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 eighth Limelight is on Mary Sommers.
Q: Everyone has a different “my start in financial aid” story. What is yours?
A: Well, perhaps my start isn’t all that “different”. But my bachelor’s degree is in broadcast journalism and my first job out of college was in radio news which I did for about seven years in Kansas and Iowa. Radio was great fun and I enjoyed it, but I did just have a desire to try something different at the point I was making a move to Montana. So I applied for an admissions position at Rocky Mountain College which I was fortunate to land. Then I was exposed to financial aid and really found it fascinating. I was crossed trained to help in financial aid in the spring during awarding season and then a full time opportunity became available. I have been in financial aid ever sense.
Q: What did receiving the Ron Smout award mean to you?
A: I feel so blessed to receive this award because of who Ron was. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. And he loved this profession and it was clear in the way he worked with young aid administrators. I was so pleased when RMASFAA developed this award in Ron’s name and I was outright stunned when I was selected to receive it. So for me I owe it to Ron to continue to be involved in training and professional development of young aid administrators. I think that is the best way to honor his memory.
Q: What impacted you to become a teacher/mentor? And why were you so passionate about it?
A: In RMASFAA for many of us it is because of the Summer Institute. I will never forget sitting in that neophyte class when I was hired as a young aid professional back in 1988. It was an intense, sometimes confusing and overwhelming week. But as many of us know the thing about attending SI is you connect with all of these individuals who become your mentors and your “go to” people when you are trying to resolve a problem. And for me that has continued and grown for almost 30 years. So I feel obligated to continue that tradition. The work we do is so important for our students and our institutions. We need to make sure we are doing it right.
Q: What has been your involvement in RMASFAA over the years?
A: I have been a member of the planning committee and was Chair of the Summer Institute back in 1996. I was President of RMASFAA in 2004 and I have served on the Association Governance Committee as well. More recently I was involved in the Leadership Pipeline project and I have continued to teach at the Summer Institute. RMASFAA is a special group to me and an association I plan to continue to be involved in for the rest of my career.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for those currently in financial aid?
A: Learn as much as can to be the best aid professional you can be. Don’t quit, even when it is hard and always remember that you are the ultimate student affairs professional at your institution. No one knows more about your students at your school than you do. Leverage that knowledge to help insure your institution does all it can to help students succeed.
Q: Do you have anything else that you would like to add?
A: Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on Ron and this award.