Trisha Brewster, a counselor for Financial Aid, was recently named by her coworkers as Employee of the Month.
Brewster, who joined the university community as an employee in 2005, felt a little overwhelmed by the attention. “There are so many wonderful people in Financial Aid who also deserve to be nominated but I feel honored to be selected,” she said.
President F. King Alexander praised Brewster for her willingness to spend extra time with students and her willingness to assist them with any and all of their financial aid questions. “She has a great attitude and is a mentor to all those around her,” he said.
Brewster came to CSULB from CSU Dominguez Hills, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and where she is pursuing her master’s. “My original career goal was to be an elementary school teacher but my first job out of university was in financial aid,” she recalled. “I discovered I enjoyed the work and decided to remain.”
Brewster began her career at CSULB working in the enrollment services/financial aid area. As a financial aid counselor, her responsibilities include verification of student eligibility for federal and state support. In addition to carefully following both national and state regulations, Brewster processes applications for study abroad and calculates the amount of federal funds to be returned for a student who drops out while receiving aid.
Patience is a big part of her skill set. “Federal and state guidelines about financial aid can demand lots of patience,” she said. “Plus, it is important to know how to listen to and analyze students who are not sure what they need. The same is true when I’m dealing with parents who don’t know what to ask. People can be a little anxious, even defensive, when I talk to them about their finances. What I find most rewarding is working with students who have very little. I see it as my job to help them find and achieve their goals and dreams.”
Working in financial aid can seem like a family affair. “We have fun while we work hard,” she said. “The people here are really nice and committed to helping students; some have been with the university for 20 years or more.”
It never seems as if there are enough hours in the day to serve all the students who need help. “I am on call four hours four days a week to counseling students who bring plenty of issues and concerns with them,” she said. “Then there is all that paperwork to be done, plus the phone calls and the e-mail. If our department was larger or there was more time in the day to serve more students, we could do an even better job.”
Being a financial aid counselor can reveal some heartbreaking realities about higher education. “It can be hard to counsel some of these students without breaking down myself,” she said. “I talk to students who are just trying to make it through their last semester before they run out of resources and quit. It is my job to see they finish. That is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Sometimes, students I have counseled come back to tell me they made it and that is always so exciting.”
There’s something new to deal with every day, whether it is relates to her career or to her personal life. “I meet new people and deal with new issues every day,” she said. “I’m currently pursuing my master’s in humanities at CSU Dominguez Hills and I hope to graduate by December 2008.”
Her hobbies include a commitment to the study of Krav Maga (Hebrew for “close combat”), an eclectic self-defense and military hand-to-hand combat system developed in Israel that emphasizes maximum threat neutralization in a real-life context.
“After a career as a student athlete doing sprints and cross-country, I was worried about working behind a desk and getting out of shape,” she recalled. “When a cousin of mine in law enforcement recommended Krav Maga, I decided to check it out. I recently earned my yellow belt and I hope to go as far as I can in the discipline.”
Brewster is glad she made the decision to join CSULB. “Working here is one of the best things I have ever done,” she said. “I come to work in the morning feeling happy even in traffic. I bring a smile to work.”
Brewster received several gifts with her recognition as employee of the month including a CSULB sweatshirt and gift certificates for four tickets to one CSULB home game of her choice, for a cruise for two with Gondola Getaway, for Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers and for one free Whopper at Burger King.