During convocation at Central State University (CSU), you’ll find Sonia Slomba’s smiling face in the crowd. “My favorite day of the year is graduation day. I don’t work the event, but I always attend. I sit, I cry, I laugh, I smile…It’s such a hard feeling to explain,” says Slomba, the school’s Director of Financial Aid. “It’s a very rewarding day.”
Slomba has spent her career in Financial Aid. “No one grows up dreaming they’ll be a Financial Aid Officer,” she says with a laugh. “But it is such a gratifying career where I feel like I’m really making a difference and helping people.”
Central State University History
Founded in 1887 and located in Wilberforce, Ohio, CSU is a public institution with about 1,700 students. The CampusLogic customer is the northernmost of the more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the U.S. “There was a time in this country when African American people couldn’t go to college,” Slomba explains. “An entire population couldn’t go to school, simply based on color. HBCUs were established to serve this population.”
CSU was originally part of Wilberforce University, named in honor of the great abolitionist William Wilberforce. Wilberforce University was integral in opening up educational opportunities to black Americans.
“Wilberforce, back in the day, focused on agriculture and teaching,” says Slomba. “Teaching remains a strong emphasis at CSU, and our goal is to prepare students for leadership and service.” Open to all, the CSU student body is primarily African American. “That demographic provides students the ability to express their culture freely,” Slomba says, “to experience it fully.”
Service, Protocol, Civility
Multiple initiatives are underway at the university where service, protocol, and civility are at the heart of its path to a new level of civic engagement. CSU is now recruiting internationally and no longer features open admissions. So, there’s sharp focus on enrolling better-prepared students. But it still takes in many students who may need extra help, Slomba says. “That’s part of the school’s forte—helping students find success is what we do.”
Visionary Leadership at Central State University
A commitment to excellence and innovation starts with CSU President, Dr. Cynthia Jackson-Hammond. “I love that she gets down to the nitty-gritty,” Slomba explains, noting that the university president will sometimes call her up to get further clarification on financial aid initiatives. “She’s very hand’s-on and is really engaged.”
The first female president at CSU, Jackson-Hammond was named the 2016 female president of the year among all Historically Black Colleges and Universities by HBCU Digest. Under her leadership, the university has received $2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to attract agriculture/engineering students. She also has developed new degree programs and enacted an energy-conservation program that saves the school $1 million annually. In addition, CSU has opened a new $33 million University Student Center that features a 500-seat dining hall, computer labs, ballrooms, and more.
The Power of Information
CSU is different from other institutions at which Slomba has worked. “Here, everyone understands that we’re teaching more. We’re teaching our students about life in ways that are different from other institutions. We teach life skills; things to survive and to be successful,” she says.
“A lot of the employees here take a special interest in our students. We give them a lot of ourselves.” Slomba adds she is committed to providing CSU students the tools they need to make informed choices for financial aid, higher education and, in turn, life.
Watch for the next installment of this series in which Slomba shares her thoughts on efforts that CSU and HBCUs are taking to improve accessibility to higher education. That’s the ‘A’ in the ABCs of student finance.