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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Janet Riis, Carroll College

October 28, 2010

Janet Riis, Director of Financial Aid at Carroll College (Helena, MT), and President of RMASFAA.

Don Buehrer: What are you most proud of regarding your financial aid office?

Janet Riis: First and foremost, we have a very close team that works closely with our 1,500 students. I’m proud of the enthusiasm they show toward our students’ successes. We have a 0.0% default rate, which goes to show how much our team cares about the success of our students even after they leave Carroll.

Don: What has been the biggest challenge for your office during the past 12 months?

Janet: The biggest challenge has been a software conversion on top of a Direct Loan conversion. We’ve managed to all keep our wits about us; we have all come through in one piece–maybe a few pounds heavier (lots of chocolate to get us through), but the system is a dream compared to our old software system, so we are in a happy place today!

Don: What do you see as the next big challenge for you and your staff?

Janet: I think the next challenge for each of us is to document all of our new processes, not just the new Direct Loan processes but systemwide everything is new to us. We call it our Mac truck binder. The goal is to have every process documented by June of next year. Budgets are another huge challenge for us this year. We have less endowment, higher costs, higher need students, more students, and less aid to offer and assist our students with. I’m looking for the elusive pot at the end of the rainbow. If anyone sees it, let me know!

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

Janet: I have a top three list: Mick Hanson and Terri Gruba from University of Montana and Dick Franz, the former Director of Financial Aid at Carroll College. Mick is on the list because he always believed in me and would always answer the phone when I needed him. “Gruba” because she has a passion for students and our association while providing laughter to us just when we think we may cry! Without Dick’s encouragement, support and guidance I wouldn’t be Director of Financial Aid at Carroll College.  Dick is a gentle, kind, patient leader who brings a calm sense to every situation…something I need to remember from time to time.

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

Janet: As a kid I always wanted to be an accountant, just like my mom, but then I took intermediate accounting at Carroll and decided I’m not a bean counter. I need a mix of people and beans, which is what I think I’ve found in my current career. Mom wasn’t too upset with my economics and management degree!

Don:  What do you like most about your job?

Janet: I love the college environment, because it’s always lively and entertaining. Every day is a new day with different stories, challenges, and successes. I remember when the first class I worked with graduated–what a rewarding day!

Don: Name one thing about you that most people do not know.

Janet: Now, if I told you that then it wouldn’t be a secret! Well, here it is for the whole world to know now: I’m a closet soap opera watcher.  I have one soap opera I have watched since high school, and I still keep track of it.  It’s my half-hour out of the day that I don’t have to think about anything, and I can realize what a great life I have in comparison!  I’m also an avid outdoor person.  My time is spent skiing, rafting, camping, hiking, and anything else that happens “under the big sky” outdoors!  I’m a true Montana girl at heart. I work so I can play!

Don: What positions have you held within the financial aid industry?

Janet: I began my career right out of college as a Customer Assistance Specialist at the Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program. I moved to Carroll College as a Financial Aid Counselor after just a year-and-a-half at MGSLP.  I’ve been at Carroll for 16 years but had a brief hiatus as an Institutional Research Specialist for a year when we brought on our enrollment management consultant.  I rejoined the financial aid team as an Associate Director and then Director when Dick Franz retired.

Don: What made you decide to get into the financial aid profession?

Janet: I have to say I didn’t pick it, but it picked me. My job at MGSLP was the first interview I had after graduation. I had another interview scheduled with the Montana Department of Revenue, but MGSLP hired me before I could interview.  So I guess it was meant to be, and I’m glad.  I usually say, “I didn’t choose financial aid, but I’m choosing to stay.”  I’ve decided to stay because of the people–the students, the college, the community, and most of all, my associations.

Don: What is your favorite food and/or TV show?

Janet: I enjoy all food! The best part of traveling is the local food. The type of food I could probably eat every day without getting tired of it is Mexican and Italian. I love anything with a lot of flavor! You should always enjoy what you eat; otherwise, why bother? My favorite TV show…well, if you paid attention to my secret, it’s  The Young and The Restless but also Big Bang Theory and Two and A Half Men. Like I said, when I watch TV it’s all about not thinking as much as possible; it’s all about just relaxing and laughing!

Don Buehrer, Regional Director (TX, KS, NE, SD, MT, UT)

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 28, 2010 10:20 am

    Janet – The article is awesome. Your personality shines through in the interview. You are an excellent financial aid director and we are SO proud to have you as our RMASFAA President!



    PS – Never knew about “The Young and the Restless” secret, but now I feel it my duty to tease you unmercifully. 🙂

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