SFS Says Goodbye to Yvonne Gittens

By Alice Waugh, Communications Officer, Student Financial Services

June is the time of year when students graduate, but it’s also when a few long-time employees begin their retirement. One of them is Yvonne L. Gittens of Student Financial Services, who will say goodbye to the Institute in July after 42 years.

Gittens began her MIT career in 1965 as a secretary in the Office of Personnel Relations (now Human Resources) and arrived in Student Financial Aid 15 years later through a few twists and turns. She held administrative assistant positions while earning her bachelor’s degree at night and was hoping to become director of the fledgling Office of Child Care, but she was told she wasn’t a candidate because she was two classes shy of having her degree.

A mentor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning where Gittens worked at the time urged her to continue her education, so she finished her bachelor’s and then obtained a master’s degree in education at Harvard while on a leave of absence from MIT. When she
finished in 1980, she had a job possibility in Boston but accepted an offer to be an assistant director of financial aid at MIT – mostly so she and her family could reclaim her health benefits immediately instead of waiting for a year.

It turned out to be a good decision. “If I had to go back and spend all that time again at MIT, it would be in financial aid,” she said. Many of her former freshmen advisees have kept in touch and thanked her for showing them that an MIT education was possible for them financially and personally.

“One thing I really like about working in financial aid at MIT is that MIT has remained need-based. I think that makes such a big difference,” said Gittens, who was promoted to associate director in 1986. Through her work here, she’s been able to spread the word to prospective students that they are “admitted based on what you have in your head and funded based on what you don’t have in your pocket. I tell them MIT is an expensive school, but it may not cost you that much. You just see the light bulbs going on. I don’t think people don’t understand it until you show them that kids who don’t have a lot [financially] get that opportunity to come here. Sometimes their parents don’t even make as much as the tuition fee.”

Another thing Gittens appreciates about her time in financial aid and SFS is that “this office really promotes professional development and joining national organizations. I’ve learned a lot and made some reallasting friendships” among her colleagues throughout the country. She has won several awards from professional groups, and her accomplishments were also recognized by her MIT colleagues with an Infinite Mile award on June 13. Her other MIT awards include the President’s Award for Community Service (1994) and the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award (1989).

What’s next? “My immediate plans are to do absolutely nothing this summer. At some point I’ll go through all those photos I have in boxes – yeah, right!” she said with a laugh. In addition, she plans to continue serving on the board of the Cambridge Community Center and get involved with a food program at her church.