By Peggy Spear
Contributing Writer

Some people would say Financial Aid is not sexy. In fact, most Adams State students might find it downright terrifying. That’s until they see the friendly face of Jeff Gallegos, a department of financial aid administrative assistant who has the uncanny ability and smarts to help students wrap their heads around a sometimes-daunting process and make it doable.

Gallegos’ passion for helping students was one of the reasons he was chosen to attend this year’s Rocky Mountain Association of Financial Aid Administrators (RMASFAA) Summer Institute, a nationally recognized week of training for financial aid administrators.

“The regional organization keeps us up-to-date on the latest federal financial aid policies,” Gallegos said. His daily duties include assisting Adams State students and ensuring they receive the best financial awards possible.

On this particular day, Gallegos can take a breather. It’s the first day of the summer session, and things are relatively quiet. But that will change as the week goes on, and more students with creases in their brows and worried looks in their eyes line up to speak with Gallegos about how to resolve funding issues and get enough financial support to stay in school. Luckily, he can help most of them.

Still, there is a lot Gallegos says he wants to learn about “the system.” “I think most students and others who work at Adams State would be shocked by how much work goes on in the back-end,” he says. “The income verification, loan processes, NCAA regulations, information on Pell Grants – we need to know that to be able to help students.”

It’s those areas that this six-year Adams State employee wants to bone up on during the summer institute, and he should have that chance. Registrants are divided into classes and each class is led by two instructors. The curriculum follows the NASFAA U modules for the various Title IV aid topics; however, other non-Title IV topics are also covered.

Unfortunately, because of COVID-related travel restrictions at the time he was awarded the scholarship, Gallegos will have to attend the four-day conference virtually, but that doesn’t bother him.

“I look forward to the learning environment for processing federal aid,” Gallegos says. “As an adviser, I have working knowledge but I am not very familiar with the back-end processing and I look forward to seeing the wheels in motion,” he says.

Gallegos’ original life path did not include a future working for a university’s financial aid office. In fact, at one time, after he made a “bad decision,” his future looked like prison.

“The judge looked down at me and said, ‘Son, you can go to prison or join the military. Your choice,’” Gallegos says.

He made the right decision and spent 20 years in the Army, after which he started a career in community healthcare. Gallegos worked for Valley Wide Health Organizations before accepting his first position at Adams State as the switchboard operator. Always willing to take on additional responsibilities, he was soon promoted within the Office of Financial Aid.

Financial Aid Director Heidi Markey admires Gallegos’ commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts and their positive impact on the student experience. “He is an incredible student advocate, and he is always willing to help our students navigate their way through the Adams State experience.”

Jeff Gallegos
Jeff Gallegos

Gallegos, a San Luis Valley native, is no stranger to the hardships many students face when it comes to racism and exclusion. “Of my ambitions, the pursuit of equity and justice for the less fortunate and underserved has always been a priority,” he wrote in his application to the institute. “As a dirt poor, brown kid from a broken home, having to overcome a massive amount of adversity, racism and injustice through my own life, I aspire to be an inspiration and mentor to those in similar life circumstances.”

He has worked hard to acquire the knowledge and disseminate it to the University and community at large. “As an active member and leader of our campus community, I take every opportunity to participate with my peers and present to staff various programs that increase awareness and promote diversity, equity, and justice. Not only am I a trained representative of Safe-Zone, but my workspace is also a certified Safe-Zone for our LGBTQIA+ community.”

In addition, Gallegos is an influential member of Adams’ Hispanic-Serving Institution Advisory Committee, where he impacts decisions and awareness of the University’s proud LatinX community. Through other endeavors, he is an Advocate for Language Justice through the Community Language Cooperative in Denver. Additionally, he participated in a training series titled “Diversity University” led by Judge Regina Walter (Ret.) and Dr. Regina Lewis, where they explored and explained in depth issues like implicit bias, racism and poverty, along with best practices to address or resolve such situations. With his training and experience, Gallegos has also been selected and trained as a campus Diversity Officer.

One of the things Gallegos likes to see most is kids who come to him on academic probation, scared they’ll lose their scholarship. Gallegos says he helps them find resources for academic help, especially for athletes who have to split their time between their training and their academics. “When they come back to me with a big smile on their face, I know I’ve done something good.”

Helping others is what keeps this unique man going every day, and this summer’s institute will only be a shot in the arm.

“It’s vital that I’ll be representing Adams State, probably the premier Hispanic-Serving Institute in the country,” he says. “We will have a voice.”