By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
There’s no shortage of work in a financial aid office. Just ask Mary Sommers, the director of financial aid at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, who has worked in the field for more than 30 years.
Between her professional career and personal life, Sommers manages to find time to contract with Blue Icon Advisors as an independent consultant. She works with financial aid offices across the country helping them meet a variety of needs, a role she says she enjoys due to the flexibility and being able to help aid offices — and by extension help students.
“The reason I made the decision [to join Blue Icon as a consultant] initially was I had an interest in supporting financial aid offices and financial aid professionals in a way beyond what might happen at a conference, or what might happen in training,” Sommers said. “People are very passionate and generally very committed to the profession. But many of them struggle simply because of a lack of time and a lack of support at their institution to really do it well or do it right.”
That’s where Blue Icon has filled a void, with seasoned aid professionals such as Sommers offering their experience and expertise. Sommers has worked on a variety of projects as an independent consultant with Blue Icon, including revamping policies and procedures for aid offices, developing operational calendars, and scholarship management. Sommers said she enjoys working with Blue Icon as she can take on projects as her schedule allows, plus she’s able to work remotely and connect with schools virtually, as opposed to traveling to different aid offices.
“It really facilitates letting a practicing financial aid officer be a consultant. If I was taking a lot of time away from campus to do some consulting, it may have been a harder commitment for me to make,” she said.
Additionally, Sommers said at this stage in her life, with her children out of the house, she has more free time to dedicate to working with outside clients.
“I also am nearing the end of my career and I'm thinking about how I can find a way to kind of ease into retirement, and consulting is just a natural way to do that,” she added.
Dawn Mosisa-Lowe had similar thoughts in deciding to work with Blue Icon as an independent consultant after retiring with more than 30 years of financial aid experience.
Mosisa-Lowe said she gets satisfaction from continuing to work even in retirement and continuing to do what she loves, albeit on a smaller scale. Helping aid offices that are overwhelmed or otherwise wouldn't have the manpower to complete a project — such as a self-audit or comprehensive operational review — is rewarding, she added.
“Everyone in financial aid, we love financial aid because we love helping people,” Mosisa-Lowe said. “I get to go to schools now and help them and provide them with some feedback on things they didn't know, things they needed help with that they didn't have staff for.”
From her time in financial aid, Mosisa-Lowe also understands just how busy each aid office is — “they're trying to squeeze 90 minutes into every 60,” she said.
At a time when aid offices are short-staffed and facing turnovers, independent consultants can help fill gaps during absences and times of need.
“If someone has surgery and they’re out, or someone gets pregnant and they're out for a few months, it's rare to see a financial aid office staffed well enough to handle those kinds of things,” Mosisa-Lowe said.
Above all else, Mosisa-Lowe said being able to be an outside voice for financial aid offices in need is fulfilling and compels her to continue doing the work that is continuously evolving with new challenges depending on the project.
“Every school has its own unique challenges, so it's very interesting as well,” she said. “It's always something new and different.”
Publication Date: 1/25/2022