Karensa DiFonzo ’07 is approaching her 15th anniversary of her time here at Wellesley. Right after graduating, DiFonzo started working at Student Financial Services (SFS), and she has continued to help students with issues ranging from affording college to finding work-study jobs on campus since then.
DiFonzo was born in Chattanooga, TN and graduated from Wellesley with a double major in political science and women’s and gender studies. While at Wellesley, she was a work-study student who struggled both with paying for college and also with finding a job after graduation. The month she began looking for a job, a space opened up at Wellesley’s SFS. So, ten days after graduation, she began her job at financial services and has been there ever since. In July of 2017, she became the director of SFS and her schedule is always packed.
“You should see my calendar. It’s meetings after meetings after meetings. Lots of meetings,” said DiFonzo.
As the director, DiFonzo manages her staff and sets priorities for SFS. Additionally, if President Johnson or the Wellesley College Board of Trustees have any finance-related questions, it is her responsibility to answer them. She also writes reports and surveys for the U.S. Department of Education and does her best to support the staff in guiding students who may need help.
Some days, DiFonzo will have back-to-back meetings, and other days, she will have one meeting in the morning and the rest of the day to deal with problems that have arisen around the office.
“There is no ‘typical’ day at work,” she explained.
Fully staffed, SFS has 12 employees, including DiFonzo, working to help students with anything finance-related.
“[SFS] is in charge of Workday, financial aid, student billing, parking tickets, lockouts, one cards, departmental transactions, summer financial aid, travel programs, wintersession, summer trips, student employment paperwork, on campus jobs, educational financing and study abroad finances,” said DiFonzo.
SFS’ responsibilities change depending on the time of the year. Currently, the office is busy helping prospective students and families for fall 2018 and preparing for summer session. In mid-February, DiFonzo supported the staff in organizing the financial aid for prospective students, as the deadline for applications was on Feb. 15. Including prospective and current students, the office has over 5,000 applications to review before the 2018 academic year begins in the fall.
“Financial aid at Wellesley follows a very defined formula,” said DiFonzo.
SFS collects demographic information such as, number of children, cost of living and income in order to calculate the total net worth of each student. They also take into account special circumstances, including the retirement of a parent or guardian, medical bills or the need of care for elderly grandparents.
“Unlike large universities or state schools, which give merit scholarships, Wellesley looks at the details that allow us to see every family closely and see any circumstances that may inhibit payment,” said DiFonzo.
Wellesley is also a 100 percent need-blind school, which means that the college does not take into account a prospective student’s financial situation when making a decision on admission. SFS collects the information because it is committed to helping students who may be in need. Sometimes there’s a gap between demonstrated need and what a family thinks that they need, and SFS might not be able to accomodate for that gap. However, the office works hard to find the best fit for each family.
SFS answers questions during their open counsel hours every day of the week, as well as during their evening drop-in hours, and provides students with tips on creating the College Scholarship Services (CSS) profiles that are provided by CollegeBoard.
“Financial aid is complicated and scary. But my staff can’t help you if you don’t tell us. We need to know from you what you need help with,” said DiFonzo.
DiFonzo advises that returning students drop by SFS with any questions they have about any of their financial aid applications to successfully complete them. For her, there is no such thing as a silly question. Having the same questions asked multiple times helps the office to address those issues better and spread the word more.
“A reward of working at Wellesley is knowing that the work I do makes Wellesley possible. A challenge would be when there’s nothing more we can do for the students,” DiFonzo explained.
DiFonzo still has her hoop, her Wellesley diploma, a stained glass ornament of Wellesley and other Wellesley-related items all around her office. She said she is lucky enough to have been at Wellesley for almost 15 years.