, 2013 12:00 am

Trudy Nye has been involved with educating business students at Rancho Cotate High School for more than 25 years, but never in her time has she come across a student like Eric Shaffer.

Shaffer has the best mind of any high school sophomore in the state for computer problem solving. He proved it last month by winning first place in the computer solving category at the Future Business Leaders of America state competition.

Winning the competition makes Shaffer the first student in Rancho Cotate history to qualify for the national competition, which takes place in June in Anaheim. Shaffer also placed fourth in the category of Introduction to Tech Concepts. The top three in each category advance to the national competition. The competitor who placed third in Introduction to Tech Concepts actually dropped out, which meant Shaffer qualified for that competition as well. But state rules stipulate a competitor can compete in only one category.

Seven FBLA sections

In California, the FBLA is divided into seven sections, and Rancho Cotate is the Bay Section, arguably the most competitive in the country. The Bay Section includes high schools from the Silicon Valley, a hotbed for technology innovation.

The FBLA is a national nonprofit education association with a quarter million students preparing for careers in business and business-related fields. The association has four divisions: FBLA for high school students; FBLA-Middle Level for junior high, middle and intermediate school students; Phi Beta Lambda (PBL) for postsecondary students; and Professional Division for businesspeople, FBLA-PBL alumni, educators and parents who support the goals of the association.

Business teachers, advisers, advisory councils (including school officials, businesspeople, and community representatives) guide local chapters. State advisers and committee members coordinate chapter activities for the national organization.

Surprise victory

Shaffer’s victory came as a surprise to him because the previous year, he finished in fourth place.

“First place is really amazing,” Shaffer said. “I’m really proud, because I thought I’d be stuck in fourth place for the rest of my time in FBLA.”

He said he was more concerned with making it out of the Bay Section competition because this year’s test was more difficult than the year before.

“At state, it got easier,” he said.

Nye said one reason Shaffer has done so well is his attitude.

“He’s always so positive,” Nye said. “Technology is something he really loves, and he’s able to test in an area he really loves. He’s actually showing me new stuff about technology. But he’s really a humble, low-key ”

From Wyoming to California

Shaffer’s love for technology has been with him since his preteen years. He and his family moved to California from Evanston, Wyo., a little more than four years ago. Evanston is near the border of Wyoming and Utah. 

The change in locale did wonders for him because it gave him easier access to computer supply stores.

“In Wyoming, there were times when we’d have to drive 100 miles to find computer stores with the supplies I needed,” Shaffer said. “Yeah, there was Walmart, but there are only certain things you can get at Walmart. The closest city that had stores with the things I needed was in Park City, Utah.”

Shaffer says he prepares for competitions by spending nearly four hours a day on his computer.

He says one of his favorite things to do is designing and coding websites. He also has taught himself several different computer languages.

Shaffer is the type of students colleges would love to recruit, but because he’s only a sophomore, he hasn’t put much thought into where he’d like to continue his education. 

“I’ll probably have that figured out by the end of my junior year,” Shaffer said.

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