Financial Aid Officer’s background helps her connect to prospective students
Grace Plascencia grew up in a family of 10 girls and 3 boys. A teacher helped her get her first job at age 13, making $2.00/hour in her high school’s office. Her meager salary went into the family pot and contributed to the many expenses of a large family.
“It was really tough; my parents didn’t earn very much money,” says Grace. “What I earned was just kind of spread around to get what we needed.”
Grace does not look at that time of hardship with any regret. “It instilled something important in us at an early age,” she says. “The value of hard work.” She also learned that she enjoyed working in business.
Grace now finds herself in a position to use her first-hand experience of childhood poverty to support and encourage the many would-be students and their families who come through her Financial Aid office at SJVC on the Temecula campus. Many parents do not speak English and they are concerned that their son or daughter may not be right for college, or that there will be unfair advantage taken.
“I’ve seen students when they first come in, very timid; and their parents not really sure about what to expect,” says Grace. “I have a conversation with them in their own language and tell them that SJVC isn’t like a college that will take any breathing body off the street,” she states, matter-of-factly.
Grace helps those interested in enrolling at SJVC with their application process. She explains financial aid, veterans’ benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits, tribal funding, scholarships, loans and other programs and areas of financial assistance, for which students might qualify and apply.
“It is a very rewarding process,” says Grace. “When I get done I tell them, ‘Just because we’re done with your financial process doesn’t mean I don’t expect you to come by every once in awhile.’”
“As our only Spanish-speaking staff member, Grace is called upon to support admissions often,” says Robyn Whiles, Campus Director. “She has a wonderful knack of connecting with Hispanic parents. She helps reduce their fears by giving them concise information and explanations in their native language.”
Grace feels the teamwork of her campus. “Everybody here has got the same focus, and everyone does their own part to make sure that things run the way they are supposed to run,” she says. “It’s very rewarding that I get to help them by working with those families that don’t speak English. To give them the confidence that this process does work, is very rewarding to me.”
Before coming to work at SJVC, Grace spent 20 years in the community college system’s Financial Aid department. She and her husband, Salvador, raised their four children, along with granddaughter, Evelyn, who came to live with them when she was two, before Grace finally retired in 2008.
“I stayed home for three years and helped our youngest son with his newborn; but when he was 2 years old I felt I needed to do more,” says Grace. “You can only do so much housework and travel.”
She decided to get back into the work force, but wanted to help people to get the education and future they deserved from a little different approach.
“The community college system is large volume and the task is so great that you don’t actually sit down with students unless there was a problem processing the application,” says Grace. “Here, I am working with the students from the get-go, and making sure I’m following through with what they expect from me 100%; that’s what I really enjoy.”
“My parents (Soledad and David) told us, ‘If you want something, work for it,’” says Grace. “If you don’t work for it, you’re not going to get anything.” She promotes this truth for herself and her students.
Grace gives her students what she knows anyone, especially those coming from poverty, deserves. “The background I had growing up, I can identify with them,” she says. “If I could touch just one student among all these families…that would be a huge success and that motivates me. It gives me a good feeling to think that I’m helping someone else to move towards their goal.”
Every once in awhile Grace gets to hear from someone she helped along the way. “Grads do come back, sometimes with their children,” she says. “I get to hold their babies, and they tell me how they’re doing. That is very gratifying.”