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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Rob Wirt, Ferris State University

July 12, 2010

Rob Wirt, Director of Financial Aid, Ferris State University, and President of MSFAA


Anne Watson:  What are you most proud of with your financial aid office?  

Rob:  I’d have to say our customer service.  I think we excel in this area, and our survey results and anecdotal evidence would support my belief.  We are blessed to have some truly outstanding financial aid administrators who understand that they are here to serve our students.  Without exception, everyone in our office goes above and beyond to help them.  

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

Rob:  (Laughs) Well, some of my staff would tell you having a director who had spent the previous nine years working for a small community college has been the biggest challenge, but I think I would have to say it is the loss of positions we’ve experienced.  They have been due to retirements, reorganization, and budget issues, but we’re really being challenged right now to continue to do all the things we do (and do well) with less and less manpower.

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

Rob:  I think we are going to continue to see an increased focus on accountability and reporting.  Our auditors are here next week, and I’m not sure if it is due to the presence of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds or just a shift in the auditing world, but the amount of documentation we are being asked to provide ahead of time is much, much more than we’ve seen in the past.  

Anne:  Do you have any tips for schools that are transitioning to Direct Lending (or what has been helpful to you as you transitioned)?   

Rob:  We have been in DL for quite a while, so we are lucky in that we do not have to deal with the two-headed monster that is two Pell Grants in one year and a transition to DL that many of our colleagues are facing.  But my advice to anyone who is going through this is to take advantage of all of the resources out there: NASFAA and Department of Ed webinars, guides, news articles, and trainings; training your state may be providing; the various listservs that are out there; and last, but certainly not least, all of your friends and colleagues who are going through the same thing or [are] already in DL.  

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

Rob:  Wow, that’s a tough one.  I have had the good fortune to work with some great people, both in the FA offices at my different stops and in serving on the Michigan Student Financial Aid Association (MSFAA) board.  I’d hate to start naming names, because it would be a LONG list, and as soon as we finished, I’d remember someone I forgot to mention.  But I do have to mention one person: Lori Trapp, who has been a trusted friend, confidante, and colleague for over 15 years.  I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not met her when I was just starting out in FA.  

Anne:  Where do you think schools should focus their efforts with regard to default prevention strategies given the industry’s move to a 3-year CDR model?  

Rob:  Constant contact and communication with students and continuing our efforts in educating them about their loans and financial literacy in general.  

Anne:  When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?  

Rob:  That’s funny you should ask that—I was just visiting my parents last weekend and saw one of my old “School Days” books that my mom put together.  I looked through it, and I was surprised to see that in sixth grade I wanted to be a veterinarian.  I didn’t remember that until then.  I do remember I always wanted to be the next Pete Rose and play third base for The Big Red Machine.  But with all of the off-field problems Pete has had, maybe I’m lucky my baseball career ended after high school!  

Anne:  What do you like most about your job?  

Rob:  That’s easy—helping people.  I’ve always felt it important to give something back–to try and make a difference.  I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but I was so blessed growing up–and continue to be—with wonderful family, great friends, and a great profession.  Attending THE Ball State University was one of the best decisions I ever made (and not just because I met my amazing wife of 22 years there).  It was such an incredible, life-altering event in so many ways that I am committed to making sure others have a chance to experience the difference higher education can make.  

Anne:  What is your favorite food?  

Rob:  That’s also easy, pizza.  I could eat pizza every day for the rest of my life and never complain.  Of course, I’d probably weigh 300 pounds, so I limit it to one or two times a week.  The BBQ sauce and pepperoni pizza from Greek’s Pizzeria at Ball State is the best I ever had.  A lot of my college buddies and I will drive hours out of our way just to eat at Greek’s.  

Anne:  What is your favorite television show?  

Rob:  I love Pawn Stars.  Actually, I’m a sucker for just about anything on the History Channel.  And since I have a seven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, I think I’ve seen every episode of the Disney cartoon Phineas and Ferb ever made at least three times.  

Anne:  Name one thing that many people don’t know about you.  

Rob:  I don’t talk about it much, so I don’t think many people know I have an incredible passion for motor boating.  My dream is to retire on a lake, get my own boat, and spend all my time out there motor boating with my wife.  Oh, and sometimes I watch Phineas and Ferb even when my kids aren’t in the room.  It’s silly, well written, and it just makes me laugh—and in financial aid, we all need a good laugh to keep things in perspective!  

Anne:  You are currently President of the Michigan Student Financial Aid Association (MSFAA) and represent the state on MASFAA’s Board.  Rob, you have also done a tremendous job chairing our state’s Auction/Charity Committee, raising thousands of dollars for nonprofit organizations throughout Michigan. On behalf of MASFAA, we appreciate all that you do! 

Anne Watson, Midwest Regional Director (MI, OH)


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