President’s Update

Oh sweet mother of sunshine, it’s June.  When did that happen?!  (And if anybody emails me and says something cute like “midnight May 31st” I swear I’ll…”)

But alas, here we all are, getting ready to close out another academic year and start a new one.  It’s not like closing out a calendar year, is it.  In December we celebrate the end of a year with Christmas and sugar plums and champagne toasts.  When we close out an academic year we celebrate by answering a bunch of crazy audit inquiries and closing out our work study accounts and trying to figure out why the physical plant shut off the air conditioning in our building when it’s 95 degrees outside.  But such is the life we financial aid folk have chosen for ourselves, and the reality is we wouldn’t change a thing.  And working with a fresh group of new freshmen?  Awesome.  If only they’d leave their parents at home…  Plus, there is no law that says we can’t have champagne toasts in June!!

So what’s been happening here in this magnificent world we call the Rocky Mountain Region?  Well here are some highlights since my last update in March…

  • State Conferences:  Truly the highlight of my Presidency has been my travels to the state conferences.  I had so much fun at every single one of them that I’m going to talk President-Elect Ken Kocer into letting me tag along next year.  (Except the treasurer might have something to say about that…)  I made it to seven of our eight states and drove to every single conference except Montana.  Not only did I enjoy the company and expertise of the conference attendees and contributors, but took in some great scenery as well.  Thank you to Past-President Joe Donlay for making it to the Utah conference on my behalf which fell during the same week as the Kansas conference.  I am forever impressed by the amazing work our state associations do to keep their members tuned in and educated.  Thanks so much to each and every state for making me feel so welcome!!
  • Training Committee:  This amazing committee could have sat on their laurels after providing seven NASFAA U Credentialing Webinars, which were incredibly well attended and appreciated.  But no, like the energizer bunny, they just keep going!  Now they have scheduled five summer and fall webcasts on topics including SAP, Verification, Consumer Information, Enrollment, and R2T4.  Check out the RMASFAA Blog for full information on these webcasts, and hats off to Janet Dodson and her team for all of their hard work!
  • Elections:  Kudos to Ken Kocer for putting together a fantastic slate of candidates for the coming year!!  If you have not voted already, get that vote in now!!  We are all waiting with baited breath for the results.  Thank you so much to those of you who threw your name into the hat.  Good luck to all!
  • Summer Institute:  It’s almost here!  Looking forward to seeing all of you signed up to attend, and working with all of you on the committee.  Jenny Leigh Adler, SI Chair, and Susan Stephenson, Faculty Dean, along with their amazing crew, have put together what will be an amazing experience for all of us.  I’m ready to hit the road!
  • NASFAA Conference:  Hope to see some of you in San Diego June 25-29!  I am planning a RMASFAA get together on Monday evening, so if you are interested in coming with, pop me an email at  Would love to have you with us.
  • RMASFAA Conference Wichita:  Mark your calendars for October 15-18 in Wichita, Kansas!  Myra Pfannenstiel and Tony Lubbers are putting together a great program and I for one can’t wait to head south.  Don’t miss this opportunity.  Seriously.

So I’m sitting here on this sunny June Wednesday morning, indulging in a Barista’s Skinny Spiced Chai Dirty (with a shot of caramel) thinking about how fast this year has gone as President.  In just a few short months it will be almost over, and I suppose that should sound good to me, but I’m already feeling a sense of loss.  Working with this Board and with all of you is the icing on the cake for a financial aid lifer.  Those of you fortunate enough to win this election are in for a treat (especially getting to work under the likes of Ken Kocer our President-Elect).  What an amazing association we are!

So enjoy your summer, enjoy each other, and always know that if you have any questions or concerns, I’m just a phone call or email away (402-461-2414 or

Vicki Kucera
RMASFAA President


President’s Update

Happy Valentines to all of RMASFAA!!  And having said that, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should tell you that by nature, I am the Ebenezer Scrooge of February 14th.  I’ve been married to my husband for almost 40 years now, and I can count on one hand the Valentines gifts we’ve given each other since we were married.  When my children were in elementary school, they would come home from school on Valentine’s Day with scores of cute little cards with those obnoxious little hearts with words on them, and would look at me wide-eyed and say “why didn’t we get to make valentines for our classmates??”  So then I would go out and buy cheap valentines in the after February 14th sales and put them away for next year, but would forget I had bought them and we would go through it all over again 365 days later.  Yes, I am pathetic.  (Except of course where my grandsons are concerned…they get massive Valentine packages every year from me.  And when my son sees them, he cocks his head to one side, looks at me with a puzzled expression on his face, and then steals half of their candy.)

But if any group of people was ever worthy of my love and admiration, it’s RMASFAA.  Here are some noteworthy Valentine Shout-Outs for you:


Training Committee:  For Janet Dodson and her training committee I send big cyber hugs and kudos!  You have all seen the NASFAA Credentialing training opportunities that they have put together for all of you to potentially take advantage of.  No less than eight sessions will be offered via the web, free of charge for our membership.  We are still working out some kinks with NASFAA in terms of the nuts and bolts, and we apologize for that, but the response has been amazing, and I cannot thank enough the members who have given of their valuable time to prepare for and present these sessions.  I sincerely hope that we see a big jump in credentialing numbers in our states.  We have the best of the best here in the Rocky Mountain Region, and it warms my heart to see how many of you are taking advantage of these opportunities.


Summer Institute:  For SI Chair Jenny Leigh Adler and Faculty Chair Susan Stephenson, I owe you a big boxed heart full of chocolates.  An incredible faculty group has already been recruited, and the entire committee is coming together in Denver February 22nd for a planning session.  I am confident that with these crazy ladies at the helm, you will all want to mark your calendars for June 11-16 to either attend or send staff members.  Nobody does Summer Institute like RMASFAA!!


2018 Ballot Preparation:  President-elect Ken Kocer is already busy soliciting nominations for next year’s ballot!  For his diligence, support and friendship this year, I send big bear hugs South Dakota way!  There is a wealth of talent and expertise here in our association and we would love to see your nominations for Board positions.  Watch for requests from Ken, put your thinking caps on, and send nominations his way, either for yourself or for colleagues.


NASFAA Regional Thought Force:  Just this past weekend saw Brenda Hicks (Southwestern College, Winfield, KS), Art Young (Brigham Young University, Provo, UT , Mary Sommers (University of Nebraska at Kearney, NE) and yours truly headed to Washington DC to meet with delegations from all six regions to discuss alignment between state, regional and national organizations.  While we have no idea what that looks like yet, the conversations are headed in a positive direction, and I hope to share more with you at the State Conferences.


State Conferences:  I’ve already received several invitations to state conferences coming up this spring, and Joe Donlay and I look forward to seeing you all there!  If I haven’t done so already, I will be in touch with your state presidents to make arrangements, but they are all on my calendar and I’m looking forward to traveling your direction soon!


Winter Board Meeting:  Our next Board of Directors Meeting is scheduled for March 10th in Denver and I look forward to seeing those of you serving on the board this year there.  As always, my heartfelt thanks for giving of your time and talent for our Association!


Lots more people to recognize and things to be grateful for, but you will just have to wait for my next blog post.  So again, HAPPY VALENTINES DAY to the greatest group of financial aid professionals in existence!!


Vicki Kucera, RMASFAA President


President’s Update

Well my RMASFAA friends, it appears that 2016 is nearing its close.  I really could swear that it was just yesterday that I was making my 2016 New Year’s resolutions, none of which were actually sustainable, but hey, ancient history…right?  In a few short weeks I’ll have the chance to start over. The beauty of a new year is always that spirit of hope and renewal.

There are a few things I won’t miss about 2016 (the election, recertification for yet another GE program, the election…).  But overall, it’s been a pretty amazing year. Here are some of my highlights:

  • Summer Institute – Once again the SI Committee put on an incredible week of training that as a faculty member, always regenerates my enthusiasm for this industry. We rolled out the new NASFAA University materials replacing the old CORE, met an incredible new group of neophytes in the industry as well as some individuals who have been around awhile, did some credentialing, and as always had a ridiculous amount of fun!  If you haven’t done so already, put Summer Institute on your calendar for this coming June…either for yourself or for one of your staff.  No region in this country does SI like RMASFAA does!!
  • Annual Conference – We rocked Rapid City!! What an amazing conference it was! The South Dakota crew treated us to an amazing opening night at Mount Rushmore, complete with Joe Massman singing America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner with those amazing heads in the background. What an inspirational way to start a conference!  I had my first Transitional Board Meetings with a great group, which left me confident that this coming year as RMASFAA President will be productive, rewarding, and exciting. The Conference itself was amazing, and hats off to the Conference Committee for a job well done.  Between board meetings, conference, and the post-conference Leadership Pipeline activity, I spent seven days in Rapid City, but wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.
  • Committee Construction – President-Elect Ken Kocer has been putting the finishing touches on recruiting Vice-Chairs for all of our committees and the full committees will be updated on the RMASFAA website soon. As always, RMASFAA never falls short in the volunteerism department.  We are the smallest region in the nation, but the mightiest in terms of member participation. Hats off to all of you for your spirit of commitment and service!!
  • Regional Presidents Meeting Washington DC – in October I had the privilege of attending a meeting with all of the Regional Presidents and the NASFAA leadership to have a conversation about Alignment between our professional associations. We’ve been having conversations for years about delineating the roles of the state, regional and national associations so that we aren’t duplicating efforts between them.  We all agreed that it was time for the rubber to hit the road, so each region has now set up their own four-member task force to put together their thoughts and ideas regarding this topic, and we will all convene on February 6th in Washington DC to bring our regional thoughts together and move the conversation forward.  This task force is a minimum three-year commitment, therefore providing continuity to this movement rather than re-starting the conversation every year when the Boards turn over.  The four RMASFAA members who have been assigned to this Task Force are:  Brenda Hicks, Southwestern College, Winfield, KS; Art Young, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT;  Mary Sommers, University of Nebraska at Kearney, NE; and me, Vicki Kucera, Central Community College, NE. We’ve already met and put together what we believe to be a very insightful position paper, and we are very excited about sharing this with the other regions and the NASFAA staff. I hope to be able to share the progress of this Thought Force with you when I see you at your State Conferences in the spring!
  • In November I attended my first NASFAA Board Meeting as an observer. Past-President Joe Donlay serves as our Regional Representative during this coming year, and after the NASFAA Conference in San Diego, I will become an actual board member and move out of the peanut gallery!!  Justin Draeger and his crew of professionals are doing an amazing job representing us and voicing the concerns of our industry during this transitional period.  None of us know what post-election changes may be in store for us, but I feel confident that as we move into the new administration, the NASFAA staff will keep the needs of our students at the forefront.

I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:  I am incredibly honored to have been chosen to represent RMASFAA as your regional President, and I am looking forward to the amazing year that lies ahead.  Thank you all for your commitment to this industry and to our students.  I am so very proud of our region and can’t imagine this industry without all of the wonderful connections I’ve made with all of you.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and best wishes to all of you!!!

Vicki Kucera, RMASFAA President


Presidential Address

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.

Brenda Hicks
RMASFAA President

RMASFAA Update from President, Janet Riis

Greetings from RMASFAA!

The news from Punxsutawney, PA was just what we wanted to hear: Spring will come early this year, thanks to good old Punxsutawney Phil.  For 125 years, a groundhog on a mission has crawled out of his burrow on Feb. 2nd.   If he sees his shadow, we’re stuck with winter for six more weeks. If he doesn’t, it means we’ve got only two more weeks to trudge through.  So that means next week I’ll be jumping for joy and Keith in our office will be crying because the snow is melting!  It’s been a long winter in Montana- and I love snow…but enough is enough.

Turning your attention to RMASFAA news, all of our committees have been busy the past 3 months!  And our winter Board meeting will be held March 11th and 12th in Denver, CO. 

Our Membership committee under Deb Byers leadership has been busy recruiting members.  The deadline to renew your membership is March 15th– don’t delay, renew today!

As you read this blog you know Sarah Sell has been busy implementing our new Association News, RMASFAA Blog.  To date we’ve had 11 posts since its launch in November and Sarah continues to schedule more.  If you have mover and shaker news or articles to share with the association please contact Sarah.

The Summer Institute committee lead by Myra Pfannenstiel has been hard at work planning the premier CORE training in the western hemisphere!  The theme is RMASFAA’s Got Talent- if you have new stars in your office…

SAVE THE DATE—JUNE 5th-10th, 2011

Rocky Mountain Summer Institute

University of Utah

Salt Lake City, UT

Look for online registration in March at

RMASFAA is coming to your state conferences this spring!  The Training committee lead by Marge Michael has a representative from each of our 8 states and they will be presenting at your state conferences in April.  I am also excited to visit and provide a RMASFAA update at the Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana state conferences.  Our past president, Sharon Kienow will be presenting the RMASFAA update for me in South Dakota and North Dakota and President Elect, Brenda Hicks will be updating our Kansas members. 

Brenda Hicks is also busy finalizing the nominations and elections process.  So put your thinking caps on and nominate your fellow members for RMASFAA Board positions.  Nominations will open later this month- watch for the email.

This past fall we developed an ad hoc committee to update our legislative guide on-line.  Thank you to Cristi Millard and James Broscheit for tackling the project.  The guide should be complete by the end of April- timely for sure given the grassroots efforts to save the Pell Grant.

Lastly, I want to say a very special thank you to John Curl who stepped in as interim Treasurer after Randy Thompson’s death in December.  John has been extremely busy supporting our association over the last few months.  Also, a special thank you to Mandi Havener at Sheridan College who helped John and I with the transition.

So as you gear up for the awarding season remember to also make room for fun-  whether it’s snow or sun- get out there and enjoy the day! 

Recipe of the quarter:

Jicama Salad

1 bag of iceberg lettuce

3 Roma tomatoes- diced

1 Jicama (looks like a turnip/potato and is sweet but texture is just like a potato/diced bite-sized

1 can black beans- drained and rinsed

1 can white sweet corn drained

Chicken cut in bite size pieces- I buy the Sante Fe flavor Oscar Meyer chicken already cut into strips

Located generally by the lunch meat or cheese dept or in the meat section but under the quick prep section

Shredded Colby/Jack cheese (about ½ a bag give or take)

White corn chips

1 jar Lighthouse brand Jalapeño Ranch dressing in the refrigerated veggie section

BBQ sauce

Blend the first seven ingredients together in a large bowl.  Crunch up white corn chips and mix in.  Drizzle over about ½ the jar of dressing and about ¼ cup BBQ sauce and mix together- you’ll just need to experiment with how much dressing.  It makes a huge salad- everyone loves it!  If you are taking it somewhere you want to put the chips, cheese and dressing in last minute.  Also, I’ll make it for just myself – but I’ll only mix the lettuce, jicama, beans and corn together -refrigerate and I’ll keep the other ingredients separate until I make an individual salad…last about 3-4 days that way. 


Janet Riis

RMASFAA President

NDASFAA Presidential Update

Nathan Stratton
Nathan Stratton

The first time I participated in College Goal Sunday, I was surprised to work with so many students getting their FAFSAs completed in February.  If you judged by the experiences you might witness in our aid offices, you might be tempted to think that the FAFSA wasn’t available until the week classes start!  Still, here we are, in the midst of another snowy winter, getting ready for one of the more visible events supporting some of our most important work: promoting college access and helping students plan ahead for some of the most important choices they will ever make – and it’s exciting.

College Goal Sunday is one of my favorite events – and I am always amazed by the service that dedicated volunteers including financial aid professionals, TRIO and high school counselors and members of the corporate and non-profit sectors provide in communities across North Dakota to make it a success year after year.  Volunteers have braved blizzards and bone-chilling cold to meet students and their families and help answer basic questions that we know can seem so daunting.

North Dakota’s CGS efforts this year will bring together volunteers at eleven sites across the state, serving several hundred families.  All five tribal colleges in North Dakota will host events, as well as five colleges in the state university system and a high school.  But that’s just the work of a weekend – there’s so much more that goes on every day.

The work of financial aid professionals is at the center of college access efforts in North Dakota and across the nation.  We represent, in reality, America’s first college access program.  Sometimes it appears that we have less work to do, since, for instance, North Dakota has had one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country for years – but there is still plenty of college access work we need to do.

There are huge disparities in high school and college graduation rates for minority students and students in different economic brackets in North Dakota and nation-wide.  While we can’t solve these problems alone, we can know they exist and prepare our programs to adapt to the unique challenges that our students face.

As we bundle up to head out in the weather on a Sunday afternoon in February, let’s take time to examine our programs, strengthen our outreach efforts and consider what else we can do to embrace the challenge of college access and success for all our students.  Besides, it’s an indoor job, and that’s a plus right about now!

Stay warm!

Nathan Stratton

North Dakota 2011 State President