Mycollege advisor, Steve Heller, always said “write about what you know.” When preparing my remarks to you tonight, I thought a lot about that statement. I started cataloguing the things I know – financial aid (blech), kids (overdone), books (too nerdy), Star Wars (too weird) – and then I thought about something from my past that fit pretty well – pigs.
Now. If you would have told me when I was a junior in high school that my job feeding, watering and taking care of the 100 or so hogs on our family farm was a terrific training ground for a service oriented career, I’m not sure what I would have said. I would probably have told you that you didn’t know what you were talking about because I was going to be an editor for the New York Times – or at the very least the Kansas City Star. None the less, as I think back on my experience with these animals, I find that I was being trained for a career in financial aid.
Pigs, with a few exceptions and intermittent moments of fame, are not counted amongst your more cute and fuzzy animals. Pigs are dirty, smelly and loud. They fight each other for first digs at the food and one unexpected move can spook a pile of resting hogs into anxious, unbridled panic.
You wouldn’t think this to look at them, but hogs really are very smart. In fact, in 2009, a New York Times article reported “that Pig A can almost instantly learn to follow Pig B when the second pig shows signs of knowing where good food is stored, and that Pig B will try to deceive the pursuing pig and throw it off the trail so that Pig B can hog its food in peace.”
Pigs are constantly opening gates they are not supposed to open, getting out and wandering places that they aren’t supposed to wander, and eating things they aren’t supposed to eat. Herding hogs to get them to move from pen A to pen B takes planning, preparation, sometimes a whip, and good sturdy gates to shove them in the direction they are supposed to go.
Another little known fact about pigs is that they don’t sweat. Consequently, part of a caretaker’s job when the temperature’s reach into the 90’s and 100’s is to regularly fill mud holes so they have somewhere to cool off from the heat. This task requires a strong will, quick thinking, and physical endurance. If the farm has long stretches to walk between pens, the minute you are done with the last mud hole, the first one needs attention again.
Some hogs appreciate this regular, cool stream of water from the hose. Others get up out of the mud hole, shake, and, if you aren’t careful, cover your entire person with an interesting light brown mixture of unidentified composition and origin.
And yet, even though it’s 100 degrees outside, even though you’d rather stay inside and watch Happy Days re-runs on TV, even though you know with absolute certainty that you will come back smelling like a sewer, you go. Because you know that if you don’t do it, no one else will. You know you are providing those hogs with something they need. And there is always the incredible satisfaction you receive when that unfriendly or shy hog finally comes to greet you with a happy grunt when you show up with the hose.
Living through a financial aid career today is a bit like wallowing through a pig pen. It’s messy, it smells bad, it sometimes feels like your boots are stuck in the mud and will never come out, and 9 times out of 10 you look like hell when you walk in your house at the end of the day. But I think this conference has reminded us all once again that what we do is important – is vital, to student survival, amen?
Working to provide a seamless link between regulations that constantly change and students and parents is challenging. No one can deny that. But the challenge is the reason we are here, correct? The reason that I get up and go to work is so that I can be there to help when a student comes in after both his parents just died and he doesn’t know what to do. The reason I go to work is so I can help brainstorm to remove a financial barrier for a first generation student who has a dream to complete an internship in Washington DC. The reason I go to work is so I can be there to support a student who is yelling, angry and frustrated about having to do loan entrance counseling and to sit and work with him to discover that he is really just afraid to admit that he can’t read the words on the screen, is terrified he won’t be able to get out of a cultural cycle he is desperate to leave, and hasn’t ever had anyone willing to sit long enough to give him the help that he needs to eventually graduate from college. THAT, folks, is why I do what I do.
Like we’ve heard from others at this conference, it is my colleagues at KASFAA, RMASFAA and NASFAA who keep me energized, who keep me sane and who provide me with countless amounts of advice and best practices. I am honored to serve this organization and its members who have given me so much.
And we have much to do. I am excited and you should be excited about the people you have elected as your Board representatives as well as the people who have volunteered to serve as committee chairs for the 2011-2012 year.
Past President – Janet Riis
President Elect – Jeff Jacobs
Vice President – James Broscheit
Secretary – Leeann Hoffman
Treasurer – David Martin
Associate Member Delegate – Alan Ishida
Colorado – Cindy Heijl
Kansas – Donna Carter
Montana – Valerie Curtain
Nebraska – Peggy Tvrdy
North Dakota – Nathan Stratton
South Dakota – Kristy O’Krief
Utah – Amy Capps
Wyoming – Kelly Svenkesen
Association News – April Keim
Conference – Jodi Vanden Berge & Bailey Jorgensen
Corporate Support – Robb Cummings
DMCI – Marge Michael
Electronic Initiatives – Roger Matthew
Finance & Audit – Thad Spaulding
Leadership Pipeline – Mary Sommers
Membership – Lisa Goss
Summer Institute – Pat McTee
Training – Cindy Ostert
These volunteers on your behalf spent three days prior to the conference doing important work for the membership and I am encouraged about the direction in which we are headed. Thanks to your outgoing board, RMASFAA has adopted a series of strategic directions relating to the mission and goals. These directions are what will guide our work over the next three years and will be posted to the web soon for all members to view. These directions are designed to strengthen the services RMASFAA provides to its members, to provide accountability and transparency, and to do some big picture thinking about our board composition and structure to ensure that the organization can sustain itself far into the future.
We expect to finish 2011 in the black for the first time in four years. I am looking forward to hearing this good news at our winter board meeting in March. I view this as a positive indicator that we are turning a corner from where we have been since the elimination of our FFEL partners and friends. The past few boards that have had to weather this change have done an excellent job judiciously saving your money and getting the most bang for every dollar in income that has been received. But it is a fact the revenue stream that counted so heavily on corporate sponsorship is changed and we can no longer “get by” trying to scrimp and save our way to a balanced budget. We are going to have to think outside the box to ensure that we are doing all we can to ensure a budget that will continue to invest in our connection to the NASFAA organization, develop our new leadership, provide our members with the kind of quality training that they have come to expect from us and continue to support and enhance the ways that RMASFAA links NASFAA to our member states and our member states to NASFAA.
Through these changes, the Board and I need two things from you, the membership. 1) We want to know what you think. Tell us. 2) We need your involvement. Volunteer. Again, thank you for the honor and opportunity you have given me to serve you. Together, we can and will move this organization forward to bigger and better things.