At some point early on in the pandemic, Nick Prewett, director of financial aid and scholarship services at Stony Brook University, decided to view the disruption caused by the coronavirus as an opportunity.
With staff working remotely, he was looking for ways to keep employees motivated and connected, and challenged them to obtain as many NASFAA professional credentials as possible.
“We had to figure out how to get some additional training opportunities, because basically our entire spring of conferences and events and training opportunities got scrapped,” Prewett said.
In the spring Prewett purchased the package that gave all of his staff access to the full set of training guides and allowed them to sit through the credentialing process. His staff has since taken full advantage, with 127 credentials earned throughout the office as of this month.
“What I've seen is staff become a little bit more empowered. It's been a big benefit to the office,” he said, noting that the 127 credentials to date make up more than 20% of the state of New York’s total.
Prewett said he relied on his staff to push and motivate each other to continue earning credentials, and team leaders within the office created plans for staff to receive training specific to their daily tasks.
The customer service team, for example, has focused on earning the application process and student eligibility credentials since those most directly apply to the work they do.
“Those two pieces have really helped them have a lot of conversations with families. They've expanded that a little bit, as far as the level of detail and [have] been able to add a little bit of explanation for it,” Prewett said.
To facilitate the training, Prewett said he and other team leaders have carved out dedicated time each week for staff to focus on going through the study guides and earning credentials by working through the modules. And with most of the staff doing remote work over the past few months, giving staff time to work through the credentialing at their own pace was an ideal option.
Once Lyndsay Johnson, a senior advisor in the financial aid office, got a few credentials under her belt, she said she felt energized and excited to continue.
She said the credentials have given her and her colleagues more confidence in their knowledge and understanding of what can be complex rules and regulations, which in turn allows her to communicate better with students and their families.
“I keep going back to the foundations. If you have those foundations and your foundations are strong, then you have that confidence behind you,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted what stuck out to her about NASFAA’s training and credentials was the applicability of the content. When professional judgements spiked this summer due to the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, Johnson said the whole office beefed up on the topic by earning the credential.
“One day our system was down and we said, ‘Let's just have staff training all day,’ and we did [the professional judgement credential] in two sessions,” she said. “We applied the information to real life scenarios. We took situations that happen with our students so staff members can get a better understanding, so they can apply it to the Stony Brook way.”
Both Johnson and Prewett said the office’s efforts to earn credentials have created not only a feeling of camaraderie — vitally important as schedules are disrupted and more staff work from home — but also a healthy sense of positive peer pressure.
“I think it gets at that mindset of, ‘Wow, they're really enjoying it. Maybe I will just keep trucking along,’” she said. “They're pulling each other along without even realizing they're helping someone who may not be as interested.”
While Prewett and Johnson stressed the value that credentialing has brought to their office throughout the pandemic, Prewett sees the long-term benefit the offering provides to the financial aid community as well.
“I think it's about seeing credentialing or that certification piece as part of professionalizing financial aid, or seeing financial aid as a true profession,” he said. “Financial aid isn’t necessarily just a job. It's more of a profession, helping students and providing access and affordability.”
Publication Date: 11/24/2020