As a seasoned veteran within the financial aid industry, what has impacted you the most about this profession and what has changed the most within the profession?
I’m only 8 years into financial aid and 13 years into my career in higher education, so I’m not certain that I’d consider myself a “seasoned veteran” yet. What has impacted me most about the profession, though, has been the exposure to the broad range of barriers that face many of our students and families in their hunt for a post-secondary education. Continually knowing that I haven’t yet seen it all helps me be more adaptive as situations arise. Moreover, believing that we are playing an important role in helping provide educational access to students keeps me motivated in our industry.
In my time, the thing that’s changed the most has probably been the flip-flopping of verification requirements, the influx of verification groups, and the types of acceptable and unacceptable verification documentation. If there’s something that’s stayed the same, though, it is the friendliness of KASFAA-ns. No matter whether you need a shoulder to cry on about an issue, a colleague to call to work through a complex issue, or someone to remind you that we’re all in this together to do the life-affirming work of providing college access, the KASFAA community is the best!
What and/or who placed you in the financial aid industry? Was this your career path?
There might be too many people to count! While in college, I had many impactful university professors and staff members, that as my means of giving back, I knew that I would continue working with college students. When I was looking to make a jump from the TRIO grant-funded world back into the enrollment management environment, not only was my TRIO director supportive of the job change (I was craving a little more work-life balance), but I found myself in a job interview with Wichita State financial aid legend, Deb Byers. Deb, along with the support of others on her central team, hired me and later promoted me within the office when a leadership position became available. When Sheelu Surender became our director, she continued to grow me as a leader, and she has let me develop and use my strengths. There’s no specific college “major” that sets a student on a career path to “financial aid”, but having the skills to adapt, to think critically about doing processes better, and the passion to work with students goes a long way to making the career leap into financial aid an easy transition.
How would you tell new people within this profession to approach their tasks, jobs and career?
Have a growth mindset – not necessarily a desire for specific job promotions, but an attitude and willingness to acquire knowledge and to challenge yourself beyond the must-do’s of your job. Ask questions, seek information, and be willing to learn from your mistakes. Honestly, there are some financial aid concepts and processes that never “clicked” for me until I made a mistake and had to learn from it. Also, find yourself a Donna Carter; she’s one of our financial aid “lifers” who has always helped me connect the proverbial dots and find the missing links if I’m stuck on an issue.
Within this industry have you had any mentors, who were they if you’d like to say, and what did they tell you as you were beginning your career path in Financial Aid?
Within our office, I get to work closely with Donna Carter who has been a past KASFAA president. She has more than 20 years in this industry, and she always reminds me to be patient with myself. I’ve also had the benefit of connecting with so many colleagues in KASFAA who have provided nuggets of wisdom and encouragement during conferences and trainings that even while those mentoring moments might have been short, they were deeply impactful and just the right times.
How do you see this profession in 5 years? 10 years?
We know that financial aid is always evolving; the rules changes, and we adapt accordingly. Nonetheless, it is an exciting time in financial aid as NASFAA is working to enhance the credentialing processes for our profession. I am hopeful that as a result, all post-secondary institutions will recognize the complexity of our profession and ensure that financial aid professionals are provided ample training opportunities – and the compensation to match.
How do you pass the time, when/if there is a lull?
When I have a break in the “busy-ness” of financial aid processing, I use that time to rethink and revise some of our processes and implement new strategies. A few years ago, I was frustrated that with our summer aid packaging process being so manual, it had a lot of room for human error. Over a few evenings, I sat down and wrote a series of formulas into an Excel file that have since been helping our summer aid packaging team improve their accuracy and efficiency. I suppose that I should really spend that spare time writing up my desk reference manual, though.
Who do you admire most? Personally, professionally, and/or globally? Choose one or answer all three…
I’ve had many inspirational and influential people in my life, but the top rank goes to Dr. Bob Linder (affectionately referred to by his graduate students as “Crocodile Bob”). He was my major professor at K-State for my master’s program in history, and he provided me scholarship funds during my junior and senior years of my undergraduate program. He taught me that you always have to be thinking (“attention to detail”), that “mistakes matter – and professionals learn from them,” and that “the more you know, the more you know.” Plus, he’s the coolest and most loyal Royals fan I know!
What do you dislike doing? Professionally or personally or both?
I enjoy most every aspect of my professional job, but on the personal front, I really dislike loading and unloading the dishwasher. It’s like playing Tetris with germ-laden, odd-shaped breakables. Few things make me happier than when my husband or one of my boys has finished that task for me!
What do you like to do in your free time, either Indoors or Outdoors?
I enjoy taking walks or riding bikes with my husband and sons. It is refreshing to be outside, clear our minds from other stressors, and connect with each other through a family walk-talk. Additionally, while I love to read, I’ve learned that nothing is better than hearing your children read to you and dive into a beloved story.
What gets you excited about life?
I’m excited about changing students’ lives. Higher education, and financial aid in particular, provides an opportunity to change the entire trajectory of a student’s life, and we know that education can then have ripple effects for their future families. Being part of that is exciting!
What’s your favorite time of day?
I do my best work in the morning; it gives me the chance to walk into my office with a clean desk (hopefully) and start the day with my task list and begin tackling projects with a fresh outlook.
Anything exciting you’d like to share….
Get involved with KASFAA – attend as many conferences and trainings as your supervisor will sign off on, and get to know colleagues at other schools by joining a committee!