The dean of Student Financial Services for National Park College, Lisa Hopper, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators during the annual conference in San Diego on July 2.
"When they told me I was getting an award, they wouldn't tell me what it was going to be, not until the morning I got it," she said. "But they told me I could prepare a little two-minute speech and that I might wanna invite my husband to come along. So, we went and got him a plane ticket to come with me. I really thought it would be some kind of meritorious award or something. I didn't really think it would be that big of an award."
Hopper has been involved in the organization since 1998, she said. The Lifetime Achievement Award is the highest honor a member can be presented with, according to NASFAA's website. NASFAA is based in Washington, D.C., supporting more than 29,000 financial aid professionals from all sizes of colleges in the U.S., according to a news release from NPC.
Hopper has worked for NPC for 25 years, she said. She started as the director of financial aid and was promoted to the dean of student financial services in 2018.
Hopper has spent much of her time volunteering as well, she said. With her experience as a certified public accountant, she served as treasurer for the Arkansas Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, then later as president, she said. She also served as president for the Southwest Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, as well as on the board of directors for the NASFAA, according to a news release from NPC.
With an accounting degree from Arkansas Tech University, Hopper said she received help from the financial aid department while she was a student, and she would not have been able to attend college without the help.
"I went to college on Pell Grants and scholarships, and I remember them helping me through the process," she said. "I couldn't have gone without that financial assistance."
Before joining NPC's team, Hopper worked as a CPA, she said. She never really found her "niche," until she got into higher education, where she was able to combine her love of education and finances, she said.
"I feel like I'm paying it forward," she said. "I got that help. I had one brother that had gone to college before me, but I realize the difference that it made in my life, getting an education. And my husband and now our children have gone on to get their degrees, and what a difference it's made in our lives. And I just know a lot of students can't do that without financial assistance. So, it's like an instant gratification that I get to see when those students walk across the stage and graduate, that I got to help them get there."
Although Hopper retired from her position at the end of June, she plans to come back after about six months as an instructor. She was also an adjunct instructor for NPC before retiring, which was what she really enjoyed doing, she said.
"I've taught adjunct for several years and online," she said. "I like both, but I really like teaching in person, so hopefully, there'll be an opportunity at National Park for me to come back and teach in the business and accounting classes. ... In my financial aid office, there were always students in there from my classes getting tutored or getting help. So people would come by to talk to me, and there would be students in my office a lot of times. ... So, I've just kinda gravitated toward that's what I really am enjoying doing here in kinda the sunset of my career."