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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Sandra Oerly-Bennett, Shepherd University (West Virginia)

August 4, 2010

Sandra Oerly-Bennett, Director of Financial Aid, Shepherd Univesity

Pam King: What are you most proud of within your financial aid office?

Sandra Oerly-Bennett: The team–all the employees work together to ensure that students know they are important.  Our goal is to ensure students feel comfortable about approaching our office any time about anything and that they leave with a feeling of confidence, knowing the  information they received is accurate and thorough.  Additionally, our office is part of the Enrollment Management Division where open communication between offices simply flows without question to reduce the infamous ‘runaround’.  This is especially helpful since the Office of Financial Aid is in a completely different building than the other administrative offices.

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

Sandra: There have been so many!  But, if I had to select just one, it would be learning, implementing and communicating the guidelines for Year-Round Pell.

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

Sandra: We have been a Direct Lending school for years and have had no major issues.  Transitioning schools should know that the customer service representatives at COD are wonderful to work with in resolving issues. 

Pam: 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?  

Sandra: Within the last year we have focused more on the borrower delinquency report, communicating with prior students at various stages in hopes that they take action and don’t appear in the next cycle in further trouble.  Current addresses are a challenge but feedback received has been positive and kept several from defaulting.  We will also be reaching out to our current students in the next year in various ways to ensure that they are aware of their debt level, have a realistic picture of their future monthly salary, and [understand] how the debt will impact their lifestyle after graduation.

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

Sandra: A judge.  Needless to say, my career took a completely different path.  My career began as a FWS student in the administrative offices of the university and, quite frankly, I just never left higher education!

Pam: What do you like most about your job?

Sandra: I like helping students and their families through the process; finding ways to make things easier for them;  translating the world of financial aid into plain language, and seeing the relief on their faces.  I also enjoy the challenge of getting our software to work better.

Pam: What is your favorite book, movie or food? 

Sandra: I love Footloose.  It’s about starting anew, meeting new people, learning from each other, and making positive change.  I find it inspiring…and [I] love the music too!

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

Sandra:  I have family ties to Missouri.  My grandparents on my father’s side were farmers.  We visited Missouri at least once a year while growing up, so I’m quite at home in the Midwest.

Pam King, Midwestern Regional Director (IA, MO, WI, WV)

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