Q&A with Wendy Holmes, award-winning financial aid specialist who ‘always greets everyone with a smile and a heart to serve’

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Wendy Holmes

In May, Virginia Western announced its 2021 special awards for faculty and staff. Perhaps you noticed Wendy Holmes, a Financial Aid and Records Specialist, won two awards: (1) Classified Outstanding Achievement Award and (2) the STAR Award (Service, Teamwork, Achievement, and Results).

This seemed like a huge accomplishment — and I was struck by the comments that accompanied her awards in the weekly Bulletin:

“Wendy’s performance at Western has always been record-breaking in terms of the volume of positive interactions she has had with current and prospective students, parents, faculty, staff, and the general public.She goes beyond the call of duty in ensuring that whether it is an individual’s first or last encounter with Virginia Western, when they come to Chapman Hall or utilize the 24/7 Student Support Center, that the support services provided will be of the highest quality. Their response will be accurate, equitably, timely and conveyed in a way that is easily understood.”

I didn’t know Wendy, who has worked at Virginia Western for almost nine years. But I could tell from these comments that she is cultivating a culture of care through all of her positive interactions. I wanted to know more about her backstory and what she finds meaningful about her work. I also wanted to know what questions she gets asked the most, so we could all be ready with answers for students or prospective students.

So I reached out to Wendy with a long list of questions, which she kindly answered below. She also shared the full text of her award nominations, which I have included at the bottom of this post. I learned she has worked in Chapman Hall five days per week since last summer, supporting continuity of services between the Enrollment Center, the Records office, and Financial Aid. And this sentence jumped off the page, as I’ve written before about the power of of warm, enthusiastic welcomes: Wendy always greets everyone with a smile and a heart to serve.

First, you should know Wendy is a Star City native. She attended Roanoke City Schools and was an honors graduate of Patrick Henry High School (class of 1986). In 1990, as a first-generation college student, she graduated cum laude from Hampton University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management.

Wendy said her proudest career accomplishment was working 21 years at Carilion Health Systems. She enjoyed working with financial aid at Jefferson College of Health Sciences and wanted a career change from healthcare, so she joined Virginia Western’s financial aid office on Sept. 25, 2012.

What does she find most meaningful about her current role?

“Helping students and making a difference in their life,” she said. “Always trying to provide exceptional, quality service for a student’s desire to pursue a higher level of postsecondary education.”

As the Aspen Institute noted recently, “A culture of caring has become a hallmark of excellent community colleges.” Do you have any advice about cultivating a culture of care?

A culture of care is comprised of individuals from all backgrounds and ethnicities. We as individuals should follow the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” A friendly smile or a kind gesture will resonate in a memorable experience, and the wonderful service provided will be remembered. This type of caring would recommend others to come back again and again.

First job: Summer youth employment program at age 14 doing various office jobs as helper/assistant.

Favorite music: R&B, Gospel

Favorite TV: Lifetime and Hallmark

If you had to pick one favorite movie: “Roots”

Favorite Roanoke-area restaurant(s): Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders, and Mission Barbecue

Favorite candy: M&M’s

I could talk for hours about … Different styles of hairdos, shopping, traveling

Any book recommendations? “The Purpose Driven Life”

Fun facts about Wendy:

  • Married to the love of my life for 15 years, Tilton, with beautiful daughter, Brittanie.
  • Favorite vacation: Hawaii
  • Won first place in elementary school handwriting contest for two consecutive years.
  • Won first place in hair braiding contest for two consecutive years (featured on television).
  • Played basketball in junior high school for three years and was nicknamed “Two Tall Jones” for being one of the tallest players on the team.

What are the most common questions you get asked?

 How do I become a student at the college?

  1. Complete online admission application at www.virginiawestern.edu & select Apply to VWCC (located on right side of homepage)
  2. Select Apply Now, continue application
  3. Sign in or create an account
  4. Follow the next prompts to complete the admission application (will take about 20 to 30 minutes to complete)

How do I complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application?

  1. Complete online at https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa then select Start Here (New to the FAFSA process)
  2. Login to the FAFSA (either as the student or parent)
  3. Create FSA ID account
  4. Follow the next prompts to complete the FAFSA application (will take about 45 to 60 minutes to complete)

I can’t login.  How can I get a password reset?

Contact the 24/7 student support center at 1-855-874-6690, or via live chat, or via create a case

I need to speak with an advisor.  How is this done?

  1. Login to your MyVWCC & select the Navigate tile (for student)
  2. Select schedule an appointment (located on left side of menu)
  3. Click on type of appointment (New Student Advising, then Academic Planning for first semester)
  4. Select appointment method (via Zoom, phone, or in person) & follow the next prompts to complete & confirm appointment

The full text of Wendy’s nomination, submitted for both the STAR Award and Classified Staff Outstanding Achievement Award:

It is my delight and privilege to nominate Wendy Holmes for the Star Award at Virginia Western Community College. Wendy’s performance at Western has always been record breaking in terms of the volume of positive interactions she has had with current and prospective students, parents, faculty, staff, and the general public.

I believe it was the sheer volume of students she served when initially working in the Financial Aid Office that provided traction for the need for the reorganization of the Financial Aid and Admissions offices that yielded the formation of the Enrollment Center.

As a frontline worker with a passion for people from all walks of life, Wendy has always been willing to serve individuals with as strong sense of care and compassion. This has been even more critical as the College has navigated the COVID pandemic.

Wendy has been the only person working five days a week in Chapman Hall since June 29 of last year supporting the continuity of services for the Enrollment Center, Records Office and of course, the Financial Aid office. Her extensive knowledge of federal policies and procedures regulating financial aid, experience in the onboarding process for new students, and overall knowledge of the vast scope of program offerings at Western alone may not be the reason for this.

I believe she alone was chosen to work on campus daily because of her strong work ethic (arriving early and staying after hours as long as students need her services), exceptional customer service (fondly being called Mrs. Wendy by the many of our most “needy” and underserved students who steadfastly rely on her for assistance), relations with fellow employees (being the “go to” person for assistance in scheduling Navigate appointments for faculty and staff and so much more), dependability, and overall positive attitude. I also believe Wendy was chosen because she is an exceptional human being.

Wendy always greets everyone with a smile and a heart to serve. She goes beyond the call of duty in ensuring that whether it is an individual’s first or last encounter with Virginia Western when they come to Chapman Hall or utilize the 24/7 Student Support Center that the support services provided will be of the highest quality. Their response will be accurate, equitably, timely and conveyed in a way that is easily understood.

In conclusion, it is without reservation that I nominate Wendy Holmes for this award in acknowledgement of the service that she provides to Virginia Western Community College. Everyone who works with her remark on her attributes of being a great team player, one who holds the highest work ethic, and is a credit to the College.


Free professional learning opportunities

The Future Trends Forum: Discussions about the future of education and technology with writer/futurist Bryan Alexander. Thursday, July 1, 2 p.m.: How will colleges and universities decide to offer, or not offer, remote work options for faculty and staff? With Karen L. Pedersen, the dean of Kansas State University’s Global Campus, and Kim Siegenthaler, Associate Provost for Online Strategies at Georgia State University. More upcoming programs. Video recordings available on YouTube.

Go2Knowledge: All VCCS faculty and staff have free, unlimited access to live webinars and on-demand training provided by Go2Knowledge. The live webinars are highlighted at the top of the Go2Knowledge dashboard, but you can search through an entire library of recorded, on-demand sessions on topics including teaching and learning, campus safety, institutional effectiveness, and student success.

Some upcoming live webinars:

  • July 6: Returning to Campus: Redefining the Student Services Experience, 1 to 2 p.m.
  • July 13: Examining Asynchronous & Synchronous Strategies for Active and Engaged Learning (back by popular demand), 1 to 2 p.m.
  • July 15: Planning for a Safe Return to Campus: HR, Public Safety, Training and Communication, 3 to 4 p.m.

You can access Go2Knowledge on your MyVWCC dashboard or here: Go2Knowledge.org/vccs

The #RealCollege Virtual Journey, sponsored by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. A series of online workshops and engaging activities led by experts and delivered free of charge. July webinars focus on racial justice. Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in the Basic Needs Movement (July 14) and Work Requirements, Deservingness, and the Social Safety Net (July 14). Both at 3 p.m. Register here. Recordings of previous events are available by scrolling down this page.

Bookmark the VCCS professional development website

Thank you for reading. Why does Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle feature free learning opportunities on the Green House Grants Blog? Because we transform ourselves by learning like our students. All of us are teachers and learners, no matter our titles.

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About Stephanie

Stephanie SeagleStephanie Ogilvie Seagle has served as Grant Specialist at Virginia Western since 2016, but she prefers her honorary title: “Chief Joy Officer.” Stephanie spent most of her career at The Roanoke Times, a daily newspaper, where she served in various news and features roles including “Shoptimist” shopping columnist. She earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies at George Mason University and a master’s of arts in liberal studies at Hollins University. Stephanie is a mom to one human daughter and multiple chihuahuas … and is obsessed with reading nonfiction, Halloween, and crafting glow necklaces inspired by the Mill Mountain Star. Glow Roanoke!

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