Financial Aid office welcomes new staff, implements new policies

The Financial Aid office is located on the first floor of Elderdice Hall. (Marya Kuratova / McDaniel Free Press).

Friday, Feb. 7 brought many updates from the Financial Aid office. Janelle Holmboe, vice president for enrollment, wrote to the campus community to share the latest Financial Aid office news and introduce the new staff members.

Kemia Himon assumed the role of director of financial aid on Feb. 1.

“Kemia’s previous experience as a director of financial aid, as well as her time as a consultant where she advised many different colleges and universities, has prepared her to lead us through this period of change and innovation,” Holmboe wrote in her email.

The office also hired two new financial aid specialists: Andrew McLaughlin and Aza Smith. They will join Carlee Hastings, who has worked here for nearly a year.

“Destiny Guerrero has been with us for about 6 months as our Senior Associate Director, overseeing our financial aid specialists, developing departmental training, and improving our systems,” Holmboe added.

Finally, the Financial Aid office hired a new receptionist, Dawn Reck, to fill the last open position in the office. She started the position on Feb. 10.

“Thank you again for your patience as we have built this new financial aid team,” Holmboe concluded. “I’m very optimistic about what they will accomplish together.”

Later that day, Himon sent a separate email to introduce herself and detail some changes in the office.

“Though I have been on the campus since October, I’ve considered myself as part of the Green Terror family from the very beginning,” Himon wrote. “I strongly believe that the changes we are making within the office will benefit you in a major way.”

First, beginning this semester, the office will be adopting a caseload model where each student will be assigned one of the three financial aid specialists to work with for the duration of his or her time at McDaniel. In the past, students would often have to repeat rather painful details regarding their financial situation each time they visited the office. With this new model, however, one financial aid specialist would be familiar with a student’s case, eliminating the need for repeated explanations.

According to Himon, this will allow the office to “provide continuity to you and your families, increase accountability among the financial aid staff, empower the financial aid staff to best support you, create efficiencies for you and your families, [and] provide a more personal experience that better reflects McDaniel’s values.”

Secondly, the office will now outsource the verification process. According to Himon, the Department of Education selects about 35 percent of students to submit tax transcripts and other documents proving that their FAFSA is accurate. Now, rather than submitting these documents to the Financial Aid Office, students will be working with Inceptia, a third-party partner.

“The benefits to you include a much easier way to upload documents and faster turn-around time,” Himon wrote.

Next, Himon shared that financial aid will no longer be awarded manually.

“Although our current student information system, Colleague, has the capacity to ‘auto-package’ financial aid (meaning letting the Colleague system award financial aid according to the rules we set up behind-the-scenes), we have never invested the resources it would take to build the process,” Himon said.

The Financial Aid office worked with I.T. for two weeks this winter to build auto-packaging for the first time. This means financial aid will be awarded “much more quickly,” since the process will be automated.

Finally, the department has made changes to the office itself.

The window for walk-in traffic has been extended by an hour. Students can now walk in with questions between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Though the office will still be closed for several hours each day to allow the staff to work uninterrupted on processing financial aid, the receptionist will continue to answer phones during standard business hours. Himon encouraged students to email their assigned financial aid specialist to make an appointment to avoid wait times.

However, if students are required to wait to speak with a staff member, they will now enjoy improved privacy.

One of the most common concerns we hear from students is the lack of privacy in the financial aid office,” Himon wrote. “Although we cannot completely solve this immediately, we have invested in new cubicles that have privacy walls.”

Students will also no longer be asked to wait in the office. Instead, they are encouraged to wait in Ensor Lounge until they receive a text message that their financial aid specialist is ready to meet with them.

Himon concluded her email with an invitation to meet the new staff on Feb. 26 for a fun Mardi Gras event with giveaways. The official announcement with more details will be released soon.