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 email@example.com.
Meet Daniel Barkowitz. He's been involved in the financial aid profession for 30 years on "all four sides of the fence," as he explains it, working for a student loan servicer, state education lender, financial aid technical consulting firm, and a number of colleges and universities. He began his career in financial aid the summer after his freshman year, when he took an assistant account management position at Knight Tuition Payment Plans, a group that no longer exists. Throughout his career, Daniel has volunteered for his state, regional, and national associations in various training, support, and leadership roles, and will serve as the president of the Florida Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (FASFAA) beginning in July 2019. Daniel said that he loves his current position at Valencia College because the school "is a hotbed of innovation," adding that "as a college, we are never satisfied with the status quo, and continuous improvement is encouraged."
"Valencia, as a result, attracts phenomenal staff; I am blessed to work with an amazing team of dedicated staff who are incredibly talented," he said. "I am motivated by being able to make a change in our students' lives and to inspire others to work in the field."
Daniel has served on NASFAA's Technology Initiatives Committee and Policy Rapid Response Network, as well as volunteered for the Training and Regulatory Assistance staff's "Angoff Study," in which he assisted in reviewing credential test questions. Daniel has also served as an evaluator for NASFAA's online courses and as an editor for the Journal of Student Financial Aid. Additionally, Daniel will serve as the first commission chair for NASFAA's Certified Financial Aid Administrator (CFAA) program, which will begin its work in January.
What is something you wish you knew your first year working in financial aid?
You can't ever know everything there is to know about financial aid; the most important lesson is to learn how and where to find information. The regulations and rules which govern financial aid change constantly, so the best strategy is to learn how to learn!
What is one thing you would like to change about the current financial aid system?
While I appreciate the focus on outcomes (graduation) and employment (career-readiness), I am worried that we are forcing students to decide what they want to study too early. Our current system does not encourage exploration, and I know as a student I didn't know what I wanted to do until after I had already started working in the field.
What was your most motivating financial aid experience?
When I was director of financial aid at Lasell College in Newton, MA, I had a student who I'll call Allanah. We were a small school—about 690 students—and Allanah was coming to us from a small city in Florida. It was late August 1997 and we were getting ready to welcome students in the next weekend when Allanah arrived on our doorstep... literally. She had taken a Greyhound bus from Florida by herself and had timed her arrival to the day the dorms would be ready for move-in—but she had used the previous year's date and move-in wasn't scheduled to begin for another week. Allanah was a zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC) student, had no family in town, and needed our support, so as we jumped into "problem-solving mode" trying to find her a place to live, some money for food, and emotional support for the upcoming week, I forgot that this was my job, and began living out my role as a counselor, mentor, and financial aid professional. Ultimately, Allanah became a work-study student in my office, and she wound up working as a financial aid professional for a college in Florida.
What is a fear or obstacle that you have overcome?
I am a colon cancer survivor. When I was 46, I was diagnosed with very early-stage colon cancer, and I have a family history of colon and other cancers. I was lucky that it was caught early, but I did have major surgery to remove most of my colon, and I have preventative screenings every year. I am a proud cancer survivor, but also realize that my diagnosis is a lifetime one. I live with cancer, but I don't let it define me.
What's your favorite trick for getting smart quickly?
I learn from my mentors. I think the most important thing is to realize that there will always be people smarter than I am. I try to learn from them, and I try to hire them to work for me as well! Colleagues are the lifeblood that make my work manageable, and when I am stuck with a thorny problem I don't hesitate to call others and ask for advice.
What is your idea of a perfect day?
I am a HUGE Disney parks fan. We live only about 15 minutes from Walt Disney World, so my idea of a perfect day would be to be able to hang out in the parks with my friends and family.
What TV show have you seen recently that you would recommend and why?
I am rewatching the TV series, 'Lost.' I am a big science-fiction fan and love the fields of fantasy and horror as well. When I first watched the show, I wrote on my MIT financial aid blog, "I have to say, I am riveted to the TV for this show. Created by J.J. Abrams, who is also the creator of 'Alias,' it is tightly-written, suspenseful, and gripping. I don't want the reveal... I want to maintain the mystery. Interesting, since one of my goals in working in the field is to dispel the mystery… Sometimes I wonder if students get lost. If they think of the financial aid process kind of like the deserted island, full of pitfalls and unseen monsters. (OK am I stretching the metaphor too far here?)" This still applies to my work today. Even though I know the answer to the mysteries, (I have already watched the whole show,) I enjoy going back and reliving the journey, and I hope as well that my work can dispel some of the mysteries for our students.
What superpower would you like to have?
I would love to be "Moneyman." When I worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as director of financial aid, some of the students began referring to me as "Moneyman." I loved the nickname, and actually secured the email alias during my time there. With the power of Moneyman, I could meet the full need of every applicant and help them secure their educational endeavors.
(photos top to bottom: Celebrating FASFAA/ Daniel and family)
Want to say hello to Daniel or reply to something he 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication Date: 12/18/2018