by Lindsay Walton, SI Faculty 2016
Assistant Director of Student Financial Services, University of Mount Union
I have to be honest. Until the 2014 MASFAA conference in Charleston, WV, I was unaware that MASFAA facilitated such a fantastic and in-depth training opportunity called Summer Institute. As one of the 2014 MASFAA scholarship recipients, I was stepping into foreign territory as a first time MASFAA conference attendee. I was a MASFAA “newbie.” It was there that I learned about Summer Institute after a few folks shared their experiences. They spoke of learning NASFAA’s core modules and having incredible opportunities to network with other financial aid professionals in the region. I left Charleston knowing that I definitely wanted to look into attending the following summer!
Summer Institute was appealing to me for numerous reasons. On the brink of taking on a leadership role within my office, I felt a growing sense of responsibility to really “know my stuff.” By working at a small private university, wearing a lot of hats is not uncommon, but I certainly didn’t know it all. I knew that. I was really determined to build on my existing financial aid framework, fill in the gaps, and define the areas that I lacked in knowledge and in experience. I also genuinely wanted to “spread my wings” and become more involved in organizations to connect with other professionals in the field. Additionally, I learned that Summer Institute attendees have the option of taking the NASFAA credential tests for the modules taught at no cost! With each test being right around $100 ordinarily, this was a tremendous opportunity to showcase proven competency and skills backed by NASFAA. What a great benefit! I saw Summer Institute as my chance to pursue many of the items on my professional wish list!
I arrived in Indianapolis for Summer Institute 2015 feeling excited and ready to go! There were 2 tracks for Summer Institute which ran simultaneously- one for folks very new to the profession and another for folks who were a little more seasoned. I was in the latter group but both groups were taught the same material. It was a week-long crash course in the foundations of financial aid, with a great deal of discussion within the groups. Moreover, the instructors were fantastic! I was very inspired by their passion to convey the material and genuine willingness to answer questions. No question was too big or too small and I greatly appreciated that.
The faculty encouraged us to engage in discussions and share how our own schools were putting the ideas we were learning about into practice. It naturally created a comfortable environment to share best practices and trade contact information with each other for future guidance or collaboration. I obtained specific contacts pertaining to PowerFAIDS, verification, and loan processing in particular. It is reassuring to know that I can reach out to these folks when I run into a problem or just need some feedback. I hope that I can be a resource for them, as well!
Another key component of Summer Institute was the ability to interact with prominent leaders who were attending the Leadership Symposium, which ran simultaneously. During a crossover session, Pamela Fowler, Executive Director at the University of Michigan, gave an inspiring speech to the Summer Institute students. She encouraged us to get involved and be the next wave of leaders in the financial aid field. The motivation and genuine support she conveyed to all of us was unparalleled. Even if we felt too new to the profession to get involved, she encouraged us to just go ahead and jump in!
It was an intense week of learning, but I was amazed at how much FUN I had! All attendees stayed in dorm rooms and were matched up with a roommate. The intention was to promote social interaction as much as possible. Each evening there was something planned in order to promote collaboration and networking among Summer Institute and Leadership Symposium attendees. We had game night with “Minute to Win It” one evening. There was team trivia another evening. A major highlight was attending a midweek minor league baseball game! There was also a “free night” with group dinner options led by Summer Institute or Leadership faculty. The discussions were great and it was interesting to learn about the stories and experiences of others in the financial aid field.
I walked away from Summer Institute a much more confident financial aid professional than the one that arrived. I gained knowledge and experience to better prepare me as a leader and established connections with prominent professionals in the field who continue to encourage and support my growth. Being able to expand my professional network was invaluable. I have also taken and passed all 11 NASFAA credential tests for the modules that were taught at Summer Institute. That is something I am very proud of and worked very hard to accomplish. It is refreshing to be able to add these credentials to my professional repertoire.
The last year and a half or so has been professionally eye-opening for me and especially gratifying. Thank you to MASFAA and Summer Institute! My experiences with both have allowed me to meet some really wonderful people and be a part of some great opportunities. One opportunity in particular that I am very happy to share is that I will be faculty at Summer Institute 2016 at Illinois State University June 13-17. I am very excited to be a resource for the attendees and hopefully inspire them to get involved.
YOU ARE INVITED to Summer Institute 2016! Let’s learn about financial aid, meet some great people, and have a lot of FUN!
2016 MASFAA Summer Institute Faculty