The financial aid office has been hidden away in Seco hall for decades, But by next spring, this close crew is moving to one of the most important centers on campus, The Student Services and Administration Building. These men and women offer some of the most helpful information to students. I had a chance to sit down with Financial adviser Carmen Gonzalez to learn more about the women with so much heart for her job. Walking into her office, you can already see some of her proudest moments on exhibit. On weekdays Carmen comes into work and is greeted by some of the early birds to show up in the office. She’ll check her calendar to see what appointments she may have in a day and get to work on case loads of paperwork. Her job is very technical and being a numbers person, Carmen already sees things in a very organized and specific way, so technicality works very well for her. She touches every record to determine the eligibility of students for Federal and state aid.
Some students are working up to three jobs while going to school but Carmen believes that students should have more time focusing on education. She encourages students to find out if they qualify for financial aid because she wants her college kids to have a fair chance to succeed.
It’s a very fulfilling job to help students. She feels satisfied knowing that she’s put a student at ease. The first impression she gets from students is frustration. Many students who see her are intimidated by the Fafsa application, so Carmen feels that it is her job to get that fear out of the financial aid process.
One of the most frequently seen problems Carmen sees are students who do not understand why they are dependent under parent taxes rather than independent if that student is living on their own. Unfortunately the federal regulation states that until a student is 24 they are considered a dependent of their parents. Under certain circumstances, a student can appeal for an override but the window is quite small.
Carmen started working in financial aid in 2001 at California State University Northridge and after exploring many different roles in the department over several years, realized that she wanted to follow this career path more passionately. In 2006 Carmen applied for a financial aid position at College of the Canyons and worked hard again to work up a latter to her current role as adviser.
Carmen realizes the hardships that students have to deal with financially and knows exactly how it feels, having gone through rough patches herself in college. Carmen remarks that “seeing students is a passion and every day is a new day for me” She loves watching students leave her office happy.
On Carmen’s side wall, sits comfortably a drawing that was done for her by a student named Larry. He was lost and intimidated by the financial aid process, so Carmen sat him down and took him through the fundamentals. Larry drew her a space shuttle in the form of graditude. He noticed Carmen’s space shuttle hanging in the corner of her office and Nasa logos all around the room.
Carmen always had a deep love for space and she even got a chance to work for Nasa in 1997. She was 17 years old when she applied for an internship at the John Glenn Research
Center and got picked from several 100,000 students who submitted essays for a chance to work for Nasa. Carmen Says she poured her heart out in that essay and because of it got to work 9 weeks as a full paid intern tracking the Mir Russian Space station. Carmen was interviewed by several radio stations, all wanting to know more about Carmen. She was able to leave her home and lived in Cleveland, Ohio. It was an experience that changed her life forever. After working for the research center, Carmen had several job offers while she was still in high school. She picked up a job working for the city of Ventura at the public health department performing STD testing. It was an interesting job and Carmen easily spent most of her time there directly out of high school.
At the end of the day, Carmen goes home to her favorite baseball players and husband, Luis. Carmen has been happily married for ten years and has two handsome boys. Her oldest son is Aaron and youngest boy, Orion. They’re both hardcore baseball players and dodgers fans. Her husband Luis is a power line tree trimmer and has one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. If Luis makes one wrong move, he can be put into serious danger. It doesn’t take a reporter to find out that it bothers her, but Carmen revealed that it bothers her everyday.
I wanted to find out if Carmen was ever part of any clubs or sports in her life. She brought me back to high school where Carmen was an athlete taking part in track and field. This was easily something that brought her great joy to talk about. She laughs now because she says that now the tables have turned and Luis has become the athletic one. She still loves running to this day but is waiting for the right motivation to push her back into her old habits.
I wanted to end the interview by getting Carmen’s opinion about the new Student Services and Administration building. Carmen shares that she is very excited for the move. The faculty working in student services departments will be closer together making it drastically easier on students and staff alike. She’s looking forward to having a private staff bathroom in the office and claiming a window that can overlook the campus and baseball field if she’s lucky.
Carmen Gonzales joined her Financial Aid family in 2006 and has since then found it to be her home away from home. The new Student Services and Administrations building will bring Carmen and the rest of the Financial Aid gang into a new light, so students, when you stop by the Financial Aid department, don’t forget to say hi.