By Melanee Terry
College campuses around the country have seen tremendous impacts because of the COVID-19 pandemic and this includes the employees working at these universities. But members of the Office of Student Financial Services at the University of Maine at Presque Isle haven’t let that stop them from putting students’ needs first every day since the pandemic began, making them Owl Heroes on campus.
The Student Financial Services office includes many committed employees that dedicate their time to their jobs. Chris Bell, Director of Student Financial Services, oversees the office, which also includes Lynnelle Foster, Assistant Bursar; Danielle Pelkey, Assistant Director of Financial Aid; Laurie Boucher, Assistant Director of Financial Aid; and Jasmine Cote, Administrative Assistant. The office, which many refer to informally as the financial aid office, is responsible for awarding and disbursing financial aid. The office also places students in student employment positions, manages billing of tuition and fees, and is in charge of housing payments. As the COVID pandemic has disrupted many students’ finances, the office has been assisting students by providing relief funds.
As the Assistant Director of Financial Aid, Danielle assists students with jobs on campus, meets with prospective students and their families to discuss financial aid eligibility, oversees satisfactory academic progress, calculates Title IV funds, and reviews professional judgements submitted by families. In her role as Assistant Bursar, Lynnelle is responsible for student billing, payment plans, student health insurance, student refunds, scholarship billing, and more.
Just like many other offices and buildings on campus, the financial aid office has visibly changed. In addition to plexiglass barriers at the front desk and signage for social distancing, the office employees rotate each day they come to campus, so everyone works from home a few times a week. Employees in the office have followed social distancing and mask wearing procedures throughout the school year. The employees are doing everything they can to limit traffic in the building.
“I am truly thankful I was able to continue my job during the pandemic. The office employees have had to wear masks and develop rotating schedules per week to ensure social distancing,” Danielle said. “Since not all staff are in the office every day, office Zoom meetings are scheduled twice a week as well as many daily emails and phone calls for direct communication.”
The office has remained open Monday through Friday. Although the Preble Hall entry doors are locked, students are still allowed to meet for in-person meetings with an employee, which has to be scheduled in advance. The majority of students are using Zoom to meet with office employees, which has been a very useful application during this pandemic.
Every student at UMPI utilizes the Office of Student Financial Services at some point in their college career. The office employees have found that creating good relationships with students is a key element to their success. The financial aid office is student-centered and they do whatever they can to help students with their financial needs.
“Students are why I come to work every day. College can be stressful and difficult by itself so I try to help with billing, insurance, scholarships and anything else that can lessen the stress load on students,” Lynnelle said. “Watching students start their freshman year and grow over the course of their program that ends with walking across the stage is so fulfilling for me.”
Through the pandemic, the financial aid office workers have had to deal with many hardships. They depend on each other for support, especially when times have been rough. Due to great communication, teamwork, and collaboration, the group has done extremely well.
“Our team works very well together for a common goal and we help each other when one of us is struggling with work or personal issues related to the pandemic,” Lynnelle said. “I think that kind of close-knit work family relationship has helped us get through this very difficult time.”
Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, the financial aid employees are grateful for the opportunities they have had this year. Although they miss normalcy, they are still thankful for their family and friends. Knowing that many people lost their jobs during this pandemic, they are grateful that they still can work.
Through collaboration and adaptability, the financial aid office employees have strived to make their workplace a great place to be. They continue to assist students with all their financial needs, despite the difficulty. Every member of the Office of Student Financial Services has demonstrated exactly what it takes to be an Owl Hero at UMPI.
“This has been a challenging year for all of us in the UMPI family. The change in how we deliver education has brought on its share of challenges for us all,” Chris said. “From the outset, Student Financial Services’ goal was to try and make any interaction that we had with our students as uneventful as possible. We definitely miss the in-person interaction with our students and look forward to when we are all back on campus.”