What brought you to this career?
I actually got into this field by accident. I studied Psychology and Business as an undergraduate, and then I went to VCU for graduate school for Rehabilitation Counseling. I was looking for ways to pay for college and ended up with a graduate assistantship in the Financial Aid Office while I was in school. After graduation and working a few years in the counseling field, I got a call from VCU asking if I wanted to come back and work in the Financial Aid Office. I really liked my GA in the Financial Aid Office, and when I was deciding whether to take the job there or not, I reflected and realized that was the job where I had been happiest and felt like I was using my best skill set. I accepted their offer and loved my work there. Then I came to the JMU Financial Aid Office and have been here the last 18 years.
What is your most memorable experience in your career?
My job allows me to do so many things that I enjoy, and one of those is connecting with students. In the summer of 2017, I had the privilege to be a faculty member in residence and lead 28 students on a trip to London. It was an amazing experience being able to see it through their eyes. I also get to teach a personal finance class each semester and this allows me to develop longer term connections and keep up with students. Sometimes previous students will share advice related to finances or jobs that they will want me to pass along to current students in the class, and it’s rewarding to be a part of that process. My work in the financial aid office allows me to help make students’ dreams come true while providing realistic information to students and parents about financial aid choices.
What is a typical day like for you?
My days usually include meetings, either with committees, students, or faculty. I work with and support the staff in the financial aid office, which includes about 27 staff members and 5 student employees. Every Monday afternoon I teach the personal finance class. I also have the opportunity to co-facilitate a leadership program called Impact3. This is a great program that I was able to participate in first, and now work with on a regular basis. There are 15 administration/staff members from many departments at JMU and we get together every Friday to learn and discuss leadership. I have found that if you are open and “all in” with this program, you can learn so much and grow as a leader. Exercise and health are also very important to me, so my day always includes setting aside time to go to UREC at lunchtime. Summers for me are less face-to-face time with students and parents, but it is our busiest time as far as preparing and getting things ready for the upcoming school year.
What do you like most about your job; what motivates you throughout the day?
Building relationships is so important to me, so I like that I get to do that with so many students, parents, and faculty through my job. I love that every day I get to make a difference and an impact in peoples’ lives. My job is never boring either!
What advice would you give for someone looking to pursue a similar career?
(What education/certifications, skills or experiences would they need, what salary could they expect to make?)
I would tell people to jump in to this career field; that is how you will learn best and you’ll know fairly quickly whether it is for you or not. You can do Master’s programs like College Student Personnel Administration or Higher Education, for example. There are various credentials for financial aid you can receive, as well as a national process of certification, which will be changing over the next few years. If you can work for the Financial Aid Office as a graduate assistant or work study student, that will give you a good idea of what it will be like to work there as a career. You’ll need to be flexible and fast on your feet in this kind of career. You’ll also need to be able to work well with people, especially those who are very stressed about finances and paying for college. This industry is heavily regulated also, so there is a lot of paperwork involved. I have found it a very rewarding career, and it’s really powerful to be in a situation where I can help students be able to go to college and work towards achieving their dreams.