2021 NASFAA Awards Announced

Awardees Exemplify Excellence in Serving Students and the Financial Aid Profession

Contact: Erin Powers
Director of Marketing & Communications 
(202) 785-6959 
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC, Thursday, June 24, 2021 — Each year, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) presents awards to deserving members of the financial aid profession and higher education community. These awards are reviewed and selected annually by NASFAA’s Awards Committee and ratified by the Board of Directors. 

NASFAA this year recognized one recipient with its 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor which the association can bestow on a member: 

Dr. William A. Irwin, Director Emeritus of Financial Aid, Lock Haven University. Dr. Irwin has served as a member of the Congressional Advisory Committee on Federal Student Aid, as well as previously serving as National Chair of NASFAA and President of both EASFAA (Eastern region) and PASFAA (Pennsylvania). During his tenure as NASFAA National Chair, Dr. Irwin spearheaded the start of a new HEA Reauthorization process, oversaw the development of a new strategic long range plan for the association, and sat at the forefront of the association’s transition toward electronic services, which kept growing in the years that followed. He has been an asset to our profession for many years, and has continued serving on committees in the Association even after retiring. He is known for speaking his mind, taking an interest in the up and coming professionals, and doing everything he could — over his long tenure and career — to support the work of NASFAA in every capacity. NASFAA thanks him for his many years of service.

The Allan W. Purdy Distinguished Service Award, one of the highest awards that NASFAA bestows, may be awarded either for significant contributions in the furtherance of NASFAA’s goals over a sustained period of time, or for a single contribution of momentous importance. The 2021 award was given to: 

Brenda Hicks, Director of Financial Aid, Southwestern College. Hicks, NASFAA’s 2020-21 National Chair, has served Southwestern College in both admissions and financial aid since 1991 and is currently the director of financial aid. Over the years she has been active in state, regional, and national professional associations as a trainer, board member, and committee chair. She has been a recipient of the NASFAA Leadership award and the KASFAA (Kansas) Meritorious Achievement award. She is a former RMASFAA (Rocky Mountain) and KASFAA president and has previously served on NASFAA's Board of Directors as a regional representative and representative-at-large. She has also been a member of the NASFAA Association Governance Committee and has served on several task forces, including the NASFAA 50th Anniversary Task Force, the State and Regional Alliance Task Force, and the Enhanced Loan Counseling Task Force.

The Meritorious Achievement Award is presented to an individual who has made either an important single contribution to NASFAA or the profession, or multiple significant contributions. The 2021 award was given to:

G. Michael Johnson, Emeritus Director of Financial Aid, Columbia Gorge Community College. Mike Johnson has been involved in the financial aid community for more than 30 years before his retirement in 2020. He is a financial aid legend in the WASFAA (Western) region and Oregon specifically. During his financial aid career, he has taught, coached, trained, and influenced a generation of financial aid administrators to be thoughtful, careful, informed supporters of students and student financial aid policy. Mike is an active member of his state, regional, and national financial aid associations, having served as President of OASFAA and WASFAA, NASFAA Regional Representative and Representative at Large. His commitment to students and the financial aid community has been extraordinary as he always goes out of his way to share what he’s learned during his time in financial aid.

The Robert P. Huff Golden Quill Award is presented each year to an individual, or organization, chosen for their contributions to the literature on student financial aid. Published works must exemplify the highest quality of research methodology, analysis, or topical writing on the subject of student financial aid or its administration. In 2021 the award was given to:

Jaime Ramirez-Mendoza and Tiffany Jones, The Education Trust. Jaime Ramirez-Mendoza and Tiffany Jones of The Education Trust recent work “Using Professional Judgement in Financial Aid to Advance Racial Justice & Equity,” released in December 2020, provides a racial equity analysis of the professional judgement process. Their piece provides policy recommendations for the Office of Federal Student Aid and highlights opportunities for financial aid offices to collect and use data to assess access and equity in their appeals processes, and to be intentional in training their financial aid administrators. As we enter a financial aid cycle in which many students will need to appeal their awards, Dr. Jones and Mr. Ramirez-Mendoza highlight the need for better data collection on professional judgement and offer critical guidance for how financial aid offices can build racial equity into their work.

The association also presented six Regional Leadership Awards to recipients who have exhibited high integrity and character, shown creative leadership, and inspired and encouraged others to actively participate in professional development. One award was given in each of six regions to:

  • EASFAA – Kristi Jovell, Director of Financial Services, Middlebury College

  • MASFAA – Kristin Bhaumik, Associate Director, University of Michigan

  • RMASFAA – Ken Kocer, Director of Financial Assistance, Mount Marty University

  • SASFAA – Zita Barree, Director of Financial Aid, Hampden-Sydney College

  • SWASFAA –  Lauren Jackson, Director, Northwestern State University

  • WASFAA – Ashley Munro, Associate Director, University of Alaska Fairbanks

The Gold Star Award, which recognizes innovative ideas in the financial aid arena at any level, targeted toward any constituency, was given in 2021 to:

Western Governors University – Responsible Borrowing Initiatives. Responsible borrowing at WGU focuses on helping students understand loans and encouraging them to borrow only what they need. All students who apply for financial aid receive a personalized Financial Aid Plan, with a Student Loan Scenario Calculator, which recommends that students borrow only their “unmet direct costs”— tuition and fees minus any grants or scholarships. The personalized plan includes information about the cost of attending WGU as well as the impact of loan borrowing on the student’s ability to repay. The results speak for themselves: WGU has seen its already-low borrowing and default rates fall dramatically -- the most recent cohort default rate of 4.1% is less than half the national 9.7%, and debt at graduation among undergraduates who borrow is only about $14,000, compared with about $30,000 nationally. 

To request an interview with a NASFAA spokesperson, please email Director of Marketing and Communications Erin Powers.


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 28,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every 10 undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit www.nasfaa.org.

Publication Date: 6/24/2021

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