My American Experience – part 1: Taking the plunge

It all started with a tweet in January 2019. The Association of School Business Officials (aka ASBO Intl) advertised their professional development scholarship offer to attend their annual conference. I cheekily replied to the tweet asking if it was open to overseas applicants. “Yes”, came the unexpected response. Well, that was the start of a lot of day dreaming, I can tell you.

I started off by researching ASBO Intl and what they were offering – 18 Emerging Leader Scholarships. The prize was a $2000 scholarship to cover the costs of attending the annual conference in October 2019 in Maryland, USA. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity, but was I eligible?

~Applicants had to have less than five years experience as an SBM

~I also had to submit a reference from my Superintendent (I translated that to Head Teacher)

~I had to submit a resume which included awards and publications

~I had to answer two questions making sure both answers were no more than 100 words each

~Finally a cover letter to my application to express what I could bring to/get out of the conference experience.

I made the decision to apply in January 2019 and had plenty of time to meet the submission deadline of 1 June. I approached the application in my usual way – full steam ahead to begin with then procrastination for a while followed by working under pressure just before the deadline.

I gathered as much information about the scholarship as possible to present to my Head Teacher so that I could ask for a letter of recommendation. She was more than happy to provide it, especially given that most of the conference would take place during the half term break. First hurdle overcome.

I moved on to the resume. I hadn’t used a CV for years so had to resurrect an old one and then update it to make it current. That was the easy part however I was conscious that the application asked for a “resume” and not a “CV”. I wondered if there was a difference between the two in format or whether it was just different names for same thing. I wasn’t sure so I used my resources and sent my CV over to my first cousin in the USA. With her help I refined my CV into a resume which involved taking out a lot of superfluous information and making sure it highlighted details of all my publications and achievements. It took some to-ing and fro-ing but I eventually settled on the format and content I was happy with.

With the resume completed I moved onto the short answer questions. The two questions I had to answer were:

1- What motivated you to become a School Business Official?

2- In what ways have you demonstrated your commitment to the profession.

At first glance it seemed like a simple task to produce answers to the two questions however I found it extremely challenging to restrict each answer to 100 words. I started by writing full answers then tackling each one to see how it could be condensed. I used my sisters as sounding boards. They gave me constructive feedback about the picture that answers I’d written painted of me. It was useful exercise in how to produce succinct and to the point answers. After several versions I finally settled on answers that relayed my interest in education, my professional experience leading up to my career change into school business management and then a summary of my achievements including being a committee member of the London Plus Association of School Business Managers. I managed to include the key information within the required word count with the knowledge that I still had the covering letter that I could use to expand and communicate more relevant information.

The final task was putting the cover letter together, which had to be no more than a single page. In compiling the letter I embraced the opportunity to outline my journey so far, as well as give some insight into my future plans. I talked about my endeavours to promote the profession through my involvement with LPASBM and conference planning. I then talked about my achievements in school in terms of income generation and financial management. Following that I moved on to my commitment to CPD – starting with undertaking the CSBM to facilitate my career change and then talking about the qualifications and training I’ve taken on since. Lastly, I spoke about the potential I had to bring an international perspective to the conference and share learning from the U.K. as well as my excitement at the chance to compare and contrast the profession across two countries and take lessons home with me.

After editing and re-editing the cover letter several times and seeking feedback from my support team (my trusty sisters) I finally settled on a version of the cover letter that I felt was strong enough to win one of the 18 available Emerging Leaders Scholarships. With that in mind I emailed my submission through to ASBO Intl on 28th May 2019, 4 days before the finals deadline, and breathed a sigh of relief. All that was left to do was wait for a response.

Fast forward exactly one month to 28th June and an email from ASBO Intl landed in my inbox. The email started with “Hello Cheryl, I would like to speak with you about your Emerging Leaders Scholarship submission.” I tried to regulate my excitement as I reasoned that I could be about to be let down gently. Unable to contain myself until I got home I closed my office door and made the phone call to get the news.

I was informed over the phone that I’d been successful in my application for a scholarship. I was lost for words as I took this news in. It took a few moments for it to sink in – I just couldn’t believe it, I was heading to the States. I was over the moon as I shared the news with my family and then I went and hugged my Head Teacher.

Containing my excitement was a challenge. I told a few people but I had to wait for the ASBO Intl press release in mid August before I made any announcements. That meant 7 weeks of biting my tongue when I really wanted to shout it from the roof tops. Finally the time arrived when I was able to officially let people know. The outpouring of support and congratulations from my fellow colleagues was heartwarming, but not unexpected. The feedback from the SBM community on Twitter was uplifting. I could feel the excitement and it made me even more excited about the adventure that lay ahead.

I’d been nervous about applying for the scholarship in the first place but I decided to take the plunge and do it anyway. I am so that glad I did because it turned out to be a chance worth taking.

Come back and read part 2 of my blog about My American Experience to hear about what happened next as I prepared to cross the Atlantic.

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