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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Cathy Simoneaux from Loyola University in New Orleans

June 7, 2011

Cathy Simoneaux --Director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid

Ron Hancock: What is your current position?

Cathy Simoneaux: I am the Director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid at Loyola University in New Orleans. I have been here since June 2000.

Ron: Tell me a little bit about your school?

Cathy: Loyola was founded in 1912 and we are approaching our centennial celebration. We are right next door (literally) to Tulane University. Loyola has historically focused on undergraduate students with the exception of our Law School. Post Katrina, we have expanded our graduate programs with a particular emphasis on expanding online programs. This is a huge new challenge for us.

Ron: When and how did you get started in financial aid?

Cathy: I started as an undergrad student worker at Georgetown University Law School. I also worked there a couple of years after graduation until I decided I was not cut out to be a lawyer. I later returned to New Orleans and began working at Tulane University in 1985. I was there until joining Loyola in June 2000.

Ron: Who is someone you would consider a mentor that has helped you over the years?

Cathy: My first boss, Ruth Lammert-Reevs, at Georgetown Law School showed me what it meant to work in financial aid. The financial aid directors in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities are also a great collective resource and support group. Locally, Mrs. Mildred Higgins at Xavier is a role model and mentor for all of us.

Ron: What do you feel is the biggest challenge currently facing aid administrators?

Cathy: Trying to stay in compliance with minimal staffing and resources is probably the biggest challenge right now.

Ron: Let’s pretend you have the power to waive a magic financial aid wand….what’s the first thing you would do?

Cathy: Before any student gets a loan, I’d like to ensure they are more financially literate and fully understand what it means to have a loan. We see too many students borrowing funds solely because they legally can.

Ron: How do you feel technology is helping us better engage students and families?

Cathy: When technology works, it can take some of the burden off of the aid office. I remember typing up individual award letters when I first started at Georgetown. We have been blessed with a supportive Information Technology but with everything else we have to deal with, we don’t have the time to “learn” the technology before we have to start using it.

Ron: What are some things you’re doing on your campus to reach out to your students?

Cathy: We’re using Facebook and Twitter and we have an electronic newsletter for students and parents. We launched a newsletter this past fall for alumni with student loans. That’s still a work in progress but it’s something we felt we needed to try. Since not all students want to be “friends” with us on Facebook, we are using some of the “cool” faculty to help us promote some of our key messaging to students who might be their Facebook friends. It’s a continuous process to get the student’s attention and find the best way to communicate with them.

Ron: What advice would you give someone who is new to the financial aid profession?

Cathy: Most days, it’s a wonderful profession .Where else can you go to work and have the opportunity to change peoples’ lives? That is an important thing to remember when dealing with the difficult student or parent. I recently attended an event at a local high school and it turns out the assistant principal was a former student I had helped years ago at Tulane. She made a point to tell the students that I knew what I was talking about and could help them just as I helped her. She was not one of my “assigned” students and I was reminded about what a difference a chance encounter with a student could make.

Ron: What is something you’re most proud of about your office?

Cathy: We survived Hurricane Katrina….as a staff, city and institution.

Ron: This has been a terrible year so far with multiple deadly storms. You mentioned how your community survived Hurricane Katrina. What are some things you learned from that experience and feel would be of value to assist other schools prepare for those types of events as well as helping impacted students?

Cathy: Recovery is a long- term process.  You have to come to grips with the fact that your “old world order“ is gone and focus instead on creating a “new normal”. There are days in the beginning where you just get overwhelmed by all that has been lost. Unlike a personal “disaster”, after a natural disaster, everyone in your “normal” support system is also dealing with their own challenges and problems.

And then, of course, besides dealing with our own problems, once we came to work, we had to deal with our families who were also impacted. We knew that it was really important to keep the students enrolled in school but we had to also do a lot more “hand holding” with families to make sure FAFSA’s were completed, MPN’s  signed, etc.

As we have “been there and done that”, our hearts go out to everyone who has been impacted by the weather this spring.

Ron: What are some things you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Cathy: I’m learning how to garden. My neighbor got me started and is continuing to help me along the way. Although the winter cold killed my flowers the first year, I am working very hard to make sure this year’s version survives our summer heat.

Ron: What’s your favorite movie of all time?

Cathy: The Sound of Music. It was the first movie my mother let me go to by myself with my friends.

Ron: What’s the one thing someone should do when visiting New Orleans?

Cathy: Enjoy the food and music.

Ron Hancock, Nelnet Regional Director

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