California State University, Long Beach
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Financial Aid’s Phu Named Employee of the Month

Published: March 15, 2010

Jenny Phu, assistant director of the loan program in the office of Enrollment Services/Financial Aid at CSULB, was chosen recently by her colleagues as employee of the month.

The member of the university since 2006 was recognized recently in a special ceremony held on Friendship Walk near the University Student Union which was renamed Jenny Phu Lane for the month.

President F. King Alexander praised Phu for her ability to assist others when she is already one of the busiest individuals in the office. “Jenny is always cheerful and helpful no matter how busy she may be,” he said. “For instance, she coordinated the direct lending process for the Financial Aid area and spent many extra hours getting it working.”

“It was great to be named employee of the month,” said Phu. “When I first heard I’d been named, I thought it was a joke. Now I’m really flattered, especially when the recognition comes from an outstanding staff. At first, I thought being employee of the month was no big deal until I heard Friendship Walk would be renamed for me. Now I know it’s a big deal and definitely an honor. It is especially gratifying to be recognized considering that there are so many individuals on this campus who deserve this recognition more than I do.”

Her responsibilities as loan program director include making sure CSULB students get their financial aid. “I oversee a $95 million loan program which is part of $200 million in student aide,” she said. “It is my job to process these funds and to make sure everything is in place when the university’s share of that money becomes available. I interact with the students and help make sure they have the right information. The bottom line of my responsibilities is to make sure our students can go to school.”

It’s a job that demands a skill set made of equal parts financial savvy and student empathy. “A big part of my job is putting myself in the students’ shoes,” she explained. “After all, I was a student on aid myself when I earned my bachelor’s from Cal State Fullerton in 1994. I have been in their places and I understand what I need to do to impact their situations. What I hope I bring to CSULB students is an understanding of the whole aid program combined with empathy.”

Phu’s road to CSULB began with seven years in the private sector and two years in graduate education before arriving at Enrollment Services/Financial Aid. “I realized the state system was for me,” she said. “I found a student population here that was totally different from any I’d encountered at the graduate level. Here, I met first-generation students with more financial need than any I had found before. That made my work that much more rewarding.”

When caught between student needs and fiscal crises, Phu finds herself dealing with frustration. “There are many times when I counsel students and I know their financial need but I can’t help them because of various requirements and guidelines,” she said. “What can you do? This feeling of frustration can set me back. Sometimes I take my frustration home. After all, these students could be my daughters or sons. In the end, all I can do is to listen and try to guide these students to the route that offers them access to the most resources.”

Jenny Phu
Photo by David J. Nelson
Jenny Phu (c) with family, Vice President Mary Stephens and President F. King Alexander.

One of the things Phu most enjoys about working at CSULB is her staff. “This is a great office to work in,” she said. “We have a very lean staff. That translates to a campus with over 20,000 students on financial aid and 20 staff members to serve them. Because of these numbers, we have developed a tightly knit team that keeps this office running effectively. One key to that is food. We have potlucks and birthdays to celebrate. This is a great office to work in.”

When she isn’t working hard for the university, Phu enjoys spending time with sons Jayden, 2, and Dylan, 4, who preschool at CSULB’s Family and Child Center. “I eat on campus but I’d like to have the time to do more than that,” she laughed.

Her biggest goal is efficiency. “I want to keep this office running smoothly,” she said. “There are many things I’d like to do that I’ve had to put on the backburner because of budget woes. I know there is much more we could do and I try to do as much as I can.”

Phu is glad she chose a career in higher education and she recommends it to others. “What you need is a belief in education,” she said. “You need to believe in the students and how important it is to serve them. Higher education has helped to define who I am.”

Her greatest satisfaction is a simple thank-you. “I love it when students I have counseled and struggled with return to tell me I’ve made a difference,” she said. “When they come in my office and say, `I’ve done it,’ that makes me feel I’ve achieved something important.”

Phu received several gifts with her recognition including a CSULB sweatshirt, a $25 gift certificate for Jimmy’s Fish Market and Grill, a $25 Beach Club gift card, a coupon for one Tommy’s World Famous Hamburger and a coupon for one Whopper at Burger King.

–Richard Manly