AEG Ogden Scholarship Winner, Olivia Birkett Shares Her Experience

Having worked in the sports industry throughout my career, it was a more recent focus in venue management, as the inaugural Manager of the WA State Netball Centre that drew me to the Venue Management Association. It took two years of research and negotiation before the approval came for me to attend the Venue Management School. Once booked in to Year 1 in 2017, I completed my pre-reading, excitedly met my classmates and threw myself into the challenge of six classes a day, plus networking activities and fitness programs. Venue Management School is a really busy week with minimal sleep – and it’s so much fun. Finishing with the exam and then a great graduation evening left me wanting more.

I started work on the Diploma of Venue Management about a month later, pulling the evidence for RPL together. I focused my attention on the subjects I needed to complete in full first and set about a fairly ambitious target of finishing as much of the Diploma before I returned for Year 2. I self-funded a professional development opportunity to attend the Observer Programme of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, which had the duel purpose of assisting with the PD portion of the Diploma. With a young family at home, on weekends I found myself fuelling up on midday coffee after putting our toddler to bed and shamelessly allowing our five year old uninterrupted TV for a couple of hours, while I did my assignments. Whatever works! I submitted my final Diploma assignment two weeks before the school and then power-read through all the pre-reading (more coffee required).

Getting ready for Year 2, I was most excited about seeing my classmates again as I enjoyed their company and learnt so much from them.  The format of Year 2 was similar, with a ton of classes followed by an exam. I found myself more confidently talking to the Instructors and learning from them this time round. Again, I threw myself into everything at the school, taking Meg Walker’s advice to ‘Say Yes’ to opportunities. In hindsight, I believe this is part of the reason why I was fortunately the recipient of the AEG Ogden Scholarship. On the night of graduation, I was awe-struck by the possibilities of what this meant and it took a few weeks for it to sink in.

I put the scholarship out of my mind for a few months as I navigated a new path with my career, changing roles and then deciding whether I would be able to accept or defer this scholarship opportunity. Fortunately, things fell into place and I started the exciting research of venues and events in the USA that fitted around the Graduate Institute (GI) program at the new home of Venue Management School, Tampa, Florida 1-7 June 2019. I made contact with the venues that were high on my wish list and started shaping an itinerary together. A travel agent helped plan out an ambitious two-week trip that saw me traverse Atlanta, Michigan, Tampa, Dallas and Los Angeles. I took previous scholarship winner, Georgia Hendy’s advice and arrived in the USA ahead of the school to combat jet lag prior to the GI program starting.

The GI (Australian’s equivalent is the Leadership Institute) is an entirely different format to Years 1 and 2. Most subjects required the completion of assignments prior to the school and the content from our work was skilfully woven into the classes by our Instructors (who were more facilitators than teachers in this format). There were two classes, each four hours long, per day, which was intense. The evening networking activities were different from Australia and I thank everyone who voted for my winning handmade Star Wars costume at the Disney Party! I bonded quickly with my inspiring classmates during small group activities, discussion and in-depth analysis on topics. There was a strong emphasis on leadership and we all took a long, hard look in the mirror at our own core values, behaviours, personalities and leadership qualities. To do this, we needed to be vulnerable and trusting of our peers. I enjoyed meeting every one of my classmates and am already pitching a family holiday around a future Venue Connect conference so I can see them again.

It’s difficult to summarise the whirlwind that saw me attend so many sports venues and events either side of the school. I filled a notebook with insights and ideas and took thousands of photos to illustrate some of the world’s best examples of venue and event management. According to GQ Magazine I saw three of the ‘craziest’ stadiums in the world, as well as arenas, ballparks, colleges, an NFL practice facility and a gigantic congress centre. I’ve listed the venues below with an acknowledgement to the generous and knowledgeable staff, where I had a personal tour:

  • Mercedes-Benz Stadium (public tour and Atlanta United MLS game)
  • Sun Trust Park (public tour and Atlanta Braves MLB game)
  • State Farm Arena (thanks Damon Murray & the Atlanta Hawks scoreboard guys)
  • Georgia World Congress Centre and Centennial Park (thanks Rachel Caldwell and Adeola Sokunbi)
  • University of Michigan (thanks Raul and Trey Garant)
  • Michigan State University (thanks Tyler Pasek and Tanner Wyse)
  • Amelie Arena (VMS coordinated tour)
  • The Star (public tour of the Dallas Cowboys practise facility)
  • AT&T Stadium (thanks Paul Turner and Andrew Allen for allowing me to shadow you during Mexico v Ecuador international soccer game)
  • Globe Life Park (public tour and Texas Rangers MLB game)
  • E-Sports Stadium (open to public)
  • Staples Centre (thanks to Michael Becker)
  • LA Stadium (thanks to Alexandra Gigliotti for the construction site tour)
  • LA Stadium Premium Centre (thanks Jascha Wilson)
  • UCLA Recreation (thanks Erinn McMahan and Karen Hedges)

Thank you to VMA for the support across three years, to AEG Ogden for the generous scholarship, to my trusted colleagues, to all the VMS Instructors and to my wonderful classmates (both here and abroad). Finally, thanks to my family for ongoing support and logistics whilst I’ve been away… Hope all the American merchandise made up for it!

The AEG Ogden Scholarship Award

This highly sought after industry scholarship is awarded each year to the student who successfully completes the two years of study at the VMS, and further demonstrates achievement in a range of assessment criteria.

The scholarship has been awarded to the leading graduate from the VMS since the school’s inception and valued at approximately AUD$10,000.

To learn more about the AEG Ogden Scholarship click here.