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Financial aid expert enriches her life with service to students and community

L.A. Cicero Mary Morrison

Colleagues cited Mary Morrison's extensive service to Stanford, as well as her many contributions off campus, in nominating her for this year's Amy Blue Award. She shares the honor with Mary Nolan, grounds supervisor in Grounds Services, and Deana Fabbro-Johnston, associate director of the Earth Systems Program. The award comes with a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking sticker for the next year.

BY MICHAEL PENA

As the Financial Aid Office's director of funds management, Mary Morrison matches students with scholarship money kept in more than 1,100 accounts of various amounts, each with its own set of requirements for who is eligible: only students from the inner city, only those of a specific major or only someone from the hometown of the person who made the initial donation that seeded the scholarship.

Because the donors are private citizens, they can request whatever restrictions they want, requiring Morrison to review most students' situations individually to determine their eligibility and need. In total, Morrison is responsible for overseeing and distributing more than $100 million in institutional, federal and state financial aid funds.

Bottom line: Morrison has a critical and complex job. But that's not what she did when she first came to Stanford in 1987. As she described it recently, Morrison said she started in the Controller's Office, "mostly to read the wills of people who died and left their money to Stanford, and to track to see that Stanford got their bequests in the right amount."

That job was part time, allowing Morrison to earn a business degree through evening courses at Santa Clara University. After obtaining her MBA, Morrison began applying for other jobs on campus. The director of funds management in the Financial Aid Office was retiring, so Morrison applied for the position and got it. That was about 15 years ago.

Morrison also oversees the federal work-study program for low-income students, wherein the government pays part of their salary if they are hired by a department on campus. The program aims to ensure that students who need the money are attractive hires and get work.

For some students, however, wage earning was a whole new world. They started coming in with basic questions about their paychecks, about taxes and other matters. "Their questions were astoundingly fundamental, like the one girl who brought me her W-2 form and asked me where she could cash it," Morrison said. "Or they'd say things like, 'I'm a student. So I never have to pay taxes until I graduate, right?'"

That's when Morrison decided to teach a class on rudimentary personal finances. In order to offer a class for credit, she first had to obtain approval within her department, and then secure sponsorship from someone on the faculty. Ross Shachter, associate professor of management science and engineering, agreed to sponsor the 1-unit course. Since then, Morrison has taught the class twice a year for the past nine years.

"She does a fabulous job with those students. She spends time with them individually," said Karen Cooper, Stanford's director of financial aid. "The thought and care she exhibits is a pleasure to watch."

Morrison also spent about 10 years as a staff adviser to students, initially those in Serra dorm of Stern Hall. Eventually, she became the dedicated adviser and liaison for Native American students. During those years, she became familiar with their unique financial-aid issues and helped bridge cultural and communication gaps between the students and the institution.

In honor of those efforts, the Native American Cultural Center gave Morrison its Anne Medicine faculty-staff award in 1996. Not of Native descent herself, Morrison said her "really rural" upbringing outside Chicago probably made her a good candidate for the job.

Morrison also volunteers prodigiously off campus. She belongs to an organization made up of financial aid professionals throughout the state and volunteers to train high school counselors about the ins and outs of financial aid. And for the past 10 years, she has gone out to Bay Area high schools and held evening workshops for juniors and seniors and their parents.

Morrison's community service precedes Stanford as well. For 14 years, she headed a nonprofit agency that sought to rehabilitate those who were born blind or were losing their sight.

Colleagues cited Morrison's extensive service to Stanford, as well as her many contributions off campus, in nominating her for this year's Amy Blue Award. She shares the honor with Mary Nolan, grounds supervisor in Grounds Services, and Deana Fabbro-Johnston, associate director of the Earth Systems Program. The award comes with a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking sticker for the next year.

"Between her daily work in the Financial Aid Office, her concerns about the students in her class that she teaches winter and spring quarters, and the outreach she does to high school counselors, students and parents, I can't think of anyone more deserving for the Amy Blue Award," Cooper said.