When Carol Weiss took a position at Dakota Wesleyan University in 1987, she new little of college student financing.
But she learned.
And she also learned to love her work over the course of the next 33 years as she helped guide students at the school through the process of securing loans, scholarships and other financial issues as an accounts receivable accountant in the university business office.
Now, that time is drawing to a close. Weiss was honored by faculty and staff Wednesday on the DWU campus as she prepares to enter retirement after more than three decades of service to students.
“I think what drew me to it was the ability to work with people and help them. Working with students to help them attain a goal that they have and help them grow and mature was so exciting,” Weiss said in a recent interview with the Mitchell Republic.
She provided some much-needed guidance for students over the years. Many students entering college need to adjust to life away from home, and some are inexperienced in dealing with the finer points of college finance.
That was guidance Weiss could provide.
“I work with the students on paying their accounts while they’re here. Payment plans, working with them on obtaining scholarships and loans, and just trying to give them a little helping hand that many of them need,” Weiss said. “And also reassurance that it will work out and that it will be well worth it.”
The Parkston High School graduate grew up helping her family farm in the Milltown area before she moved to Mitchell and took a position with Johnson’s Furniture, where she remained for 10 years before moving on to Dakota Wesleyan University. She started there in the alumni office before transferring to the business office, where she has remained since.
She ended up being a mentor as much as an accountant in her time at DWU. The uncertainty the college experience can bring for students can foster self-doubt, and Weiss found herself acting as a cheerleader to their goals as much as a source of information on financial issues.
“Sometimes they think they aren’t qualified. They just don’t believe in themselves,” Weiss said. “It takes time until they mature a little bit more and become more comfortable in their shell.”
Weiss has been doing her job long enough now that, in many cases, she is on her second generation of family members attending the school. The children of parents she advised years before now show up at her desk for the same kind of guidance she has given to countless others. She said it is difficult to put a number on the number of students she has worked with over the years.
But many of those students remember well. When Weiss decided to retire prior to the 2020-21 school year, the school put an announcement on its Facebook page, she began to hear from many former students.
“After they put the post up on Facebook and how many early students have gotten hold of me, it’s just mind-boggling,” Weiss said.
In addition to her work in the business office, she has worn several other hats around campus. She is known as a ticket-taker at DWU football and basketball games, where she often took the lead in finding volunteers for the work. Those tasks only exposed her to more DWU students and supporters, many of which she thinks of fondly today.
“How many people I’ve met along the way is unbelievable,” Weiss said.
She is a two-time recipient of the school’s Professional Excellence Award, and school leaders have said the impact she has had has been felt from administrators on down to the students.
“Words cannot begin to express the positive impact that Carol Weiss has had on the DWU community,” Theresa Kriese, executive vice president for DWU, said in a press release. “To put together a decorated career of 33 years as she has and establish the relationships and connections she has along the way is simply remarkable. Her service to the university has touched literally thousands of students, faculty, staff and alumni. We will miss Carol, and her ongoing commitment and dedication to our students and this university.”
Students of all types consulted Weiss for help, including Tristan Teichmeier, a 2020 DWU graduate and current MBA student at the school. When trying to decipher the often cryptic subject of finance, Weiss provided solid information, and provided it quickly.
“Being a transfer student, there are tons of small details that go into processing credits, tuition and scholarships, and Carol was a huge help from the second I sent my paperwork over to Dakota Wesleyan,” Teichmeier said in a press release. “Another thing about Carol was her open-door policy. Her office door was always open for students to talk in and talk about all the confusing details regarding the money side of paying for college, which she somehow seemed to get figured out within 10 minutes.”
She will miss those regular interactions with students, whom she considers part of her own family. Bringing a supportive nature and building up those students - as well as their families - was as rewarding as anything she accomplished in her years at the school, she said.
The continued advancement of technology and a desire to take a little more time for herself is what brought her to retirement. But the school doesn’t seem to want to be rid of her just yet. She had originally planned for her last day to be Friday, but she agreed to help train a replacement.
She plans to catch up on some reading and continue her active community volunteering schedule. She is a longtime member and supporter of the Salvation Army, and currently serves as chairman of the board for the local branch.
But she expects she will still be spotted around campus from time to time. Maybe for a basketball or football game or to say hello to colleagues. But mostly because DWU, the students and staff have become her family.
“A family. I don’t have any kids of my own, but it’s like I have 700 of them some years,” Weiss said. “It’s given me the ability to call some of those kids mine.”