Community Spotlight: Unleashing the Power of Connection

By Tim Maggio, Community Manager

Amid the whirlwind of regulations, the morning commute, and the comforting aroma of morning coffee, a financial aid professional’s routine can sometimes feel like a solitary journey. During the past year, many aid officers have opened the digital doors to NASFAA Communities where they can be transported to a world where connections flourish, conversations spark, and transformative experiences develop.

Since its inception, NASFAA Communities has attracted thousands of enthusiastic members, creating a vibrant platform for individuals to connect, learn, and engage. Allyson VanConant, the sole financial aid officer at Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College, shared how NASFAA Communities gave her a sense of belonging. 

“This is definitely not a role where it can solely rely on one person, but a group of people,” VanConant said. “Financial aid is a challenging, yet rewarding profession and I am so glad I have found a community to challenge me, yet also help me feel so connected and less isolated.” 

Cristen Alicea, FAAC®, director of financial aid at the University of the Incarnate Word, and Darcy Johnson, FAAC®, assistant director of compliance at Washburn University of Topeka, both agree that the sense of community and belonging has brought value both personally and professionally.

Alicea and Johnson both serve as community volunteers within the certification community, where they start discussions, respond to colleagues, and create a helpful environment. 

“The certification group provided the opportunity for me to share my not-so-serious side that knows that you have to have some fun to break up the stress of the day, so I was able to help others break up the week with some fun discussion prompts," Johnson said.

Alicea said it has been incredibly helpful for professional development, as well.

“I can think of several instances where someone's suggestion helped me think outside the box on issues I've been dealing with,” she said. “Being in this community is also helping me focus on big-picture items that tend to get put on the back burner during our daily processing. I can't imagine trying to understand all of the new FAFSA simplification implications without seeing all the discussions we've been having online.”

Christopher Rodriguez, FAAC®, director of financial aid at Rowan College of South Jersey, Gloucester Campus, is also a community volunteer in the certification community who has appreciated the ability to discuss FAFSA simplification issues and analyze guidance, webinars, and more.

“A discussion thread was made this week about how schools plan to address students that are negatively impacted by the move to the Student Aid Index. This is an issue I had not considered addressing at my institution,” he said.

Kamia Mwango, FAAC®, director of financial aid at Santa Fe College, said she can remember several times when the community helped her access crucial information or gain valuable insight.

“There were the last-minute FISAP notices where we were all telling each other to use the date in the notice, not the date that was printed on the actual FISAP form so we could submit it by the deadline,” Mwango shared.

She also said she appreciated the attention, support, and solidarity that colleagues gave to each other when schools were affected by natural disasters, campus tragedies, or other difficult situations. 

As a community volunteer, Mwango also contributed to the wide variety of discussions and resources within NASFAA. 

Diversity of discussion, resources, insights, and perspectives is one of the most valuable assets of NASFAA Communities. With the number of community experiences growing, many members are finding their space, voice, and place to belong.

Christina Aryes, director of financial aid and scholarships at Utah State University, said NASFAA Communities has helped her “feel I’m part of the solution as I research, help, or receive help for day-to-day questions.”

Aryes serves as a community volunteer to the new director community, where she has helped countless colleagues by making new connections, sharing operational calendars, and reminding colleagues of federal deadlines.

Within NASFAA Communities, a culture of care and shared success has become the norm. Community members discover that they are not alone in their challenges and aspirations. As they engage in discussions, attend events, and connect, the silos of their individual institutions fade away. Bound by a common purpose, they join forces with like-minded professionals from different corners of the country, each bringing their unique expertise to the table.

Explore our many community experiences, and sign up today.

Don’t see something that represents you? Let us know.


Publication Date: 7/18/2023

Helen F | 8/8/2023 4:53:03 PM

I'm so pleased at how our NASFAA Communities have connected colleagues and built a national network of mutual support. Wonderful work, Tim, and thoughtful engagement from aid professionals all over the country.

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