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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Lester McKenzie, President-Elect, TASFAA

May 20, 2010


Lester McKenzie, Director of Financial Aid, Tennessee Tech University; President Elect, Tennessee Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (TASFAA)

Dana Kelly: What are you most proud of with your financial aid office?

Lester McKenzie:  The people I work with.  I have such a dedicated group of professionals that it sometimes makes me feel guilty I don’t have a rougher time in financial aid.  I hear stories at conferences and think how lucky I am to work with the ladies and gentleman in our office and for a supervisor that supports our office equitably with our sister departments in Enrollment Management. 

Dana Kelly: What has been the biggest challenge for your office over the past 12 months?

Lester McKenzie: Our biggest challenge has been a series of unfortunate medical issues in our office that have kept our staff depleted for the last six months. We have not had a full staff in our office since August 2009 due to serious medical issues. As a DL school, we were lucky that we were not faced with converting to a new processing system, but implementing a new SIS and learning new procedures due to new legislation has been challenging, even with a full staff.

Dana Kelly: Are there any primary or coming trends that you see in the financial aid office?

Lester McKenzie: More and more public universities like ours are housing their financial aid offices under the Enrollment Management umbrella. Our private school counterparts have been working under this moniker for some time, and I think it is becoming evident to large public universities, given today’s economic stresses, that financial aid and the financial aid process can be utilized for enrollment goals and objectives.  We are transitioning from a structure that focused on enrollment growth to one of retention growth; part of the key is funding students, and we play a huge role in that transition.

Dana Kelly: Do you have any tips for schools that are transitioning to Direct Lending?

Lester McKenzie: Open communication with students. Students are under so much stress that the last thing they need is another “obstacle.”  Eliminate barriers to your office and the information it can provide.  Access lines of communication that may not have been thought of–create a Facebook page or utilize any of the other social networks; create an Outlook calendar and send updates directly to student BlackBerries and texting phones; create a means to provide exceptional customer service, and understand that many of the responsibilities you looked at other groups to assist with are now gone.

Dana Kelly: Who within the financial aid community has been your mentor?

Lester McKenzie: Too many to name, but let me try! Rose Mary Stelma (NC) was my supervisor for a number of years and has remained a dear friend and colleague.  Rose Mary, as many of you know, has opinions on many topics and shares those opinions but in a way that allows you to reflect on her opinion while feeling as though your opinion is valid and respected as well.  She is a dear friend and valued colleague, in that order.  Others in the financial aid community have helped me become the aid administrator I am today.  Ron Day, Bill Cox, Kochie Richardson, Lisanne Masterson, Steve Brooks and Janet Sain are just a small portion of mentors that I have had, and I will continue to seek their advice and wisdom.

Dana Kelly: Name one thing that many people do not know about you.

Lester McKenzie: I am a huge Cincinnati Bengals fan. Die hard from my upbringing in Ohio through the 1990s when it seemed like we never won a game to today’s team filled with Ochocinco and Carson Palmer.  Of course, anyone who has known me for more than a minute knew that.  I also make wedding cakes and quilts and have been married to the most wonderful person in the world for twenty years: my wife, Tricia.  I have no children but two pets, Clover (our pound puppy) and Kiki (our pound kitty), who are both 5.

Dana Kelly, Southern Regional Director (TN, VA, KY,NC and SC)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2010 1:12 pm

    If only more than 22 people would hear this.

  2. June 15, 2010 2:03 pm

    If only more people would read this.

  3. June 15, 2010 2:52 pm

    You’ve done it again! Superb writing!

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