‘What we are doing has lasting effects. I know because I’ve experienced it.’
May 9, 2022
Wolverine Alumnus Steven Foster joins UM-Dearborn’s campus as the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships director. With nearly 20 years of experience, Foster stepped into his new role on May 2.
Steven Foster. Graphic by Violet Dashi
Steven Foster is a proud Michigan Wolverine graduate. He recognizes the role that campus’ financial aid advocates had in his educational journey and career success.
“I’m in awe of where I am today based on my foundational experiences — learning about how financial aid could help me reach my goals was one of those,” he said. “I had the grades — I was in the Top 10 in my high school — but not the access. Not everyone is in a situation where their parents can write a check. U-M knows that and has strong advocates in their financial aid office.”
Now Foster is leading UM-Dearborn’s Office of Financial Aid. The financial aid director began in his new role on May 2.
With 17 years in the financial aid field, Foster has worked for higher education institutions including UM-Ann Arbor, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University and Kettering University. At Kettering, his last employer, he directed their financial aid office. He has an undergraduate degree from UM-Ann Arbor, and a graduate degree from Wayne State University.
At his Detroit high school, Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School, Foster focused on business. In undergrad, it was English and writing. As a graduate student, he studied education. Foster said all of these seemingly unrelated pieces have worked well together in helping him connect underrepresented students to resources.
“It’s important to remember that financial aid is a foreign language if you aren’t familiar with it. It can feel like a labyrinth to navigate as a new student. I remember feeling that and I remember the people who helped me get everything in order,” he said. “The advocates are the ones who go beyond the checklist. They make sure you understand the difference between a loan and a grant in a way that relates to you and the impact those things will have on your life. They let you know about the scholarships you are eligible for and check in to see if you’ve applied. Those are the advocates. Those are the people who are passionate about their work to make a difference in someone's life.”
As someone who relied on financial aid assistance as a young Wolverine, Foster also remembers the type of guidance he needed. He said holistic advising in the financial aid field goes beyond getting a question answered — it’s anticipating needs and next steps.
“Students will ask when their refund is coming. But, as people who have been through it, we need to help them think more holistically. Sure, when the refund is coming is important. It’s also important to think beyond the right now,” he said. “Let them know when the refund is coming, but also remind them that the money needs to be managed to last five months. Have students think about what it needs to cover to reach their educational goals. Some students may be doing that already, but others may still be learning how to budget and plan.”
He said the financial aid field can be stressful when trying to connect people with the opportunities they need while also balancing institutional budgets. But seeing the students he’s worked with walk across the commencement stage keeps him motivated and inspired. Foster said his family, in particular nine-year-old son Steven, also helps him keep focused on what is important.
“We are the stewards to help students and their families achieve an education so they can change their lives from now and into the future for the next generation,” he said.
When it comes to remembering the people who made it happen professionally for him, he said it goes back to his Wolverine roots.
In addition to financial aid mentors, Foster recalls the energy that Tyrone Winfrey Sr., then a UM-Ann Arbor admissions director, brought into his high school classroom. He said the outreach and access from U-M staff changed his life. And, in return, Foster is focused on doing what he can to create educational bridges.
“Coming to UM-Dearborn is like coming home. I’m Go Blue through and through and the mission of our campus is true to my core,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with the entire campus community on access, affordability, and student success initiatives. Because our students’ success is our success, it's a shared responsibility.”