Tina Falkner, Director of the Office for Student Finance at The University of Minnesota, was elected to serve as President-Elect in November 2016. We sat down with Tina to figure out how she got to this point in her career, and we are excited to share her story with you.
How did you get your start in higher education?
Unlike a good many of my colleagues, I did not start as a student worker in the industry. I got my undergraduate degree at Northwestern (Go ‘Cats!) and had no idea what a registrar was or even that the job even existed. If I had to use one word to describe how I got my start in our field it would be serendipity. I started out as a special events coordinator in the student activities office at the University of Minnesota. I was in charge of a series of events at the beginning of fall quarter (yes, we were still on quarters then) to help build a sense of community on campus. One of the events in this series was a hot-dog, chips and soda lunch served to students by University leadership. The Twin Cities campus has locations in both Minneapolis and St. Paul – about 5 miles apart - and lunch was served at both. Since I couldn’t be in both locations at the same time I needed a coordinator at the St. Paul location. That’s where I met my current boss, Sue Van Voorhis. She helped me coordinate this activity for three years, before she moved on to be the University Registrar. Shortly after she took over this position one of her staff retired and I was encouraged to apply for the position. That’s how I came to find myself in the registrar world doing work more closely aligned with academic policy rather than student affairs.
While the jump isn’t unheard of, how did you go from being a registrar to being in financial aid?
When the University of Minnesota’s financial aid director announced her retirement, I was selected to serve as the interim director because of my compliance background. The plan was that I would serve in this capacity for between 3-6 months. Quickly after I started I began to see all the interconnections between financial aid and records. I believe my background has helped my staff in financial aid think more broadly about the intersection of financial aid and records and my connections to the records staff has made them more comfortable asking financial aid questions.
Did you start your involvement with AACRAO when you moved into the registrar’s office from student affairs?
Yes I did. I was active in both NASPA and ACPA while I was in student affairs so I knew the value (and networking opportunities) that a national association can offer. Shortly after I started, my boss asked me to fill in for some hospitality/marketing duties for the 2002 AACRAO meeting in Minneapolis. I said yes. Kind of funny how it’s come full circle with me becoming the President-Elect for this upcoming meeting in Minneapolis.
After that, I applied to be on a committee and didn’t hear back for nearly a year. When I arrived at the Professional Activities Committee (PAC) meeting to get started on planning for the next annual meeting, the committee chair pulled me aside, informed me that he could no longer serve as the chair since he was leaving his institution, and asked if I would fill in for him. I said yes, despite never having really served on a committee.
A few years later, the Group 3 coordinator on the Program Committee had to step down because of an ERP implementation on her campus and I was asked to complete her three-year term. I figured even though I didn’t know what I was doing, it wasn’t brain surgery and no one would die if I did a bad job, so I said yes.
As you can see, the moral of my story is ‘say yes.’
What made you decide to run for reelection after the 2015 results?
Well obviously I was disappointed that I didn’t win the election in 2015 because AACRAO is something I care about, and it’s such a great network. But I had a new role to fill and that was taking up plenty of time. When the nominations period opened last year I got the notifications that I had been nominated but I sat on them and didn’t take action for months. I honestly didn’t want to go up just to lose again. I am a shy, introverted person and putting myself out there does not come naturally. A friend of mine reached out to me a few days in advance of the nomination period closing knowing I had been nominated and asked me to reconsider. And then I talked to my husband, and he told me if the only reason I wasn’t going to accept the nomination and submit my materials was because I was afraid of losing again, then that wasn’t a good enough reason. And that was what did it.
What do you hope to work on in your new role on the Board?
I hope to further AACRAO’s involvement with other national organizations to put forth a unified voice about the value of higher education, the criticality of student access and equity, the importance of less federal involvement in accountability measures, and about the continued erosion of funding for higher education.
Additionally, I look to diversify and expand our services and programs to meet member needs. This means we must examine how we provide professional development and education, and re-envision service delivery. It is important that AACRAO find new and improved ways to offer our members professional development that is cost effective and doesn't require travel. I think to fully engage our membership, AACRAO must find ways to keep its content and offerings germane as the professions continue to grow and evolve.
I’m excited about the new role and the challenges that will come with it.