Meet Eileen O’Leary, NASFAA’s 2014-15 National Chair!
Eileen is currently the assistant vice president of student financial services at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where she has worked in financial aid for nearly 30 years. Eileen has also held various roles at the state and national level, including National Chair of the National Direct Student Loan Coalition (NDSLC), where she currently sits on the executive board. She has served on a number of committees and task forces for NASFAA, including the 2011-2012 Reimagining Aid Delivery and Design (RADD) Task Force as commission director and member, the Award Letter and Consumer Disclosure Task Force, the 2001-2006 Reauthorization Task Force, and the Federal Issues Committee from 2006-2008.
As she begins her tenure as 2014-15 National Chair, Eileen took some time to discuss with Today’s News her goals for the next year and what inspires her as a financial aid professional. Be sure to check out Eileen’s address to NASFAA members at the 2014 National Conference in Nashville!
TN: How long have you worked in financial aid and how did you get your start?
EO: I began working in financial aid in 1984. I was looking for a new job that would allow me the luxury of completing my bachelor’s degree without having to borrow. I accepted the manager of student accounts position at Stonehill College and without anyone to train me and no knowledge of National Direct Student Loans (NDSL), I spent hours each day delving into the federal handbook, regulations, and legislation. I hung in there, figured out the NDSL program, and moved up the ladder, holding every position in the office of Student Aid and Finance. I guess I’d do just about anything to avoid borrowing a student loan!
TN: What do you think is the biggest issue facing the federal programs right now?
EO: A shift from the popular belief that having an educated citizenry is in the best interests of our democracy and our collective selves, to thinking that education benefits only the individual student. Short of convincing legislators and taxpayers that America is better off existentially and financially when citizens are educated to their highest potential, higher education may become a financially unreasonable option for too many.
TN: What are your top three goals for your chairmanship of NASFAA?
EO: 1. Encourage financial aid administrators to think bigger than compliance with unending regulations, legislation, and subregulatory guidance. We need to see the forest for the trees - understand the big picture, take a position that makes sense, and be willing to speak up!
2. Encourage financial aid administrators to take an active role in NASFAA and volunteer as a task force member, run for a position on the Board of Directors, and even for National Chair. We are fielding multiple task forces and thought forces throughout this year, giving more members the chance to participate in an endeavor that is of interest to them. This provides greater professional development for those willing to step up, enriching the NASFAA base of volunteers, and moving away from any perception of exclusivity.
3. Work with NASFAA staff and volunteers to have our voice heard in Congress and the Administration as conversations are held and legislation is drafted for Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. We are the boots on the ground that can provide a perspective on the rationality, value, and personal cost of proposals.
TN: Who has been the biggest professional influence for you over the years, and why?
EO: There have been many people who have had an influence on my professional life. But the most influential as measured by my long-term learning curve, is undoubtedly Tom Butts, NASFAA’s recipient of the Alan W. Purdy Distinguished Service Award in 2013. For me personally, Tom has been a mentor and friend. He has taught me to see beyond the obvious, understand the politics behind power, and to advocate successfully for issues about which I am passionate.
TN: What is the best professional advice you have been given?
EO: The best professional advice I have ever been given was given to me by my mother: “Pick your battles. You can’t fight them all, but fight well those you choose.”
TN: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
EO: My favorite place in the world is Italy. Italy is not only beautiful and romantic, it is filled with wondrous art, history and a welcoming people.
TN: You can have dinner with three celebrities, dead or alive. Who are they?
EO: I would most wish to have dinner with Thomas Jefferson. He was a wise and kind philosopher/politician who believed always in the righteousness and power of the idea of America, and that the future could always be better than the past.
I would like also to spend an evening with Bill Clinton – can he bring Hilary?
My third dinner guest would be Luciano Pavarotti, as long as he would perform Nessun Dorma for me!
TN: If I weren't working in financial aid, I'd...
EO: Probably be a perennial gardener or a baker of wedding cakes. I love to create beautiful things!
TN: One personal fact that would surprise my coworkers:
EO: I love chocolate! (Actually, they might not be surprised….)
TN: If you had a super power what would it be?
EO: FLY! I’ve always wished I could fly like a bird, soaring through the sky, floating on the breezes, seeing the world from a higher perspective, free from the constraints of gravity.
Leave your welcome, comments, and congratulations to O’Leary in the comments section below!
Publication Date: 7/30/2014