GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Leilani Ocasio

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Tips for a first time GPA Conference Attendee

As a first-time GPA Conference attendee, I’d like to share some tips! First and foremost, I am
incredibly grateful to the Grant Professionals Foundation for their scholarship opportunity. As a
new grant professional, I would not have been able to attend the conference without this
scholarship.


A safe assumption to make about grant professionals is that any opportunity to prepare and
gather information will be welcomed. If you are anything like me, someone with input as your
number 1 Clifton strength, this will be helpful!


The main thing you need to know about the GPA conference is that it is a legitimately magical
place filled with people who love deadlines, spell check, and glittery clothing (read on to get
some context). Do not be intimidated! Here are a few of my other takeaways:


TIP 1: Plan your session agenda before you arrive.
Once the agenda is available on the GPA website, explore the different tracks and choose the
sessions you would like to attend. As a new grant professional, I knew I wanted to focus on
attending sessions that broke down the basics. I am also the only person in development in my
organization, so I needed to focus on gathering tools for making my work as efficient and
organized as possible. By identifying my needs beforehand and choosing my sessions, I found
that my two main interests went hand in hand and that many sessions fell under one or both
categories. This allowed me to fill the other half of my schedule with sessions focused on
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Had I not done my research and planned by track, I wouldn’t
have been able to attend nearly as many sessions that met my needs, and I would have been
overwhelmed or swayed by exciting session titles. I could have missed out on an incredible
annual grants strategy workbook which has drastically improved my overall professional
wellbeing!


When choosing your sessions, be sure to add in breaks and try attending both virtual
and in-person sessions to avoid fatigue.


Tip 2: Go to the networking events- Meeting other grant pros is fun!
The grants profession can often feel lonely, especially if you are a newbie. Not many people
outside of the grant world understand the job and its pressures. One of the most rewarding
experiences of this conference was getting to meet other people you don’t have to explain your
job to! When I arrived at the conference, I noticed that almost everyone already had
connections. At first, this was intimidating until I realized these connections were formed at
previous GPA Conferences! I met so many great people who shared their professional
experience with me and what motivates them to continue in this work. This was very
encouraging, and the motivation I received from these conversations has kept me going through
my craziest grant season yet. The conference facilitated many opportunities to make networking
less intimidating. I found the networking lunches each afternoon to be very beneficial, and I
recommend attending them. You will be welcomed with open arms as a newcomer! These
conversations and connections taught me about opportunities to get more involved in our
profession through board committees, volunteer opportunities, and GPCI and CFRE testing
information.


Tip 3: Attend the social events! Specifically, the GPA Annual Spelling Bee


Similar to tip 2, there are many opportunities to interact and have fun with other conference
attendees. There are game rooms, knitting rooms, daily runs, and a scenic hike. However, the
most important of these events, in my opinion, is the Annual Spelling Bee. Picture the
Superbowl, but for Grant professionals. This spelling bee was the highlight of the conference!
My actual pro tip here is to wear sparkly clothes to this event. There’s a not-so-secret secondary
competition called the “Sparkle-Off,” which is exactly what it sounds like. My mentor and friend
just so happened to get second place in both the Sparkle Off AND the Spelling Bee. Just know
that she’s coming for first place next year in Louisville!

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