A career of dedication and Diversity and Inclusion Committee Updates (past-DMCI)

During the 1999-2000 academic year, I had opportunity to serve as vice chair of RMASFAA’s Diversity and Multi-Cultural Initiatives (DMCI) Committee. In February of 2000, my family and I moved to Ohio and began a series of opportunities and moves that tremendously changed our lives. 18 years later and back in both central Kansas and daily financial aid operations, my submitted RMASFAA volunteer form completed a full-circle in life by providing a return to the DMCI committee. As the work of the committee progresses this year, it has been good for me to ponder related personal, professional and world-wide philosophical shifts that have occurred over these intervening years. In this post, I intend to update readers on some current changes happening within the ethos of this RMASFAA committee while also encouraging each of us to continue thinking about, and acting on, ways we can improve our communities and the inclusiveness of our daily interactions.


In the context of RMASFAA, DMCI over the years has been associated almost exclusively with scholarships and issues of ethnicity. Of course, the term “diversity” now encompasses so much more than it used to. Working towards goals of broadening and modernizing the scope of our work, committee members this year discussed and, ultimately, proposed re-naming the committee and establishing a new purpose statement. At its spring meeting, the Board approved the proposal! Going forward, RMASFAA will benefit from the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The purpose of the committee is to “Explore current social issues that relate to our profession in order to bring awareness to the members of our association and ultimately foster a culture of acceptance, inclusion, and respect. The Committee is also charged with awarding scholarships to members of our association for training opportunities provided by RMASFAA.”

Paulo Freire was a noted Brazilian educational philosopher who receives particular acclaim for his work in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In his book, Freire states and supports his belief that all of us fall into one of two groups – the oppressed and the oppressors. A favorite quote of mine from this piece is, “It is essential for the oppressed to realize that when they accept the struggle for humanization they also accept, from that moment, their total responsibility for the struggle.” It is easy to view placement in either an oppressed or oppressor category from a negative connotation, but if we choose to flip either definition to a positive sense, then we can make choices about how to act for the betterment of those around us. We can each truly own our responsibility, regardless of what issue you choose to place foremost in any given struggle. This is essentially what your Diversity and Inclusion Committee now strives to do. We want RMASFAA members to understand that diversity covers what is different about those around us including things such as gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, background, size, and so much more. We define inclusion as what is being done to not marginalize, discriminate, or minimize a group of our population because of what makes them different.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve become one of the older, more experienced people in the room. Not quite sure how that happened, but a distinct benefit of all the places I’ve lived and worked has been the opportunity to regularly interact with others who represent almost any description of diversity. The distinct opportunity we each have, as I now see it, is how we choose advocate for inclusiveness of others, regardless of personal and collective understanding of any given diverse attribute, into our community.  As you consider “Diversity and Inclusion” within RMASFAA, your work environment, and your community, be encouraged to ask questions and ponder solutions. What can you do to advocate for the oppressed? As an oppressor, whether real or perceived, what can you do to help broaden understanding and positively influence policy? There is much we can each do, and RMASFAA members should look forward to continued focus on how we can enhance inclusion.

Mark Bandre, Ed. D.
Bethany College
Diversity and Inclusion Committee

Tips to Make Work Easier

As things gear up for 2018/2019, I find myself glued to my email inbox. I often have to remind myself, sometimes multiple times a day, email is not the only part of my job. It will be there until I answer it, file it, or delete it.

Email is a convenient, speedy way to send a message, but does an answer always need to be returned as quickly as it was received?

Here are a few ways I handle answering my emails and how I use my inbox as a to do list:

  1. Start with the oldest messages first. Break it down by day if needed. Check out which ones are a simple, short answer response and get those off your plate quickly.
  2. Look to see if any of them are coming in from your boss, their boss, or their boss’ boss.
  3. Mark the ones that may take a little more time to respond to with a follow up flag. You can even customize the flag to set a future reminder.
  4. Set deadlines on your work calendar to coincide with these flagged reminders. This is just a backup to make sure you are keeping up with the old emails and they are not buried with the new ones rolling in. I even go as far as color coordinating my calendared items to coincide with my job duties.
  5. Turn off the email notifications. Every time that darn little box pops up on your screen, it is just a distraction. I try to check my email messages roughly every 2 hours, and try to follow steps 1-4 at that time.
  6. Not all emails need an instantaneous response. I am not always watching for an email to come in just so I can reply to it. Let your email inbox work for you, not against you.Brenda Haseman

    Brenda Haseman
    Scholarship Coordinator
    NWCCD – Wyoming


Leadership Pipeline: Jana Parks

Please welcome the 2017-2018 Leadership Pipeline class. The nine participants that make up this year’s class will share their experiences about participating in RMASFAA’s renowned professional development program.  It’s time to meet Jana Parks.

Jana Parks 2

What is your current position and how long have you worked in financial aid?

I am the Financial Aid Director at Baker University.  I have had the opportunity to work at Baker for 15 years.  I am in my first year as the Director.

Who is your Leadership Pipeline mentor and describe your relationship with them?

I have had the privilege to be mentored by Art Young from Utah State University.  I could not have asked for a better mentor.  Art has spent many years in the financial aid office and has experience within the private and public sector.  We have a standing monthly meeting to discuss specific questions, but Art is always willing to answer all my other “first year” director questions.  I truly appreciate that as he advises he does not tell me what to do but helps me think through what is best for my school and students, and what regulations I need to be basing my decisions on.

Why did you decide to join the Leadership Pipeline?

Most of my understanding of the Leadership Pipeline came through the regular RMASFAA emails that are sent out.  I typically scan through the emails for any helpful information or training opportunities.  The day the Leadership Pipeline email came out I was drawn in by the opportunity for additional mentorship.  At that time, I had a hugely influential mentor Jeanne Mott that was retiring from our school.  I knew in order to be successful I needed to be connected to other mentors.  The Leadership Pipeline provided the mentor I needed, but it has also provided a bigger network of support and opportunities to hone my leadership skills.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far?

You are not alone in this profession.  I have heard others say it is a profession different from many others, but it is so true.  Especially in the aspect of comradery among the financial aid professionals. Being in my first year, I have realized there are many directors, even directors from competitor schools that are cheering me on and willing to help answer any question that I may have.

I have also learned that if you are willing to take advantage of the amazing training opportunities available through our Regional and State associations, you can develop and refine your professional skills which will help you continue to grow in this wonderful profession.

What is it that you are hoping to come away with at the end of the program?

I am hoping that through this program I will be able to build a network of individuals that will help me through my first few years as a Director.  I also look forward to acquiring resources that will help me be a great Director.

Why would you recommend the Leadership Pipeline program to others?

I would recommend the program to anyone within the financial aid profession.  The program is not only how to be a leader once you have a leadership title, but how to utilize opportunities to be seen as a leader, no matter your title.  If you are looking for an opportunity to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone, but also be provided with resources that will help you each step of the way, then this program is for you!

Tips to Make Work Easier

Depending on the day, our workplace can provide a mixture of complex projects and mundane routine tasks. Staying productive can be difficult especially during a slow time when there is not many exciting assignments to do. Below is a list of my top three recommendations for increasing productivity:

#1 – Worst is First


Creating a to-do list is a simple way to prioritize your tasks and stay on track. Maria Sager, our Director of Financial Aid, coined the term ‘Worst is First’ in our office. This phrase means according to your to-do list, tackle the item you are dreading first. Once the dreadful task is complete, the other items on your list may not seem so difficult.

#2 – Set Reasonable Goals with Reasonable Rewards


Setting small attainable goals can make time fly by, while also crossing items off your to-do list. Examples of reachable goals would be; clearing your email inbox by lunch, cross off three items from your to-do list or filing away the stack of papers that have accumulated on your desk. Rewards do not have to be extravagant. After a goal has been completed, take a break from your computer and enjoy the fresh air (or enjoy the view from inside). Reward yourself with your favorite beverage from the vending machine, or make yourself a fresh cup of coffee/tea.

#3 – Take Advantage of Breaks Instead of Skipping Them


Hundreds of studies have been done on the benefits of taking breaks throughout your workday to increase productivity. The exact formula changes (and is different for everyone), but a 15-17 minute break every 60-90 minutes can help you to effectively complete tasks. Take advantage of this break by chatting with a coworker you have not seen in a while, listen to a short podcast (this is a great list of shows less than 30 minutes long) or read an interesting article you saw on social media. Taking breaks can seem like a time waster, but if you commit to them you will see the increase in your productivity.

I decided to put my own advice to the test and completed these three action items for one work-week; and I can tell you the impact to my workday was substantial. I found time to pass much faster and did not feel the need to fill my workday with impractical efforts. Assignments were completed much more efficiently and by forcing myself to step away from certain projects when I was stuck (even for 10 minutes), I was able to open my mind to new possibilities and outcomes.

Small changes can have great impact! Find what works best for you to break up the monotony in your day-to-day responsibilities.

Jackson, Alex



Alex Jackson
Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions

Montana Spotlight

I am not sure if the people in Montana are shy, which I find hard to believe or they just underestimate how interesting, wonderful, talented people they are.  It took some coaxing to have someone share about themselves.  I had several ideas and approaches in my pursuit of a willing participant but still was not able to persuade a volunteer.  It was not until my Director stepped in to help and reach out to several folks he has had a close working relationship with that I was able to get someone to introduce and write about.  Now, admitting to having my Director coordinate this on my behalf could have been my secret to keep were it not for the fact that this will play a role later on in the story so please keep reading!  I am however very grateful for his support.

      Montana has so many wonderful financial aid professionals that I could not go wrong regardless but I am so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview Valerie Curtin for this blog post.  I have had the wonderful privilege of working with and getting to know Val on several occasions through our state association and in the region.  Val has been a tremendous asset to our profession.


Valerie Curtin is currently the Director of Financial Aid at Helena College in Helena, MT.  Prior to Valerie’s current position at Helena College, she had been at Carroll College for 5 ½ years and then with the Student Assistance Foundation, now known as Reach Higher Montana for 5 ½ years.  Both of which are located in Helena, Montana.  Val was originally from Central Illinois and moved out to Whitehall, Montana with her family when she was still in high school.

Valerie has been in financial aid for 20 years and has been very actively involved in the state and regional associations included but not limited to President of the Montana Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (MASFAA), mentor for the Leadership Pipeline and teaching at Summer Institute.

The world of financial aid is?  Ever changing!

The world of financial aid is most challenged by? Things that are ever-changing…no seriously, I would say attempting to be the true equalizer for access to all. The middle income students are always the most difficult to award; those that are just above Pell eligibility, and with most states reducing their education budgets – at least for higher education, and the ever looming threat of Federal programs either terminated or drastically reduced only adds to this dilemma.

The world of financial aid has been most gratifying because of? Helping those students who truly do change the course of their lives through the doors of education that we assist in opening for them. Not often, but every once in a while they come back and say thank you. It is those moments that keep me in this industry.

“And now for the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey would say.  I think I am giving away my age here!): What was your first impression of James Broscheit?

We were at a meeting for the Summer Institute which took place in February a few years back.  James walks into the room wearing shorts and over his shorts he had his underwear!  I was like, “What is up with this guy?”, and was cautious until I saw he had the ‘seal of approval’ from others.  To give this some context, the theme of summer institute was super heroes.  But I would also add that James is very caring and tenderhearted in trying to do all he can for the students he is helping.

So if this seems like a rather odd question to ask, James Broscheit is now the Director here at Montana State University and therefore my new boss as eluded to earlier!  He helped me in coordinating the interview with Valerie and threw in some questions of his own that certainly added some fun if not unusual twists to the conversation.  I can certainly attest to James being a pretty funny guy but also very caring.

Outside of Financial Aid what are some interests, hobbies or what you enjoy doing with your free time?  What free time?!

What’s your favorite indoor/outdoor activity? Watching my children in their activities; whether it’s football, basketball, track, dance, or baseball.

I am in the last semester of getting my Master’s Degree in Public Relations and the rest of the time is filled with the activities of my children.  My daughter is getting ready to graduate and is actually looking to attend Montana State University (so I told Val to come down here with her daughter and we’ll grab coffee).  She also dances.  My son is a freshman in high school, just getting his driver’s license and plays every sport there is.

I do like to hike and read, and actually a good book with a glass of wine is perfect!  And what was the last book you read?  “Queen Sugar”.

If you did have all the time in the world and money wasn’t an issue, what would you like to do?

Travel!  Ireland and Scotland being on my “bucket list”.

Having been in financial aid for so many years and involved in the state and regional associations, what words of wisdom would you offer to those folks that are newer to the field?

I guess I would let any of the “newbies” know that the more you become involved in the Associations and reach out to colleagues, the more vested you will be.  Get involved around the state and region. There is no other profession that is quite like financial aid and those that work in it.

What is one of your favorite quotes? I think the best quote for a Financial Aid Officer is – When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. Franklin D Roosevelt. If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way. Napoleon Hill. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. Winston Churchill. Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’! Audrey Hepburn.

What chore do you absolutely hate doing? Cleaning the bathroom! I don’t know of anyone who enjoys cleaning a toilet; if you do, send them my way!

What is your favorite form of exercise? Exercise?!?! Who has time to exercise when you have two teenagers you’re toting around going from event to event, planning a graduation party, assisting with scholarship applications, finishing up a master’s degree, and freaking out about how to pay for my daughter’s college next year? How about, I seriously exercise my brain to figure out precisely what exercise I should be doing?

What is your favorite time of day/day of the week/month of the year? 6:30AM – Everyone is at home at the same time, and in an okay mood because the craziness hasn’t started yet. Then again at 5:30PM when my dogs are so very excited and greet me at the door regardless of what transpired during the day. I love a lazy Sunday – where most of the chores have already been done around the house, and usually there aren’t any events occurring, and getting ready for the upcoming week’s activities. It can really set-up for a great week. April, of course! It’s my birthday month usually there isn’t any snow remaining, and the days are longer and warmer after a long cold winter.

When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time? Who has free time?!?! Maybe I’d exercise.. hahahaha!

I would have to say that I think what held people back was the request for an interesting or hidden talent and although most of us feel that this wouldn’t apply to us, I would argue that it is who we are and how we trek through life that is the hidden talent.  There can be so many ways we have to manage our day, our work and families and find time to just enjoy and get the most out of life.

A very special thank you to Valerie Curtin and to James Broscheit who made this possible, but a big shout out to all of my financial aid colleagues in my office, in the state of Montana and the best region in the country.  Thank you MASFAA and RMASFAA!

Julie Watson
Assistant Director
Montana State University

Solitaire is Not the Name of the Game in Financial Aid!

Unless your school only has 100 students or you hold some form of magical and/or super financial aid processing powers, your financial aid office is not a one-person shop, which makes it safe to say that working in the financial aid office is comparable to playing a team sport. (Insert shameless plug for the “Not a Spectator Sport” themed Summer Institute happening the first week of June in Colorado Springs, CO – get registered ASAP!! It’s going to be a blast!!)

Just like any sport’s team, bringing together the strengths, weaknesses, values, moods, and ideals of a team of employees can be plenty challenging and finding the right groove for your team could take years. However, I am here to share with you a few tips on how to jump-start team building within your department.

Assess your Team – Do your employees’ strengths and passions align with the jobs they are doing? Do you even know your team members’ strengths and passions? Get to know your employees!!

  • Take some basic strength measuring/personality tests to know who may be the best fit for certain tasks. Suggestions: StrengthsQuest, True Colors personality, 16 Personalities, Animal Personality, and my personal favorite, Hogwarts House Sorting (where you can also find your Patronus, Ilvermorny House, and Wand…but I digress J)
  • Share the results. Creating a spreadsheet of results and sharing with everyone lets your employees know who to go to when facing a project that requires their teammate’s strengths. Post a picture on your office door/cubicle for all to see as a reminder.


  • Cross-Train. Not only is cross training within your office important if ever the lottery bus hits someone, but it also allows everyone the chance to try out new duties and find what they really enjoy. Doing a job that plays to one’s strengths and interests not only improves job satisfaction, but increases productivity and motivation.

Ditch the Day-to-Day, Have Some Fun – The best way to bring a team together and relieve the stressors of work is by taking the “work” out of work! Allowing your staff 15 minutes a day to interact with each other or create a discussion amongst each other can really boost morale.

  • Stretch your brain outside of financial aid. It is a nice reprieve from the stress of our daily jobs to think critically about something outside of our normal scope of duties. One thing that has worked in our office is a daily trivia question competition. Each day’s question is worth a point and some Dove chocolate. Points add up every semester to crown a champion and everyone, whether in our department or not, is invited to play.


  • Play up the holidays. The people you work with are practically family, so why not enjoy some holiday fun? Go old school with Valentine’s Day bags, guess the amount of green M&Ms in a jar, hunt some Easter eggs, bash a piñata, decorate pumpkins, etc. My favorite event is our “10 Days of Christmas at Work” which is two weeks of themed days, holiday games, and even some crafts. Just because we are adults, does not mean we have to stop having fun.
  • Get physical. Utilize an hour of training for a “walking” meeting for your team, which will be a nice step out of the office while still addressing work-related items. You could even coordinate with your school’s fitness center representatives to host an “office boot camp” session for a mini group workout.


Think Beyond Your Department – Your own financial aid team is just a small part of a bigger division to help students navigate the enrollment process so do not forget to foster that team connection as well.

  • Professional Development. Get different departments together to participate in universally beneficial training opportunities such as customer service trainings, assessment days, and training on technology the whole school uses.
  • Provide opportunities for different departments to work together outside of work. Whether in an Amazing Race style event you can host on campus, attending an escape room, or an office Olympics, nothing helps you get to know others better than a little competition. Even a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt can increase the power of play and learning!


Keep It Consistent – Though a one-time event can be interesting, the outcomes are soon forgotten if you do not continue to build upon that foundation.

  • Keep it frequent. Have a daily team huddle for updates on projects, send out a weekly regulation reminder about a situation that came up in your office that week, or even put together a monthly division newsletter to keep communication fresh.
  • Build a calendar. Create a calendar of events and training opportunities to give your staff something to look forward to and act as a reminder that you are committed to building a happy, healthy, and skilled team.

Learning something together with your staff or trying something new as a department is not only engaging, but can really build relationships that will carry on into the workplace. Step out of your daily comfort zone and do not be afraid to try something new, you never know what you will learn about your colleagues.


Did you see it?  This blog contains puzzle #4 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 #4” to Ashlee.dutton@ppcc.edu before June 2 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”!

Though you cannot enter the drawings for puzzles #1 and #2, you can still find them in order to have a chance at the final prize. To find puzzle #1 , please go view the previously recorded “Chutes and Ladders of Year-Round Pell,” Puzzle #2 is located in our previous blog post, and you still have a chance to enter the drawing for Puzzle #3 which can be found in our previously recorded “Don’t Let Comment Codes Sink your Battleship”.  Look for your other four chances to enter in our upcoming blog posts and webinars!

Ashlee Dutton Training


By Ashlee Dutton

Pikes Peak Community College