Why I Became a GPC, by Lesa-Kaye Holtham, MPH, GPC

My decision to take the Grant Professional Certified (GPC) exam was an investment in myself and my career. While I received my results on November 1, 2020, after sitting for the exam in September of that year, the journey started 2-years prior. During the first decade of my grant career, I was solely focused on gaining knowledge and skills to support my employer’s organizational goals. While I have had tremendous success in the field, including establishing a national nonprofit’s first Government Grants Office, I realized that the lack of focus on my own professional goals left me feeling unfulfilled. In Fall 2018, I sought the guidance and support of a mentor through The Grant Professional Association (GPA) and was lucky to have Ericka Harney, CAGS, CAE, CFRE, GPC, CVA as my mentor. Through a series of conversations about my career experiences as well as personal and professional values, Ericka encouraged me to create a career strategy and plan that focused on building my competency, confidence, and professional brand. During the planning process, Ericka strongly encouraged me to consider the GPC as the next step in my career journey. She shared how the process of meeting the eligibility requirements, studying for, and taking the exam changed her professional outlook. As a true grant professional, Ericka had me make a detailed workplan and a budget for preparing for the GPC to keep me accountable.

In 2020, as Treasurer of the DC Metro Chapter for the GPA, I was “volunteered” to facilitate the chapter’s GPC exam study group. The 8-week virtual study group, which consisted of more than 20 grant professionals from Atlanta to California, forced me to create a study plan and adhere to a study schedule each week. I also benefited from a mock-writing prompt exercise where I received feedback from fellow study group members. Outside of the study group, I also studied on my own using various resources, including Prepare for the GPC Exam: Earn Your Grant Professional Certified Credential and The GPC Study Guide and Bibliography by the GPA.

I am grateful to have had the support, mentorship, and guidance of many women in the grant profession throughout my career. My journey towards the GPC was no different. In addition to my mentor Ericka, Trish Bachman GPC, and Jo Miller, SMS, GPC also offered advice and encouragement as I prepared for the exam. Learning about their GPC journeys and exam preparation strategies provided me with reassurance that certification is achievable. As a former GPA Board President and GPCI education provider, Jo shared more about the GPC exam scoring process and what to expect at proctoring centers, which calmed my testing anxieties.

Also, the virtual study group provided me with the structure, accountability, and support that I needed to prioritize preparing for the exam while juggling work and home life in the midst of a global pandemic. Together, we navigated closed testing centers, extended eligibility windows, re-scheduled exams as well as trying to work and study from home. I met so many supportive grant professionals across the country through the virtual study group, including Shavonn Richardson, MBA, GPC, Rhonda Poppen, GPC, Cecilia Peredo, GPC, and Claire Honsinger, GPC, to name a few. I received emails of positive vibes, reminders, and well-wishes the day before the exam from study group members. They were among the first people I reached out to after the exam and when I received my results. It’s been great to witness so many study group partners, now friends, take and pass the GPC exam as well as celebrate each other’s career milestones.

Obtaining the certification has renewed my energy to continue in the profession. I feel a sense of internal validation that is completely different from winning grants for organizations. Becoming a GPC has boosted my confidence to pursue other professional opportunities as well as position and present as an expert in the field. It’s raised my professional brand as it demonstrates to others that I’m qualified in the core skills and competencies of the profession. As I move into the next decade of my grant professional career, I hope to support other grant professionals obtain certification while building their confidence, competence, and career.