GPA 2021 Annual Conference Scholarship Essay by Miranda Herbert Morris

This was my first GPA conference and the first public conference I attended in over two years thanks to COVID. Initially, I was a little nervous to join the convention in person due to the pandemic, but GPA (and the Hyatt Hotel) took all the right precautions to ensure everyone’s safety. These safety protocols eased my anxiety greatly and I honestly didn’t fret about COVID once while at the convention.  

It was an absolute JOY to be around so many like-minded professionals and I felt welcomed and included from the minute I arrived. As someone who sometimes struggles with social anxiety, I really enjoyed the casualness of the entire conference. I didn’t feel pressured to be “on” all the time; it allowed me to relax and absorb the information presented. I had some lovely chats during the luncheon meet-n-greets, so I hope GPA continues that format next year.  I found the workshops to be very helpful and the selection of workshops was extensive, with offerings from beginners to advanced. It was challenging to decide which sessions to attend each day, which is a great problem to have! I was very grateful to learn that all sessions were being recorded and that we could access them for up to one year after the event.  GPA hosted a hybrid workshop this year, which gave more people the chance to participate in the conference; another format I hope they continue in years to come.

Overall, I gained new and valuable skills from the workshops, but it was the opportunity to talk with others in my field (in person) that was truly the most rewarding take-away from the convention. I brought back a ton of new information to share with my team, as well as new friends to reach out to for grant-related support. I absolutely would not have had this opportunity without support from the Grant Professionals Foundation Conference Scholarship.

Value of attending and what it meant to me:

My story is probably like most that apply for the scholarship. I decided to apply, because I really wanted to attend the convention and my organization wasn’t budgeting for in-person conferences this year due to COVID. However, after receiving the scholarship, my organization chose to match the award by covering the rest of my travel expenses. I was overjoyed! That gift was a true surprise and only happened because supervisors saw my personal effort to advance my professional development by applying to the scholarship. Receiving the scholarship meant that my organization saw my determination to further my career and understood how important conference attendance meant to me. For the first time, I felt like a true grant professional and not a novice working in the field. The value I gained from conference attendance cannot be measured. The scholarship, the conference, my organization seeing me as an “expert” in my field, have all boosted my professional and personal confidence. This is the true gift. I am eager to continue this journey for many years to come.  

Impact of scholarship:

The impact of this experience has been huge. Receiving the scholarship meant I now had the opportunity to learn from like-minded professionals and form relationships with new mentors for future support. The experience gave opportunity to reflect on what I truly wanted out of my grant career. I found it exhilarating and encouraging to be part of a cohort of professionals, all driven by the same goal and objectives. Being able to join that cohort, confirmed my passion make a difference in my community through grantsmanship. I’ve recently increased participation in my local GPA chapter by taking on the position of Scholarship Committee Chair; a position they offered me after being awarded the GPF Conference Scholarship. It’s an honor to be asked to sit on the board for our local chapter and I’m eager to help others apply for this opportunity next year.

I am forever grateful to GPA, GPF, and our Southeast Texas GPA Chapter for walking alongside me as a new grant professional. I am entering the next phase of my professional life and it all began with the GPF Conference Scholarship.