Monday, January 11, 2016

Leadership Spotlight: Keith Williams

Keith Williams, Associate Director, Michigan State University, Former MASFAA Vice-President and current Commission Director for NASFAA.

How did you get started in financial aid?
I started my financial aid career as a work-study student during my sophomore year (September 1990) at Michigan State University (MSU).  My initial responsibilities included filing Student Aid Reports, typing receipts for scholarship checks and transporting departmental mail across campus.  Over the three-year period as a student employee I was gradually given more responsibility such as answering student phone calls and making direct updates in our financial aid module. 
Upon my undergraduate graduation, I applied for an open Financial Aid Officer I position at MSU.  I was offered the full-time employment opportunity and gladly accepted.  Over 20 years later, I am still happily employed the MSU Office of Financial Aid.
How did you first become involved in your state and regional associations?  I first became involved in MSFAA and MASFAA by simply going to the annual conferences.  I learned a great deal about the financial aid rules and regulations from attending these conferences.  I also had the opportunity to meet and network with some very experienced financial aid professionals from Michigan and all across the MASFAA region. 
The support and encouragement of the management team at MSU made it every easy for me to become involved in various financial aid associations.  The current FA Director at MSU, Rick Shipman, continues to be fully supportive of staff involvement at the state, regional and national level.
Why were you interested in a MASFAA leadership role? MASFAA is a great organization.  One of my career goals was to serve as an important member of an organization that is such a strong advocate for student financial aid.  I really felt that I could help MASFAA achieve some of its goals and objectives if I was able to serve in a leadership capacity.  I must admit that I was initially hesitant to run for an elected position.  After sitting on a couple of committees and serving as a committee chair, I felt much more confident striving to become one of MASFAA’s elected leaders.
What advice do you have for someone new to financial aid? I would encourage any new financial aid professional to attend a state or regional conference.   In addition to learning valuable information related to financial aid, you will get a chance to meet many other seasoned financial aid professionals from the state and the region.  Seek out a positive mentor (or two) within the profession.  A good mentor can certainly give you the necessary advice and guidance to have a long and successful career in our great profession. 
I have been blessed to have some really great mentors/ role models in our great profession.  I will not name them individually, but they know who they are.   For those wonderful mentors, I say “Thank You” for all you have done over the years!
What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming more involved in MASFAA?   I would recommend to anyone interested in becoming more involved in MASFAA to do some research and find out what the association is all about.  Check out MASFAA’s great website ( ).   See if MASFAA’s long-term goals are in alignment with your own goals and objectives.  I would also suggest you speak with other active members of the association to obtain their perspective.  I am pretty certain that anyone who chooses to get involved in MASFAA will find it to be a worthwhile experience.  However, it is important that you gather as much information as possible before proceeding.
What are you looking forward to learning during your leadership term?   While a member of MASFAA’s Executive Council, my goal was to gain a better understanding as to how some of the rules and regulations regarding financial aid are established.  MASFAA has an excellent working relationship with both our national financial aid association and Federal Student Aid.  Being a part of such a wonderful organization such as MASFAA allows one to work much closer with the actual decision and policy makers.  This is an opportunity that many financial aid professionals will never get.
What do you enjoy doing when you are outside the aid office?   One of the great benefits about our profession is that it allows you to have both a wonderful work life and an even better non-work life.  When I am not working, I spend the overwhelming majority of my time with family.  I have been happily married for 19 years (Tara) and have two great sons (Kevin and Brian).  If we are not attending a sporting event for one the boys, we spend a great deal of family time bowling or going to the movie theatre.
Any final thoughts?

When I first accepted the work-study job over 25 years ago, I had no idea it would turn into a great career opportunity for me.  I realize that being a part of such a wonderful profession is both and honor and a privilege. Over the years, I have met life-long friends (also in the financial aid profession) from all over the country.  I have also had the honor to sit and discuss financial aid issues with various members of the United States Congress. 

The absolute best part of my job is helping to remove the financial barriers for our neediest students.  Without financial aid, there is no way I could have made it through college.  Seeing an incoming freshmen reach the ultimate goal of graduation is the ultimate satisfaction for me.  I look forward to a day when affordability is no longer an issue in higher education.  Getting involved (and staying involved) ensures that you have a voice in the future of financial aid.

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