MVP Joe Donlay

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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 protected].

Joe DonlayJoe Donlay
Director of Financial Aid
Colorado State University

Meet Joe Donlay. Joe has been working in the financial aid profession for 15 years, starting his career as a financial aid counselor at Southwestern College in Winfield, KS. "With a newly-minted marketing degree and some wonderful experiences as a student ambassador, I was initially more interested in pursuing a higher education career via college admissions," Joe said. "Not knowing anything about financial aid, my application made its way to Brenda Hicks at Southwestern, now the NASFAA National Chair-Elect. She took a chance on me as a new college graduate, and gave me my first break into the field of student aid." After leaving Southwestern College, Joe worked for six years as the assistant director for systems at Wichita State University, and then "hopped the state line" in 2012 to serve as the associate director for operations at Colorado State University (CSU). Joe was then promoted to senior associate director in July 2018, and was officially named director of financial aid at CSU in August 2019. 

"Colorado State University is an incredibly special place; each campus department is committed to our access-focused and equity-minded mission in truly meaningful ways," Joe said. "I lead a team that takes enormous pride in uniquely contributing to that mission each day, through the power of effective financial aid program administration. Our vision is to always lead with a commitment to equity, access, and success — and we strive to accomplish that vision, day-in and day-out."

Joe chaired the NASFAA Technology Initiatives Committee and National Advocacy Network Task Force, and served on NASFAA's Awards Committee, and Finance and Audit Committee. Joe also served as a regional delegate on NASFAA's Board of Directors as a former president of RMASFAA. 

Joe with a city skylineWhat was your most motivating financial aid experience?

My most motivating financial aid experiences come when I have the opportunity to work directly with students and families. On those occasions, when I can shine light toward a solution not previously seen, to help someone work through a hurdle in the process, or to fix a policy or procedure that has created a needless barrier — those are the special moments for me that provide the greatest motivation. And greatest satisfaction!

What is one thing you wish you knew your first year working in financial aid?

It's OK to not have all of the answers all of the time, and it's OK to lean on your colleagues for help when you need it.

How have you seen innovation in your career in financial aid?

The advent of prior-prior year (PPY) and the Early FAFSA has been a tremendous innovation that does much to support access and choice. If we can continue to evolve an application process that reduces verification barriers, we would greatly impact additional positive change for our most vulnerable student populations. I'd love to see a "one-time FAFSA" someday, soon.

Joe hiking with a dogWhat was the best thing that happened to you recently?

I recently attended a small graduation celebration for an amazing first-generation student here at CSU. Diondre is an incredible young man who has endured and overcome unbelievable obstacles in order to graduate with his degree this summer term. A network of colleagues from across campus have been working with him for nearly two years to help make this happen. I'm blown away by Diondre's perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges and am so grateful to collaborate with campus partners who cared deeply for this young man and his successes.

What's your favorite life hack?

TSA PreCheck is worth every penny! I've had PreCheck for several years, but am still so amazed at how much time and effort it saves at the airport. And generally speaking, if you have travel partners on the same airline reservation who may not have PreCheck, it can many times extend to them as well and expedite the security line for the whole group. Highly recommended if you travel even semi-regularly by air.

What is your favorite kind of food?

Really good Mexican food — morning, noon, and night! 

What book have you read recently that you would recommend and why?

I just finished the book "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo. It was a powerful read for anyone wanting to better understand how dominant identities and power dynamics often make it difficult for white Americans to confront or talk openly about racism. 

Joe on a farmWhat is your earliest childhood memory?

Getting a stuffed teddy bear from my dad one Christmas, which I carried everywhere! And I still have it, packed away with some keepsakes, (though I think the bear looks a little worse for wear).

What's one thing you are insecure about?

I am my own worst critic! I can be very insecure about making mistakes — and I have made many — or can find myself worried about not always making the best, most-informed, wisest decisions. My career in financial aid administration, however, has proved abundantly to me that the times where I've made mistakes have been the best teachable moments. Within these spaces is where I've learned, and grown, the most.   

Want to say hello to Joe 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 [email protected]


Publication Date: 10/1/2019

Donna C | 10/9/2019 3:33:46 PM

Congratulations Joe!!! You are a MVP!

Brenda H | 10/1/2019 8:55:04 PM

Congratulations, my friend!

Janell V | 10/1/2019 11:41:55 AM

A plethora of positive adjectives come to mind to describe Joe. One that stands out, genuine. Joe talks the talk and walks the walk, no doubt. Due to NASFAA, I crossed paths with a former fellow Sunflower state resident. Thank you, Joe, for being an advocate for our students and leader in our professional organizations. Congratulations, MVP!

G. Michael J | 10/1/2019 11:16:52 AM

A finer human being would be hard to imagine. Congratulations to Joe and to NASFAA for recognizing greatness.

Joseph M | 10/1/2019 11:4:08 AM

Congratulations Joe on this well-deserved recognition!

Nicholas P | 10/1/2019 10:37:51 AM

Such a cool honor for such a cool guy!

Valerie C | 10/1/2019 9:55:36 AM

An exceptional choice for MVP! This is very much deserved. Joe, you put me in awe with how much you have done for students and the industry in your 15 years. We are very lucky to have you in the RMASFAA region. Congratulations!

Darcy J | 10/1/2019 9:30:29 AM

Congrats, Joe! You have earned this recognition many times over!

Julie S | 10/1/2019 9:26:39 AM

Congratulations Joe - so well deserved! Thanks for being such a great leader in the financial aid community!

Heather B | 10/1/2019 9:15:58 AM

Congratulations, Joe! #Nachos9 forever.

Tony L | 10/1/2019 9:12:14 AM

Congratulations Joe! This recognition is well-deserved: you've done so much on the state, regional, and national levels.

Andrew H | 10/1/2019 9:11:10 AM

An excellent choice for MVP. Congratulations, Joe!

Ken K | 10/1/2019 9:1:15 AM

Congratulations Joe!

Andrew F | 10/1/2019 9:0:32 AM

Congrats Joe!

Shannon C | 10/1/2019 8:49:21 AM

Congratulations Joe! Well deserved!

Emily O | 10/1/2019 8:38:59 AM

Congratulations Joe!!!

Kelly M | 10/1/2019 8:30:52 AM

Joe is definitely an MVP, well deserved!

Timothy S | 10/1/2019 8:24:54 AM

Congrats Joe!!!!

Lori V | 10/1/2019 8:13:18 AM

Congrats Joe!!!!! Well deserved.

Kim J | 10/1/2019 8:10:57 AM

Congratulations Joe .... very deserving and thankful for your love, dedication, and commitment to our beloved profession.

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