RMASFAA Success Stories

Sadid CarrilloSadid Carrillo
Assistant Examiner, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

Sadid’s path to college was not easy. The oldest of five children from Schuyler, NE, college seemed unaffordable to his family without financial aid. Luckily, Sadid qualified for the Federal Pell Grant and Collegbound Nebraska - the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's (UNL) financial aid program - which guaranteed he would pay no tuition at UNL. Those programs, along with other forms of need-based aid, helped Sadid pursue his college education.

While he started at UNL with aspirations of becoming a doctor, he switched his major to study in the College of Business after forming a bond with the university’s director of scholarships and financial aid. During his time at UNL, Sadid was selected to be a New Student Enrollment orientation leader, serving as a role model for incoming freshmen.

“I was able to take advantage of the resources put in front of me when it would have been just as easy to give up,” Sadid says. “I stepped outside of my box and experienced new things.”

While in school, Sadid was awarded a 10-week internship with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, considered one of the top internships in the U.S. He was offered a job with the Federal Reserve Bank after graduating from UNL and has been working as an assistant examiner for over two years.

Sadid’s story was submitted by Justin Chase Brown, director of scholarships & financial aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Tonya ClemensTonya Clemens
Enrollment Services Specialist, Casper College

As a single mother, Tonya’s success in higher education “depended heavily on financial aid,” she says. “Without already having a degree, there aren’t many jobs available that afford a single-income parent the time and money necessary to both support a family and go to school.”

While she received financial aid in the form of grants and student loans, Tonya says that her work-study position “offered the flexible work schedule needed to meet all my responsibilities, while staving off a substantial amount of debt and gaining valuable work experience.”

After completing her associate degree in business at Casper College in Wyoming, Tonya joined their financial aid and enrollment services office as an enrollment services specialist. She says she “find[s] the opportunity to help those in a position I knew well truly gratifying.”

Tonya’s story was submitted by Janet Riis director of financial aid at Carroll College in Helena, MT.


Derede Darden
Assistant Principal, Carey Junior High School, Cheyenne, WY

Growing up was difficult for Derede, who was the youngest of five children in a family with largely absent parents. Her childhood included many moves, difficult living situations, and a lack of parental support. But Derede knew she wanted better for herself and persevered through numerous hardships to attend Laramie County Community College (LCCC) in the fall of 1986.

When she arrived on campus, she met with the financial aid office armed with a tuition scholarship, but not much more. “I had no idea where my parents were and I couldn’t even complete the FAFSA,” Derede says.

It was in her work-study job in the veteran’s affairs department where Derede says she “found an angel” in Michelle Massey, who was her supervisor at the time.

Although she had to leave college briefly due to financial hardship, Derede was able to re-enroll in LCCC in 1988 and, this time, was able to apply for financial aid. She majored in psychology and landed in elementary education. She followed her time at LCCC by attending the University of Wyoming, where she also received financial aid that helped her complete her bachelor’s of arts in elementary education.

After she paid off her student loans from her undergraduate degrees, Derede received a scholarship to the University of Wyoming to pursue her master’s of arts in special education, and in 2010 she completed her endorsement in educational leadership through the university.

Derede currently is the assistant principal at Carey Junior High School in Cheyenne, WY, where she “work[s] each and every day with students that have nearly given up because life has thrown them a curveball or two.”

“I have the privilege and honor to be a pivotal piece of their educational journey,” Derede says. “Education is an opportunity that can open huge doors and I know that first hand.”

Derede’s story was submitted by Michelle Massey, financial aid technician at Laramie County Community College in Wyoming.


Tiffany GusbethTiffany Gusbeth
Program Manager of Full Circle Scholarship Program at the American Indian College Fund

“Without federal student aid, I know that I could not have completed my degree,” Tiffany says. Tiffany was raised in a single-parent home and financial support was not an option, but she qualified for a Pell Grant and with the help of Federal Work-Study was able to obtain two jobs to help her work her way through school. “If I did not have funding through federal student aid for tuition, books, and living expenses, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for me to earn a bachelor’s degree,” she says.

Tiffany’s degree led her to her current position as program manager of the Full Circle Scholarship Program with the American Indian College Fund where she supports American Indian students, like herself, in accessing a college degree through scholarship. Tiffany is passionate about higher education and supporting students in their journey to earning a college degree. “Federal Work-Study got me to where I am today,” she says. “I was lucky enough to work in the financial aid office at my college. Not only did that opportunity help me tremendously with my financial situation, but I gained many professional skills and it led me to my passion: student support services.”

Tiffany found a great support system in the employees in her college financial aid office and is still in touch with many of them, some of whom have become good friends and mentors. “I truly don’t know what my life would be like if I hadn’t completed my education and I honestly try not to think about it too much. … I can now support myself and my family in various ways,” says Tiffany, who shares her story with the students she works with in order to encourage them to keep going in their own pursuits of higher education. “I can only scratch the surface of how earning an education has changed my life. Of course, I tell everyone to take advantage of Federal Work-Study opportunities,” she says.

Tiffany’s story was submitted by Janet Riis, director of financial aid at Carroll College in Helena, MT.


Brooke HarrisBrooke Harris
Health and Physical Education Teacher

Brooke thought that as a single mother with three young children, and just a part-time job, attending college was not an option.

But after exploring what financial aid options were available, Brooke pursued her educational career to work toward a better life for her family. She attended the University of Utah and earned her degree in education in the spring of 2014, and is now working as a middle school health and physical education teacher.

“This is exactly what I have wanted to do, and without the help of financial aid I wouldn’t be here doing what I love, and able to make a life for my kids and me,” Brooke says.

Brooke’s story was submitted by Janet Riis director of financial aid at Carroll College in Helena, MT.


Lisa MillerLisa Miller
Registered Nurse, Helena SurgiCenter

Financial aid made college a possibility for Lisa. “Being a single mother and raising three children, I needed to further my education in order to find a career that could support us,” she says.

Lisa attended Carroll College, where she studied to become a registered nurse. The financial aid she received while in school helped her complete her degree in four years and enter the workforce shortly after graduation. Nine years later, she is certified in her field and working in “a career I enjoy and am passionate about” at the Helena SurgiCenter, she says.

“I proved to myself and others around me that, against difficult circumstances, achieving a degree is possible,” Lisa says. “I became a role model for my children, who learned through my footsteps how important it is to further your education.”

Lisa’s story was submitted by Janet Riis director of financial aid at Carroll College in Helena, MT.


Lorri MullenLorri Mullen
Retirement Counselor, Touchmark

Lorri says financial aid played a critical role in helping her complete her degree. As a single mother, and an adult learner, Lorri faced unique challenges many traditional students do not come across.

Lorri worked full-time while back in school, and says that without financial aid, it would have been very difficult to complete her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies as quickly as she did, within five years of returning to school. She now has a successful career in sales and marketing at an upscale retirement community in Montana.

“Earning my education gave me the confidence to seek more professional positions, which enabled me to earn a greater rate of pay,” Lorri says. “It also provided a very significant example for my two high school honor roll daughters to go on to complete their college degrees, both in English in 2006 and 2008. Both are now very independent ladies making considerable contributions to their own families and to others around them.”

Lorri’s story was submitted by Janet Riis director of financial aid at Carroll College in Helena, MT.


Mark RanekMark Ranek
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins University

When it came time to apply for college, Mark Ranek wasn’t entirely sure what the future would hold. He came from a working class family in South Dakota, and enrolled at Mount Marty College set on a path to complete his general education for the next two years, which he did with the assistance of federal and institutional financial aid.

Although he began his college journey without a clear path or focus, Mark soon found his way after taking a biology class during the first semester of his sophomore year. After graduating from Mount Marty College with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Mark went on to pursue his master’s degree at the University of South Dakota, again with the help of financial aid.

“Mark’s thirst for knowledge just took off,” says Ken Kocer, financial assistance director at Mount Marty College, who submitted Mark’s story.

Mark went on to co-author several research papers on the importance of removing damaged proteins during a stress or disease to improve one’s health. Today, Mark is in a fellowship program at the Johns Hopkins University continuing his research.

“Financial aid made it possible for Mark to gain his education in the learning environment that best suited his needs and he made the most of it,” Kocer says. “He is now dedicating his research to factors affecting heart disease, one of our country’s leading cause of death. Through his financial aid story, he now is in a position to affect the lives of so many in a positive way through his work.”

Submitted by Ken Kocer, financial assistance director, Mount Marty College in Yankton, SD.

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