2022 GPA Conference Scholarship Essay, by Nataly Routledge

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I am a fairly busy person. There is always either a major deadline on the horizon or the spirit of a deadline haunting my calendar, ready to materialize at any moment. That is what I love about the world of grants: the fast-paced, deadline-driven atmosphere that offers challenge and keeps me typing. It’s also sometimes what stands as a barrier to the amount of time I can carve out for learning and professional growth.

The primary reason that I wanted to attend the GPA Conference so badly is that it offered an opportunity to block out entire business days and dedicate them to learning and professional development. This isn’t to say that I totally escaped my inbox during the conference, but thinking about the generosity that allowed me to have a scholarship in the first place as well as my desire to learn from others encouraged me to work ahead and preserve those November days for education. And, in terms of playing the long game, it was worth investing those precious business days into education since learning early makes future work better.

I attended virtually and saw a mixture of online-only and hybrid sessions. I hope to be able to attend in person in the future, but the conference platform was easy to use as a virtual attendee and I liked that the virtual sessions had lively chats. The moderators for the hybrid sessions did a great job of including the online attendees in discussions that weren’t always easy to hear. I also liked having the option to change sessions if the session I was in didn’t completely align with what I wanted to get accomplished (although honestly it was hard to break away from a session once I had joined because everyone did such a great job of presenting).

I tried to prioritize attending sessions that touched on leadership and methods for communicating with difficult-to-manage project teams. As a young professional, I have found that writing the grant is often the easy part; getting everyone on the same page and enforcing internal deadlines is usually the really difficult part for me. I took a lot of notes during a variety of sessions about communication methods and ways to lead better meetings. One of my favorite points brought up at the conference—this was during the Leadership Methods for Building Collaborative Grants Processes session—was that grant professionals should build resiliency skills and that they often have a strong base for these skills already as they consistently show up to push a project forward even when there is resistance or uncertainty. I liked thinking about that phrase, resilience skills, and it is something I want to share with my team in the future to praise them for the resiliency they show already when a project gets off track.  

I learned some tips for writing grant applications that I have implemented already in the days and weeks following the conference. There was one session in particular, Scaling Evaluation Plans for Federal Grants, that made me rethink the ways that I support drafting an evaluation plan for a team new to federal grants. The conference also invited me to think about topics or questions that resulted in active discussions during the presentations that would be good to revisit with my department to encourage the same professional excitement and exchange of ideas at work.

Receiving a conference scholarship through the Grants Professional Foundation enabled me to attend the GPA Conference for the first time and soak up knowledge from others who have been in the industry for longer. It gave me an opportunity to focus on myself and how I want to grow as a grant professional. This in turn made me feel reinvigorated at work as I applied the skills and concepts I learned about to the projects I had ongoing. With Thanksgiving only a week away as I write this, I am thankful for the scholarship I received and the hard work of those who put the conference together. It’s a great event for young professionals and I saw immediate benefits in my day-to-day work as a result of being able to attend.

Happy holidays all!

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