Associate Director of Financial Aid
Colorado School of Mines
Sham Tzegai found her way into a fulfilling career in financial aid with her start as a work-study student in the financial aid office at Front Range Community College in Colorado. Her time as a work-study student helped her navigate all the challenges and obstacles a first-generation college student experiences, she said.
Her work-study experience then turned into a full-time role at Front Range that she held for two years before going to her current institution — the Colorado School of Mines — as an assistant director of financial aid. For the last five years, Sham has served as the associate director of financial aid and scholarships.
She said her background and experience entering college without knowing about financial aid or higher education helps her connect with students and be proactive about communicating with those who don’t take a traditional path to college.
“There are some things obviously you need to use that legalese or those financial terms for, but it's really trying to communicate at a student level so that no matter where you come from, you understand what we're saying and you can understand how to navigate that world,” Sham added.
Learn more about Sham in the brief Q&A below.
How have you seen diversity in higher education change since you began your career?
The fact that we're even speaking about diversity in all its facets is a huge change from where I started. We're really looking at not just diversity in terms of race or ethnicity, but diversity in experience. And along with that, really kind of diving into inclusion and access. When I first started in higher education, people talked about diversity, but only in terms of how do we get African American students and how do we get Hispanic and LatinX students to come in? And now we're really looking at not just getting them to apply and recruiting them in, but about the pipelines and about making sure that access is open and available, and they feel welcome.
What’s a challenge within financial aid that you personally have overcome that you're proud of?
When I first started professionally, I was 23 years old, I was directly out of undergraduate with not a lot of professional experience. I was the youngest in the financial aid office and the only person of color, so trying to be seen and heard within that space is hard. And I think you have to be 10 times more professional than other people in a lot of ways to be able to get your point across and to get some of these things pushed through. That was my own personal challenge in financial aid.
What advice do you have for those in financial aid?
One of the biggest things that I found to be helpful is really engaging in meditation and yoga throughout the day. In the mornings and the evenings, taking that moment to understand where I'm at mentally and knowing if I need a break or knowing exactly what it is that is needed.
What do you do when you're not working?
So I purchased a Peloton bike, as I think thousands of people out there did during the pandemic. Especially for those of us that have a hard time with motivation — it's in my living room. And it's sitting right next to me right now. So it's very hard to not work out when it's staring at you, like you just spent thousands of dollars on this.
One of the things that I also love to do is to travel, which has been muted in the pandemic. I've traveled to 23 countries and over half of the states within the U.S. It's really my happy place and I really like to plan my travels. I like to experience new things. It's really one of the things that I absolutely love doing and hope to get back to.
Publication Date: 1/11/2022