GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Lauren Welch

Grant Professionals Foundation Scholar

This was the first year I have attended the Grant Professionals Association conference and is also my first year as a GPA local and national member. I have attended several professional conferences in the past.

I appreciated that there were options for people to go virtually and go in person. I am spending the Thanksgiving week to go back through and watch classes and download handouts for those online sessions I wanted to see – but there were several ones to go to in person and online, and I knew I could go back and watch online after the fact.

I volunteered at the GPF silent auction table. It was nice to get to know the team, their goals and how grant professionals could support the work the team does, which was nice to understand. Our San Diego Chapter of GPA was also able to get together for dinner Thursday night and most of us had never met in person.

I believe some of the best experiences at the conference was the time networking with others during sessions and during meal times, getting to hear that you are not alone, other people go through the same struggles and how they address some of those needs.

I suggested in the after conference survey, it might be a really great idea to get groups of people together by the type of work they do – like a DOJ networking group, USDA grants etc. – not a workshop, but a time to network and share with each other.  The support from others is invaluable.

The biggest challenge in any conference is how to take all the information in to use it in your work. I find it challenging because work still has to be done, grants still have to be written while you also go to a conference all day and learn new tools – it is very overwhelming. There is really no fix for this or way to make it not so overwhelming. How do you ever get to the work, changing things or utilizing resources to do a better job at your job?

One of my favorite workshops was on the Lean Six Sigma process for grants. This is an incredible idea for our team at my place of employment and would really be beneficial but I have the same concern as others – everyone at everyone’s place of employment is so overwhelmed with their current workload, a new process is something else to learn and no one has the time for that. Regardless of the fact that it would support, make things easier and allow for increased effectiveness, now, there is no time to learn something new. This was the thought of many things learned at the conference, how do you get your team on board to implement something new? I also know this is not specific to my organization, but similar to everyone.

One reason I applied for a scholarship was, especially during the time of COVID, that funds are so limited to ask for professional development funds at this time. Regardless of COVID, I felt the conference cost was expensive. If not for the scholarship, I would have been looking at around $2,000 for costs for the conference, which is hard to ask for. In the future, if the cost stays the same, I might look at a virtual option instead – which I hope will continue to be an option even when COVID is over.