At first when thinking of attending Summer Institute I was excited about the prospect of having an opportunity to get a well-rounded intense training in federal financial aid. I have worked in the Office of Financial Aid at Wichita State University for almost three years – but I worked mostly with scholarships and feel my knowledge of the federal side of financial aid is quite limited. I know there is valuable training online, but I’ve always felt too busy to schedule much time for it. Now I have a new position in the systems area of our office and am learning the technology at the same time I’m trying to learn everything about federal student aid.
I jumped right in to request attending Summer Institute for professional development. I submitted applications for scholarships. I got approved to attend Summer Institute. Then I attended my first financial aid conference – KASFAA in Wichita – where it was announced I was one of the KASFAA Summer Institute scholarship recipients. I almost fell over I was so excited!
As the time drew closer, I became more and more anxious. I am a serious introvert and was worried about spending so much time with so many strangers. After being in class all day there were going to be activities every night, but I like some alone time and I like my sleep! Everyone would be young and energetic, and I’m not. Maybe the change in altitude would have a negative effect on me. I was worried about how to pack. I was advised by experienced attendees I might want to pack sheets; I might want to take a pillow; be sure to take a fan; might be good to take some towels and cleaning wipes too in case the room isn’t clean enough; it might be hot; it might be cold – and be sure to leave enough space in my luggage to carry home a huge binder.
When the day finally came to fly to Golden I met the other two attendees from Wichita State at Wichita’s brand new airport, which was fantastic. Anxiety dissipated as I embraced the adventure. After checking in at the RMASFAA registration table we found our rooms and I was very pleasantly surprised. My room was very clean, had adequate space and bedding, and had a window that looked out to a garden. There were towels and even a bar of soap.
We were given colored paper cutouts of mix tapes to wear to identify our classes. That was a great idea. It made it easy to meet people who were going to be in my class. During the orientation on Sunday evening, there were some hilarious performances followed by a comical game of human hungry hippos played with little carts and balloons. It was obvious that the girls who were in charge of activities had put a lot of effort into making this a fun week.
I returned to my room and got ready for bed. There were two bedrooms that opened into a common area with a shared vanity, and with a room with a toilet and one with a shower on either side. There was no one in the other bedroom, so I had the “bathroom” area all to myself. I walked out of my bedroom in a t-shirt and underwear to go to the vanity for water and heard a click behind me. My bedroom door had shut and locked with the key inside. I’d seen this so many times on sitcoms, but it wasn’t something that really happened, and especially not to me. I was undressed with no way to get into my room without help from the front desk upstairs. The empty bedroom’s door was open, and the bed in there had a mattress cover on it. I pulled the mattress cover off and wrapped it around myself. I walked down the hall looking at names on doors and trying to determine if they might be female. I found a door with the name of a girl I had met in the lobby who had a tape the same color as mine – we would be classmates. I hoped she was in her room and that she was still awake, and was so relieved when she opened the door. She ran upstairs to the front desk to get someone to come open my door. I knew it would be a good week, because it could only go up from there.
On Monday, the first day of class I felt quite overwhelmed. It seemed like everyone in the class knew so much more than I did – they asked questions about things that were over my head. Then, for some strange reason, Tuesday was much better. I really began to grasp it and enjoy it.
Meals were in student dining. At first the three of us from Wichita State met for meals, but we soon started hanging out and dining with people from our own classes.
My teachers were a great team; they worked together like sisters and I was surprised to learn it was the first time they had taught together. Jill was from was from a large private institution, and Vicki was from a smaller community college so we had access to their different experiences and perspectives. I had thought we would just cover the first part of the 3” binder of the NASFAA Core manual, but they guided us through the entire manual by the end of the week. The teachers were approachable and always willing to answer individual questions in the class or individually. I got some help with questions I had that were specific to what I am doing in my position, and it was such a relief to get information on how they were doing things. I had been told that one of the most valuable things you get from Summer Institute is connections with others in financial aid that you can contact and say, “How do you do this?” This is a fantastic resource that I didn’t have before.
I really got a kick out of it when we were discussing complicated families and determining whose information is required on the FAFSA, and someone asked Jill about families that have multiple wives, I assumed because she was from Utah. Of course Jill advised us that Mormons don’t have multiple wives and polygamy is illegal in Utah, before helping us unwind the complicated situations of earned and unearned income when some wives in a polygamous family work and others stay home with all of the children.
Thursday night was a banquet with more hysterical performances, and then Friday morning was our last time together as a class. I was tired and ready to get home, but thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from my week at Summer Institute. I now have a huge binder of reference material on my desk, and a class full of people, including two fantastic teachers, that I can contact when I have questions and want to know how others are doing something. It’s like a whole new ballgame – I am much more confident and prepared to plunge on into my new position in systems – knowing I am not alone! Thanks, KASFAA, for helping me attend!
By the way, one of my teachers, Vicki Kucera, was elected to serve as President-Elect of RMASFAA for 2015-16!