Empowering students through financial literacy education

Jennifer Bell

Editor’s note: Duck of the Week is a section in Around the O Workplace that highlights UO employees and their work. Each story features an interview with one employee, in his or her own words, with light editing for clarity and length only.

Jennifer Bell
Associate Director for Advising, Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships
How long have you worked at the UO?

I’ve been here for the last five and a half years.

Tell us about your work:

I provide oversight for the customer service aspect of our financial aid services, which consists of the counseling that we do in addition to the financial aid call center. When current students, parents or prospective applicants call in with their questions, I supervise the team that responds to those concerns. I am also in charge of financial aid outreach as well as the brand-new Financial Wellness Center that launched virtually this year due to COVID-19. 

We received a very generous donation from a friend of the university who has contributed to multiple other large-scale projects like the EMU, the Black Cultural Center, and Women in Flight. He’s passionate about students being financially literate, so he gave a $3 million gift last year to help fund the Financial Wellness Center on campus. In a non-COVID world, it would have launched in person somewhere in the EMU. The Financial Wellness Center provides one-on-one peer financial coaching with one of the 20 students on our staff. We train these students to help their peers create budgets and learn about their credit.

Our team hosts at least five workshops per term on a variety of different topics. These topics are relevant to students and include issues like loan payments, studying abroad, preparing for life after college, protecting your credit and identity, among other things. It’s a well-rounded service that tries to meet students where they are and help them build the skills they need to be financially literate adults. We receive a lot of feedback from students that they don’t know much about the loans they borrowed, how to establish credit or even how to check their credit score. Students have recognized this is a huge need on campus, and we’ve gotten a lot of good responses this year.

What does your typical day look like?

Everything in financial aid is kind of cyclical, so my day is dictated by other activities that are going on in the university. During registration time, a lot of students inquire about their financial aid to try to get a hold lifted so they can register. We also work with a lot of prospective students and their families to make sure UO is a good fit for them before they decide to attend. For the most part, however, my role is coordinating the counseling staff and student staff in our office to be able to serve our current and prospective students as well.

What do you like about working at the UO?

I love the energy on campus. One of my favorite things is working directly with students and their families. I realize that financial aid can be overwhelming for a lot of students and their families, and many don’t know where to start. One of the things I really enjoy is taking people from a space of unfamiliarity to a position of more clarity. So contact with students and parents is something that I enjoy very much.

What keeps you motivated?

I have a really well-rounded team with a variety of different skill sets. Every day I’m just amazed at how thoughtful and intelligent and talented they are. I am also inspired and motivated by the energy of the students. Although most students wouldn’t prefer to be going to college in the current environment, they still have awesome attitudes and are fun to talk to. There’s also a lot of excitement coming from the incoming first-year students that are thinking about attending the UO, and it makes me happy to be here and play a part in that decision-making process. I feel like financial aid is something that can truly make all the difference for someone. I definitely feel like I help more people than not, so that’s what keeps me inspired.

What is something people may not know about you?

One thing that people may not know about me is that I’m competitive. I compete against myself and other people, whether they know it or not sometimes. It can come down to my workout at the gym or something that I try to get done quickly. I really like exceeding expectations, so that’s something that I really try to focus my energy on.

Jennifer Bell is part of the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships.

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