By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
The year 2020 may well have been the year of the webinar. With a global pandemic forcing millions of Americans to work, study, and interact online from home, virtual events and webinars became ubiquitous.
Luckily for members of the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association (NYSFAAA), the association had already been delivering webinars to its members and was more than prepared to do so as work went remote.
For more than a decade, NYSFAAA has been providing regular webinars to its members to keep them informed on a host of financial aid topics, from a detailed session on how to fill out the FAFSA to sessions on professional judgement.
As the pandemic hit, Howard Leslie, the immediate past president of NYSFAAA and the vice president of financial aid at Berkeley College, and NYSFAAA transitioned to webinars related to COVID-19 and the issues that have arisen for financial aid offices due to the pandemic, providing them free of charge to all wishing to attend — not just members.
“We felt like it was important for us to share the wealth during these crazy times,” he said.
From the beginning of April through the summer, NYSFAAA hosted at least 10 COVID-19-related webinars available for free to the public, with hundreds attending or watching the session on-demand after it was published. And Leslie noted that these training webinars garnered attendees from all over the country, with more than 25 states represented.
Leslie said he was particularly proud of the topical and timely sessions NYSFAAA provided over the course of the pandemic, with topics such as how to protect student privacy in the virtual, remote work environment and how to administer emergency relief grants to students particularly salient.
“The more training ones, like the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, people were dying for that information,” he said.
To make the webinars engaging and informational, the NYSFAAA committee that organizes the sessions made sure to rely on subject matter experts and fellow financial aid professionals.
The association still hosted its regular webinars for members as well, making for a very busy few months for Leslie, NYSFAAA president Adrienne King, and their colleagues.
As the pandemic continued through the year, NYSFAAA — like so many others were forced to do last year — moved its regularly scheduled in-person conference to an online format. But again, the association saw an attendance increase due to the virtual nature of the event and since it’s still visible on NYSFAAA’s website, it lives on as a training tool.
King said the webinars focused on training and credentialing to provide members with an opportunity to be a better asset to the students and communities they serve.
She added that the fact that NYSFAAA already had a strong online webinar presence was invaluable when the pandemic hit because instead of making a hurried transition, they were able to turn their attention on how to improve the existing delivery and functionality.
It resulted in a better experience for members, who have appreciated not only the webinar sessions, but also the opportunity to interact with colleagues from across the region.
Busy members juggling a job, combined with all the tasks and struggles associated with life now operating almost entirely from home have appreciated the availability of the webinars and a chance to interact and check-in with people, King said.
For Leslie, the pandemic and all the obstacles associated with it gave him and his colleagues an opportunity to focus on training and compliance.
“I am huge on compliance. And I'm huge on training. And I'm huge on mentoring,” Leslie said. “So by training people, that is a form of mentoring, and I know I'm helping people stay in compliance. So it's like a win-win-win for me.”
King added that it’s important “for our members to know the right way.”
“Not our way, but the right way to do financial aid so that we can service our students in our colleges in our communities,” she said.
Publication Date: 1/11/2021