Aesha Engeldinger, Assistant Director at Illinois Tech. Co-chair of the MASFAA professional development committee. I’m also a member of several committees for the Illinois association, and am a member of a NASFAA working group to help students affected by school closures.
How did you get started in financial aid?
After I graduated from college, I found myself working in campus housing. After a few years, the vice provost of admission and financial aid invited me to transfer over to his team, so I accepted. That was seven years ago; the rest, as they say, is history!
How did you first become involved in your state and regional associations?
I joined as soon as possible once I transferred to financial aid. I’ve been involved in some sort of organization since I was 11 years old, but during my time in housing that has fallen by the wayside, so I missed it. I was very nervous and shy when I attended ILASFAA for the first time, so I decided I would ask people what committees they’d been involved with, and which were their favorites, both as a way to come out of my shell and to learn more about where I might become involved. From that I joined the diversity issues committee right away, and have been actively involved since.
Why were you interested in a MASFAA leadership role?
I like to be of service when and where I can, and it certainly helps to be surrounded by a group of folks who work so diligently to help students on their journey through college. By volunteering I can help to keep our association strong. I also really enjoy hearing about what is happening in other states or institutions, understanding the differences, and also how each of our institutions fulfills their commitment to students.
What advice do you have for someone new to financial aid?
Be patient with yourself. There is a learning curve to financial aid, and lots of intricacies (which is why one of the most consistent answers you’ll hear from a FAA is “it depends”). Ask questions. Familiarize yourself with ethical conduct in financial aid, and endeavor to conduct yourself in a manner that is beyond reproach. Understand difference and implicit bias—remember that not everyone’s situation is the same, and that no two students’ journey to where they are now will ever be identical.
Be patient with families as well. I was very involved in music while in school, and a choral conductor once reminded us that although we’ve been rehearsing a program for the entire semester, the audience will only hear it once. I try to apply that when working with students and families—though I’ve answered this question a thousand times (maybe even just that day), it may well be the first time the other person has heard the answer.
What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming more involved in MASFAA?
Identify a committee or two you might be interested in participating in, and reach out to the chair to find out more about what they do. Are you interested in helping in an area you already have a good foundation in, or do you wish to contribute in a new way? If you have a supervisor who is reluctant to your participation, consider how being involved might help you in your day to day work.
Have you ever presented at a MASFAA Conference? What did you present about and how did you get involved in presenting?
I have not, but presenting at MASFAA and eventually NASFAA is one of many of my career goals!
Have you ever volunteered with NASFAA? Could you tell us about the experience?
I’m currently on the Assisting Displaced Students Working Group, and have been involved with that since March 2017. This group of financial aid administrators has been assisting students from Corinthians, ITT Tech, and other closed institutions to help them figure out next steps. When the Department stopped reviewing borrower defense claims, it became more frustrating for both the students and some of us volunteering, but it has been very rewarding to help folks make sense of what options they have in the aftermath of their school’s closing. I’ve also met a great group of people as a result!
What keeps you motivated when you are having a difficult day at the office?
Helping students get the information that will help them be successful and make informed decisions is a great feeling. If I’ve been able to make a student or parent feel at ease, or completed an appeal, or advocated for a policy change that might reduce the burden on a student, it’s helps to put things into perspective.
What do you enjoy doing when you are outside the aid office?
I love to travel—my sense of wanderlust never seems quite satiated, and hoping to hop over to Europe again by the end of the year—if you ever need a travel buddy, I’m your gal! I also often have a book at the ready or a podcast playing (any other podcast lovers out there?). I volunteer as an usher at theaters in and around Chicago because I love to take in a good play. And I’m usually up for a tabletop game or two!
Any final thoughts?
My involvement in both ILASFAA and MASFAA has been more satisfying than I would have guessed, and has made my career more enjoyable than I would have imagined. I have met one of my besties through financial aid, too (shout out to Laura at St. Xavier!), and some of my faves are folks I’ve met through MASFAA (hey roomie, hey Cubbie!) I encourage anyone, regardless of how long you’ve been working in financial aid, to volunteer—these organizations are stronger for your input and perspective, and I’m happy to be a resource to anyone with questions!