The EASFAA conference began this afternoon at the impossibly gorgeous El Conquistador resort in Puerto Rico. I know that Maribeth Quinn and her conference committee crew have put a lot of time and careful thought into planning this event, so I have no doubt it will be a huge success. This morning, my husband Jack and I enjoyed our last cup of coffee on the balcony of the apartment we rented overlooking the beach in Luquillo before heading to the conference. (They started things off with a federal update from a rock star of the financial aid world, Greg Martin. Clever conference committee – way to get the aid administrator butts in the seat from the start.) We have enjoyed our mini-vacation – the little seasickness episode of yesterday’s snorkeling trip aside – but I am excited to be with my colleagues and friends for four days of financial aid fun.
The people I’ve met are some of the best perks of my membership in EASFAA. So many intelligent, dedicated, and friendly people happily orbit the EASFAA universe. My first introduction to the EASFAA universe was the annual Hill visit in February 2012. I was acting as a proxy for the then Delaware state representative to the EASFAA council. I walked into our pre-visit briefing knowing no one aside from my Tri-State comrades; I left three days later relieved to be a part of the fold. Meeting new people is a difficult task for an introvert like me, but they made it such a painless experience. I gave up my chair as Delaware representative with much ambivalence in October; I was excited to move to a new job (in Maryland — so, I could no longer represent Delaware), but I knew I would miss being a part of the EASFAA council.
Jack and I met another intelligent, dedicated, and friendly woman last night because of my association with EASFAA. We decided to give that eating thing another go – the first attempt of the day didn’t exactly work out for one of us – so we headed back to the same kiosco in Luquillo where we dined our first night here. Seated at the bar next to us was a young woman wearing the uniform of a U.S. Dept of Forestry employee. I am not sure who spoke first, but we spent most of our time there chatting with our new friend Christina. Like Jack and I, she is a native child of New Jersey, but she was recently assigned to El Yunque National Forest where she coordinates all of the events happening on forest grounds. Aside from dealing with the US Navy and Coast Guard, she has to wrangle the academics from 25 different college and universities who are currently performing their research in the rainforest. And then there is the stream of knuckle head tourists who pass through her forest everyday. Her mama didn’t raise no dummies either: she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in forestry; one of her sisters is studying speech pathology; and her youngest sister is deciding which school she wants to attend in the fall to study engineering.
Inevitably she asked why we were in Puerto Rico. “Conference”, we said. She asked which one. I told her. The startled expression on her face surprised me when I told her I am a financial aid administrator. Then she admitted she, too, worked in an aid office for two semesters in graduate school. She admitted she thought it would be an easy job, but it was, in fact, quite difficult. She reminisced about students’ maddening habit of waiting until the last minute to do things and then wondering why, oh why, their aid wasn’t ready by the beginning of the semester. From her short time in an aid office, she seemed to understand the challenges we face each day and appreciate our importance to students. Turns out, financial aid wasn’t the job for her. She prefers the majesty of our nation’s forests to the majesty of our nation’s students. But I was delighted to “talk shop” with her none the less.
Jack and I stopped to visit Christina at her office this morning: a gorgeous waterfall in the Puerto Rican rainforest. I will admit, her office is a lot prettier than mine. (Although, to be fair, I don’t have to be concerned with flash floods and mudslides in my office. So, I have that advantage at least.) I feel lucky to have met such an engaging woman and to have bonded with her, in part, due to our shared experience of working in an aid office. I was also gratified to hear her appreciation for the work that we do and to know she understands, as many of our students might not, that we work hard to make their futures possible. She got to her breathtaking office with a little help from her financial aid friends. Although a distant one, I think of Christina as another star orbiting in the EASFAA universe. And I am grateful to EASFAA for creating this universe for people like me. An association where we can gather, share ideas, and form professional bonds and personal relationships is worth the small cost of membership. I am looking forward to the people I will meet at this conference and the conferences to come.