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.

A Conversation with EASFAA Conference Chair, Maribeth Quinn

I am getting excited for EASFAA’s 50th Anniversary Conference which is less than a month away!  I recently had a conversation with Maribeth Quinn, 2016 EASFAA Conference Chair, about the upcoming conference and thought I would share this with with you.  Here is what she has to say about the 2016 EASFAA conference.

 

Q1:  Maribeth, this is not the first time you have served as conference chair.  I understand you have also served as conference chair for the NJ state conference several times, and as Conference Chair for previous EASFAA Conferences.  What would you say is the biggest challenge, and why?
Maribeth:  The biggest challenge is the crazy attempt to make everyone happy which, while my brain says “Impossible”,  my heart really wants to try.  Many of us who have run conferences have often remarked that we wish every conference attendee participated just once on a conference committee in order to understand the challenges we face.  Assembling the agenda, squeezing in downtime, keeping our exhibitors satisfied that they are indeed getting a “bang for their buck”, all while providing a dynamic, informative, conference at a reasonable cost.
Q2:  Obviously, it is also a rewarding experience, or you would not have done it more than once.  Tell me what you feel is the most rewarding part of the experience of being a Conference Committee Chair.

 

Maribeth:  I love working with conference!  After all is said and done, working with the challenges mentioned above, watching the members connect and network, as well as listening to the discussions that follow many of the great sessions, makes it all worthwhile.  I love working with new committee members, hearing different ideas – some that anyone who has worked conference before may know will never work; and others that are outside the box and just tremendous ideas.  My favorite experience as conference chair for NJASFAA was mentoring two young committee members, getting them prepared to chair the following year.  What a rewarding experience that was as I sat back the next year as a “guest” and watched them run a spot on event!

Q3:  There are a lot of informative topics and accomplished speakers on the agenda for the conference.  Which one are you most excited about?

Maribeth:  I am always excited putting together an agenda.  This year, I’m really excited about the PPY session; I am hoping for a lot of attendee interaction and discussion for what is yet another change we as professionals prepare to adopt and adapt.
I’m also looking forward to hearing the different general session speakers.  The committee felt strongly about putting four excellent general sessions together and I feel that we made that happen.  Sara Goldrick-Rab brings an interesting view to the college affordability debate, Eric LeGrand demonstrates how truly to face adversity, looking it straight in the eye and fighting back with integrity and an inner strength that I admire and could only hope to possess.  Top that off with Justin Draeger and Jeff Baker – what more can you ask for!

Q4:  I am excited to attend EASFAA’s 50th Anniversary Dinner Dance on Tuesday night!  Can you tell me a little about that event?

Maribeth:  The 50th Anniversary Dinner Dance is a celebration of our past, as well as an opportunity to appreciate ourselves as professionals.  As a profession we are not always the most appreciated on our campuses by either administration or even by the students we serve, but we know the importance of what we do.  Here’s the chance to celebrate what we do and why we do it!  We will celebrate with delicious food, a couple of surprises and a great band to dance the night away with.  The B-Street Band plays dates coast to coast, as well as the local clubs of New Jersey.  They have a standing gig in Atlantic City during the summer months and are a hit at private functions such as our dinner dance.

Q5:  More importantly, what should I wear?

Maribeth:  Since this is the 50th Anniversary and a very big deal for this association, we would like our guests to dress appropriately, and by appropriately, I mean cocktail wear is recommended.  Let’s take the opportunity to dress up, put on our dancing shoes and party the night away!

Q6:  Do you have any tips for attendees that you would like to share?

Maribeth:  My tip to attendees is to enjoy the time away from the day to day craziness of the office; learn from your colleagues; network with your fellow attendees; make new friends and enjoy everything Atlantic City has to offer.  Take the opportunity to see some of South Jersey’s sights – sign up for one of Monday’s excursions sponsored by NJASFAA.  There is no better way to start your day than a walk on the boardwalk so join us on Tuesday morning for the Boardwalk Fun Walk,  supporting Team LeGrand.

Thanks to Maribeth for letting me share this!  I look forward to seeing all of you at the conference next month.  If you have not registered yet, or would like to find out more about the events mentioned here, visit the 2016 EASFAA Conference page at http://easfaa.org/docs/conference/2016/index.html.

My most challenging financial aid student interaction – Tanya Patterson-Stanley

It was about my third year in financial aid and we were in the thick of registration at a college that had an accelerated program and whose upper administration demanded that all students who entered the FARB (Financial Aid, Registrars, Bursar) area leave fully registered….unfortunately a lot of us still work for these types of schools.

But I digress.  The school I worked at had a policy wherein we did verification up front.  Do you remember those days when you had to have EVERYTHING and you conducted 100 verification at intake and everything was done via paper? Well I do, on this particular evening it had to be around 8:40 p.m. and there was just myself and one other counselor.  A seasoned professional, but slower than watching honey pour when it has been in the refrigerator.

We had about 12 more students and this counselor was not going “rush” just because the clock was ticking and we were to close at 9:00.  So with all the courage I could muster up, I decided to make an announcement.  “Due to the late hour, we will not be able to complete everyone’s financial aid this evening.  You will have to come back tomorrow.  If you like we can make copies of your documents and complete your registration form first thing in the morning so you will not have to wait.”  In a matter of what seemed like nano seconds I was meet with such fever.  Luckily for me the V.P. and acting Dean was still on location and one of these wonderful students decided they should announce that I had kicked them out of the FARB.

Great here he comes, “Tanya, can I see you”.  Yes.  “Are you saying to me you are not willing to stay”? No.  “So what is the problem?”  Do you see the time?  Then came the look… and I know what that meant.  So as I swallowed my anger I called the next student on our sign in sheet.  M.B. we’ll call her.  M.B. was the wonderful student who had made her way to the V.P.  Thank you M.B.

So now my story begins.  M.B. do you have your FAFSA completed?  “Yes.”  Can I have that, your registration form and income?  She hands me the papers.  I went through my regular checks; registered full time, meeting SAP, no prior balance, correct campus, correct program, and correct tuition.  Okay registration form is correct.  Now to review her FAFSA.  Demographic information completed.  Address incomplete, and no income noted.

M.B. can you come over the front desk.  I inquire about her address, she explains that she lives with some friends.  Okay, can you get mail there?  “I dunno” Do you know the complete address?  “No” Okay…. can I use what was on your previous FAFSA?  (Registration form had a P.O. Box) She replies “Do what you want.”  So I have a question, how did you support yourself last year, I see you left the financial questions blank.  “Girl let me tell.  I hustle.”  Awwwh darn here we go.  I go through a myriad of questions.  To learn that this student had a whopper of a story to tell me.

M.B.  preformed as a clown for children’s parties and was paid off the books, she sold nutcrackers (a mixed cocktail that is made by mixing various alcoholic beverages that share the same color) at Citified, and also charged for providing female companionship via her pimp (boyfriend), who supplemented her income with his cannabis sales.

Yes this was my third year and I was not appalled by the story; but impressed that she was in college, let alone doing well.  M.B. was not only a hustler, she as a business minded individual, who was not going allow anyone to stop her education.  So I had to ask her to draft a letter up that did not disclose all of the dealings noted here, but just indicated that she received in-kind support from friends and made X in income that was off the books.

You may ask why I call M.B. my worst experience ever.  It was not that she was inappropriate, crass and sassy.  It was that after I completed her registration, with a Pell, and TAP estimate.  She sashayed over to table where the other students who were waiting for financial aid and announced to them that should wait for me… because that other O& (^ (*&^ is still working on the same student from before.    I left that night at 12:00 a.m. tired, angry and determined to never let that happen again.

Because of M.B. nothing shocks me anymore, I’ve grown to the mindset to stay and be cordial, and that without the student I would have no job.  I love what I do even the students are a little “extra.”  All that won’t kill you will make you strong.

 

This is my story… I would love for you to share yours on our EASFAA blog.

How I Got Involved In Financial Aid – LaSonya Griggs

Financial aid, it’s one of those career fields where there is no degree specifically named for it, unlike teacher, engineer, doctor, lawyer, journalist, programmer, etc.  Most of us find ourselves in student aid by happenstance.  No one ever goes to college to work in financial aid!  Something “happened” and we ended up working in the financial aid office.

My career in financial aid actually began my freshman year in college.  My mother had filed the FAF, as it was called backed then, but we hadn’t heard anything from the college.  Two weeks before school started I called the financial aid office to check the status of the FAF I had filed months back.  A man answers the phone and puts me on hold while he pulled my folder.  When he got back on the phone, he says, “LaSonya Ware, you have no need.”

Stunned and feeling somewhat dejected, I replied, “I have need.”  I could hear him shuffling through papers as he continued to talk to me, or rather as he mumbled to himself details that I already knew about myself.

“Hmmm, you got a 19 on the ACT,” he says.  Oh no, I thought, that 19 is still haunting me.  I had scored a 23 or above in every section of the ACT, but math.  I had taken the ACT twice just so I wouldn’t place into remedial math.  The second time around I scored a 12 in math.  The scores in the other sections of the test didn’t change. But I was content with the overall 19 because I could be placed in college level math.

“You’ve got good grades,” he said.  “Wanna come work for me?”  That was my first interview.  I was hired over the phone as a work-study student in the financial aid office because I had a 19 on the ACT and good grades.  Later I learned that my reputation as a good student preceded my attendance at the college.  The director’s wife was a teacher at the high school I attended.

As it ”happened”, as a result of that phone call I started working in the financial aid office at a community college in August, two weeks before school started.  Even if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I’ve lived through 32 August’s in the world of financial aid.  Some have been better than others; but overall, I’ve loved every August!

The community college I attended was located in a rural southern town and had an enrollment of just over three thousand.  The financial aid office was staffed with a director and his secretary.  Everything in the office was manual.  We had a file room filled with cabinets that were stuffed with thick manila folders.  We tracked student awards on large index cards which, as a work-study student, I pulled and filed every day.

Despite the daunting work load, my director worked tirelessly to help students.  He taught me to do the same.  Under his direction I learned how to complete the fee based FAF and the free application.  I validated files, which today is referred to as verification.  I filled in bubbles on what was then called a Pell Grant payment document.  I tallied campus based aid on index cards for the FISAP.  The director did not consider the tally complete until the totals were the same for three consecutive counts.  I didn’t know much about FERPA at the time; but the director counseled me on confidentiality.  I learned how to calculate a need analysis by hand.

I quickly learned financial aid terminology and acronyms.  For that community college, no need meant no eligibility for Pell, state aid, or student loans.  Student loan eligibility was based on family income. I was a student who had a small unmet need, but no program eligibility in anything, except work-study.  Happenstance; had I not made that phone call to the financial aid office, I would be in another career field.

I’m still doing basically the same work I started back in August 1983 as a student worker, with the exception of filing.  I must admit I hate filing.  The moment it was no longer a requirement, I stopped filing.  I have work-study students for that.

“Why financial aid,” you ask.  I say, “Why not.”  My first director instilled in me a passion for helping students who have a thirst for education and are driven to success.  Sometimes I act as the driver on their road to success with a grant, scholarship, loan or work-study job to help ease some of the financial burden.  The rules and regulations keep me employed in the field as there is always something new to interpret or implement.  I thrive by helping students.  Thus, the reason I live through another August.

What about you?  How did you “happen” into the world of financial aid?  Share your story!

 

My First EASFAA Conference – Reflections from Kenyan Cattell

Posting this on behalf of Kenyan Cattell, member of our Social Website Committee

My first EASFAA conference experience

My first EASFAA conference turned out to be more than just a conference experience. I moved from the academic department side to financial aid three years ago.  There was enough to learn about financial aid that I really did not think about professional development opportunities outside of my department or membership in non-financial aid.

We hired an assistant manager who was a member of the state association, PASFAA, and we all went to a spring training session where annual conferences were mentioned.   I started thinking about all different associations for teaching and other careers and I started googling financial aid conferences.

Yes, the first EASFAA Conference I attended was in Puerto Rico which was a fabulous location but not the main reason I attended.    The sessions covered a wide range of topics, more so than other conferences I had researched.  As with PASFAA, you had to join to attend the conference. What started out as a conference search, has ended up being much more.

My state organization is sort of like immediate family, EASFAA extended family with lots of cousins, and then NASFAA is the whole huge family that requires renting out state parks to have a reunion.  I have to say, my EASFAA cousins have been great resources over the last couple of years.

As a card carrying member I now receive various updates on different opportunities and information which I have found very useful.  It is not always possible to attend live events but most people can log onto a webinar.  EASFAA provides the opportunity to meet other financial aid professionals, pick up information about multiple areas of interest, keep up to date on things that are happening in higher education.  It has also been a good opportunity to do things like join committees or volunteer at conferences.

Even though I may not be able to attend the conference this year, I will still maintain my membership in EASFAA.   Being a part of EASFAA has given me a quality source of aid information and a large network of peers.

What was your first EASFAA conference or just first  EASFAA experience?  What impact has it had on you as a financial aid professional?