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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Hayato Suzuki from Caldwell College in New Jersey

June 27, 2011

Hayato Suzuki, Director of Financial Aid, Caldwell College

Kimber Decker: What has been your biggest challenge work-wise over the past 12 months?

Hayato Suzuki : The largest challenge that I faced in the last 12 months was becoming the director of the financial aid office.  After the departure of the director, I applied for the opportunity.  After many interviews along with other candidates, I was offered the position.  This I knew was going to be a challenge.  In my eyes the culture of the office needed a full makeover. The silos that each individual in the office worked needed to be broken down and a more cross-training and collaborative efforts were going to be made. Changing the culture of an office is hard when the employees have been doing the same thing for 10+ years, luckily with the change of a new president, with a whole new vision for the school, the change trickled down from the top and the whole office was very receptive to that making positive changes within the office.  With two employees on board and a new one to be hired, I was already 60% of the way there, eventually once the other 40% saw that the office flowed much better and felt more efficient, with equal delegation of each other’s work; I feel that I had 100% cooperation.  I am always open to ideas and let my office know that it is not my way or the highway so if they feel like something is not fair or troublesome to them we sit and collaborate all the time.  In order to move forward we must always be thinking ahead and innovative.

Kimber : What was your first job?

Hayato:  My first job ever was working at a McDonalds; I believe I was 14 or so making $5.25 an hour.  I remember I was not able to drive there, I rode my bicycle to work, and with my new income was able to purchase a new bike which got stolen one day while I was at work.  That broke my heart since I saved up about one summers worth of income for this bike.  I started there as the fry master.  The first day I worked there I concentrated on making the world’s best fries; I followed the McDonalds video, for the correct instructions in which to make the fries to Roy Crocs standards.  I completed my first batch of fries only to have an employee take the whole thing stuff it in a to-go bag and leave his shift.  The manager asked me where the fries went; I told him that Ken the boy who took the fries had taken the whole batch. The manager was mad, but not at me, at Ken who quit basically the minute before he took all the fries.  Well I went on and cooked up another batch. I worked there until sophomore year or so where I made it up to a cashier.  I became friends with Ken later on and still talk to him to this day; he was in my wedding party.

Kimber : How did you get into Financial Aid?

Hayato:  I got into financial aid, I guess by accident, I graduated college in 2002 and was looking for a job. At the time I could not find anything.  I came across a position for Lincoln Technical School at the time for a financial aid advisor position.  Being that I graduated in business, I thought Financial Aid  would be like finance or something.  Well it does deal with money but in a different manner.  I was offered a position and took it right away; I needed income to pay my loans. To this day I am in financial aid.  I started the job thinking, this will be temporary until something else comes up but somehow I got sucked into it and have not left since. I believe many of us in the industry start out that way, since there is no financial aid major, though I would say there should be where you take business, finance, economics, counseling and psychology which pretty much make up financial aid.  The Lincoln Technical Institute is what led me to where I am now.  My wife was the assistant director at the time when I started the position, the director that I took over at with Caldwell was the senior counselor that I worked with back then.  I have a great relationship with the corporate financial aid office for Lincoln Educational Institute, which one of the vice presidents has helped me out with some New Jersey Financial aid association trainings and such.  It is funny how we all sort of are intertwined as a financial aid community. 

Kimber: Please describe a typical day for you.

Hayato: A typical day for me is sitting in the car for an hour just to get to work, but I get to listen to satellite sports radio for an hour, usually fantasy sports channel, so it is not too bad.  I come in check my millions of e-mails from all over the place and answer what I can.  Then it is off to making sure the office is doing what needs to be done in order to run.  Depending on the time of the year will depend on what needs to be concentrated on the most. I have an office that is well trained and self sufficient so I am able to manage and lead rather than babysit. With the regulations changing on a daily basis, or at least when the government seems to want to push something, it s my job to make sure that my office and the school stay within compliance.  This consists of making sure daily task are done correctly but also making sure our office policies fall within federal regulations.  The policy manual changes all the time to meet the demands of the federal, state and institutional policies.  The production portion that my counselors are responsible for is something that I double check their work on to make sure that we are not sending out information incorrectly and to the wrong people.  When it comes down to it, I am the one responsible for my office as a whole so I try to run a tight ship. I tend to be in and out of the office for meetings with various other departments as well so, it is very important that my assistant director be on the same page as me.  I answer any questions that my assistant director cannot answer and when she is busy and a counselor is not 100% sure of the answer, but most of the time I send the person back to refer to our policy manual and federal handbook, they have to learn too.  After all that I make sure all work for the day is done so I can walk in the next day with a clean slate.  Then I get back in my car for my one hour commute home and listen to whatever sports game is playing that night.

Kimber:  What are you most proud of with your department?

Hayato:   The thing that I am most proud of with my department is their ability to take changes in stride and go with it.  This day in age is a computer driven office and the office is capable of moving with the speed of technology.  Their knowledge to learn how to let the computer do the work is fantastic. Having to change from when I started of writing aid packages out for students and sending out word processed award letters to now auto packaging and batch letter flow is a big jump especially for those who have been there processing for over 10+ years in the manual manner, granted those with the manual process have a harder time with the computer processing side of it but they are getting there. Everyone else in my office with 6 years or less experience in the office were required to have computer skills for the hiring process since I was moving the office in that way when I started there.  Since financial aid, much like the world, moves with technology I am proud that my office has made  strides to make their job easier with the use of technology.  

Kimber : What do you like most about your job?

Hayato: The thing I like most about my position is the freedom to be able to make decisions to help the office and students.  I love to lead a team and I feel the office responds well to my leadership.  The way I run things may not always be the best but I allow my office to collaborate and make changes to the changing trends and needs.

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

Hayato: I don’t feel I have one person in particular but if I had to choose one place to give credit to for a solid base for my knowledge I would have to give credit to the Lincoln Educational Services corporate financial aid office.  This was the first financial aid position I held and they were the one to send me through a crash course from A-Z of the financial aid process and what I gain from there is invaluable. 

Kimber: If you did not work in Financial Aid what would you want to be?

Hayato : I would probably want to be some sort of professional athlete, preferably a snowboarder or Formula 1 racer or maybe a baseball player or golfer, basically anything that would include some sort of athletic ability and skill.  I would have to say that I am able to perform any sport well but not well enough to get anywhere great.  Give me a day and I will pick it right up and perform enough to compete.

Kimber:  What is one thing that people do not know about you?

Hayato:   I’m not sure that there is much that people know about me at all.  I tend to be pretty reserved about myself in the business setting.  Friends of mine know me very well and just about everything about me.  As an acquaintance or co worker I keep my relationships very professional.  If there is one thing that people don’t know about me it is probably something I need to keep to myself.

Kimber Decker, Northeast Regional Director (CT, DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA), Nelnet Partner Solutions


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