My Sutherland Scholarship Year at Association Forum

Emily Thompson won the Bree Anne Sutherland Scholarship in 2019.

By Emily Thompson

FRM 005 In The Know Sutherland Scholarship

Last year was a good year for me. 2019 was sprinkled with special moments, like marrying my best friend, and lifelong lessons in areas like cultivating my career power and learning how to balance it all. While getting married takes the cake for 2019, it was closely followed by being awarded the Association Forum’s Bree Anne Sutherland Scholarship.

Winning this scholarship gave me the confidence boost I needed to step out of my comfort zone in my professional life and take control. I thank my lucky stars that I applied for the scholarship and aligned myself with the support system that is the Association Forum and the nonprofit and event community.

To provide a little background about me, I have a degree in theatre and hail from a tiny town in the Northwest corner of Illinois. Back in college, I imagined a bohemian life of instability throughout my 20s. I moved to Chicago to take auditions and join the happening comedy scene. After a couple of comedy classes and failed auditions, real-life responsibilities made their way to the front of my mind: living expenses, student loans, health insurance, and did I say student loans?

I was waiting tables in Wicker Park and wanted to forge a career path but didn’t know which way to go or how to break into any type of corporate work. So when I was presented with an amazing opportunity to work for the American Epilepsy Society (AES) as a temporary employee, and then as a full-time employee, I jumped at the chance.

I knew this was the opportunity I was waiting for! I’d like to give sincere thanks to my strong mentors and leaders at the American Epilepsy Society who took a chance on me, a young temp who wanted to do a great job. I had no association experience, but a full résumé of retail and service industry work. Little did I know that this was the start of me finding solid ground.

“Throughout the year, Association Forum and this scholarship have been my constant reminder that I am worthy of what I want to pursue, and that I can achieve what I put my mind to!”

–Emily Thompson, Events Coordinator, American Epilepsy Society

My organization was proactive in providing me a baseline of what the association industry was all about. AES registered me for Association 101, which was my first event at the Association Forum. This all-day session gave an in-depth look at the multifaceted nonprofit sector and how it was flourishing in Chicago. I fondly remember the welcoming environment that was created with our facilitators and the Association Forum staff. After that, I excitedly signed up for my first Holiday Showcase in 2017 and knew that the Association Forum was a place where anyone would feel welcomed and supported.

I thought about applying to the Bree Anne Sutherland Scholarship for a couple years, but couldn’t quite figure out how to navigate the application process. How could I stand out in a sea of applicants? For me, it was intimidating, since I never felt worthy of awards or scholarships.

So when I was notified that I won the Bree Anne Sutherland Scholarship, I was completely shocked, but ultimately proud.

I feel strong and wise with the experience I’ve gained thus far in my career. I’ve always been easygoing, but that has also kept me from pushing for what I want at times. This award allows me to see that I don’t have to go with the flow. I can actually set up a trajectory for my career and achieve goals I never thought imaginable, like winning a scholarship. I don’t have to settle, but rather I can plan and move forward with a path of my own choosing.

As soon as I was able, I started to research all the education sessions and webinars that the Association Forum had to offer. Going into this year, I wanted to educate myself in every way possible by investigating types of education that would best equip me for my professional goals and future. For example, I took Association Management Essentials: Finance for the Non-Finance Professional, since I help establish budgets for the events I plan. Going to many different sessions, I always feel that wonderful welcoming sensation as I arrive at the elevators for the ride up to the 8th floor.

I usually connect with another Association Forum member before I hit the front door and am always greeted with a smile from the staff. I always feel at my best showing up to Association Forum events, and when I leave, I’m inspired and invigorated with new outlooks and skill sets to take back to my job.

Another invaluable facet of the Bree Anne Sutherland Scholarship was a wonderful mentorship opportunity. I was honored to have the Immediate Past Chair of the Association Forum Board of Directors as my mentor. Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA, CEO of the American Association of Orthodontists, kindly gave me her time, effort and care throughout the year. The knowledge she so freely passed to me has already proven to be indispensable—from helping me navigate what it means to have a cultivated brand in the ever-evolving professional landscape, to teaching me how to create opportunities and support systems at every stage of my career. I’m forever grateful for all the hours of laughter, wisdom and kindness she has given me. The valuable connection with Lynne will last a lifetime! Many thanks to Lynne for being such an incredible mentor and friend.

Throughout the year, Association Forum and this scholarship have been a constant reminder that I am worthy of what I want to pursue and that I can achieve what I put my mind to! Winning this scholarship has challenged me to apply for more opportunities. I was also awarded a membership grant for the MPI Chicago Area Chapter this year and am honored to be on their Education Content Committee. I am now more active than ever in Association Forum and other professional associations.

I am loving the volunteer work, meeting new people, learning and creating lasting connections. When I look back on my journey and professional path, I’ll look at this scholarship as a turning point. I urge anyone who is thinking about applying for that next thing, whether it’s a scholarship or award, or wanting to take a leap, to just do it. You won’t regret it, and you have no idea where it might lead.

About the Author

Emily Thompson is the Events Coordinator for the American Epilepsy Society.

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