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.
Sarah Baumhoff, FAAC®
Director of Student Support
Kennesaw State University
Meet Sarah Baumhoff. Now approaching her 25th year working in financial aid, Sarah said she credits her start to the profession to a work-study job in junior college that helped her complete her postsecondary education and led to a career where she never finds herself bored.
"Every time I talk to somebody new, or we bring somebody new on staff, I always tell them that you'll never be bored because something is constantly changing or being tweaked or being clarified," Sarah said. "You always have something new to learn, and I feel like that every day."
Sarah, director of student support at Kennesaw State University, has been active in her work with NASFAA. After starting her involvement through the state association in Georgia, she has since served as a member of the Certified Financial Aid Administrator® Program Implementation Working Group in 2019, as an Assisting Displaced Students volunteer in 2016, and as a member of the Leadership Development & Professional Advancement Committee in 2013. Additionally, in 2016 Sarah served as chair of the Annual Training Task Force.
Throughout Sarah's professional experience, she has found financial aid to be one of the most challenging aspects of higher education, where the options for students aren't as cut-and-dry as they can be in other postsecondary offices.
"Financial aid just feels like a big black hole and is a mystery a lot of times," Sarah said, explaining that those outside of the profession do not fully grasp the complexity of the system. "It takes a lot of being willing to dig in and learn the system, and I think sometimes it's the most challenging part of higher education."
Is there anything in particular that drew you to pursuing a career in financial aid?
I really like helping people and helping students, and I've always had a passion for helping people and for trying to give good information and really helping them see solutions. I think that working in financial aid really helps feed that passion within me because I really want to help students understand the process and how to make college affordable. Sometimes that's difficult decisions that you have to talk about and what you can do and how you make things work. But I really have that passion to really help students, and I love to watch them graduate. I love to go see them walk across the stage and get their diploma, and know that we had a real hand in that.
Do you have any advice to those getting started in the field?
I think it's really important to have someone — whether you find them through NASFAA or the state association or the regional association, or just a really good co-worker or friend — to bounce ideas off of and learn and glean everything you can from those people.
Financial aid is not an easy job, and sometimes our family and our normal friends don't understand it. I have a group text with a group of friends that goes probably at least once a week where we're texting about something that's going on, because we all understand each other because we all work in the field together.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The days that I actually get to sit down and talk to students. I know that everything I do impacts them, and that helps them get a step closer to graduation. A lot of times, and especially over the last year or so, most of it has been behind the scenes, and I love interacting with students, I love sitting down and talking to them, hearing what their plans are, talking about how to make things work. That is what keeps me going.
What is one thing you love about working at your school?
My family and I live in the community, and I've loved being a part of the community. We live about 10 miles away from campus, our family comes to football games and basketball games and we've tried to be very involved in the campus community, and I volunteer with an organization on campus.
It's just become part of our life, and financial aid is a big part of my life anyway. It's what got me through college. It's what my profession is that really just being part of the KSU community has become something that's our family's life and so my kids are comfortable coming on campus and seeing things now. They both say they don't want to go to college here because that's where Mom works, but it's been a big part of our family life, being part of the KSU family.
What's helped you the most in getting through the past year?
I have a really solid group of friends that are financial aid friends and we have all done a really good job of checking in on each other, texting with each other, and getting through the hard days. My dad died in January of COVID, and the number of financial aid people that I heard from and that reached out to me and sent cards or calls and stuff was just overwhelming. It really is a family.
What's one thing you couldn't function without?
My morning Coke. I drink a Coca-Cola every morning. I'm not a coffee person, but I do have to have my source of caffeine every morning.
If you could automatically learn a new skill what would it be?
It would be how to fly. I would love to fly planes as a hobby.
Is there anything you are most looking forward to this spring/early summer?
I am vaccinated, and my husband and my son will be fully vaccinated by the end of the week. We are looking forward to trying to have some sort of vacation this summer, and do something just as a family that gets us all out of the house. We've been together a lot over the past year.
I am really looking forward to what I hope will be some in-person events with my financial aid family and friends. I love having virtual options, but I'm ready to be in the same space with some folks, so I hope over the next, hopefully, eight months or so, we'll actually start being able to have in-person events again.
What book or TV show have you read or seen recently that you'd recommend, and why?
We've been watching "Big Shot" with John Stamos on Disney+. Of course, he was an 80s star that I grew up with on "Full House," so we've been watching that show now as a family.
What's your favorite type of dessert?
Cupcakes, because they're small enough to give you that sweet treat that you want, but not so big that you eat a whole cake.
If you could have a super power, what would it be and why?
It would be invisibility, because I always want to see what my kids are doing when I'm not in the room. Even though they're older now, I'm still sometimes just curious about what they're doing when we're not around.
Want to say hello to Sarah 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.
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.
Publication Date: 5/11/2021