NASFAA Members Share FWS Experience, Career Impact

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

NASFAA recently asked our members to share their stories of starting their careers through the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program – and boy did you share! We received more than 50 responses to our request, demonstrating the impact FWS has had on the financial aid community for more than 40 years.

Responses came from all institution types, with many members sharing their experiences as FWS students who participated in the program as a way to help pay for their education. They then used their FWS experience to obtain employment in an aid office after completing school—and many turned those first jobs into decades-long careers.

We have included a sampling of stories shared by your colleagues about what FWS has done for them, personally and professionally. We encourage you to please share your story in the comments section below.

Lori Vedder, director of financial aid at the University of Michigan-Flint: “This year I celebrate 25 years at UM-Flint, all within the financial aid profession thanks to my FWS experience! As the director, I know how experience in financial aid can carry so much weight in eventually becoming a ‘lifer’ in the field.  I watch every student we hire, and every year the best of the best rise to the top.  Currently there are four permanent staff in the office that were first employed as work-study students.  Most of the other staff has been work-study students at their respective alma maters. 

There is something about the profession that draws you in.  The allure of helping students and the collegiality of campus life are such attractive benefits.  It takes a certain kind of person, with a certain kind of personality to do this work.  I take pride in thinking of the thousands of students I have helped in my 25 years and beyond!  To think that it all happened from becoming a Federal Work-Study student employee is so rewarding.”

Tracey Duke, associate director of special programs in the office of financial aid services at the University of Oklahoma: “In 1982, I moved from out of state to Oklahoma to attend college.  My sister was working in the financial aid office. She got me an interview and I was hired! It has been an enjoyable, never dull career. I’ve had some great bosses over the years that were very supportive. 

I am a single parent, so balancing the time spent on work and raising two children has been a time challenge. In the early years, I chose not to go to conferences or volunteer for committees to spend more time with the family.  However, I have also been able to help thousands of students, which is what I am most proud of.”

Britney Carter, student financial aid counselor at Hagerstown Community College (MD): “I was a student worker, turned part-time, turned full-time financial aid employee, who got my start with work-study funds in a financial aid office. I have been here five years and for the past year I have been the supervisor for our student workers.  

I love being able to give that same opportunity to a student, and I hope to inspire them and instill in them the same skills and values that my very awesome financial aid mentor gave to me.  I will not forget what they said to me when I went back to visit (which I do every time I’m home) and I told them I’d be applying for financial aid jobs: Once you get in and catch the financial aid bug, you never get out.”

Rachelle Rowan, director of financial services at Provo College (UT): “During my first term, I was approached by a financial aid administrator and asked if I was looking for work.  I said yes, I was looking for something part time.  I had no idea what the Federal Work-Study Program was or how financial aid worked. I had no money saved for school. I started working as a Federal Work-Study [student] in September 1991.  I graduated in July 1993 with my associate’s degree in business management and … was offered a full-time position in the financial aid office.  I was so excited, and I have loved working in financial aid for the last 20 plus years. 

Call me crazy, but I love helping people to better their lives and pursue a career and not just a job.  I am very lucky to be working with an amazing team at Provo College. I am very thankful to the financial aid administrator that approached me that day and changed my life by offering me the opportunity to be a Federal Work-Study [recipient].”

Brian Proctor, financial aid specialist at Umpqua Community College (OR): “After being out of high school for 20 years, I returned to college to earn my associate’s degree. In November of 2010 I was awarded Federal Work-Study and I chose to work in the financial aid office. 

I have now been here 15 months and I still love it as if it were my first day. I love verifying student information, doing research so that I know all that I can about financial aid, going out and doing high school presentations with upcoming students, and I especially love the team I work with. We are like a family and I would say that as a whole to our institution. I am proud to be a part of such a great place. I have learned and continue to learn so much. I have said many times, ‘I’m a lifer.’”

Sarah Pingel, researcher at Education Commission of the States (CO): “I am proud to say that I started my career in the Work-Study Program! My first in year in college was tough, and a wonderful FAA by the name of Kate Woodmansee at the University of Colorado at Boulder not only found work-study funding for me, but also hired me in the financial aid office. 

I worked in the same office throughout my undergraduate degree. While I left for a short stint in graduate school, I came right back to financial aid as a career. Presently, I work as a policy researcher in the Postsecondary and Workforce Development Institute at the Education Commission of the States. My main research area is state-level student financial aid programs. 

I can say that without a doubt I would not have a career in financial aid without the Federal Work-Study Program. On a practical level, the funds I earned through work-study enabled me to buy textbooks and meet daily expenses. In the long term, the experience that I got through my work-study job undoubtedly led to the career that I have today.”

Walter J. H. O’Neill, executive vice president for enrollment and student affairs at Davenport University (MI): “I got my start in the Federal Work-Study Program (it was College Work-Study then) in the early 1980s at SUNY Binghamton. Thirty-plus years and several degrees later, I worked my way through the ranks of financial aid administrator through assistant director, to directorships and assistant vice presidents, and now the executive vice president for enrollment and student affairs. It is a wonderful life we have—a challenging one for sure—but I wouldn't trade it for anything. And it all started as a college work-study student!”

G. Susie Edwards, district assistant director of student financial aid services at Tarrant County College District (TX): “I started in financial aid in 1970, right after high school graduation.  I was a College Work-Study student employee for four years (until I received my bachelor’s degree). Then, I was hired as a graduate assistant in the same office for the 15 months it took me to get my first master’s degree. 

I have been in financial aid for 44 plus years now and I believe the best employees I have ever had were my Federal Work-Study student employees who went on to get their bachelor’s degree and returned to my office to work for me in professional positions, or went on to work at other colleges/universities. 

As a student employee, you start on the ground floor and learn all the basics—from great customer service to all the federal regulations. I have been through every reauthorization except 1968.”

Karina Moulton, scholarship and work-study coordinator at the University of Montana’s Helena College: “I was hired as a Work-Study student in the financial aid office when I started at Helena College in 2008. I worked in the same position until I graduated with my associate’s degree in accounting. I then transferred to the University of Montana to receive my bachelor’s degree in business administration management. I worked in the financial aid office at U of M until I graduated. 

After I graduated, I worked at a staffing agency until I saw the listing for a scholarship and work-study coordinator at Helena College. I applied and was hired in March! I love my job and all the great people I am able to meet through RMASFAA and MASFAA. Work-study provided a great opportunity for me. I am so happy to be able to use my story to encourage my students to take advantage of the work-study program.”

Oscar Verduzco, director of financial aid and scholarships at Heritage University (WA): “I started my graduate school program at Washington State University in 2004 thanks to the financial support from the graduate school, the financial aid office, and the Federal Work-Study Program.  A month before fall [semester] began I was offered the position of graduate assistant and put through an intensive two-week training.

I did not imagine that ten years later I would be leading a team responsible for financial aid for an entire college campus! Without [FWS] I would have missed out on an opportunity that developed me as a professional in higher education who is prepared to present to an auditorium full of students and parents, as a financial literacy advocate and many other skills. 

In a time when most funding sources are seeing reductions, [FWS is] a program that students literally work for and which has been proven to actually work.”


Publication Date: 8/21/2014

Janell V | 8/21/2014 10:20:33 AM

No one I know graduated college with a major in "financial aid". However, the opportunity to be a college work study employee in a financial aid office drew many of us to this wonderful profession.

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