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Limelight on Ron Smout Award for Teaching and Mentoring – Deb Henriksen

August 22, 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 sixth Limelight is on Deb Henriksen.

I am so glad we have the RMASFAA Leadership Pipeline, one benefit to our organization that I think Ron Smout would be very proud of—using our current mentors to help new financial aid staff get their start in the profession.  Ron was always there in our association to cheer on new financial aid professionals, mentoring others, so I was very honored to become one of the recipients of his award.

I started in financial aid 33 years ago—probably shouldn’t write that part down, should I?  At that time I was working at a college where the Office of Community Service, where I was working, was closing and the Financial Aid Director at that college was leaving.  The president of the college thought I would be a good fit…that is the beginning of my true profession.

I think everyone has had someone to lean on, whether it is in the beginning or as we continue in financial aid.  Since financial aid is not a profession for which you can go to college, it is your mentors and friends, and RMASFAA’s Summer Institute that is your training ground.  Mary Lou Hildebrandt was my mentor—at the that time, one of those “old salts” as we used to call them–been in the profession for quite some time, was a great inspiration to me, making me feel like this was something that I could do even though it seemed very, very daunting.

I hope I have lived up to the Ron Smout Award and he would say, “Good job, Deb” as that would have meant a lot coming from him.  I hope I have helped those who have wanted to stay in the financial aid profession to learn and grow, where in turn, we are all helping students receive their education.  I would encourage any new staff in the financial aid community who wish to become that mentor or leader in their state, regional and/or national organizations to do just that, volunteer and become a mentor to others, it is very rewarding.

Deb Henriksen

Deb 2015

NASFAA Update from RMASFAA Past President

August 18, 2016

The final meeting of the 2015-16 NASFAA Board of Directors was held in Washington, D.C., on July 8 and 9. The agenda included the following items (NASFAA members can access the complete minutes from the meeting here).

  • The Compliance Engine, NASFAA’s newest tool for members, was highlighted in conjunction with its rollout at the conference. For more details about this exciting product that is designed to organize, simplify and streamline your compliance efforts while enhancing collaboration and ownership on your campus, click here.
  • Justin Draeger, NASFAA President & CEO, gave a policy update, focusing on Prior Prior Year (PPY) implementation and other recent legislation and activity in the House, Senate and Supreme Court.
  • NASFAA’s first-ever Diversity Officer, Jim Brooks from the University of Oregon, reported on NASFAA’s efforts to enhance and celebrate diversity among our membership and volunteers.
  • The recent research on Federal Work Study conducted by NASFAA and funded by the Gates Foundation was summarized, emphasizing the scope of the work, key findings, recommendations and next steps. If you are interested, the full Executive Summary Report can be accessed here.
  • Jeff Baker presented an update from the Department of Education and led the Board in a question-and-answer session, which included topics such as Prior Prior Year (PPY), Experimental Sites, audits, the federal Perkins Loan Program, and the new Student Aid Enforcement Unit.
  • Updates were provided on the work of the task forces listed below. Several of these groups have produced reports, which will be posted to the NASFAA website
  • Certification
  • 50th Anniversary
  • One Grant/One Loan
  • Graduate Specific Data
  • Webinar Focus Group

Joe Donlay, current RMASFAA President, is now our region’s voting member on the NASFAA Board of Directors. Thank you again for the privilege of representing RMASFAA this past year. The experience has challenged, energized and enriched me. I strongly encourage each of us to continue to look for and take advantage of opportunities to get involved and give back, whether it be at the state, regional or national level (or all three!). I can assure you from my own experience that you will gain far more than you give, both personally and professionally. Best wishes for a smooth and stress-free start to the coming school year on your campus!

Art Young
2015-16 RMASFAA Past President

SAAS Photo

Spotlight on New Members!

August 16, 2016


Spotlight on new members

Please welcome Carlene Morris as a new member to RMASFAA! Carlene is the Financial Aid Officer for Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS; she’s been in financial aid since 2013, but her institution hasn’t been a RMASFAA member since 2007.

Q: Tell RMASFAA a bit about yourself and what brought you to the financial aid world

A: I received my bachelor’s degree from Haskell Indian Nations University in Education and taught at Kickapoo Nation School, which was a ninety-minute drive one way each day to get to the school. I started my master’s program at the University of Kansas in 2004 and earned my Master in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in math, science, and technology. I changed jobs and started working full-time for Haskell’s Upward Bound program as the Academic Coordinator, moving up to the Director position in 2008. After the Upward Bound Program ended in 2012, I had to look for another position. I did some substitute teaching and contract positions, but when the financial aid job opened up at Haskell, I felt I had the skills to apply. I ended up getting the position. I owe a lot to the Upward Bound Program for developing my knowledge and skill with financial aid, and Haskell’s past financial aid Director Reta Brewer for sharing her knowledge with me.

I am a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. I am a mother of three wonderful children and five grandchildren. I am married to a wonderful man who spoils me, but also respects me. I am also currently working on my doctoral degree at Baker University.

Carlene Morris

Q: What brought you to Haskell Indian Nations University?

A: I have to say KU brought me to Haskell Indian Nations University because I did not know anything about Haskell. I went to KU to look into their bachelor’s program in Education, and the person I spoke to asked me if I had looked into Haskell. I said no, and they told me I might want to look at Haskell also. The best decision I ever made was to look at Haskell Indian Nations University to get my education. I met the director at that time, Ms. Ellen Allen, and the rest is history.

Haskell Indian Nations University has a unique history. Our institution went from a boarding school for American Indians to a university. I like to think we took a negative and turned it into a positive for our American Indians. I am grateful for the sacrifice my ancestors made for me to give me the opportunity to attend Haskell Indian Nations University.

Q: What is your favorite thing about your work?

A: I would say it would be working with our Haskell students. I love to help students be successful. I also love my position as Haskell Financial Aid Officer because it fulfills my love of math. What more could a person want? I love it! It is not always sugar plums and roses, don’t get me wrong, but I choose to live my life looking at the positives. Life gives you many challenges each day, but I try to find the joy in something each day. For example, one day I was having a few issues that were causing me trouble, but I had a student who came into my office and gave me one of those Cadbury Cream Eggs, and she wanted me to know that I was a “good egg!” Great, right?! I pushed right through those challenges that day knowing that I was a “good egg.” Just thinking about that special day brings me joy.

Q: You just attended RMASFAA’s Summer Institute in the “New and Aspiring Directors Track” class. How was your SI experience? What did you like best?

A: The experience I had at RMASFAA’s Summer Institute was awesome. The training I had was what I liked best. I do know I will be bringing my staff to RMASFAA’ summer institute next year if our budget allows!

Carlene’s SI instructor James Broscheit noted that she was a very active participant in class. “I think what strikes me first looking back is her passion for the student population and also for their well-being. I was struck by the sense of balance she was looking for in making the educational experience successful.”

Co-instructor Mary Sommers concurred. “What I enjoyed about Carlene was her clear commitment to Haskell and its mission. She is all about empowering students to be successful and sees financial aid as one cog in that wheel. She is positive about our profession and I am hopeful she will continue to be involved in KASFAA and RMASFAA for many years!”

Carlene is seen having fun with her SI class, “Risk,” for New and Aspiring Directors (on the left at the end of second row from the top).

Carlene is seen having fun with her SI class, “Risk,” for New and Aspiring Directors (on the left at the end of second row from the top).

Q: Do you have a favorite quote to share?

A: “Knowledge can be learned, but until it is truly experienced, it does not become wisdom.” ~ Selo Black Crow Lakota

Growing up my life had many challenges, and I had the opportunity to stay with my grandma during the summers. One day as she was teaching me beading, she told me, “Anything you do is worth doing right.” She told me this as she had me taking apart my beading because I used the wrong color of bead. She said to take pride in all you do. Even if no one ever sees what you do, YOU know that you have done the best job you could do. My grandma told me this in our Cherokee language because she did not speak English.

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

A: Well, I love many things, but spending time with my family is the best. I love to bead and do all types of arts and crafts. Taking an old piece of furniture and making it new again is great!

Q: Is there anything that you wish would come back in fashion?

A: Not really, I just go with the flow. However, there are some things I wish would never come back!

Q: If you were the ruler of your own country, what would be the first law you would introduce and why?

A: I don’t know if I would call this law, but I would ask my country’s citizens to “Respect themselves and others.” I feel when you respect yourself you tend to treat others the same way.

Welcome to Carlene and the rest of the Haskell Indian Nations University Financial Aid Office! We look forward to great things from you in the future!

What Keeps Us Going

August 11, 2016

We approach the dog days of summer and a memory is warming me today.  I would like to share it with you, my colleagues and friends.

If you  have been in financial aid for as long as I have, you may remember the end of the Vietnam War (as an Aid Officer…not an infant)…and perhaps your community also received an influx of Vietnamese refugees,  as did mine in that era.  You may then chuckle at the memory of the USDE solution to Documentation of Independence for these bewildered and bruised refugee students trying to answer FAFSA questions about their parents AGI and FIT. (It wasn’t funny to these tragically disrupted students.  Most of them had no idea if their parents were even alive.)  But, the Departments wisdom dictated that we send a certified letter to Vietnam (with which we had no diplomatic relations at the time…and therefore no mail service) and if no response in thirty days, we were empowered to “deem” the student independent.  So, we dutifully and bureaucratically mailed bushels of FAFSA-stuffed green-stamped envelopes to persons in a war ravaged country far, far away…with no mail service.  Done!  Wait 30 days and process!

One very hot, summer day, the LA traffic had been particularly stagnant. My long commute had been compounded by my own freeway-side flat-tire. I stumbled into my office, dirty, sweaty, and terminally frustrated.  My hands, grimed with tire dust, picked up a slender onion skin envelope: return address = Viet Nam.  My frustration inflamed into anger.   “Now what!  How dare “they” add to my burden?”

I furiously shredded open the fragile envelope.   In my grimy hands, was a tear-stained letter from a mother overwhelmed with relief and joy.  She had hired a “scribe” to translate our letter into Vietnamese and to translate her letter to us into English.  The “scribe’s” impeccable, elaborate penmanship described her thrill at learning that her 18 year old son, whom she had not seen or heard from in six years, was alive and attending university in America.  Her regret at being unable to help him financially was palpable.  She had recently been released from a ”re-education camp” so she had nothing but prayers with which to assist her son.  She enclosed a letter written in Vietnamese to her son and begged that I deliver it to him.   Her letter ended in prayers of thanksgiving that I, a bureaucrat and stranger, whom she described as “a kind person”, was helping her son and that I be blessed with health and long life.   My fury evaporated into my own tears of gratitude.

I immediately strode across campus to the student’s classroom, now oblivious to the 100+ degree heat.  In front of his class, I handed him his mother’s letter.   “My mother’s alive!”, he exclaimed in surprise and delight.  We all cried with him.

I am grateful that I get to work in the frustrating field of financial aid, where I can touch people on some of the best, and some of the worst, days of their lives.  Better yet, I can actually be of help.  I can actually be the door to their dreams.  How many others can claim that as part of their daily grind?

So…as we slog through these last weeks before Fall term starts and as you answer the 50th phone call today, as I just did, and as we answer the same questions over and over again…questions that should have been asked and answered last March. Let’s just bless them with kind and thorough answers, as we try to hold on to the joy:  the joy of graduation four years hence, the joy of being a real difference maker, and the joy of serving our students, our communities and our country.

Oh, and the student?  He turned out very well indeed.  He now owns a small chain of jewelry stores; his flagship store is in Beverly Hills, CA.  I am told he donates regularly to the college.

Brought to you by:
Lois Madsen, Training Committee
Director of Student Financial Planning, Kansas Wesleyan

Register NOW for the RMASFAA Conference!

August 9, 2016


Registration is LIVE!

In case you missed the first announcement, consider yourself notified!  It is time to register for the 2016 RMASFAA Conference. Click HERE to register and learn about:

Conference Agenda
Hotel Information
Travel Information
Mount Rushmore Information
Sew for Kids Philanthropy

Get your NASFAA Credential at the Conference…for FREE!


For the first time ever, we will be offering a session at the Annual Conference that will be taught by your NASFAA-credentialed colleagues – Myra Pfannenstiel and Susan Stephenson. By participating in this session, you will be given the opportunity to take the related NASFAA credential exam FOR FREE (a $100 value)!

The topic this year will be Professional Judgment. Whether you are a newbie who wants to learn all the in’s and out’s of professional judgment, or a seasoned veteran who wants a refresher course and more discussion on a potential increase in PJ requests due to prior-prior year income, this may be the session for you!

Due to the time required to cover the materials needed to take the credential exam, the session will cover two breakout time slots – from 9:45 – 12:00 noon on Monday, October 24, 2016. You must attend the entire session in order to receive the opportunity to take the credential exam.

This session will have a limit on the number of attendees allowed and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Whether or not you wish to be credentialed, if you plan to attend the Professional Judgment session, please email Sharon Kienow at to reserve a spot. This is a session you won’t want to miss!

For more information on NASFAA’s Professional Credential program and its value, please visit


Hope to see you in Rapid City in October!

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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