A Completely Different Conference Experience

by Wendy Strain – Chuck Howard Scholar

When I was first hired into a grants office, having little to no idea what I was doing (how many of us have been there?), I was sent to a different organization’s grant writing conference. It was my only true initiation into this new world I was entering.

It was a learning experience, and I did come home with some helpful information, but hadn’t made any significant new connections or felt I’d received any profound insights into this profession in any way. What I learned about grant writing had to be done on the job and through my efforts.

Going into the consulting space several years later, I knew joining an organization of grant writers would be important for my continued growth and development, so I purposely sought out something different from what I had been led to in the past. I was looking for something more engaged, more devoted to furthering the profession, and more supportive of its members.

Because of my experience with GPA membership so far this year (through my local chapter and the online portal), I felt certain my conference experience would be completely different from that other one and boy, was it ever!

I honestly can’t tell you if I learned more from the sessions I attended or from the individual conversations I had with other attendees. I believe I made some connections that will blossom into potential collaborations, frequent associations, and maybe even long-term friendships.

Truthfully, I had trouble deciding which of the sessions to go to in any given time slot. Often, there were two or three I was thinking of. It says a lot about a conference and the involvement of its members when so much value is being placed on the table.

Something I really appreciated was the availability of the conference app. I promptly lost the printed schedule I was given some time on the first day, but I was able to keep track of the several sessions that looked interesting to me by favoriting them in the app and checking them often on my phone. Plus, I could always download the handouts from the sessions I couldn’t attend and at least have access to the main points offered.

Being able to access the map to each meeting room was a huge bonus as well. I confess I failed to enter session evaluations after each one – too busy talking with people I’d met during the session or at other sessions, then rushing off to the next event – but I did remember to check in for many of them by the second day.

It was also wonderful to know the handouts for each session could be downloaded right from the app. Rather than trying to scribble down everything on the slides as well as catching any additional insight the speaker had to offer, I was able to relax and really pay attention to their knowledge, only making notes when I wanted to highlight something said that didn’t appear on the slides.

I know this helped others relax as well because every session I attended was full of interested and engaged audience members asking intelligent questions and contributing to a broader or more focused discussion, depending on the case in question. That the speakers were all open to this and even encouraged, it was another welcome and significant indicator of the quality of this organization and the people who are members.

As surprised as I was to receive my scholarship to attend the conference, I expected quality and engagement, expectations set in place by my local chapter leaders. Yet the conference still managed to exceed all those expectations. I returned home with much to think about, much to do, re-energized and excited about the next steps on my journey toward serving my community and my profession.

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