Oscar R. ‘Jack’ Hendrix Award spotlight – Joe Donlay

Like most of my colleagues, it seems, I fell into financial aid completely unintentionally.  Based on some of my student ambassador experiences while attending Fort Hays State University and my brand-new marketing degree, I actively sought an admissions position after college graduation.  Somehow, that resulted in my stumbling across a position announcement for a Financial Aid Counselor at Southwestern College, in Winfield, KS.  Brenda Hicks brought me in for an interview, and fortunately for me, she decided to take a chance on a fresh-out-of-college kid who knew ZIP about financial aid.  I hope she still feels like that was a good decision…

I spent about two years at Southwestern, during which time I was able to attend my first RMASFAA conferences and my first Summer Institute.  I then received an offer from Deb Byers for the Assistant Director for Systems position in Wichita State University’s Office of Financial Aid.  After nearly 7 years at WSU, a fantastic opportunity came along to work for Colorado State University as Associate Director for Operations.  I relocated to the Fort Collins area, confirmed shortly after that I had joined the BEST new work-family ever at CSU and have more than enjoyed every second of it.

While at WSU, Deb always encouraged my involvement with our state and regional professional associations – and when the incoming KASFAA President (and one of my own Summer Institute instructors) Kelly Hoggatt, called to ask if I would serve on her state board as a committee chair, I jumped at the chance.  Those KASFAA opportunities opened many doors for me at the regional and national level.  I found myself serving in my first committee chair position with RMASFAA as Electronic Initiatives Chair in 2008 and having had the special privilege of being part of the very first Leadership Pipeline class with the one-and-only Sally Schuman as my mentor.  In 2009, I was honored with the O.R. “Jack” Hendrix award at the RMASFAA conference in Kansas City.  All of this resulted in my being quickly brought into the fold of RMASFAA and I’ve been able to volunteer on committees in a variety of capacities, including having been elected Vice President and serving as Summer Institute Chair.  In 2012, I was asked to chair NASFAA’s Technology Initiatives committee and had a wonderful experience during Ron Day’s tenure as national chair. This summer, I was humbled (and shocked!) to have been elected as the incoming RMASFAA President-Elect.  I am beyond excited for this challenge and look forward to working on behalf of our association in this role.

I cannot overstate just how important it is to be involved in professional networks and organizations, particularly for financial aid administrators.  Engagement within our state associations, RMASFAA, and NASFAA, and the unique training and advocacy mission of each is what makes our line of work so much more than just a “job”; ours truly is a profession and we owe it to our students, our campuses, and ourselves to connect with the incredible people and resources around us.  Attend a RMASFAA conference, go to Summer Institute, volunteer for a committee – or run for an office… and don’t be afraid to reach out and say “I want to be involved!”  As someone who owes much of his career to the friendships and experiences he has been gifted with through this association, I can guarantee that the personal and professional rewards of doing so are tremendous.

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