Tips to Make Work Easier

The Association News Committee will share their best productivity tips because ideas that make our jobs easier should be shared.  Let’s hear from Katie Nelson!

I think one of the biggest issues facing financial aid professionals today is the stress of our day to day lives, the constant changing regulations, staff turnover, more and more things our offices are tasked with tracking and preparing.


(I really like The Office. We’ve even changed our phone ringtones to The Office theme song. I highly recommend it.)

My tip for making work easier is to reduce stress by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as being present in the moment in a nonjudgmental way. Some examples of mindfulness include:

  • Being aware and accepting of the present experience
  • Bringing focus, awareness and attention to the present moment
  • “single-tasking” rather than multi-tasking
  • Being wholeheartedly present here and now
  • Being attentive to what you are doing rather than operating automatically
  • Nurturing attitudes of acceptance and non-judgment, which adds warmth, friendliness, and compassion.

I know some of that sounds like what you would hear in a yoga class (I like yoga too!), but if you really think about it, it can and does apply to our work lives. You can practice mindfulness in a formal or informal manner. Formal practice involves setting aside specific time to be mindful, such as time to meditate. Informal practice is reminding yourself to be mindful while you while you are completing another task. For example, noticing the sensations of walking when we walk or noticing the feel of soapy water on our hands when washing dishes.


Stay with me people!

The benefits of mindfulness are huge! I won’t show the whole list, but if you are curious, you can google to find out more!

  • Strengthened immune system
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Helps maintain weight
  • Reduced fatigue and anxiety
  • Better brain function
  • Decreased depression
  • Enhanced listening skills

When you slow the mind, you think more clearly. You respond thoughtfully instead of simply reacting. Mindfulness helps your body to relax. Your body can’t be relaxed and stressed at the same time so, when you are relaxed, you think more clearly and tend to make wiser decisions.

If you take anything away from my ramblings and Office references, let it be this.


Be present in the moment. Give the students and your co-workers your full attention instead of thinking about what else you have to do that day or week. Don’t look at your emails while listening to a parent on the phone. Live a less stressed life!


Katie Nelson
Black Hills State University – Student Financial Services

All I Need to Know About Life…

I don’t have any pets. There are several reasons for this…I rent and pets are not allowed…I’m gone a lot and it doesn’t seem fair to a pet to be left home alone so much…and as an adult I learned I have some allergies, including one to pet dander.

If I could have a pet, however, it would be a dog. I had several dogs throughout my childhood, along with cats, fish, rabbits, a gerbil, and some adopted baby calves in the barn. I like to think of myself as an animal lover.

We’ve all seen the “All I Know About Life I Learned From My… (dog, cat, etc.)” on Facebook, etc. In the spirit of this, I thought I would share some of my favorite “dog wisdom” that can help us as we make our way through another year and semester. If you have a pet at home, I hope that animal loves you unconditionally and provides you with some great stress relief after a busy day in the office!

All I Need To Know About Life I Learned From My Dog 


  • Run, romp, and play daily.
  • Be loyal.
  • Never pretend to be something you’re not.
  • When you leave your yard (or office), make it an adventure.
  • Bond with your pack (or fellow co-workers).
  • When you’re excited, speak up.
  • Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
  • If you stare at someone long enough, eventually you’ll get what you want.
  • Leave room in your schedule for a good nap.
  • Always give people a friendly greeting!


Marlene Seeklander

Lake Area Technical Institute

Getting a CLUE: A How-Done-It Mystery (Solved!) for the Financial Aid Noob

This post is brought to you by the Training Committee.  Please welcome Erika Kampschnieder – Mid-Plains Community College, Nebraska


Congratulations!  You’ve landed your dream job that you probably never realized was a dream of yours.  So now that you are days, weeks, or months into this new role you may be thinking, “What did I get myself into, and how do I escape???”

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there and had those same thoughts, most of us probably still have those thoughts occasionally.  The profession we’ve chosen is stressful, full of regulations, at times overwhelming, and most importantly – REWARDING.  As a two year “veteran” of financial aid (I say veteran lightly, as I consider myself very much a newbie with a lot to learn), I have found a few things that have helped me be successful & also have ideas for any supervisors that may be wondering how to help their rookies succeed.

Welcome to the mind BOGGLEing world of financial aid

CONNECT 4 steps to get yourself from brand new to quasi-confident

Learn your role with help from your team.  In my office we all work on a little bit of everything, and let me tell you throughout my first week or two I was terrified when I realized how much I was going to need to learn in a short amount of time.  One of the best ways to learn how to perform this job is to actually perform the job.  Reading about policies and regulations is great, but I highly recommend a training path that flows through four stages from shadowing, to working with “training wheels” on, working on your own but having someone review what you’ve done, and finally working independently and only asking for help when you need it.  Shadowing someone allows you to see what it is you’ll be doing, the “training wheels” allow you to get familiar with the system while someone directly supervises you, and small bits of independence afterwards will help you build confidence.

Knowing the resources available to you can be tHought of as a TRIVIAL PURSUIT

My director once said “Financial aid isn’t always knowing how to handle every situation, it’s knowing that there is something written somewhere & being able to find that information.” This next piece of advice may be one of the most boring training methods, but it is SO valuable down the road.  Read as many training materials as you can find. One of the first texts I read was the Application and Verification Guide from IFAP, since it most closely related to the things I would be working on right away.  It is a bit of a long read and very overwhelming when you are just starting out, but it also helps you make sense of the things you see as you are shadowing.  Other helpful sources to read from include NASFAA U study guides, Dear Colleague letters, the NASFAA News daily email feed, and your school’s policy handbook.  Reading or skimming these documents helps you familiarize yourself with common words and acronyms used in this field as well as show you where you can find answers when you run into questions down the road.

Why SCRABBLE for answers when you are unsure of what to do, your team is here to help

Ask questions and don’t apologize for any uncertainty you may have.  Everyone has been new to this world before, so we understand exactly how challenging it can be and how each question you ask seems to spiral into three more.  As someone that has helped train two members of our team, I would rather have a new employee ask a million questions and learn how to do things correctly than fix a lot of mistakes later on.  That being said, as you learn and grow in your role, try to research your questions to find the answer on your own first.  Then, if you still feel uncertain, you can always ask someone on your team to confirm that what you found is correct.  This will help what you learn stick to memory and impress your new coworkers.

Don’t use your CRANIUM more than you need to, find ways to simplify your tasks

Make step-by-step guides you can follow for assistance with your job duties – include responsibilities you perform regularly as well as those that you don’t see quite as often, but still require consistency in resolution.  Our team has created how-to lists for many of our processes allowing us to provide timely service and accurate results.  Our audit findings have significantly improved each year, and my personal opinion is that part of the credit has to be given to these instruction sheets.  Just as an example, we’ve created guides for packaging, verification, clearing unusual enrollment history, processing documents as they are received, SAP processing, and several others.

Creating a Winning Team

HI-HO CHERRY-O, it’s off to train your staff you go.

New staff members have many concerns about what expectations there are for them, how to do their job, and who to turn to for guidance.  It is especially beneficial for newbies to have some extra attention from their supervisor in the first few weeks, just to get their training off on the right track.  While having the whole team available for assistance is wonderful, it may be easier to trust that what you are being told is 100% correct if the information is coming from your boss.  Continued follow-up throughout the training process can also help reassure a new employee that what they are doing is valuable and that they have been a big asset to the team so far.

PERFECTION won’t happen overnight, give your new hires feedback on how they’re doing so far

All employees, new or old, can appreciate honest feedback from their boss.  It is always good to hear from someone else what your strengths are but also to know how you can improve.  You cannot expect your staff to get it right if you don’t tell them what they are getting wrong.  Although peer review is a wonderful tool, one-on-one time with your employees is not only necessary, but can help boost confidence in the various roles your team members play.

Let your Noobs take RISKs and try something new

It can be very scary watching someone brand new take the reins for the first time, especially if their system of completing tasks doesn’t match yours.  Let your newbies take risks and figure out their own way of performing job duties.  If your new hire is going to be successful in their job, they will need to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t.  An added bonus of letting them find their own system is the potential for innovative new ways of completing the job.  Just be sure to monitor their work until you are confident that they know their role and how to successfully perform the job.


Did you see it?  This blog contains puzzle #2 from the RMASFAA Training Committee series. Hint: the puzzle is related to one of the states in our region.

Please read the blog, solve the puzzle, and submit your answer via email with the subject line “RMASFAA Puzzle #2” to before April 8 to be entered into the drawing for a prize. Remember, collect all correct answers to all 8 puzzles throughout our training series this year to solve the final puzzle and be entered to win the big prize and be crowned “RMASFAA Training Committee Grand Champion Game Master”!

To find puzzle #1, please go view the previously recorded “Chutes and Ladders of Year-Round Pell” Webinar and look for your other 6 chances to enter in our upcoming blog posts and webinars!

Last Call for Nominations

3 Nominations

This is your final opportunity to nominate a colleague (or yourself) to run for a RMASFAA office. Nominations will be accepted through March 15, 2018, and candidates must be current members.

The following positions are open for nomination:

  • President-Elect
  • Vice President-Elect
  • Treasurer-Elect
  • Secretary
  • Associate Member Delegate

The elected candidates for the positions of President Elect, Secretary and Associate Member Delegate will serve on the Board of Directors in the 2018-2019 year (board year begins October 2018).

The online nomination form can be located by clicking on ‘Online Forms’, from the left side of our website homepage. You are also welcome to email a nomination directly to me at

Thank you!

Myra Pfannenstiel President Elect

Myra Pfannenstiel
RMASFAA President-Elect and Chair, Nominations & Elections Committee

2018 DMCI SI Scholarship Announcement


The DMCI Summer Institute Scholarship application is now available!

The RMASFAA Diversity and Multicultural Initiative Committee (DMCI) would like to announce the opening of our Summer Institute Scholarship application. This scholarship will help RMASFAA members pay for costs to attend the RMASFAA Summer Institute (June 3-8 in Colorado Springs, CO)

The deadline to submit the application is April 30, 2018.

The scholarship is intended primarily for individuals who promote equity and inclusion. Although preference will be given to these applicants, please do not hesitate to apply should you be interested in the mission of the DMCI Committee or in equity and inclusion advocacy.

2018 DMCI Summer Institute Scholarship Application

If you have difficulty with the application process, please contact Manuel Gant at

Note:  You must be a current member to be considered for the scholarship, so please make certain that your payment is current.


In Case You Missed It: NASFAA U: What Inspired the First 10 Members to Earn All 17 Credentials


NASFAA recently released an article highlighting the first 10 members to earn all 17 professional credentials and three are from our RMASFAA region.

RMASFAA does a great job at making credential training available for its members.  Summer Institute will be opening registration soon and that is a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of to learn as much as you can while meeting others in the financial aid profession.

Let’s hear the stories of our three credentialed superstars.

Brandon Huiner, Associate Director of the Office of Financial Aid and Compliance at the University of Denver, Denver, CO:

Not only does the knowledge Huiner gained from studying and testing for the credentials assist him in his financial aid role at the University of Denver every day, but earning the credentials has also secured him a role at the Rocky Mountain Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (RMASFAA) Summer Institute, whose staff approached him after seeing his name on the credentials honor roll list.

“The NASFAA U study materials are a great resource for learning more about many of the topics that we, as financial aid professionals, may work with every day,” Huiner said. “I also feel that they can be a unique way to help ambitious financial aid professionals, especially newer ones, stand out in our field.”

Janet Dodson, former Associate Director of communications at Tuition Exchange Inc., Crete, NE:

Dodson took advantage of the opportunity to earn the credentials while serving as the chair of a RMASFAA training committee, where they were offered as training material. When looking to hire new staff in financial aid, Dodson said that candidates who have earned credentials stand out to her.

“The resume detailing financial aid credentials sparks my interest above other similar resumes,” Dodson said. “Earned professional credentialing provides me with additional reasons to believe the individual will be a dedicated professional.”

Myra Pfannenstiel, Director of Financial Aid at Newman University, Wichita, KS:

Pfannenstiel said earning all 17 NASFAA U credentials has enabled her to expand her networking circles by allowing her to lead credential-training sessions outside of her office, state, and region, and serve as a role model for professionals on her team, who have gone on to pursue credentials of their own.

“Regardless of what path your professional career takes, no one can take the knowledge you have away from you,” Pfannenstiel said. “The credentials are a great way to enhance your resume, not only by earning the credentials but by also sharing that knowledge with others.”

You can view the entire article here.