Introducing Limelight on Ron Smout Award for Teaching and Mentoring series. Throughout the series we will be going back to past Ron Smout recipients and finding out about their story to becoming a teacher/mentor and their words of wisdom. The first Limelight is from Bob Walker.
Back in June of 1980 when I began my career in financial aid, I knew that I didn’t know much, let alone everything I should. It was a daunting but also a very exciting time in my life. Here was a chance to make a definitive impact on a young person’s life goals. While the learning curve was most assuredly steep, it wasn’t insurmountable.
That was also the first year I attended RMASFAA’s Summer Institute in Rapid City, SD, hosted by the School of Mines. This experience probably impacted me much more over the course of the next three and a half decades than I ever anticipated. I was exposed to people I would later call peers but were at that time my informal mentors. I received not only practical training in the administration of financial aid but more importantly, the realization that I wasn’t alone. There were many others in the same boat as I. I found a cadre of experienced professionals along with many folks at the same level of expertise as I. In a strange way it was heartwarming to know wasn’t on a deserted island. There was an army of people out there ready and eager to offer guidance, encouragement and faith in my ability to learn and succeed. That was the beginning of my desire to get more involved in the financial aid profession and help others whenever possible and asked.
By becoming more involved and taking the opportunities given I found that not only was I able to conduct needed training events and participate in leadership roles but that I learned and gained as least as much in return. With new colleagues and peers came new opportunities for networking and bouncing ideas off each other. Some of these folks became personal friends that have lasted well beyond my professional life. They are deeply trusted and revered friends for life.
Beginning in a one-person shop was a bit intimidating as I was the one who was supposed to have all the answers. It was also a great training experience as you have to be knowledgeable in all things but a master of none. Learning a whole lot about many areas brings width with depth in the most important areas of need. Because of that I relied on the expertise and experience of others in order to provide the best service possible. As time went on I was fortunate enough to lead a larger office operation and work with other dedicated professionals. I thank all those folks over the years for their support, input, understanding and so many other contributions to the cause of advancing not just our operation but that of the profession at the state, regional and national levels. Know that you all are ever in my thoughts and prayers.
Receiving the Ron Smout Award for Teaching and Mentoring was an unexpected surprise, but one that holds a special place for me. I adored Ron, with his unassuming manner and positive outlook on life. Whenever I needed to find a calm place, I thought of him, and the trials of work and/or life didn’t seem so bad. So take Ron’s lead and embrace the challenge to be better than you were yesterday and to serve others with professionalism and kindness. Grab the opportunities that come your way and do your best to give your best in all you do. If asked or not, raise your hand. Take a chance, you’ll be surprised where you end up and you’ll love the ride.