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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Brenda Hicks from Southwestern College in Kansas

May 19, 2011

How many financial aid directors do you know who actually won a meat identifying contest  to qualify for their work study job? That means they would need to know the difference between short loin and sirloin, between shank and flank? Well, when you finish reading this material, you’ll know at least one. Brenda Hicks, a 20+ year higher education veteran, current financial aid director at Southwestern College in KS and president-elect of RMASFAA, used her 4-H experience and title as one of the top 10 national meat identifiers at the American Royal 4-H Meats contest to land a CWS job in the Kansas State University Meat Lab.

Brenda Hicks, Director of Financial Aid for Southwestern College in Kansas

Don:  How did you begin your career in financial aid?

Brenda:  I was working in admissions and they “convinced” me that a move to financial aid would be in my best interest. And, I’m very grateful that they did convince me to change because this industry and the people who dedicate their lives to it have made me a better person. There are not that many professions that provide you the opportunity to see the results of your labor. Financial aid certainly is one of them.

Don: What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Brenda:  Working with students and being able to be an important part in their higher education experience. I’m also very grateful that I get to work with incredible professionals who simply dedicate themselves to a profession that can be very demanding and frustrating.

Don: What major challenges have you recently seen in financial aid?

Brenda: There are always challenges to face but the one that is the most prevalent is the fiscal situation facing financial aid at the local, state and federal levels.

Don: Who are/were your mentors?

Brenda:  I’ve been blessed to have so many people assist me over the years. Some would be Jeanne Mott (Baker University, KS), Mary Sommers (University of Nebraska Kearney), Mick Hanson (University of Montana), Janet Riis (Carroll College, MT), Connie Corcoran (Emporia State University, KS) and Elaine Henrie (Emporia State University, KS). 

Don: If you could invite any three people to dinner, who would they be?

Brenda:  J.K. Rowling (creator of Harry Potter), author John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany) and director Steven Spielberg . They all demand my attention, they are thorough and complete and I love the way that their minds work in creating their stories.

Don: What should schools focus on as far as the 3 year CDR (Cohort Default Rate)?

Brenda: We should focus on what we can do to identify at risk borrowers and communicate with them right from the beginning about financial literacy and loan repayment.

Don: What do you do in your spare time?

Brenda:  My brother and I were raised to volunteer and our entire family is gratified that we can give of ourselves to so many worthy causes. We’re very involved in 4-H and our church. In 4-H, I’m coaching my sons and others as they build robots out of Legos and send them through a competitive obstacle course as part of First Lego League.   Our robotics team has successfully completed one season. In church, I’m part of the choir (favorite song is Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee), do the children’s sermon, and I’m the Secretary of the Church Council.  (have also played the bells).  I was raised on country gospel and that continues to be my favorite kind of music.

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

Brenda:  When I was at Kansas State, my College Work Study job was in the school’s Meat Lab.  I had connections, my Dad and Uncle were alums of the KSU meat science program and my uncle used to teach there (He was just honored as one of the first inductees into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame – yes, there is one).  But, I also used my high school 4-H background as a state meat identification winner and Top 10 National finisher at the American Royal to prove to the rest of the crew that I could (literally) hack the work.  

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

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