Staff Connections – Meet Kasey Gatton

Kasey Gatton staff connection

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Kasey, from Owasso, OK, is the director of the business office at Tulsa Welding School. Kasey first joined TWS as part of the financial aid team in September 2013 before earning a promotion and a move to the business office in 2015.

Thanks for your time, Kasey. Tell us how you got started in your career.

My background is in finance. I’ve been in finance since I was in my 20s. I worked at a casino in their count room, dealing with their money. That was a lot of hours. When you started counting the cash, you couldn’t leave until the count was done. If it took 24 hours, that’s what you worked. It wasn’t fun. I also worked for a loan finance company and a loan servicer, which wasn’t much fun either.

Is your education in finance, too?

I actually majored in history, and my minor was in secondary education. I had thoughts of becoming a professor. My career turned out way different, but I found a niche in something I’m good at!

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What brought you to Tulsa Welding School?

It was a good career opportunity that presented me with a challenge. Education was an area I had never worked in before, although it was an area I had an interest in. That’s why I chose to go down this path.

What do you do as the director of the business office?

I deal with anything that’s applied to the students’ accounts, such as their financial aid* funding, their VA funding, tribal funding, their stipend checks and any scholarships that come in. Basically, I look at anything that goes on their ledger card. I also collect in-school payments. Whether they have those payments depends on how they are set up with financial aid. But there’s so much more to the job than just collecting and distributing money.

So are the in-school payments you mention for tuition?

Yes. If a student doesn’t qualify for as much financial aid as they need to cover the cost of the program, these payments cover the difference. It’s the amount not covered by any grants or loans they receive, but we have a lot of students who do qualify for additional funding, VA funding or agency funding.

There are a few students for whom we’ve tapped out all our sources, so they have to make in-school payments. Students in that situation are set up with $60 interest-free in-school monthly payments. They’ll have out-of-school payments once they’re done with school, which is when interest is added. But that’s all taken care of by the financial aid department. Everything is pre-determined by the time they get to me. I’m just involved in the collection and distribution part of it, not the decision making.kasey gatton

How do they make these payments?

They come see me and pay directly, or they can pay online using the TuitionOptions website.

Does every student have in-school payments?

No, not all students have in-school payments; if they get enough financial aid to cover the whole cost of their program, they won’t have payments to make while at school. It all depends on their situation with regard to financial aid, and how they’re set up.

When does a student first meet you?

They meet me when they pay their registration fee, but they don’t usually remember! I’ll meet with them at orientation, especially if they have any fees to pay that day. Then, in the second week of their first phase, I’ll go and meet with them individually in the classroom so they know who I am if they need to make a payment or have any questions and concerns. But throughout the time they’re here, I’m back and forth with them all the time. 

What are some typical questions that students ask of you and your team?

The daily question I get asked is, “Where’s my stipend check?” Second to that would be questions about veterans’ benefits. We have a lot of veterans come through the school.

What involvement do you have in the graduation process?

They come into the office and I’ll go into the system to see where they stand with their payments. If they’re current, I will sign off on them and they can finish up their graduation process with the other departments. If they are past due, I ask if they have the payment available that day, and if they don’t, I encourage them to get payment in as fast as they can. They won’t be able to receive their certificate if their account isn’t current.

What’s your favorite student story from your time at the Tulsa campus?

I have many what I call “feel good” stories. I had a student who graduated after completing all three programs—we used to offer a pipefitting program here, too. He struggled every day, but he saw it through. He made it and he’s a very successful welder now. These are the stories that keep me doing my job—students eho communicate, follow through and do everything they can to be successful. It all depends on you and what you’re willing to put into it. What you put into it is what you’ll get out of it. Any student’s success makes you feel part of their success, and that’s a great feeling.

What can a student do to help you help them?

Communicate! They have to tell me what’s going on with them or I can’t help. If I don’t know what’s going on, I have to pull them from class. That’s something that maybe could have been avoided had they come and spoken with me first. They just have to communicate with me, work with me and show me that they are taking this situation seriously. Money is a heated subject for a lot of people. There’s never enough to go around, so we have to be delicate in how we handle things. I really try to make sure that every student is successful. They started school for a reason, and that was to change their life, so I really try to work with them and make sure they stay current so they can have the future that they want.

What advice do you have for new students starting at Tulsa Welding School?

If you start, then finish. Don’t give up! That’s the biggest thing for me. Quitting should not be an option. It should never enter your vocabulary, not when you are investing in yourself, even when it gets hard. You had the drive to do this program at one point. That’s why you started. So see it through. It’s not a four-year college degree, it’s only seven months to complete the Professional Welder program, and this career could change your life all the way round.

*Financial aid is available to those who qualify.

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