What It Means to Me: Earning My CAE

By Suzanne Westrum, CAE

Association Management was not something I ever set out to do, but like
many of you I wound up in it by accident. I started in the association world in 2012 when I took a job in communications at my local trade association for Realtors. Cut to eight years later, and I’m still here, now in a senior executive role.

I came across the CAE when I kept seeing it on email signatures, and I grew curious enough to Google it. There is a real estate industry equivalent, but I set my sights instead on the CAE as it seemed to have a broader application. I had also heard the CAE was a difficult exam and fewer people in my industry had it, so I was eager to obtain the designation if only for bragging rights.

In September 2019, I took the plunge and applied. I had lofty aspirations to take the exam by December, but work deadlines and other commitments took my focus, pushing any hopes of studying aside.

By January 2020, I knew I only had one more opportunity to test for the exam before having to re-apply, and the idea of paying the fee again spurred me to action. By chance, I saw that TSAE was about to start their Spring CAE Study Course, so I joined for the guaranteed accountability and the fact that the group boasted a high pass rate.

I knew I needed all the help I could get. While I made the three-hour roundtrip drive from San Antonio to Austin a few times to join the weekly study group in person, TSAE made it easy to attend virtually when needed. I always felt included in the discussions and received the same educational experience that I did when attending in person. Little did any of us know all the sessions would soon be virtual due to COVID, but with the virtual format already in place, the transition was seamless.

As COVID caused the exam process to be adapted, I opted to take my test at a testing site in San Antonio. A mask was required for the four-hour exam, so I wore my most comfortable one. Although I had yet to wear a mask for such a long period of time, I honestly did not find it uncomfortable, and after a while, forgot I even had it on. The test drew all my focus, and I used the entire four hours to complete it.

I can confidently say the study group was absolutely critical to my feeling prepared for and passing the exam. It provided accountability for doing the reading (and it was a lot!), and every group member provided a unique perspective as well as a safe space to ask questions and be vulnerable in our learning. We built a camaraderie and support system, whether we were delving into the meaning of an obscure legal precedent or just commiserating about the complex wording of some of the practice questions.

We bonded over the shared experience of pursuing the CAE, and when I received my notice that I had passed, the first people I told were my study group members.

While I now have those bragging rights I’d wanted, I also have the confidence that holding the CAE designation provides. It signifies my mastery of association management, and I feel more assured in my decisions as a leader for my association. I also now have connections with association colleagues from around the state that I’ll draw on when troubleshooting challenges and celebrating wins for many years to come.

Suzanne Westrum, CAE is the Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the San Antonio Board of REALTORS®.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Maryna Andriichenko

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