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Steve Howell


Former Director of Financial Aid

After 37 years of serving as Ashland University’s Director of Financial Aid, Steve Howell is still getting used to retirement: the new rhythms, the now-unfilled hours, the opportunities to take a fresh look back on his career and influence.

And although his department is steeped in hard numbers, what has always resonated with him, from his return to take a job in his hometown in 1985 through the pandemic conditions of the past few years, are the people.

“I always enjoyed the job,” Steve says, recounting how, after finishing his undergrad degree at Taylor University in 1976 and working in their administration, he returned to Ashland to accept a position he would come to embody for generations of Eagle students. “But I didn’t ever expect to make the deep connections I did. Our job in the financial aid office is to make dreams possible. When that’s what you do every day, you see some really amazing things.”

During the pandemic, for example, he was in a unique position to experience student stories as harrowing as they were heartbreaking. After the federal government made millions of dollars in funds available for students left adrift or severely encumbered by the effects of shutdowns and restrictions put in place almost overnight, it was the job of Steve and his team to figure out how to distribute it to those who needed it most–and do it in ways that would have the most impact. “It was really emotional,” he says. “I met with students over the phone, over Zoom, and some of their stories were just heartbreaking. Again, on the surface our job dealt with numbers. But with COVID-19, it was another reminder that people come first, that we’re in the business of helping people.”

Another surprising source of connection during his years at Ashland arose from the school being one of sixty institutions nationwide tapped to provide educational opportunities in prisons. Ashland began working with incarcerated students in the 1960s. After White House support vanished in the 1990s, though, the funding wasn’t made available again until the Obama Administration. Along with his job duties to secure the necessary funding for each incarcerated student, thanks to Religious Life campus mainstay Joe Maggelet, Steve also helped with prison ministry programs.

“It’s always rewarding to make it possible for people to get a second chance in life,” he says. “But I wasn’t really prepared for how incredible it is to watch as God changes these students’ lives. That was really the highlight of my job.”

He credits a lot of the success his department had during his tenure to the team he built around him, noting how many of them are currently in their second or third decade of employment.

Now that retirement is here, Steve’s plans are still taking shape. “It’s been a number of months,” he says, “but I still haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to spend my time.” Not that he doesn’t have a number of solid opportunities. Spending time with his wife Heidi, their three grown children, their spouses and five grandchildren is at the top of the list. After he and his wife took numerous mission trips to Brazil and the Philippines over the past two decades, he’s considering new opportunities to serve underprivileged communities abroad. He also still has a heart for prisoners working to turn their lives around.

However he chooses to spend this next season of life, though, the legacy he left at Ashland is still impacting lives. 

“I got a call from a woman last week,” he says. “She found my card among her things and she called to thank me for helping her get an education and work toward her goals. At the time, she was a single mother and struggling. But we were able to make it possible for her to earn her degree here at Ashland.”

The kicker? He laughs, “I was surprised. This was from 22 years ago. It just goes to show that what you do impacts others’ lives. Even when you don’t see the effects, they are still there. It’s worth it to slow down, listen and really hear the heart of the people you’re serving.”

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