Limelight on Ron Smout Award for Teaching and Mentoring – Sharon Kienow

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 third Limelight is on Sharon Kienow, Director of Financial Aid at Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD.

On a personal note, I have known Sharon for many years as a colleague in South Dakota. Many of us in South Dakota, myself included, would attest that Sharon has served as a mentor to us. When I started at LATI as Director of Financial Aid, she encouraged me to call or e-mail if I ever had questions.



How did you get started in the financial aid profession? 

Being in the right place at the right time! I started working in the Business Office at NSU right after I graduated from college. I was the Perkins Loan administrator. After a few years, the assistant director of financial aid position opened up when Mary Lou Hildebrandt (for you really old salts!) left to take a job with ACT. A couple of years later, the director position was available so I applied and was offered the job. The rest is history since I’ve now been at NSU my entire career – 36 years in June. I was one of those strange people who fell in love with financial aid and couldn’t imagine another career that would be a better fit for me.

What has been your involvement in RMASFAA over the years? 

I started out by serving on the RMASFAA Board of Directors as the SD state delegate. I was also RMASFAA vice-president, treasurer, and president (which includes president-elect and past president). I was the conference co-chair with Rosie Jamison in 1992, served as Summer Institute Intervanced dean and vice-dean in the 90’s, and co-taught the Aspiring Director’s track with Penny James last year. I had a great experience being a mentor in the Leadership Pipeline and am wrapping up a multi-year membership on the Association Governance Committee.

You’ve been involved in RMASFAA Summer Institute in the past, please tell us a little more about that experience. 

I attended SI in 1985, in Boulder, CO when I had been in financial aid for less than six months.  It was an amazing experience, but when I look at the training materials (yes, I still have them!), I can assure you that financial aid was so much simpler back then. The hardest thing was doing “hand calcs” and there wasn’t a single session on technology! When I was the Intervanced dean, we didn’t use the NASFAA Core Materials. Instead, we had a series of sessions with various topics and presenters, similar to a regular conference, which made it more work lining up speakers, deciding on topics, etc. Last year, when I was an instructor, it was an incredible learning experience for me. Teaching from the Core Materials requires a lot of studying and prep time, no matter how much you think you know or how long you’ve been in financial aid.  However, as you prepare to teach others, you learn so much yourself that helps when you get back to the office. I took advantage of the opportunity to take the credentialing tests NASFAA offered and am proud to say I’m credentialed in 10 areas as a result – a personal goal…


What other teaching/mentoring experiences have you had within RMASFAA? 

As I mentioned earlier, I served as a mentor in the Leadership Pipeline program. Sarah Pingel, my mentee, would have been an incredible asset to RMASFAA but left the financial aid profession shortly after the end of the Pipeline that year. I’m sure she’ll be a leader without any help from me, but I enjoyed getting to know her and the other people who were involved as mentors or mentees.


What “words of wisdom” do you have – not only for the “newbies” in the financial aid industry, but also for the “seasoned veterans”? 

If you’re new to the profession, don’t be afraid to volunteer your time and talents. You probably have more to offer than you think, and your enthusiasm for the profession helps revitalize the old salts. To the seasoned veterans, please continue sharing your knowledge and expertise with others. We should never be done volunteering and mentoring. Think of the people who mentored you – you are now those people and have so much to share to keep the profession and association strong.


Did anyone in particular serve as a mentor to you in your early years in financial aid or throughout your years in financial aid? 

Too many to single anyone out. All the people who were actively involved and in leadership roles when I was just starting out were such an inspiration. I never dreamed I would even serve on a committee, let alone hold an office. When I look back over my career, it was other people in the financial aid world encouraging me that kept me going. I’ve had some great life and career experiences, thanks to all my financial aid colleagues and friends.

Brought to you by Marlene Seeklander, Association News Committee Member and Director of Financial Aid at Lake Area Technical Institute


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