PhoneSmart Essay Contest

Kimberly Hundley Comments
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PhoneSmart Director Tron Jordheim knows he’ll need Spanish-speaking employees to bolster his business in years to come. So will other companies. Rather than wait for Mohammed to come to the mountain, he’s done something better: He’s created a scholarship-essay contest to support bilingual skills in the local workforce.

This year, PhoneSmart will provide two $500 scholarships to students of higher education in mid-Missouri. Those eligible include high school students living in Boone County, where the company is headquartered, and college students attending schools in the area. Younger applicants are asked to write a comprehensive report on how being a Spanish-English speaker creates career advantages; the second group must write an essay on the challenges and rewards of creating a bilingual society. The deadline is Oct. 31, and contest winners will be announced in December.

“Missouri is in the position many states were in several years ago,” Jordheim says. “Our Spanish-speaking population is just starting to bloom. We have the choice of resisting this change or embracing it and making the best of it—because we’re not going to stop it. The best thing to do is welcome Spanish speakers into our workforce and view their language skills as a positive, not a negative.”

Bilingualism particularly affects PhoneSmart because many of its self-storage clients are in areas with significant Spanish-speaking populations. Though statistics indicate 75 percent of U.S. Hispanics are comfortable speaking English, businesses that can speak to them in either language have a tremendous sales advantage, according to Jordheim.

“The odds of writing a reservation double or triple if you can speak Spanish with someone. It creates immediate rapport,” he says. “Even though the Hispanic population is not yet a major portion of self-storage users, they are moving up as a demographic in the market. They will be storing stuff soon, and lots of it.”


PhoneSmart employees Lucia Darnell (left) and Alexia Cardona will act as jurors for the contest, sponsored by director Tron Jordheim.

Learning the Art of Scholarship

Since this is Jordheim’s first shot at crafting a scholarship program, he isn’t sure what to expect. For his first publicity effort, he mailed an announcement to high schools in the area in May. The timing wasn’t the best—schools were just about to break for the summer and PhoneSmart received no response. Jordheim then attended a conference about statewide population growth at the University of Missouri. Representatives from several local colleges praised his idea and pledged help to promote it.

In September, another announcement was sent to area colleges and follow-up calls made to high school guidance counselors and financial-aid offices. “We’re also doing a mailing to food and construction businesses, because a large percentage of new immigrants work in those sectors and have kids in school,” Jordheim says. “Our main flier is in English with a Spanish blurb.”

As of press time, Jordheim’s expectations were modest: “I hope we get a lot of essays, but I’ll be happy if we get 10. It takes time to get the word out about a new scholarship, and our statistical area is small (we probably have a local population of 150,000). But if we get a good response, I’d like to do more next year and give away a lot more scholarships.”

While the jury is still out on the program’s rate of response, contest jurors are in and ready to go. PhoneSmart has enlisted the help of two employees to review and judge submitted essays: Lucia Darnell and Bolivian-born Alexia Cardona. Jose Garcia, Cardona’s father as well as an assistant professor at University of Missouri-Columbia, is also on the judging panel.


Contest judge Jose Garcia, shown with his daughters, is an assistant professor with the Department of Rural Sociology at University of Missouri-Columbia.

Double-Edged Benefit

Jordheim freely admits the scholarship program isn’t completely altruistic. “Five years down the road, we’d like to have more Spanish speakers working for us than we do now. If we can encourage those capable of being fluent in Spanish and English to work on their skills, we’ll have a bigger pool of candidates,” he says. Though he doubts this year’s recipients will become PhoneSmart employees, Jordheim believes the program will increase people’s awareness of the importance of bilingualism and the company’s interest in those skills.

“The world is a very small place these days,” Jordheim says. “If PhoneSmart can do business with all the Spanish speakers in the United States, we can eventually do business with Spanish speakers throughout the world. The potential for future business is very real.”

PhoneSmart is a sales-solutions business that provides self-storage operators with call-center services, secret-shopping services, sales training and management programs. For more information, call 866.639.1715; e-mail tron@phone-smart.net; visit www.phone-smart.info.

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