Doryann Barnhardt

About Doryann Barnhardt

I am currently the Director of Student Financial Aid at Washington College in Chestertown, MD. Prior to coming to WAC, I held various positions in the aid offices at Delaware State University and Wesley College, both in Dover, DE. I am an accidental aid administrator; I stumbled into the profession over a decade ago, taking a job in a small college in New York City without even so much as having glanced at a FAFSA application before in my life. (How hard could it be, right?) I quickly learned it was hard work but that I was just the right kind of weird to do it. I am a graduate of the County College of Morris in New Jersey, Wesley College, and earned my Masters in Literary Studies from Washington College. I am an avid knitter, weaver, and home brewer . I am married to a college professor named Jack and we live in Delaware with our two cats, Dexter and Winston. You can reach me at dbarnhardt2@washcoll.edu.

A Little Respect

I am the type of person who needs visual reminders.  When I have to remember something in the morning, I will hang a shoe from my bedroom door knob before I got to bed.  Then, when I see the shoe hanging from the knob the next morning, I remember why I put it there.   Most of the time, this technique works, and I avoid having to turn my car around and go home to retrieve my left-behind work laptop.  I also have (not so) tiny stacks of paper and files on my desk to serve as a visual reminder of what I have to do that day.

When I look up from my desk, the front of my office door is facing me.  On that door, at just about eye level, I have taped a strip of paper with the following words:

“Be useful, and be kind.”

This quote, attributed to President Obama, is placed there as a reminder to me; this is the type of colleague I want to be; this is the type of leader I want to be; this is the type of community member I want to be; this is the type of friend I want to be; this is the type of person I want to be.

There are days when I am utterly useless and, sadly, when I am not particularly kind.  So, I need the reminder.

Here’s the thing: I am not the only person who needs this reminder.  There are days when I wish I had stickers with these words emblazoned on them that I could just affix to people’s foreheads.  For example, this presidential election cycle has really challenged my belief it is even possible to be useful and kind – especially the kind part.    I feel like I can’t read the news, or watch TV, or listen to the radio, or look at social media, or overhear other people’s conversations and not just want to scream, “How hard is it not to be a jerk, you dummy?”  (Which is, of course, useless and unkind.  Also, my thought is edited for appropriateness.  The nouns are usually – um – stronger.)

I suspect I’m not alone.  It’s far too easy to get buried under the weight of useless negativity and bizarre discourtesy.

The good thing is I have reminders every day – both visual and not –  that all is not lost.  Being a part of an association like EASFAA continually reinforces my belief that people can actually be useful and kind.  Through the years, I have been able to rely on my EASFAA colleagues and friends for help, support, information, and commiseration.  As a new aid director, I am even more appreciative of the support system that comes along with my membership.  Whether it’s advice on where to find a copy of my cohort default rate letter for the auditors, or much needed reassurance that I will, in fact, not totally mangle my first FISAP, my EASFAA colleagues have been there for me.

I’m grateful to be part of an organization filled with thoughtful professionals who know how to be useful, and be kind – and who help hold me to the standard I have set for myself.

Things We Said Today

As a northern New Jersey native, I am pretty familiar with a geographical version of Yiddish slang.   Of course, as with any slang, there are groups of people who immediately understand you, and others who have no idea what you’re saying.  This particular slang isn’t really known in the Mid-Atlantic region, where I currently live.  (I had a particularly uncomfortable interaction when I had to explain to a colleague that the word “mensch” didn’t mean what this person thought it meant.)

A very good friend of mine grew up in an Italian American household in a different region of the country.  Her household had a slang all its own that is completely unfamiliar to me.  But over the years, through her stories about her family, I have learned some of that slang, and even incorporated it into my own vocabulary.

One of my favorites is “scustumad.”  This word is broadly defined as someone who is greedy.  In my friend’s house, a scustumad is a very specific type of person – it is a person who refuses to wait his or her turn, or who takes more than his or her fair share.  Essentially, anyone who is greedy and exhibits bad manners, especially when those manners relate to social niceties or group  activities, can be labeled a scustumad.  If you have guests for dinner but serve yourself first, you are a scustumad.  Conversely, if you are a guest and don’t wait for your host to invite you to start eating, you are a scustumad.

Why am I telling you this?  Two reasons:  First, because in some way I feel like a scustumad writing this post before my virtual host Brian Lemma, the current chair of the Technology and Communications Committee, has had an opportunity to share his own thoughts on this blog in his capacity as chair.  Second, and actually my point, is because I think a lot about language.  I see a parallel between the way slang functions, and the jargon-heavy industry in which we work.  Ours is a language that is not immediately understood by those outside the culture aid administrators, and this can create problems and confusion.  One woman’s scustamad is another woman’s misunderstanding.

As aid administrators, the language we speak is externally dictated; terms like FAFSA, COA, EFC, DRT, and PPY are foist upon us.  It all makes sense to us, because it is a language we are necessarily immersed in as a function of our jobs.  But, it’s a language that is largely a mystery to our students and their families – at least initially.  When my friend and I first met, if she were to say to me, “Don’t be a scustumad,” I would have been clueless about what she meant.  I understand that admonishment now, even if I can’t quite pronounce the word correctly.  (I am not alone in this example of “I know what you mean, but I can’t pronounce it”.  How many times have you heard a student or parent mispronounce FAFSA?  Or call a Stafford loan a Stanford loan?)  The same goes for my communication with students.  If I employ the language of an aid administrator without explanation or context, they are not going to understand me. I can’t say, “When you fill out the FAFSA, make sure to use the DRT” without at the very least defining my terms.

Aid offices are sometimes seen as a hindrance to higher education.  Miscommunication and misunderstanding are at the center of many conflicts; it’s easy to lose track of the fact that others don’t speak the same language we do.  All we have to do is read the comment section of any financial aid related social media post or news article to know there is often a high barrier between our processes and people’s experiences with and understanding of our processes.  The question is, how do we best remove these barriers?  How do we best explain ourselves without relying so heavily on the terminology – the slang – that our profession necessitates?

I know this is the part where I am supposed to offer an answer, but after years of careful thought, I don’t really have one.  If anyone reading this could offer me a solution, I would appreciate it.  Be a mensch, and help us out.

I’ve Got a Golden Ticket

El Conquistador Resort donated a free two night stay at the resort on behalf of the National Epilepsy Foundation to be raffled off during this year’s conference. In addition to the two night stay at the resort, each of the state associations generously donated $100 gift cards to various retailers. We all bought raffle tickets and dropped them into bags representing the prizes we most wanted to win. Then a drawing was done Tuesday night at the party on Palomino Island to determine the winners.

For my initial investment of two raffle ticket sheets (a total of $10), I won the two night stay at the resort. Lucky me!  Winning the stay was like finding Mr. Willy Wonka’s golden ticket beneath the wrapper of my chocolate bar. OK.  Not exactly like that. I mean, I didn’t crawl out of bed for the first time in 20 years and begin dancing around, but I was still pretty jazzed when I found out I won. Maybe just not Grandpa Joe jazzed.

Grandpa Joe has a pretty good high step for a man whose been bed-ridden for 20 years

Grandpa Joe has a pretty good high step for a man who’s been bed-ridden for 20 years.

Aside from the chance to win some really great prizes, the raffle gave me another opportunity to support EASFAA’s efforts to raise funds for the National Epilepsy Foundation. The charity was carefully chosen for our philanthropic efforts for reasons so eloquently articulated earlier on this blog. If you want to know more about it, I encourage you to read the post.

I’d say we did a pretty good job raising money for the charity this past year; their coffers are now more than $5,000 richer due to our efforts.  Of course, the battle against epilepsy is on-going, so if you missed your opportunity to contribute earlier in the year, your help is always welcomed.  Please consider contributing to this wonderful cause now, or in the future. Also, I am sure there will be more EASFAA-sponsored opportunities to donate in the months to come.

 

The Long and Winding Road

What could be geekier than three aid professionals, sitting around a poolside restaurant which overlooks the Atlantic ocean, contemplating not the beauty of the natural splendors unfolding beneath them but the merits of 150% direct loan subsidy limits?  Well, I’ll tell you:  three aid professionals, sitting around a poolside restaurant which overlooks the Atlantic ocean, contemplating not the beauty of the natural splendors unfolding beneath them but the merits of British and American poetry. This unabashed display of geekery was how I spent part of an evening at the EASFAA conference, with an old friend and a new friend, talking about our favorite Shakespearean plays and sonnets, analyzing John Donne’s “The Flea”, and reciting lines from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

As my fellow literary geek reminded me, the final stanza of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” goes like this:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I can’t help but to think back fondly on this conversation and frame it in the context of being a financial aid professional.  I believe that we aid professionals have, by and large, done the same as Frost’s speaker; we took the road less traveled by.  How many colleagues do you know who stumbled their way  into a career in financial aid?  Did you find yourself here without really expecting to?  I certainly did!  When I hear the stories of my colleagues, seemingly few of them set out to end up where we’re all going, sometimes kicking and screaming, yet steadfastly, together.  Maybe we set out on another road entirely, but we find ourselves wandering our way down this road because of dumb luck or happy coincidence or sincere cluelessness.  And if we’re crazy enough, we persevere on our paths, and even learn to love the trip.

During one of the conference’s general sessions, we learned all about policy agenda from NASFAA’s president Justin Draeger.  Justin asked us to raise our hands if we have been in the profession for more than five years.  My hand was among the many to shoot into the air.  Justin then broke the news to all of us hand wagglers: those of us who have been in aid for five to seven years are likely to remain in aid for the rest of our working lives (and, in the case of some retirees I know, for a chunk of our retired lives as well).  For whatever reason, once we reach that five year threshold, we rarely seem to turn back or diverge from our paths.

Justin confirmed what I always suspected to be true: once we find ourselves in this profession, we tend to stick around.  Young aid professionals have so many established leaders surrounding and mentoring them.  NASFAA honored one of the long-time hikers of the financial aid road during the conference.  Past EASFAA president Barbara Miller from Stevenson University was awarded a regional leadership award for all that she has done through the years to serve the financial aid community.  In her acceptance speech, Barbara quoted Jack Benny.  She said, “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either”.

Barbara Miller with her award

Barbara Miller displays her well-deserved award.

I am home now from the conference, trying to readjust to this fickle Mid-Atlantic weather after a week of Caribbean sunshine.   I left my EASFAA friends behind, as I always do, with a bit of sadness; I relish the brief time we spend together.  Aside from genuinely enjoying their company, I am continually energized by my colleagues’ dedication to and passion for our profession.  And I am sure I will be on this road for quite a while.  I am grateful that the road I chose to travel by has brought me to them, and that has made all of the difference.

Come Together

During his remarks before yesterday’s opening session, our president Brian asked us all to get up and and find a person we’d never met.  He rightly assumed we likely found and sat with a friend.  I was already sitting next to someone I’d only met moments before, so I didn’t have to move, but most of the room stood up to find a new face to sit next to.  Everyone moved with a smile on his or her face — there was no grumbling — but we still all needed the prodding from our president to move beyond our comfort zone.

Today, I tried to take Brian’s lead and attend sessions I might not typically choose to attend.  I wanted to move beyond my own comfort zone and learn something new.  I admit that I am a bit of a policy nut; I can’t resist a good nuts and bolts presentation.  My sometimes overly-concrete mind loves solving a snarly compliance conundrum.  So, instead of making my way to the 8:15 AM Verification session, I instead chose to attend Heather McDonnell’s session on what makes a good leader.  The feds lost out again in the 9:30 slot; I eschewed Greg Martin’s “What FAAs Must Know About 150% Direct Subsidized Loan Limits” presentation in favor of Catherine Boscher-Murphy’s discussion about the importance of ethics and potential pitfalls of prejudices in PJs.  Then I ended my morning with an enlightening session on how the overturning of DOMA will impact our students and their families.

What I took away from these sessions is that even if I can distill all of the regulations, laws, and policies governing our profession into a Puerto Rican rum punch cocktail of compliance perfection, I still have to successfully navigate my relationships with my colleagues and my students.  I have to know how to come together with the people surrounding me.  If I want to be a leader, I have to know how to empower others.   If I want to be an advocate for my students, I need to understand the ways in which my prejudices and preconceived notions can trap me into making poor choices.  If I want to help families educate their children, I have to understand the nuances of their lives — most especially if their experiences and background are very different from my own.

To be a truly effective aid administrator, these skills are just as important as any technical knowledge I can amass along the way.