A conversation with Kathy Bialk, new UK director of student financial aid and scholarships

The University of Kentucky is proud to add a new member to its team – a leader who will help us continue to advance our Wildcat student financial aid experience.

Kathy Bialk comes to the UK with a wealth of expertise derived from her vast experience in financial aid. I am happy to present it to the campus community through the following questions and answers.

Tell us about your career in financial aid.

I have over 30 years of experience managing financial aid and enrollment at increasing levels of responsibility at several public and private colleges and universities. Prior to joining the University of Kentucky, I was vice-president and director of student financial aid at the University of Iowa for two years. Prior to that, I was Director of Student Financial Aid at Marshall University in West Virginia for almost a decade, where I obtained my PhD in Leadership in Higher Education.

What attracted you to this job?

I fell in love with learning about the University of Kentucky’s strategic plan and its strategic initiatives involving student success, outreach and community engagement, and diversity and inclusiveness.

I was even more excited when I heard about the UK LEADS initiative, which demonstrates that reducing unmet student needs improves student achievement. Given the institution’s emphasis on UK LEADS, I considered this opportunity to be very much in line with my professional beliefs.

In addition to these reasons, my daughter and her husband – located in Ohio – had their first child, so working for the UK would bring me closer to my family. Having lived in the Huntington, West Virginia area for almost a decade, I had established some roots. Living near my grandson helped me in my decision to consider this position.

As for my career in financial aid, I consider it the vocation of my life. As a seasoned financial aid professional and a first-generation high school and college graduate, I understand firsthand the positive impact of higher education on individuals, families and society. Therefore, working in this profession, I lead each day with my heart.

I enjoy financial aid work not only because of its impact, but also because it calls for versatile professional skills that allow me to adapt, change and grow. Financial aid work intersects and overlaps many other administrative and academic units, as well as connects to a variety of external constituents, providing many opportunities for collaboration between individuals, teams and organizations who all have the same goals in head.

What do you think is the biggest challenge today for our students when it comes to financial aid?

I believe the biggest challenge is affordability. Beyond that, students are challenged to navigate a complex and intimidating financial aid system and understand financial aid eligibility. In addition, many students and families are not financially prepared to pay for their college education.

What is your vision for financial aid in the UK?

First and foremost, my plan is to support the Office of Financial Aid and Awards in the collective and collaborative creation of its own vision and mission through a strategic planning process. On a personal level, my hope is to serve as an example of customer service, leadership and innovation, as well as effectively balancing a student-centered culture with responsible management of financial aid.

Additionally, in my role, I hope to successfully leverage limited financial aid and scholarship funds while educating and advising campus leaders and federal and state policy makers on the importance of financial assistance to promote college affordability, academic excellence and student success. My job is to advocate for increased financial aid funding to help students with unmet financial need.

Is there anything else you would like the UK community to know about you and UK student financial aid?

I sincerely commit to the success of our students by ensuring that they receive the maximum and most beneficial financial assistance possible and that their experience of navigating the complex financial assistance process is positive and effective.

I look forward to having a positive and productive working relationship with my staff and campus partners. I am very happy to be here.