MVP: Most Valuable Professional is an occasional series that features a brief Q&A with a different NASFAA member. Do you know a financial aid colleague with something interesting to say? Send the names of potential future MVPs and a short note about why you're nominating them to email@example.com.
Director of Financial Aid
University of Central Arkansas
Meet Cheryl Lyons. Cheryl is the director of financial aid at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). She has been at UCA for 21 years and has worked in the financial aid world throughout her career, with stints at the financial aid offices of the University of Arkansas, Murray State College in Oklahoma, and East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. "When I finished [my graduate work] I just needed a job and the financial aid office had an opening," she said of completing her graduate work at the University of Arkansas. "I applied and I was hired as a counselor and just loved it."
Cheryl has been very involved with NASFAA throughout her career, serving on the NASFAA Board of Directors from 2003 to 2005, as well as a number of committees and working groups, such as the Compliance Engine User Working Group and the Certified Financial Aid Administrator® Program Implementation Working Group. Cheryl says her involvement over the years has helped her develop her leadership skills and has provided her with useful training tools for regulatory issues, helping her serve both students within her office as well as the larger financial aid community. In 2007, Cheryl received one of NASFAA's Regional Leadership Awards, which are awarded to individuals, who need not be financial aid administrators, who have made outstanding contributions to the financial aid profession at the regional and state levels over a sustained period of time.
What's one thing you love about working at the University of Central Arkansas?
The atmosphere here from the very beginning. It doesn't matter what office you're in, if you're faculty or staff, whether you're in student accounts, financial aid, or the administration — the expectation is that we are going to work together, and it's true. We work together to get the work done and it's very collegial.
Is there anything in particular that motivates you to work hard?
Honestly, I was raised that way. My parents both had an amazing work ethic. They were great role models for me and my three brothers, and so it was kind of built into me.
What has the COVID-19 outbreak taught you about yourself and/or your team?
It's reiterated that the skill sets that make us successful in our career in financial aid — being organized, being problem solvers, being resilient — and our creative skills are really what's helping us manage the crisis on our campus quite well.
Is there anything in particular about the financial aid system that you wish you could change?
It would probably be that the regulations are so unnecessarily tedious. It discourages both students from continuing the process and staff from continuing in the career field. Simply, simplification is just desperately needed.
Are there any specific skill sets that you've wanted to learn recently or any skills you wish you had right now?
I wish I could duplicate myself. If we had 10 of me — maybe not necessarily just me — but if I could clone people, I would clone multiple staff within the office to help get the work done and manage everything. I don't mean to be comical, but if I had a superpower that would be it.
Is there any message you would like to send to your colleagues in financial aid during these uncertain times with the ongoing pandemic?
We're a pretty tight knit group both personally and professionally. This is just a really difficult time. What I say to my colleagues, especially the younger ones or the less experienced ones, is that all you can do is do your best every day. Do what you can do to be safe and healthy, and keep moving forward. Remember you're not alone, that you have colleagues you can phone who understand your struggles and who will be more than happy to talk with you, and to encourage you.
Publication Date: 8/24/2020