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Open that Door: Financial Aid Awareness Month

image of graduate cap on top of a pile of coins
Rebecca A. Eckland

TMCC student Kayla Maxwell began working for the Financial Aid office in 2018. “That was my first semester at TMCC, and I was up in the Financial Aid office with my mom,” Maxwell said, remembering that her mom encouraged her to apply to work there. “So, I asked if they were hiring and I turned in my application the next day.” The rest, as they say, was history: Maxwell landed a job that not only helped her offset the cost of tuition, books and supplies, but that has opened professional opportunities she could not have foreseen all those years ago. 

 “I really like working at TMCC. I planned when I first started at TMCC to just get my associate degree and then transfer to UNR. Since I’ve started working here, though, I’ve decided to get my bachelor’s degree here and I also plan on working at TMCC as long as I can until I graduate. It’s a really fun job and it makes me want to stick around.”

The benefits of working at TMCC are many: Maxwell said she has made many more connections at the college than at her former job. Free parking, fun potlucks (before COVID-19) and the understanding that she’s a student first are huge perks. Gaining work experience in a professional environment and an intimate knowledge of how Financial Aid works are also huge benefits. 

“At first, I worked in the Financial Aid Office answering phones and working the front desk where I would help other students to fill out their FAFSA,” she said. “After about a year and a half, I started helping with outreach and scholarships, going to high schools and helping students with their FAFSA, giving presentations on what the FAFSA is, how to fill out the application—that was really fun, and it was such a valuable experience.” 

Student employment and work study are two ways of offsetting the cost of higher education along with scholarships, student loans and grants. Maxwell, along with her colleagues in the Financial Aid Office, are planning a series of workshops for Financial Aid Awareness month to educate students about all the opportunities that are available to them if they take the first step and fill out the FAFSA.

“Trying to get people not only to understand what the FAFSA is, but also how to fill out the form and what to expect after that are among our goals [for this month-long virtual event],” said Cindy Martin, Administrative Assistant in the department. “There’s a lot of free money that gets left on the table because so many people who fill out the FAFSA assume that they didn’t get aid because they make too much money, but in reality, they just didn’t follow up. These events will bring awareness around what our office does, and how the process of applying for and receiving financial aid, whether through scholarships, grants, loans or student employment, works.”

Financial Aid Awareness

So, let’s be honest: what do you know about financial aid, really? If your answer was something along the lines of: “I think I’ve heard that word FAFSA before,” then these series of workshops are right up your alley whether you’re a prospective, new, current, returning student or a parent who wants to help your child understand the application process for getting financial aid. 

“We want to use these workshops to introduce the staff of Financial Aid and their roles because there is so much more to financial aid than just the FAFSA.  Sometimes, a student will submit the FAFSA and think that they are done with financial aid and never follow up…. And really there is much more involved in applying for financial aid than that. We would like people around campus to know about the process more,” said Martin. 

Although Martin is a TMCC employee, she is also a student. “I was hired as an admin, and I’ve always wanted to finish my degree,” she said, admitting that she typically takes two classes per semester. “There have been a few semesters that have been a real challenge because I have to go to class and juggle my schedule at work. [At TMCC] We value student employees. As a person returning to higher education, especially in Financial Aid, they really promote education. The student always comes first. I’ve been a student, and I’m still a student,” she said. Martin started with a General Studies major, and is currently working on a second associate degree in art.  Martin has more recently been taking writing and illustration classes, pursuits that support her goal of writing children's books. 

Maxwell and Martin recommend that if you can only attend one Financial Aid Awareness event this month, it should definitely be Financial Aid 101, which is happening on Wednesday, Feb. 3 from 1-2 p.m. “This workshop goes over the basics of Financial Aid. It’s for new students or their parents, and explains how to fill out the FAFSA, and then what happens afterward. We will also talk about how to maintain your financial aid,” said Maxwell. 

“It also helps with the terminology,” said Martin. “Sometimes people say ‘I need my FAFSA,’ and we’re like… OK, but that’s not the actual Financial Aid. The FAFSA is just the application you need to fill out [in order] to receive many types of financial aid.”

Additionally, the session will outline different kinds of financial aid that are available to students right now. 

Opening Doors and Answering Questions

Whether you want to understand the Financial Aid application process or are interested in finding a way to offset the costs associated with your education while gaining valuable work experience, Financial Aid Awareness Month is sure to answer your questions. 

“The event is meant to open the doors. Financial Aid can be a foreign language to a lot of people,” said Valerie Lambert, Program Officer for Student Employment. “It’s our job to educate students on what’s available, how to get the money and keep the money. Financial Aid shouldn’t be a mysterious process. It’s an open process, if you know where to look. It’s our job to help you find the right places to look.” 

For Maxwell, she has had to look no further than TMCC’s Financial Aid Office where her position as a student worker has not only supported her academic career, but has granted her considerable responsibility and professional experience. “I’ve gotten experience working remotely, and more specifically working with Zoom. I wasn’t really familiar with that before.” 

Maxwell will be one of many presenters as a part of the Financial Aid Awareness Month. 

And who knows? Maybe after attending these events, you might end up with more than a scholarship: you might end up with a new job on campus that can prepare you for your professional future as it helps support you through your academic career.

Financial Aid Awareness Month Schedule of Events

  • Wednesday, Feb. 3, from 1–2 p.m.: Financial Aid 101 Session
  • Friday, Feb. 5, from 2–3 p.m.: Flames Budgeting and Savings Workshop
  • Tuesday, Feb. 9, from 3–4 p.m.: Financial Aid Facebook Live
  • Wednesday, Feb. 17, from 2–3 p.m.: Financial Aid Q&A Session
  • Monday, Feb. 22, from 10–11 a.m.: Flames Car Ownership Workshop
  • Wednesday, Feb. 24, from 2–3 p.m.: Financial Aid Virtual Open House

 For more information about how to join one of these sessions, contact the Financial Aid, Scholarships and Student Employment Office at 775-673-7072.