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.
Director of Financial Aid
University of Central Florida
Meet Alicia Keaton. Alicia has held various roles in financial aid for more than 25 years and currently serves as the director of financial aid at the University of Central Florida. "It's been seven years and I honestly can't imagine being anywhere else," she said. Alicia started in education as a substitute teacher in the Detroit Public Schools system shortly after graduating from college and before starting her career in financial aid at Wayne State University. Though she was hired as a financial aid officer, she worked her way up and was the associate director before leaving for the University of Florida to become a senior associate director. "Each institution has taught me something that has helped make me a better person, administrator, and leader," she said. "I would never be in this position had it not been for Wayne State and the University of Florida."
Alicia has been involved with NASFAA in several different capacities, serving as the NASFAA Local Arrangements Task Force Chair in 2019 when the national conference was held in Orlando, and more recently as a part of the 2020 NASFAA Awards Committee, Conference Program Committee, and Diversity Leadership Committee. She has also moderated panels at previous NASFAA conferences.
What is one thing you love about working at the University of Central Florida?
I genuinely love working with my staff. They are always trying to find a better, more efficient way to assist our students. I know I push them to think outside the box and they in turn push me. I also love the fact I can reach out to anyone on my campus with a question and they are right there ready to find a solution.
What is one thing you wish you could change about the financial aid system?
I would like for reauthorization [of the Higher Education Act] to happen within the next 12 months. I have been in financial aid for 27 years and this has been going on for more than a decade. It's challenging to work in a system in which the regulations cannot be properly addressed in a timely manner.
What has the COVID-19 outbreak taught you about yourself and/or your team?
It's shown me the depths my team will go to push through, support one another, and still find ways to get the work done. The pandemic has also forced my team and I to think outside the box regarding how to reach students. This summer we held weekly live Q&A webinars to targeted student groups on various financial aid topics.
Who is the most intelligent person you know?
I would have to say my late dad. My dad was not able to attend college. His parents could not afford it, but he honestly was the most intelligent man I've ever known. He knew so much about the world, finances, and he relied heavily on good old common sense. He would make you really think about your decisions and challenge you when he thought you weren't. If he thought you hadn't put enough thought into a decision he would say "common sense would tell anybody ‘this or that' would happen."
What message would you like to send your colleagues in financial aid during these uncertain times?
Connect with your peers — sometimes you need to hear an objective voice to get you through a rough time. Sometimes you need an idea from an outside source. In financial aid we always feel as though we are defending our operations. When you know that what you are doing is right, don't feel the need to defend it. Let the regulations and data help you shape your narrative.
Name one thing on your bucket list.
Travel to Greece, Italy, and Paris!
What book or TV show has you read/seen recently that you'd recommend, and why?
The only thing I'm reading is NASFAA News.
My favorite thing about my job is:
Finding ways to make things better for my staff (whenever possible) and our students. Anything I can do to make my staff feel appreciated, I will do. I will cook, have ice cream socials, holiday parties (any holiday), decorate the office (birthdays, holidays). Additionally, anything I can do to help students understand the process better, I will do! I love to see students have that "A-ha" moment. I know then I did my job!
Want to say hello to Alicia 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. Know someone you'd like to nominate to be our next MVP? Send us a message at email@example.com.
Publication Date: 9/16/2020