MVP Jannine Oyama

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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]

Jannine Oyama

MVP Jannine Oyama
Financial Aid Specialist
University of Hawaii Community College System

Meet Jannine Oyama, Financial Aid Specialist at the University of Hawaii Community College System. Per her colleagues, Jannine has shown incredible kindness and generosity with her time throughout the entirety of her career.

Her expertise has been formulated by serving in multiple capacities since her time as a work-study student, and throughout her career has focused on issues like document checking, verification, packaging student loans and much more.

In all of these roles Jannine has learned first hand how each role in the financial aid space has helped to make a difference in the lives of students, and stressed the importance of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

“Sometimes it's better to get pushed out of your comfort zone a little bit to grow and that's what people have done for me,” Jannine said. “People gave me opportunities, even if I shied away from them. Just remember that it doesn't hurt to try, because ultimately it helps people grow.”

Jannine has been very active in her volunteer work serving as membership chair for the Western region (WASFAA), and has also served on the Executive Council for many years. Additionally Jannine has been a member of the Student Access and Diversity Committee as well as the Access, Diversity, & Excellence Committee.

Learn more about Jannine, her interests, and her career path in the Q&A below!

How did you get your start in financial aid?

It was by accident. Before I started college I wanted to find an on campus job with the intention of being in some type of fiscal office. My school gave me a couple of referrals and then they slid in the financial aid one. When I tried to call for interviews before school started, all the fiscal people were on vacation because they had just finished the fiscal year. Of course the financial aid office was open and they offered me a position. I was excited to get a job so I just took it. So my first day in college was also my first day in financial aid as a student.

What do you find the most rewarding and fulfilling about your work?

In my younger days it was more about being able to help students directly. Now in my current role, it's more about trying to help the different campuses tackle challenges related to financial aid. It’s more of a technical type of role now where I help oversee the setup of our software system, sift through rules and maintain all the rules. Overall just knowing that I can help is always rewarding for me.

If you could change one thing about financial aid, what would it be?

Besides this year, overall it's the return to Title IV (R2T4) regulations. It's always been complicated, but I feel like now with changes in tracking modular students it is probably at its most difficult because it's very hard to administer. I wish there was an easier way to change it because we had complained about the prior version, but that version was actually better than the current version. If we can help streamline the return to Title IV process that would be very helpful.

What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the profession since beginning your career?

Back in the day, we did 100% verification, when we didn't have the technology that we have now. It was very time consuming, more manual work and not as much reporting. Now it has changed significantly, where everything is mostly automated.

When I was cleaning out the offices when I was at Honolulu Community College – because they didn't throw anything away – I found a sheet that had three of the prior staff members and their responsibilities, and they each only had maybe five or six things under them. Now when you look at what financial aid offices have to do, there's more staff, much more reporting and responsibilities. The work is now more specialized and technical than what it was before.

What's something you wish all higher ed folks knew about financial aid?

That it's not just the financial aid office’s role to administer Title IV aid, it's an institutional responsibility. Every part of the financial aid regulations need to be spread out among different areas of the campus. It took some time for other departments to realize that, but showing them how big the student aid handbook was helped make people realize that it’s a lot for one office to handle. It's more about getting that awareness, that financial aid is not just a financial aid responsibility, it encompasses everyone on campus to be able to maintain compliance.

Do you have any recommendations for people just getting started in the field?

It can be overwhelming with the regulations. So just be like a sponge and take things slowly. There's something for everyone now in financial aid. There's the technical side where you need developers to help you write some scripts to run complex rules, and the systems have definitely changed. Back in the day, everything was done just by memory and paper to calculate aid and carry that out.

When you see other people, especially those in our various professional organizations, you can connect with them and get a broader idea of how we can brainstorm. These organizations help you realize that we're all in the same boat.

Tell us about your institution. What are some unique aspects of working at the University of Hawaii Community College System and how is it different from other regions?

The University of Hawaii is made up of 10 campuses. There are three four-year campuses and there are seven community colleges. Four campuses are on our main island of Oahu and then we have one each on some of our other main islands. Historically each campus is a unique institution.

In what ways has your institution changed in recent years?

A little prior to COVID in 2020 we started to try to streamline some of our policies and  procedures, so that when students move from one community college to the next they would have a similar experience. When COVID hit we really pushed to centralize positions to try to work around people working remotely and utilize our existing staff to do a lot of other things.

According to a NASFAA poll, we were actually low in terms of the number of staff that we had in our offices, so we tried to streamline some things. We actually contracted with Blue Icon to help us do our comprehensive policy and procedure manual which was very helpful and eye opening.

What is the best thing that's happened to you recently?

Professionally it is getting recognized. We just had our WASFAA conference and I won an award, which I was not expecting, and then to be recognized in this way as a NASFAA MVP, because obviously somebody nominated me. This makes me feel like it's a whole full circle moment.

What's something you couldn't function without?

The people I work with, whether that be in my office, or on the campus level, because obviously financial aid is not a one man show. Having people to bounce ideas off of is always helpful for me. I always need other people to give me ideas because there's more than one way of doing things in financial aid, as we always say, “it depends.”

Personally, the one thing I couldn't do without is my family because without their support, I definitely wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing now.

What's on your bucket list?

We were planning to go to Japan in 2020. My first trip to Japan was in 2019 when we were on a tour with a high school that my other half is an administrator at. We got to join as chaperones and it was really quick, but we would like to go back and be able to slow it down a little.

Any hidden talents? 

I like to make paper crafts like cards. I also do some jewelry making, that's my creative side away from work. Making things for people gives me joy.

What is a goal you've set for yourself for this year?

To survive this crazy year? Aside from that, the main goal my colleague and I have is to serve as co-chairs of the upcoming WASFAA Conference, which will be in Hawaii. We are excited because we were supposed to have it in 2020 but it got canceled so now we are looking forward to planning it for 2025.


Publication Date: 4/30/2024

Ashley C | 5/1/2024 1:32:37 PM

Woohoo - congrats, Jannine! It's been awesome working with you in WASFAA.

Anthony M | 4/30/2024 2:52:53 PM

Jannine you are the best!

Alan I | 4/30/2024 10:24:20 AM

Congratulations Jannine!

Charles M | 4/30/2024 10:21:13 AM

So great to see this recognition! Very well deserved, Jannine!!

Shellee K | 4/30/2024 9:58:02 AM

Love to see you in the spotlight Jannine! Well Deserved! It's always a pleasure working with you.

Lori V | 4/30/2024 8:57:05 AM

Congratulations, Jannine! Well deserved. YOU do so much and I am proud to know you. Thanks for everything you do for students and our profession.

Tammy H | 4/30/2024 8:51:41 AM

Thanks for all you do, Jannine!

Shannon C | 4/30/2024 8:11:00 AM


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