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New Financial Aid Directors – What I Have Learned in My First Year

July 21, 2016

Has it only been a year? It is hard to believe all that has happened in just one year of managing the student financial aid office at Williston State College. As I take the time to reflect and look back at the journey so far, I am thankful for each and every lesson it has taught me along the way.

One of my earliest memories is from a registration day we had at the beginning of fall semester. Phones were ringing off the hook and students were multiplying outside my door like gremlins exposed to the light. I thought, “This can’t be ok! What is happening? What am I doing wrong?” As I frantically called another director for input, expecting her togremlin share my hysteria, she calmly replied, “It’s ok, this is just what a financial aid office is like before fall semester, always.” I thought, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, maybe my selection of adjectives to describe my current situation had fallen short? I tried again. Same response. At that point, I am pretty sure I blacked out but I vaguely remember tears, lots of tears and apologizing.

Two fall semesters later and I am still here gearing up for my third start to the new school year. And yes, that is what it’s like before fall semester, always. So why do I stay, why do any of us stay? Because without doubt I am absolutely obsessively in love with what I do. I love helping students, I love the thrill of hunting down the answer to a new and challenging situation. I love working with a team of people that support and care about each other, our students and our institutions. And let’s be honest I love Summer Institute!

As I look back, I am humbled at the kindness and generosity others have shown me. I have never worked in a profession where everyone is truly invested in each other’s success. Whether it is taking time out of their busy day to offer hours of training assistance or just aSupport kind word of encouragement when I have needed it most, the financial aid professionals I have been blessed to meet along the way have never disappointed.

It is with their support that I have been able to learn as much as I have over the last year. Of course I have learned a ton of critical financial aid information, (at minimum eight pounds worth as determined by the Delta rep who requested that I remove my neophyte binder from my checked bag unless I wanted to pay his excessive baggage fee). Well beyond that, however, I have learned even more about myself and how to succeed in this profession without crying at my desk, most days.

Here are a few pieces of advice that have helped me:patience

Be patient. Patient with your staff, patient with your students and most importantly patient with yourself. Rome was not built in a day.

14ef0eaed545dfdd2715b55901ef92dbEnjoy the journey. Many projects are lengthy and tedious. Find energy in the process, finding new and better ways to get things done each and every time.

Let it go. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Leave your work at work. It will still be there in the morning. You will be better off after an enjoyable time away from the office.

Use your resources. Use your friends in financial aid. I know I speak for others as well when I say that you could reach out to me anytime and I would do my best to help you get index.jpgthe answer you need. (

Attend the available learning conferences offered each year. If you haven’t gone to Summer Institute, go! Take every level they offer! Leave room for an eight pound binder to come home with you!

celebrate.jpgCelebrate the successes – even the small ones. You showed up today with a smile on your face. Your students appreciate it and so do I.

And remember…”Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” –Theodore Roosevelt. I think we are all pretty lucky to be able to do such amazing work. Keep it up!


Brought to you by:
Heather Fink
Training Committee

NASFAA 50th Anniversary

July 19, 2016

This year marks a momentous milestone in our industry – we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original signing of the Higher Education Act, which simultaneously spawned the birth of the National Association of Study Financial Aid Administrators!!  And in wonderful style, the annual NASFAA Conference held in Washington DC July 10-13 provided us not only with an excellent conference, but a celebratory retrospective of how the industry has evolved over the decades.

The NASFAA Board of Directors kicked off the event on Saturday evening with a cocktail and dinner event at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  No less than 24 former NASFAA Chairs came to help celebrate the anniversary.  It was a true testament to the commitment of these individuals to our industry that they were eager to come “home” and celebrate with the current Board.  And having the dessert bar in the same room as the Hope Diamond was truly the icing on the cake!!


Art Young, RMASFAA Past President, Vicki Kucera, President-Elect, Joe Donlay, Current President, Janet Riis and Brenda Hicks, RMASFAA representation on the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee

The conference truly began on Sunday with 2,500 attendees…the largest registration in the last ten years.  The Keynote introductory speaker was Jeanette Wells, author of “The Glass Castle”, which has been on the New York Times best seller list for six years.  Her story and message gives hope to those facing challenges and make us all realize that anything is possible.  After hearing her speak I downloaded the book immediately and can’t wait to settle in for an inspirational read!!

Sunday evening had us kicking up our heals and blowing off steam at the 50th Anniversary Dinner and Dance.


Throughout the conference we heard updates from Jeff Baker and company regarding PPY, Gainful Employment, and all of the other riveting topics that make us anxious to get up and go to work each day.  ;-)  Justin Draeger and his NASFAA crew along with the conference committee provided a seamless conference that was both entertaining and informative.  Dan Mann, current NASFAA Chair, presided over the conference and festivities in wonderful style.

The event as a whole reminded me what a privilege it has been to be a part of this incredible industry with the myriad of committed individuals that have preceded us and who we work with and network with today. Happy Birthday NASFAA!!!! And many, many, many more…

Vicki Kucera
RMASFAA President-Elect

Limelight on Ron Smout Award for Teaching and Mentoring – Grant Uecker

July 18, 2016

Throughout the series we will be going back to past Ron Smout recipients and finding out their story to becoming a teacher/mentor and their words of wisdom. The fifth Limelight is on Grant Uecker.

Q: Everyone has a different “my start in financial aid” story.  What was yours?

Grant Uecker

A: My career began in the fall of 1973 when I was appointed the Assistant Business at Dakota Wesleyan University.  I became familiar with the EOG, NDSL, CWS, and BEOG programs at that time.   (They were the Educational Opportunity Program, The National Defense Student Loans, the College Workstudy Program and the Basic Educational Opportunity Program).  In the fall of 1979 I became the Financial Aid Coordinator at Mitchell Technical Institute and remained in that position until retiring in the summer of 2012.

Q: Once you were in financial aid, who would you say was your mentor?

A: Don Buehrer (Mount Marty College) and I started in the profession at about the same time and traveled to numerous financial aid meetings, state, regional, and national.  We pretty much helped each other learn the basics and progressed together as policies and procedures changed on a regular basis.

Q: What impacted you to become a teacher/mentor? And why were you so passionate about it?

A: Watching the presenters at the meetings and the help they provided to learn the new regulations gave me the inspiration to become a presenter and help others.  I wanted folks that were new to the profession to get a great start and feel comfortable with working with students and insuring that their students got the maximum benefits from their financial aid office.  Great post-secondary graduates can do great things for the country’s economy.

Q: We would love to find out where you are now?  How is retirement treating?

A: I remain at my residence in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Retirement is great.  My wife and I can visit our two kids and 5 grandchildren whenever we want to.  My time is spent bowling, exercising, and riding my bike.  I serve the community by being the Treasurer of the Prehistoric Indian Village and serving on committees for the Exchange Club.

Q: Any words of wisdom for new financial aid administrators?

A: Go to meetings, get involved by serving on committees and run for a position on your state, regional, and maybe even a national one.  Oh, and enjoy life.  Time goes so fast!

Spotlight on New Members!

July 15, 2016

Spotlight on new members

Please welcome Dawn Boman, Associate Director of Financial Aid at Washburn University in Kansas, as a new member to RMASFAA! We also welcome Washburn back to RMASFAA; the University has not been a member since 2009.

Q: It looks like you are new to RMASFAA, but have been in financial aid since 2010. What is your educational background and what brought you to the financial aid world?

A: I graduated from Kansas State University with an elementary education degree, specializing in mathematics. I have worked in the education field, owned a floral and gift shop, worked in banking and investments and naively thought financial aid wouldn’t be much different!

Q: What brought you to Washburn University?  Tell RMASFAA a bit about your school and what you do there.

A: I grew up about an hour away from Topeka and have family who graduated from Washburn, so I have heard about Washburn my whole life. When I moved back to the area, I thought Washburn would be a good place to work and as luck would have it, a position was open in the financial aid department! Washburn University was founded in 1865. The 160-acre residential campus in the heart of Topeka, KS is a public institution with more than 6,900 students and 1,000 faculty and staff involved in more than 200 academic programs that lead to certification, associate, bachelor, master’s, doctor of nursing practice and juris doctor degrees. Often our mascot is confused with being associated with “Ichabod Crane,” however Washburn University and Ichabod are named for an early benefactor to the school, Ichabod Washburn. I started in financial aid the spring of 2010 as an Administrative Specialist, was the Processing Manager overseeing all financial aid processes, and recently accepted the Associate Director position.

Q: You just attended RMASFAA’s Summer Institute in one of the “Intervanced” classes. How was your SI experience? What did you like best?

A: Golden, CO was beautiful! Being in the “mountains” (compared to Kansas!) was wonderful for the week of SI. I have attended conferences and workshops before but never an intense week of informative financial aid sessions. Meeting fellow financial aid professionals who have the same concerns was my favorite. Being able to talk concerns through with others and sometimes hearing about problems for the first time and how they are finding solutions was extremely beneficial.


Dawn Boman

Dawn Boman, Washburn University’s Associate Director of Financial Aid, is seen here participating in an evening event at this year’s Summer Institute in Golden, CO. This “Minute To Win It” activity involved pulling the most tissues from a box one-by-one and one-handed within sixty seconds.


Dawn was in the Dominoes class taught by Thad and Sally (or Sad and Thally, as they were known by their students… J). Here’s what her instructors had to say about Dawn:

“Dawn was terrific. She has an incredible sense of humor, and a warmth about her that will take her a long way. …[S]he has an unlimited future in financial aid…[she’s] very bright and analytical.”

“Dawn was great. Very insightful and sharp.  She even thought SAIG made sense which flabbergasts me!”

Q: What is your favorite thing about your work?

A: I love the challenge of problem solving daily! You can never be bored or get complacent in this job.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote to share?

A: “Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but a reflection of yours.” But the one that seems to get me through all the changes in financial aid is “If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies.”

Q: What do you do for fun/hobbies/favorites?

A: I love to read and am a huge movie buff. I will read and watch anything. I used to have so many other hobbies until I had children and then started working in financial aid! J

Q: What makes you laugh the most?

A: My friends and family. I come from a long line of sarcastic humor, so I laugh a lot with my kids. Gotta pass on the tradition!

 Q: If you could go back in time to change one thing, what would it be?

A: I would get a medical degree. I love everything to do with the inner workings of the human body! I even watch those surgery shows!!

Be sure to welcome any Washburn University representatives attending RMASFAA’s annual conference October 23-26 in Rapid City, SD and say hello to Dawn at the FSA conference November 29-December 2 in Atlanta!

Update from the President

July 12, 2016

Happy (belated) Fourth of July, RMASFAA!

It’s a gorgeous summer day here in Northern Colorado and the firecrackers have been blasting full-force in my neighborhood since about 8 o’clock this morning.  Apart from the fact that the neighbor kids are working their way through a case of holiday mortars which are making my dog Macie want to crawl inside my t-shirt, it’s shaping up to be an awesome 4th!  My wish is that each of you take a moment to step away from the craziness of summertime in the aid office and enjoy with family and good friends.

Before heading out to partake in Fort Collins Independence Day festivities, I wanted to take a second to provide you with a quick summertime blog update on RMASFAA “happenings”.  There have been so many wonderful things going on within the Rocky Mountain region, and I can’t help but smile as I think about the incredible RMASFAA members who work so hard on behalf of our great association.

  • A hearty congratulations to Summer Institute Chair Cristi Millard, Past Chair Rob Drybread, Vice Chair Jenny Leigh Adler and the entire team (of nearly 30 RMASFAA’ers…!) for yet another absolutely fantastic week of training and professional development. Over 120 attendees convened on the Colorado School of Mines campus last month for “Winning the Financial Aid Game”!  This year’s institute was a turning point for RMASFAA as we implemented the NASFAA University Study Guides for our curriculum, provided NASFAA University credentialing opportunities, and went PAPERLESS with our materials for the first-time ever.  Initial feedback from Summer Institute Faculty and Participants indicates that this was an extremely successful transition.  RMASFAA was also honored to host NASFAA 2015-16 National Chair Dan Mann and NASFAA Vice President Megan McClean-Coval for the week and enjoyed their participation in our training and networking activities!
  • If you haven’t done so, I would encourage each of you (particularly if you have non-degree Title IV-eligible programs!) to watch the RMASFAA Training Committee’s Gainful Employment podcast! My sincere thanks to Training Chair Katie Nettel, Vice Chair Janet Dodson, and the entire committee for providing input, direction, and the creation of much-needed and very well-developed content on a challenging topic!  The podcast is available on-demand and is accessible here.   Check it out!
  • The RMASFAA Leadership Pipeline Committee, led by Chair Shauna Savage and Vice Chair Janet Riis, has been working to create yet another outstanding experience for those selected to the incoming 2016-17 Leadership Pipeline class. With a new webpage highlighting the program, alumni, and the application, we are excited to kick off RMASFAA’s 5th Leadership Pipeline class this October at the annual conference in Rapid City.  Selected applicants will be notified very soon!
  • The Board of Directors voted to approve Jenny Leigh Adler as Interim RMASFAA Vice President through October 2016. The interim appointment was due to the recent resignation of our friend and colleague Starla Russell.  Jenny Leigh held the position of Vice President in 2013-14 and is well-equipped to serve out the duration of this Board’s tenure.
  • Earlier today, I communicated to the RMASFAA listserv the results of a Board-level vote to adopt a new tiered membership dues structure, beginning in 2017. This action was taken after a mandatory 30-day membership-wide comment period on the proposal.  Effective January 2017, RMASFAA’s institutional membership dues structure will reflect an IPEDS-based enrollment configuration which will assess dues based on your institutional enrollment tier:
    • $150 for institutions with 1-5,000 total students reported in IPEDS (including all campuses in the RMASFAA region)—increase of $50 over current dues
    • $200 for institutions with 5,001-10,000 total students reported in IPEDS (including all campuses in the RMASFAA region)—increase of $100 over current dues
    • $250 for institutions with 10,001 or more total students as reported in IPEDS (including all campuses in the RMASFAA region)—increase of $150 over current dues
    • $250 for associate membership—increase of $150 over current dues

The new membership dues model serves to advance key directives charged to the Board of Directors within the 2015-2018 Strategic Long Range Plan, by helping to more closely approximate operational expenses with operational revenues.

  • My enthusiastic compliments to President-Elect Vicki Kucera and the members of the Nominations and Elections Committee for their development of a top-flight ballot of RMASFAA members in this year’s officer election. RMASFAA is beyond fortunate to have incredible people who are always willing to share their time and talent with our association.  Congratulations to all of the incoming RMASFAA Officers, including President-Elect Ken Kocer, Vice President Stephanie Covington, Treasurer-Elect Becca Dobry, Secretary Erin Richards, and Associate Member Delegate Natalie Engelbrecht!
  • The final meeting of the 2015-16 NASFAA Board of Directors will happen this week, in advance of the NASFAA National Conference in Washington D.C. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Past-President Art Young for his exceptional leadership on the national board this past year.  As Art concludes his board tenure, I look forward to assuming the position of regional voting representative on the national board for 2016-17 with President-Elect Vicki Kucera as regional observer.  Art, Vicki, and I hope to see many of you at the NASFAA Conference and 50th Anniversary Celebration next week in our nation’s capital!

I’ve always believed that by surrounding oneself with great people, great things will happen.  There are so many GREAT student aid administrators who work tirelessly on behalf of our Rocky Mountain region and we’ve had a spectacularly productive year.  I continue to be humbled and honored to serve as your RMASFAA President.  Please take care – and here’s to a relaxing, energizing, and fun-filled summer!


-Joe Donlay, RMASFAA President

Joe Biz Pic

RMASFAA Summer Institute 2016

June 29, 2016

#winning.  Winning is how best to describe Summer Institute 2016; not only because of its “Winning the Financial Aid Game” theme and such fun activities as Minute to Win It, Bingo & Catch Phase, but mainly due to all of the knowledge and new friendships gained by SI attendees.  2016 SI attendees were the first to be exposed to NASFAA University training materials, over the previously utilized NASFAA CORE materials; SI seasoned and first-time faculty alike seemed to be extremely happy with the new NASFAA U material. Additionally, 2 NASFAA credentialing topics were taught to each level of attendee, and any 2016 SI attendee can register to take the credentialing test in their two topics, with no additional charge to them or their school!  SI 2016 also saw the use of laptops in the classroom as a primary material point of reference; thus, reducing our notorious notebooks significantly in size and making them not push people’s luggage over the restricted airline weight limits (this made self-proclaimed “tree hugger”, and faculty co-dean, Susan Stephenson giddy beyond belief).  Thanks to the amazing SI committee and faculty for stepping it up to implement all of these updates and for making this a fantastic week of learning and fun; you all are awesome! Thanks to our fantastic 2016 SI attendees, you all made for a super fun and enjoyable week!

Feel like you missed out by not attending SI 2016?  Well you totally did!  So don’t miss out again, and make plans to attend SI 2017, which will begin Sunday, June 11th.  We look forward to seeing (and learning with) you next year in beautiful Golden, CO!

Jenny Leigh Adler

2016 Summer Institute Co-Chair


Limelight on Ron Smout Award for Teaching and Mentoring – Larry Viterna

June 28, 2016


Marty & Larry at Ft Scott, KS

Where to start?! RMASFAA remains such a valued part of my life — and when I say RMASFAA, I mean the people who make it the fantastic organization that it is.

My financial aid profession started in September of 1975 with a “Director of Student Affairs” appointment at the then University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. The appointment followed 5 ½ yrs. teaching high school vocational agriculture near Lincoln, NE and a year of teaching at UNSTA. Not exactly the background one would expect!

That is one of the wonderful things about working in our student financial aid profession; we all come from a variety of backgrounds. What we have in common is a love for helping students succeed. And, we have an inert desire to help our colleagues be the best they can be. There is a bit of “teaching” and “mentoring” in each of us. We innovate. We share. We learn. We set examples. We teach.

So, while some of us have been fortunate to be recognized by our colleagues, please remember that each and every one, in one way or another, brings their own special value to this profession. I could not have succeeded without the mentoring of people who had “been there.” People who wanted me to be the “best I could be.” And, if they were doing that for me, I most certainly wanted to “pay it forward.”

Ron Smout was one of the best, quietly setting the example of what it takes to help others be successful. Life had thrown Ron some painful curves — but most didn’t know that. With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, he “taught you” when you did not even know you were being taught. Receiving the first ever Ron Smout Teaching and Mentoring award in 2002 was a complete surprise (many in RMASFAA could have been that recipient!). It is a cherished honor. I hope, at least in a small way, that I have been able to emulate Ron.

Finn-1st T-Ball Game-June 2016

Finn (grandson, age 4 1/2), Larry, & Fletcher (grandson, age 7 1/2)

Today, at 71, I am happily retired and enjoying life with Marty. We have 4 grandchildren and life is good. Facebook keeps us in touch with many who’ve traveled with us over the years. We are involved with local mission work through our church and still teach and mentor when an opportunity presents itself. We are still learning, too! You can never stop doing that.

Goodness! Where to stop is more the question than where to start! I’ll finish like this:

  • “Before you can lead, you must learn to follow.” (Mona Pearl and her RMASFAA leadership talk)
  • “It’s what you know for sure that isn’t necessarily so that will get you into trouble.” (Jim Gordon at my very first neophyte training session)
  • Bloom where you are planted (Wilma Kasnic)
  • “I know the regs don’t say we can — but they don’t say we can’t either. Rejoice in the grey area; it’s what gives us the chance to do as much for a student as we possibly can.” (Larry Viterna to his student loan coordinator)
  • “You would find that in Section …, … , … of the regs.” (Don Aripoli – he could always take you right to the source)
  • “I think you would make a great committee chair/ trainer/ association officer/ editor/ photographer/. . . .” (Someone who sees the potential in YOU!)

Say “yes” to getting involved. Say “yes” to learning all you can. Say “yes” to sharing what you know. Say “Come join us.” “Come have dinner with us.” HAVE FUN! And never forget to say THANK YOU! To all of my wonderful colleagues and friends over the years, and to my wife (who sacrificed some of her goals so I could be involved), THANK YOU!

by Larry Viterna