Hidden Figures of Lawrence: Mary Bell

Financial Aid Specialist Mary Bell in the Financial Aid office on the first floor of Brokaw Hall.
Photo by Hannah Burgess

This column is devoted to highlighting staff members that play a huge role in the everyday experiences of the Lawrence community. The goal is to focus on the “Hidden Figures” of Lawrence University and their interests both within, and outside of Lawrence.


During the season of Halloween, “spooky” and “scary” may be some words to describe the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Never fear! Brokaw Hall is open for students to work out all their financial aid concerns.

Financial Aid Specialist Mary Bell is the first person to pick up the phone and answer students’ questions in Brokaw Hall Room 104. Although she is not a counselor, Bell is able to answer questions ranging from how dropping a class affects financial aid to how to receive aid as a new student. One thing students might not know is that if a family member is sick, they can come to Financial Aid to work out receiving aid.

Bell decorated her desk for Halloween, and is excited to put up lights for Christmas. “I love the fall!” commented Bell. “I have fall lights and battery-operated candles because it is getting darker and it is relaxing.”

Bell can be found in her office from 8:00 a.m. to noon and 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Brokaw is open all year through the summer. “We are not available at night or on the weekends which is something I think students tend to forget.” added Bell. Bell loves Lawrence students, and it is inspiring for her to watch them transition from awkward freshmen to more confident seniors. Students can choose what education they want, and often they start in one direction and end up go in different directions.

Bell received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education at the University of Akron, and a Master’s Degree in Flute Performance at Ithaca College. Bell had been the Music Education Administrative Assistant in the Conservatory for over five years, but switched to the Financial Aid office because she wanted to move into a higher position. Bell became interested in financial aid because it is constantly changing from year to year. She has been working in the Financial Aid office for two and a half years now.

As an undergraduate, Bell did not go to a liberal arts college, and was not aware of financial aid resources, which is something she wishes she knew about when she was in college. She commuted instead of living on campus, and tuition was not expensive back in the day. She had fellowships and took a loan through a bank to pay back for housing at Ithaca. Lawrence, as a liberal arts school, gives students more choice, and by not having to complete so many general requirements, students have more opportunities to explore and grow.

One important thing Bell has learned from her job is patience. Sometimes students miss the deadline for submitting financial aid, and so Bell has learned to be patient with these students and understand that everyone works on a different schedule. She has also learned teamwork from her colleagues.

“There are only four of us,” she explained. “[Financial Aid Advisors] Sarah Beth Holemen, Susan Chadwick and Ryan Gebler are great to work with. What is unique about our department is that we strive to have the most teamwork to help the students. We have M&Ms and a puppy, Karma, in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

Outside of Lawrence, Bell is a runner. Bell isgoing to run the Tyranena Beer Run, a half-marathon in Lake Mills, Wis. along with her husband, Associate Professor of Music and Clarinet Professor David Bell. She also enjoys to garden and exercise. Bell loves her home in Door County, and does not travel often, but will travel to New York this Thanksgiving break, which she is looking forward to. Usually, she visits her family in Ohio.

Bell’s inspiration is her mother for her stubbornness and tenacity. “My mom died ten years ago and my dad died twenty years before she died,” explained Bell. Her mother was a single mother with five daughters. Growing up as one of five sisters has taught Bell to be an independent, strong woman. Bell believes those are important qualities for young women to have.

Without Bell, students would be lost when trying to figure out tuition at Lawrence. Bell is an open person students can talk to about activities, family struggles or financial worries for life after Lawrence. Bell genuinely wants to help students grow to be their best selves, and that is why she is such an important Hidden Figure at Lawrence.