Welcome to another one of our MASFAA Leader Spotlight posts. Throughout the year, we'll interview leaders on the MASFAA Executive Council. This post features MASFAA President Aaron Steffens. Aaron is the Associate Director of Financial Aid at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
Like many aid administrators, I found my way into financial aid by accident. I was working as an Admissions Counselor at Loras College in1998 and assisting the financial aid office by proofing award packages. This led to me serving on a search committee for a financial aid counselor. When the search was deemed unsuccessful, my Dean turned to me and asked if I would be interested in filling the position. I agreed and the rest is history.
How did you first become involved in your state and regional associations?
In both cases, my first involvement with IASFAA (the Iowa association) and MASFAA was through attending conferences. Oddly enough, my first committee involvement in each association was membership on the Program Committee.
Why were you interested in a MASFAA leadership role?
I was interested in serving MASFAA because I strongly believe in the major pieces of its mission. One of the foundations of this organization is to provide quality training and professional development opportunities. This is so important because of the complexities of our profession and I believe that MASFAA does a fine job of providing these opportunities. I also see a need for us to work with other associations to advocate for the financial aid programs that provide so many of our students with the financial tools to secure a college education.
What advice do you have for someone new to financial aid?
Take advantage of any opportunity to attend a training workshop or conference. In doing so, begin to build your professional financial aid network of colleagues and friends. Having a network of colleagues to reach out to has been key to my success.
What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming more involved in MASFAA?
I strongly believe involvement in MASFAA should first start with successful involvement in your home state. Being active in your state association first gives people in your own state the ability to learn about your work and recommend you for a MASFAA role. While any MASFAA member can complete a volunteer form or ask a MASFAA board member about serving, we do look to the leadership in that state to tell us more about a prospective volunteer’s involvement and success at the state level.
What have you learned through your state or regional association that you were not expecting?
I have learned that it takes a lot of passion, energy and people to keep an association running smoothly. When I attended my first 3 or 4 conferences, I never really gave it a thought as to how much behind-the-scenes work goes into making these successful.
What did you learn during your leadership term?
As President of MASFAA, I am still learning something new each week. The presidency is a dichotomy of sorts. It is very rewarding to lead one of the six regional associations in the country, but at the same time it can be lonely. You get the ability to work with many great people, but you are also bombarded with information and decisions to make. I’ve also learned that it is sometimes hard to predict what things may cause controversy.
What do you enjoy doing when you are outside the aid office?
I enjoy riding bike on local trails and working on the family farm. Working with cattle and driving tractor are usually good ways for me to relieve stress and reflect on various things. I also enjoy attending household and farm auctions as you never know what you may find…or buy!
Financial aid is a complex, but rewarding profession. You are assisting students in making their dreams into reality. Professional training and development is a must if you want to keep up with all of the changes in our industry. If you don’t like change, this isn’t the profession for you.