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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Bob Walker (Creighton University) and Judi Walker (University of Nebraska Medical Center)

February 18, 2011

This interview highlights another husband and wife team that has devoted much of their lives to the financial aid profession. Judi Walker is the Executive Director of Student Services at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has been at the school for over 23 years and in the financial aid profession for over 25 years. Her husband Bob is the Director of Financial Aid at Creighton University (over 25 years) and in the financial aid profession for 30+ years. And, they’ve been married to each other for over 21 years.  Their secret? Unfortunately, it remains a secret. After much debate, a flip of the coin determined who would answer the questions first. The Walkers were recently interviewed by Don Buehrer, Nelnet Regional Director for RMASFAA and SWASFAA.

Bob and Judi Walker

 

Don Buehrer – What are you most proud of with your financial aid office?

Judi Walker– Over the past year, the division of UNMC Student Services has been developing a new student information system—Oracle/People Soft.  Our entire division Student Services division has only 10 staff members.  During the past 18 months, 50% of the staff travelled 120 miles, several days a week, for training on how to build and implement the new SIS.  The other 50% of the staff stayed behind and kept the division going.  When the SIS ‘staff’ members weren’t in training, they were in the office helping to catch up on things that couldn’t be addressed in their absence.  It was a very, very long 18 months.  During this time, the Student Loan Collections Officer retired—after 38 years of service to UNMC.  The U of NE is currently in university wide hiring freeze.  This meant the duties of the Student Loan Collections officer fell to an already short and stretched staff

At UNMC,  all 10 of us work in one another’s backyard—everyone on staff knows a little bit about financial aid, student accounts, student records, student loan accounting.  We all learned a lot more about each of these units over the past year. 

I am very lucky in the fact that my staff has many years of experience—many of us have been together for more than 20 years.   All of that experience has proven to be invaluable over these past few months.  I’m very proud of the entire Student Services staff for making the SIS transition as seamless as possible for our UNMC students—making it a transparent process would have taken a miracle.

Bob Walker- The expertise of my staff and their long term service to Creighton.  The professional staff has nearly 150 years of experience and this type of knowledge base is indispensable when we need to “turn on a dime”.  It’s also a bit scary when we constantly finish each other’s sentences……

Don- What was the biggest challenge for your office during the past 12 months?

Judi- Transitioning our students from the FFELP program to the Direct Loan program while trying to implement the new SIS.  Health Professional students are not generally too involved in the maintenance of their student processes.  They don’t have time to read emails, fill out forms, or pay attention to things that need to be done.   Getting the freshman students over the hurdle wasn’t too bad.  But for many of our junior/senior students, this was the second and sometimes third transition they had done with lenders.  Many of them have 2 or more lenders because of the lenders leaving the FFELP program over the past several years.  The new requirements of a DL MPN and Entrance counseling put many of them over the edge.  To complicate matters, our Student Loan Processor, with 31 years of service to UNMC announced her retirement on July 1.  YES, People Soft and Direct Lending ‘sent her over the edge’. 

Bob- Bringing up DL, without a doubt.  We needed to learn a whole new set of screens in our SAS along with learning the nuances of processing loans with COD.  We also had to train our business and finance folks on the change in delivery of funds, draw-downs, reconciliation and adjust our office procedures.  Sorry, but DL is not just a Pell with a p-note.  But the staff pulled it off without missing a beat!

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

Judi- Performing the work of 10 people with eight.  With the University hiring freeze, we will be challenged to do our own jobs, as well of the jobs of our retiring colleagues.   I have two concerns actually; maintain the quality of services, and the staff reaching a point of diminishing returns. 

Bob- We have experienced a large infusion of students over the last 2 years at both the undergrad and graduate levels with the same size staff and reduced budget.  Maintaining our commitment to service and timeliness is going to get tougher.  The good news is we have more students; the bad news is we have more students to serve.

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

Judi- I’ve had several.  Health Professional schools are just a bit different from the traditional undergraduate/graduate school environment, so finding someone that ‘knew’ it all was often in short supply.   UNMC’s original financial aid director, Bob Fredlund was invaluable—working with him for the precious 4 years we spent working together –gave me the confidence to take on all of the challenges I’ve experienced in the past 25 years of the financial aid industry.  My husband, Bob Walker, has also been an inspiration.  Kathy McConnell (former Nelnet employee) was not only a very gifted leader; she has been my best friend for the past 25 years.  I have been able to share all of ups and downs with her, and know that I will come away from our conversations with a sense of renewal and confidence.

Bob- A couple legends come to mind – when I first started in SFA Leo Munson was at Creighton and Don Aripoli was at UN-Lincoln.  Both demonstrated a true devotion to student needs, adherence to playing by the rules and enjoying what you do on a daily basis.  Both are still involved in serving students today.

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

Judi- A lounge singer.   

Bob- Who said I’m grown up, just ask my wife…….

Don-What do you like most about your job?

Judi- Knowing that I am making a difference in the lives of our UNMC students, who in turn will make a difference in the ‘lives’ of many people around the country.

Bob- Knowing that what we do on a daily basis makes a difference in so many lives, even though they won’t realize it until far down the road.

Don- Name one thing about you that most people do not know?

Judi- This will really date me. I was in the military from 1973-1975, the Air Force.  I was a ‘ditty bopper’, I intercepted Morse Code.  I was one of the first females in the career field and I was the first woman, in the career field, stationed at Okinawa Japan.  It was GREAT—totally surrounded by men.  It is hard to fathom that 35 years ago we all sat in security buildings intercepting dots and dashes and typing out the code on ROYAL typewriters. 

Bob- I had aspirations many years ago to referee big time football or basketball.  My father was a Big 8 Conference (anyone remember that) football referee.  My brother is currently a head football referee for the Big 12 Conference so I live vicariously through him.

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

Judi- Financial Aid Counselor, Associate Director, Director, and now Executive Director of Student Services.

Bob- Director of Aid at a small private and medium sized private institution along with several leadership positions at the state, regional and national levels as well as serving on numerous consulting endeavors and training activities.  Guess if you stick around long enough, people think you know something……

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

Judi- I was the Associate Director of Admissions at a private college.  Any applicant that came in the door was a ‘contact’.  Before the person could leave we had to collect as much information as we could, including financial information.  We were required to walk every applicant to the Financial Aid Office, sit with them through an on the spot need analysis and then convince them they could afford to go to school.  One day the Director of Financial Aid didn’t show up for work…one day led to another and another.  They told me I had to ‘fill in’.  I did, fell in love with it, and have been here ever since.  THEN, I went to the Rocky Mountain Summer Institute in 1987, learned ALL of the things I was doing wrong and swore I would resign when I got back.  That is where I met Kathy McConnell, and shortly afterwards, I met Bob… the rest is history.

Bob- I was doing admission work for a small private school and wanted to get off the road.  It sounded like a cushy job at the time.  So I went from working nights on the road to working nights in the office, and then at home (thank s internet)

 Don-What is your favorite food, TV show??

Judi- My favorite food is Cabernet (with a little steak)!!  TV show – no favorites—it’s always on for background noise.  I’ve seen every Law and Order episode, at least twice, and each time, I act like I’m seeing it for the first time.

Bob- Most any food that doesn’t bite back or if it’s green and squishy or slimly.  I’m sure I was Italian in a previous life.  Love Modern Family and Big Bang Theory, since Penny is from Nebraska.

Don Buehrer, Regional Director (TX, KS, NE, SD, ND, MT, and UT), Nelnet Partner Solutions

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