Rachel Meyer, the assistant director of the Financial Aid department in the College of Liberal Studies (CLS), spends busy days processing financial aid forms before classes begin. She stops intermittently to answer phone calls from students who inquire about documents they sent to the office. Hanging up from such a call, Rachel barely returned to her work before the phone rang again and another worried student began her explanation.
Many students rely on financial aid to get them through college and this student was no different. Rachel quickly learned the student was facing eviction from her apartment because life got in the way, and she hadn’t completed her financial aid paperwork on time. Rachel could sense the urgency in the student’s voice as she frantically explained this horrible news. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done if the student couldn’t find some way to submit her paperwork as soon as possible.
The student had lost both of her parents within the last few years. Her surviving uncle, having no supplementary financial resources, could offer no help with tuition or housing expenses. Having no one to turn to for help, she felt at a loss and was soon-to-be homeless, living out of her car and unable to complete school. Feeling alone, she struggled to believe in herself. She started to feel as if she couldn’t get herself out of this persistent rut.
Rachel continued listening to the woman’s story and realized this wasn’t just a deadline missed, but a person needing help.
Rachel informed the student, “Even if you don’t believe in yourself, I believe in you.”
Understanding and empathy may not be in the Financial Aid department description of services, but it’s present in the people and is representative of the way Rachel and financial aid advisor Nicole Rhyne assist all of their students at CLS.
By rushing all of the student’s paperwork and personally processing her application, Rachel was able to disburse the student’s financial assistance, allowing the student to avoid eviction and continue her education.
This is what the CLS Financial Aid department is all about—helping students in any way possible.
Helping nontraditional students
While other departments at the University of Oklahoma strive to provide the utmost support and aid to students, there’s none quite like the Financial Aid department that oversees nontraditional and military students in CLS. Every one of the 1,100 students receives top-quality assistance from the college’s financial aid staff members.
Students who call the Financial Aid department are able to speak personally either to Rachel or Nicole throughout the financial aid process and don’t have to maneuver through an automated voice messaging system to receive assistance.
This personal service provides students with the opportunity to build relationships and enables them to feel more comfortable about discussing their personal financial situations.
“We have established a secure relationship with our students where they feel like even though they may be in a tough spot, they can come to us, and we will help them as much as we possibly can,” Nicole said.
Typically, in large colleges and universities entire specialized departments are dedicated to single aspects of the financial aid process such as client service lines, account services and loan processing.
But at CLS, there are two well-rounded, astute and dedicated financial aid employees who oversee almost all of those functions. On a daily basis, Rachel and Nicole process financial aid forms, respond to a variety of emails answering students’ questions, answer phones, package students’ financial aid, oversee disbursement and try to alleviate the financial worries of their students. Special care and attention are given to each student—even if it means after-hours work. This is especially useful to the nontraditional students of CLS, as they are likely employed and may not be able to submit information during regular office hours.
“Because of those life circumstances, the students had to put school on the back burner, and they felt like that dream was gone,” Nicole said. “But they’ve come back and we get to help them realize their dream.”
Rachel describes Nicole and herself as a two-person team working constantly to conquer all of the problems students may have, and to help students obtain scholarships. This team is devoted to being a part of students’ success.
The two are driven to seek out financial aid assistance for their students. They successfully do this by speaking personally with their students over the phone, handling the majority of the students’ financial aid process and working with them after hours to alleviate urgent and dire problems.
“I’m incredibly grateful to work at CLS and be able to help change students’ lives for the better,” Nicole said. “It’s work that makes a difference.”
Moreover, Rachel and Nicole view their positions as not just careers, but as an opportunity to invest themselves in students’ success.
“If we can do it, we will make it happen,” Rachel said.
And there are countless CLS graduates who agree.
Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017.