MVP: Most Valuable Professional is an occasional series that features a brief Q&A with a different NASFAA member. Do you know a financial aid colleague with something interesting to say? Send the names of potential future MVPs and a short note about why you're nominating them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Sarah Everitt. She started her career in financial aid 12 years ago in an entry-level position—and with no prior knowledge of the field—at Spokane Falls Community College in the state of Washington. She immediately fell in love with financial aid, however, because it was "a perfect blend of working with students and problem-solving." After serving at the community college for two and a half years, Sarah took a position in the financial aid office at a private institution just under an hour away, Gonzaga University, where she continues to work today. "I love many things about Gonzaga—the community, our commitment to our students' growth and development, the mission-centered Jesuit education, the basketball, and the beautiful campus," she said. "But what I love about working at Gonzaga is that I'm challenged and supported to continuously improve in my role."
"Financial aid has reinforced the importance of listening and empathy. I'm reminded of this frequently, how often a student or a family just wants to be heard and acknowledged with whatever they're struggling with," Sarah said. "Sometimes we are able to find a solution, and sometimes we aren't, but the conversation goes a lot better when I take the time to pause and hear what's being said."
Sarah currently serves as a team leader and as an assessment leader on NASFAA's Standards of Excellence Review Team and has been a part of the program since 2014. She is also the president-elect for her state association, the Washington Financial Aid Association (WFAA), and has been involved in various training roles for WFAA and the Western Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (WASFAA) for the last five years.
What is something you wish you knew your first year working in financial aid
That things like systems, policy, and processes will always change!
What's the biggest financial aid change you've seen during your career?
The biggest changes I've seen in my career revolve around how technology has changed and evolved. Using (some) technology is a lot more intuitive now, and/or the general population's tech-savviness has improved. I remember that a lot of my early counseling conversations were more about navigating a website than providing financial aid information.
If you could change something about the current financial aid system, what would it be?
The financial aid system, and higher education in general, is complex, and I worry too many potential students get lost in the maze. Additionally, finances are a very personal topic. I hope we can continue to improve how we talk about financial aid—specifically helping families understand the cost of going to college and the requirements to receive aid very early on in the process. I wish I had an easy solution!
What is a goal you've set for yourself for the upcoming year?
To finish the 2018 Chicago Marathon at the beginning of October!
If you had a time machine that would work only once, what point in the future or in history would you visit?
I'd go to a time when I could have a conversation with all four of my grandparents in one spot. They lived across the country from each other and I was too young to remember a time when they were all together. I see the relationship my kids have with their grandparents and I think it's really special.
What's your favorite life hack?
Audible. I love books, and it might be my favorite thing to talk about. For that reason, I love to be able to listen to books or podcasts when I'm commuting, running, or doing housework.
What book have you read recently that you would recommend and why?
A book that has really stayed with me is "Educated: A Memoir," by Tara Westover. Not only is it beautifully written, but its message about the transformative power of higher education reinforces the work we do.
If you could learn any skill, what would it be?
I'd learn to sing (better) or play the piano. My husband and kids are musically inclined, and I'd love to be able to share it with them.
(photos top to bottom: my husband, Pat, and kids, Arianna (10) and Will (7)/ WASFAA Training, September 2018/ street basketball tournament with my sisters)
Want to say hello to Sarah or reply to something she said? Please leave your remarks in the comments section below. You can also take a look back at our past MVPs to read any you missed the first time around.
Do you know a financial aid colleague with something interesting to say? Send the names of potential future MVPs and a short note about why you're nominating them to email@example.com.
Publication Date: 10/3/2018