When times are tough, who do Durham College students turn to when it comes to money problems?
The answer is Chris Rocha, DC’s director of financial aid and student awards, whose office can be found in the Student Services Building. She has been involved with helping students in the financial aspect of schooling and helps make their dreams become reality.
Rocha was a student at DC from 1980 until 1982, where she took business and finance. She explains her journey started when she was a struggling student.
“I found myself living on my own, without a lot of resources so I reluctantly came into the office (to get financial aid),” says Rocha.
She immediately was able to get assistance with her tuition and found the whole experience very helpful. After graduating in 1982, she started working in the school’s accounting department. Following 10 years there, Rocha ended up in the financial aid office as an advisor.
“I really enjoyed the interactions with the students and wanted to get more of that, so I became a financial aid officer for a few years and then became director of the department (in 2003),” she says. Rocha actually served as director for both DC and Ontario Tech until 2010 at which time the schools split the role.
Rocha now meets with students everyday and helps them with their finances and future goals.
She explains financial aid offers plenty of resources and options for students to explore to meet their specific needs. For example, bursaries, student loan programs, on campus and summer employment opportunities and many scholarship programs are a few of the available options.
“The biggest thing is, you need to do research, come in and ask questions. There is a fear of taking out loans but it is kind of a reality in this day and age that there might be some loans attached with you going to school,” she says.
Rocha recognizes the initial fear students have about going to financial aid and talking about their finances and possibly other problems.
“Some people are managing money for the first time and most people don’t align money with their goals. Why would you spend your money on things that are taking away from your goals?”
Outside of school, Rocha has been involved with improving the OSAP (Ontario Students Assistance Program) since 1993. She has also had involvement with the Ontario Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (OASFAA).
“We lobby on behalf of the students, however, the government does make the final decisions,” she says.
Rocha also explains how a financial aid visit can lead students to different resources at DC.
Nathan Sturgeon, a first-year police foundations student at DC, says he had trouble with OSAP and turned to financial aid for assistance.
“I had difficulties getting my OSAP at the beginning of the year and I went over to financial aid,” he says. “They were able to quickly get my issue resolved.”
Rocha recognizes students may come to financial aid for different reasons, but she encourages more of them to come and explore what is available because the school has funding to offer. Even if it’s just a question, she encourages visitors.
“She’s always trying to find a solution for students, you can’t do it 100 per cent of the time, but 99 per cent of the time she finds some way to help those students,” says Durham College president Don Lovisa.
The two have been colleagues for many years and are now friends, he says.
Lovisa recognizes the quality of Rocha’s work.
“I’m really proud of the people that work here,” says Lovisa.