CARING FOR THE CAMPUS
“I sat in a classroom just like OUR students.”
“I am responsible for an office of 19 people who help students secure financial aid in order to attend Bronx Community College,” says BCC’s Director of Financial Aid Margaret Nelson. “Federal aid, state aid, local aid — any aid that a student could potentially receive to help defray the cost of attendance.”
And with some 90% of BCC students receiving some type of financial aid, Nelson’s work touches the lives of almost all the students on campus and through them the lives of their families.
“My office works closely with students, from completing their FAFSA application and applying for federal loans to advocating on their behalf with internal and external stakeholders. In addition, the Financial Aid Office plays a vital role in student retention, processing their financial aid expeditiously, as well as counselling them on financial literacy and how to maintain satisfactory academic progress. Our goal is to help students accomplish what they set out to achieve and that is a quality, low cost educational degree. The Office serves some 8,000 students, who visit us some 30,000 times in an academic year.”
Some students will find themselves talking to Margaret Nelson herself. “That’s part of my passion for the job. Quality service is very important to me. I believe in treating people the way I want to be treated. Students need to feel and believe that they matter.
“I always tell people I sat in a classroom just like these students. If I fail to remember what my obstacles were, then I am not being true to myself and I’m not being true to my job. So it’s a moral obligation and an honor to guide and mentor as many students as I can.”
She’s been at BCC since May of 2018. Before that, she worked at Long island University for over 22 years. That’s also where Nelson earned her B.A. and M.A. in accounting and a second master’s in business administration. She also has an Ed.D. from Walden University.
Due to COVID-19, the Office has moved online, but Nelson and her staff visit the campus as needed to go through the mail and process any other tasks that require a physical presence.
There has been a human cost. “Two of my vital staff members have passed away during the coronavirus pandemic. One was the assistant director, the other was a college assistant who had been with the Office for more than 30 years. I had grown to love them and their work ethic — they were very patient and caring with the students and devoted to BCC.”
Nelson herself was seriously ill for a while with COVID-19. “It made me more cautious and more aware of how to live my life one day at a time and speak about it with others. Until you or a loved one has gone through the experience, you don’t really appreciate the importance of social distancing and wearing your mask. If you’re not concerned about yourself, do it to protect the people around you.”
Back at work, she appreciates anew the importance of what she does.
“This is a good field. It can help people excel in life. And it helps me to grow as an individual. I’m grateful to work at the College with all the wonderful people who have the same mindset and goal: to help this population of students who may not otherwise have had this opportunity. To help them you have to have that empathy and compassion to want to go beyond just their basic needs.”