Nancy Morrell has been working in Naropa’s Financial Services Department for over 20 years. Below, she shares thoughts and memories from her time here:
How long have you been working for Naropa? What drew you to Naropa?
I came to Naropa in fall of 1992 as a graduate student in the MFA Creative Writing Program. I had read Talking Poetics, a book of transcribed talks by visiting writers, musicians, and other artists to the Summer Writing Program and was attracted by the emphasis on curiosity, experimentation, awareness and attention.
I remember attending one of the talks in the Performing Arts Center my first summer and hearing a clicking noise behind me as a poet read from a stage in front. Over my shoulder was Allen Ginsberg, listening with his head down, his bare feet on the chair, clipping his toenails.
I became a work-study student in the financial aid office and then was hired to be Assistant Director of Financial Aid in 1994 after I graduated. 22 years in financial aid!
What’s your favorite part about working in a contemplative university environment?
It is wonderful having access to meditation space. I appreciate the opportunity to sit quietly before beginning the workday.
Favorite moments consist of sitting outside to eat or read, enjoying the company and competency of my co-workers, observing students grow from a position of fear and confusion to a position of responsibility for and mastery of their circumstances, whatever those circumstances might be.
What is your personal mission statement? OR what are you most passionate about?
I strive to meet the student where s/he is. It’s impossible for me to totally avoid assumptions, but I try not to act on them and to let the information come to me from the student directly, not from my assumptions about who the student is.
I used to think finances were dry and uninteresting, but came to realize that we are all touched deeply by our financial situation. I empathize with students’ anxieties over financial uncertainty, as they try to make sense of myriad financial regulations at the federal, state, and institutional level. A financial aid professional at another school uses the tag line, “Financial Aid professionals live in an ever-changing world of highly-regulated compliance.”
In many cases, I have felt anxieties not unlike those felt by the students who come to see me. I remember one student whose pupils noticeably dilated as he struggled to assume an attitude of composure in the face of his financial insecurities. It matters to me that students be able to approach their finances with a degree of confidence. In the work we do with students, we help bring them to that point. We had a work-study student years ago who said to us, “I get it. We’re just trying to get people to take responsibility for themselves.”
What motivated you to work in financial aid?
My motives weren’t particularly noble. At the time I graduated, there were not the variety of repayment options that there are now. I needed to find a job with steady income to pay off my student loans. Today, students can pursue their passion. Even if their passion isn’t immediately financially rewarding, there are repayment options that will accommodate their ability to pay.
What keeps me working in financial aid is the quality of my co-workers and the energy of the students. My co-workers care about what they do. They all have their various strengths and talents they bring to the job. Among the 5 of us, we have over 50 years of experience in the field of student financial services. We keep a sense of humor about who we are and what we do.
Where do you find students having the most trouble with financial aid? Any tips?
Students sometimes feel paralyzed by the process. Some may not even begin the process because of this. The financial aid process overlaps with the filing of tax returns, another area of complexity that can overwhelm people. This conjunction meant that some students could not apply for financial aid in time given the necessity of waiting for their parents to file their returns, or given the intricacies of their tax preparation.
Financial Aid professionals recognized this problem, as did the Department of Education. Starting in October 2016, students and parents will be able to file the 2017-18 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) based on what is called ‘prior-prior’ year information. Before, they would have had to wait until they completed their 2016 tax return in 2017 in order to complete the 2017-18 FAFSA. Starting in October, they will be able to use tax information from two years prior (i.e. their 2015 tax return) in filing the 2017-18 FAFSA. This eliminates a significant obstacle to the process of seeking financial aid. This, along with the various repayment options for students, are some of the most welcome changes we have witnessed in the field of financial aid.
Nancy Morrell, Director, Student Financial Services