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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Terri Gruba from the University of Montana

September 7, 2011

[Terri Gruba is one of my favorite people in the world …. a great interview. Looking forward to seeing her at the RMASFAA conference in Montana]- Jim

Many of us, after reading federal regulations, have felt confused, not sure that we understood what we just read. Imagine feeling that way after reading your daily newspaper or emails from your colleagues and friends. That’s exactly what happened overnight to Terri Gruba (Associate Director, Enrollment Services, University of Montana). Terri had had a stroke… atrial fibrillation..where the heart isn’t beating correctly and blood pools in the atrial chamber… which leads to clots…hence a stroke. Physically all was well, but he mind…nothing came out right. Flowers came out feathers (she received many flowers/feathers from her well-wishers).  Speech therapy began almost immediately and Terri has achieved about a 90% recovery. She has overcome these obstacles and continues to be an advocate for students and financial aid administrators via her efforts with NASFAA (Board Representative at Large), MASFAA (Past President) and RMASFAA (Past President). So, when you see her waving her hands around as she speaks, she’s simply trying to pull in the right words to go with her thoughts. Terri’s advice to everyone…identify what is causing stress in your life and take proactive measures to reduce the stress.

Terri Gruba -Associate Director of Enrollment Services at the University of Montana

Don Buehrer-How did you select financial aid as your profession?

Terri Gruba—Like so many, I fell into it.  I was the accountant for financial aid and during registrations got to actually work and talk to students.  I wanted to work directly with students so pursued an opening in the financial aid office.  That was over 20 years ago and I haven’t looked back.  It’s been so fulfilling personally and professionally to me.

Don- What major changes have you seen in financial aid during your years in the industry?

Terri-Of course, the biggest change is the demise of the FFEL program.  Yes, in some ways our office has found some changes very good, but I truly think that in the long-run, our students will suffer.  We have enjoyed the many benefits that our students were given, including service and personal contacts by our FFEL partners.  And on a personal note, I have been saddened by so many friends losing jobs due to the program going away.

Don- What is your favorite movie, book, TV show?

Terri– Oh goodness, I don’t know of just one favorite.  I love authors like Lee Childs, Dean Koontz, Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, and many, many more.  Most lately, I’ve gotten hooked by the TV series “Falling Skies” and I’m bummed that “The Closer” is on its last year.  I watch religiously for CSI and CSI New York, Criminal Minds, and NCIS.    If anybody wants to commit a crime, I could give him/her points on how to get away with it!

Don- If you could change one financial aid regulation, what would it be and why?

Terri– Let me count the ways…I’ll stop with my 20 year old wish:  scholarships should be free.   Scholarships should not be counted in financial aid packages.  It’s my own little vendetta that scholarships should truly be an award…over and above federal aid for needy students.

Don- Who are/were your mentors?

Terri- I had and still have hundreds—every single person I have met over the years in financial aid has mentored me in some way.  To start naming them, I would only leave out too many…but I have to mention in particular Dick Franz who was the director at Carroll College years ago.  He asked me to serve on a budget committee for MASFAA.  He was the first person to ask me to get involved.  I accepted and then continued to stay involved in our profession.  He showed me the importance of reaching out to people and giving people a chance to get involved.  This is a lesson I learned and have been able to share with others. 

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

Terri- You thought I was going to say students, didn’t you?  And yes, if it weren’t for students, I would have found something else to do long ago.  But my colleagues are the joy of my job—both locally and across the nation.  You all are the reason I love financial aid.  You inspire me, you stir my blood and you make me laugh.   I have been blessed with widespread friendships due to financial aid.

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

Terri-  I live and share a house with my two sisters.  I am the youngest and never let them forget it.

Don- What has been your biggest challenge work-wise over the past 12 months?

Terri- This is easy.  Fighting back to work full time after my stroke.  I am back at work full time at about an 85 or 90 percent recovery rate.  I have some lingering aphasia so I can get some strange looks when something weird comes out of my mouth.  (Of course, my brothers say that I’ve always been weird so nothing has changed.)  So many of you encouraged me, thought of me, and prayed for me over the past year, I appreciate all of you so much.  I also appreciate my coworkers who had so much more work dropped on them while I was off on leave.  They truly rock!

Don- How do you spend your time when you’re not working?

Terri– I love to travel, read, craft stained glass, putter around my house.

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

Terri-St. Paul (so I can ask if he truly is a misogynist), Amelia Earhart (so I can ask why the heck are you doing something so stupid), and Jeannette Rankin –the only person who voted against both World Wars (I would ask her what she expects the backlash in Montana to be after those courageous votes).  And then—for the three who would actually get to eat—I would want Barack Obama—come on! The President!, Michelle Obama—what a bright woman to chat with, and then George Clooney—he doesn’t have to say a thing, I’ll just drool on him. 

Don- Where was the last place you went on vacation? (and what did you do?)

Terri- Flathead Lake (here in Montana) to a cabin on the lake.  This is our annual “Old Folks at the Lake” week (according to my nephews).  My siblings and I go every year so that we stay connected to us—it’s just the sibs (seven of us) and their spouses (only two of them now), no other kids, grandkids, significant others, etc.  Just old folks.  We eat, (drink a little), paddle in the lake, talk, reminiscence, and laugh a lot.

Don Buehrer, Regional Director

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