Lake Erie College has a long-standing commitment to providing our students with the resources and financial aid information they need in order to attend, and nobody is more instrumental in this process than the staff at the LEC financial aid office, led by Tricia Pangonis. As the director of financial aid at Lake Erie, Tricia meets with hundreds of LEC prospective and current students and families every year, and helps them through the process of applying for and receiving federal, state and institutional financial aid.
Her current career, however, was something that she stumbled upon, in a way. "I don’t think anyone plans to become a financial aid administrator,” she said. "It just happens. At least that is the consensus among my friends and colleagues in the business.” It was not until after she graduated from Lake Erie College as a non-traditional student that she turned her attention to higher education.
The Painesville native grew up around the College and the College’s community. "My grandparents lived on W. Jackson Street and rented a bedroom to a Lake Erie College student,” Tricia said. "She was from Japan, and I adored her as she spoke to me but I did not understand a word she was saying.” A few decades later she was herself a student at Lake Erie and graduated with a major in psychology. She then continued on to get a master’s degree in social administration from Case Western Reserve University, hoping to ultimately work in a school setting. Immediately afterwards she began working at three different jobs—one in healthcare, one in social services and the third one in college access as a program director for the Lake/Geauga Educational Assistance Foundation (LEAF). LEAF is a non-profit organization that assists local students in finding the resources that will allow them to pursue their higher education degrees, and this was the job that Tricia found most rewarding.
It was also her job with LEAF that ultimately led her back to Lake Erie College. "It was a difficult decision to take the job of director of financial aid at Lake Erie College in 2003 because I loved my job in college access,” she said. "I waited many weeks before applying for the position, but knew that this job would provide a challenge, professional growth, and still meet my desire to help students make and meet their educational goals.” Once she applied, Tricia got the job and began at Lake Erie College on the first day of classes that fall semester. "Needless to say, I began running full speed and haven’t stopped since.”
Working in financial aid, Tricia meets students and parents from all walks of life, and she often learns their stories. She also has to stay on top of the numerous federal and state processes, forms, deadlines and regulations, and advise each individual student on the best possible route to take for his or her future. "Working in financial aid uses the perfect mix of right brain/left brain knowledge,” she says. "Sometimes I enjoy the tedious task or processing and reconciling the federal loan funds, but I mostly enjoy speaking with the students and their families about their goals and how I can help them negotiate the somewhat involved financial aid process [so that they can] reach their educational goal.”
Among all the students she has met in her work, many stand out. One of Tricia’s favorite student memories, however, does not pertain to financial aid at all. It involves an international student from Zimbabwe who was a student-worker in the financial aid office. "Our conversation [one] day was focused on how I hate to cook,” she said. "[The student] was longing to cook and was feeling a bit homesick, so I invited her and her friend [who was from France] over to my house that weekend. I showed them the kitchen, and they cooked up a delightful dinner as I sat back and enjoyed their company!”After working in the area of higher education and financial aid for so many years, Tricia always has good advice for prospective students. "A message I continually impart to prospective students at an open house all the way through to our graduating students [during] exit counseling, is to contact me in financial aid office if [they] have a question or concern. My advice to any prospective student is to do the same.” A student does not have to know the exact question or understand the financial aid process perfectly, she explained, just that they need to ask for help and where to go to get it. "Knowledge about your financial aid not only helps to meet educational goals but keeps you on track for creating a positive personal financial [future].”