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 [email protected].
MVP Brian Drabik, FAAC®
Director of Financial Aid Operations
Meet Brian Drabik, FAAC®, director of financial aid operations at Northwestern University.
Brian got his start in the profession as a financial aid counselor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. For Brian, the financial aid profession is the "family business" — his mom was also a financial aid administrator.
After working at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Brian moved to Northwestern University, first serving as a senior associate director of financial aid in 2000. He’s stayed at Northwestern ever since, marking over two decades of service.
Beyond his work as a financial aid administrator, Brian also has served multiple roles at the state and regional level. He has served as a member for ILASFAA’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee. At MASFAA, he currently serves as a co-chair for the association's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Committee.
Brian has also served on multiple NASFAA task forces, worked as a NASFAA Blue Icon independent consultant and Standards of Excellence (SOE) reviewer, and was in NASFAA’s 2019-20 Diversity Leadership Program class.
Learn more about Brian, his interests, and his career path in the Q&A below!
How did you get your start in financial aid?
My mom — Jane Drabik — was the associate director of financial aid at Moraine Valley Community College. We were very much alike, so when she talked about how much she enjoyed the work, especially helping students, it really appealed to me, especially being a recent college graduate at the time. I started my career at the University of Illinois at Chicago working with Paula Luff and Marsha Weiss. Working for and learning from them really helped set a solid foundation for my career.
What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the profession since beginning your career?
Everything seems to be ever-changing! Regulations and initiatives come and go. It certainly keeps you on your toes, but I have to say it is also what makes the job so interesting, challenging, and rewarding. The workdays fly by when you have a lot of work to do.
Could you tell us a little bit about your institution and your current role?
Northwestern University is a private four-year institution in Evanston, Illinois. The university is committed to securing a diverse student body, so we are fortunate to offer a generous need-based institutional grant program for our Evanston undergraduates. We’ve really made some great strides in supporting low-income students especially. I’m really proud to work at an institution that makes this a priority.
I'm the director of operations for the financial aid office. I help oversee some of the day-to-day operations, such as processing awards and assisting students. Our focus is on Evanston undergraduate students.
What do you find the most rewarding and fulfilling about your work?
The people — both my colleagues and the students, for sure. In many ways we spend more time with our coworkers than our own families, so I feel lucky to work with great people. For students, sometimes I will meet with a student who has reached out to me and I’ll ask them how they came to contact me. Once in a while they’ll say something like, "A friend of mine suggested it. They said you were really helpful." That is so amazing to hear and makes the job so rewarding.
If you could change one thing about financial aid, what would it be?
I would love to see some kind of federal grant program to help institutions administer financial aid programs. I know a lot of schools struggle with technology and staffing due to budget limitations and it would be great to see the Department of Education invest in encouraging innovation, training, and technology.
Do you have any recommendations for people just getting started in the field?
The connections you make with your colleagues are vital, so besides working hard to advance your career, you should also work on building relationships both in your office, across your institution, and also in your regions. I can tend to be reserved, so I understand that the prospect of volunteering for your regional associations can seem intimidating, especially if you don’t know a lot of people. You will quickly find, as I have, that these are some of the nicest people you will meet.
What's something you wish all higher ed folks knew about financial aid?
Financial aid is highly regulated and nuanced. I know it can be frustrating for people to hear, "It depends," as a response, but that is truly the case. We are bound to regulations and policies and we have the important responsibility to ensure we adhere to them.
What's something you couldn't function without?
The people who work in our financial aid office. I am so fortunate to work with the best financial aid team. They work so hard and have the best ideas. I couldn’t get through the day without my colleagues Emily Osborn and Mary Stonis. Our University Director Phil Asbury’s guidance and encouragement really help keep us on task. I am also so lucky to have mentors that help me like Carolyn Lindley, Dan Mann, and Craig Slaughter.
What's the best thing that has happened to you recently?
I was recently promoted to director of financial aid operations. I am thrilled to start a new role at Northwestern.
I also just finished my second year serving as co-chair of MASFAA’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access Committee. It was such a rewarding experience and I got to work with some really amazing people. We started a book club which provided us with the opportunity to explore and discuss different diversity and inclusion topics, which helped meet the association and the committee’s missions.
What's on your bucket list?
I want to do more traveling, but it’s hard to leave home with two cats and two dogs! I would really love to take a Viking River Cruise that goes through France, Germany, and Prague and visits all the Christmas markets along the way.
Publication Date: 10/24/2023