2021 Year In Review: Our Featured MVPs

NASFAA's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) is a series that features a brief Q&A with notable NASFAA members — with questions ranging from what they wish they knew their first year working in financial aid to how they relax in their free time. Look back at our 10 MVPs from 2021 and send your suggestions for future MVPs for the upcoming year to our news inbox, along with a short note about why you're nominating them.

MVP Christina Tangalakis
Christina is the associate dean of student financial aid services at Glendale College and has worked in the field for nearly two decades. She couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else and is energized by the ever-changing regulations and transformative impact the profession has on higher education. Fun fact: At the outset of her professional life, Christina originally foresaw herself as an English professor at a community college.

MVP Aaron Steffens
Aaron is the director of financial aid at Luther College in Iowa, and initially started his higher education career as an admissions counselor, but his participation in his institution’s search committee for a new financial aid counselor ultimately led him to make the jump to financial aid. Now 20 years into his career he finds it to be continually rewarding when students advance in their academic programs and especially enjoys keeping in touch with them after graduation. Fun fact: In 2020, Aaron received a NASFAA Regional Leadership Award for his contributions. 

MVP Erika Cox
Erika is the executive director of strategic enrollment initiatives and student experience at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Having received an undergraduate degree in communications, she ultimately found that her skillset and career goals best aligned with the financial aid office. "I knew I wanted to go into a field where I could help people. I just didn't know what that meant. And once I got started counseling students, I realized that that's exactly what I was doing," she said. Fun fact: Erika usually volunteers for her institution's commencement ceremony and always finds it to be an uplifting experience.

MVP Sarah Baumhoff, FAAC®
Sarah is the director of student support at Kennesaw State University and has found financial aid to be one of the most challenging aspects of higher education, where the options for students aren't as cut-and-dry as they can be in other postsecondary offices. She got her start in financial aid during a work-study job in junior college that helped her complete her postsecondary education and led to a career where she never finds herself bored. Fun fact: Sarah’s favorite dessert is cupcakes because they're small enough to give you that sweet treat that you want, but not so big that you eat a whole cake.

MVP Elijah Herr
Elijah is a director of financial aid at Portland State University. As a first-generation college student, he said he can speak directly to the transformative power of higher education. Now after more than a decade of working in financial aid, he has utilized his graphic design background to overhaul his previous institution's financial aid website, and served as a cohort default coordinator at Portland Community College (PCC). Fun fact: In the past year, Elijah has started doing a lot more artwork, and rediscovered his passion for his old hobby.

MVP Angelika Williams
Angelika is the assistant vice provost of student financial services at the University of San Francisco and has had an extensive career in financial aid. She has worked as assistant director of financial aid at Texas State University from 2012-17, and as director of scholarships and financial aid at Texas A&M University from 2017-18. Angelica then served as director of financial aid at Howard University before assuming her current role. As a first-generation college student, Angelika said she wanted to learn all of the unknowns about the higher education system as a whole to best inform students pursuing their higher education goals. Fun fact: While Angelika doesn’t play sports, she’s an avid fan of basketball.

MVP Theresa Lavin
Theresa is the director of financial aid at the Community College of Denver and said she loves working in financial aid at the community college level in particular because colleagues feel a sense of purpose in helping the school work toward the mission of being an open-access institution that welcomes diversity and inclusion. She began her career in the profession as a financial aid administrator at the University of Denver before making the move to the Community College of Denver, where she worked her way to becoming a financial aid director. Fun fact: Theresa has been parachuting and hopes to soon cross hangliding off her bucket list. 

MVP Marvin Smith, FAAC®
Marvin is the executive director of financial aid & scholarships at UCLA, but began his financial aid journey during his master's program at Purdue University when he stumbled upon an assistantship in the financial aid office. There, he learned about the world of financial aid and its ability to help vulnerable students make their way through higher education. While he initially thought his career would take him into academic advising, Marvin found that he loved working in the financial aid system and enjoyed helping students navigate the complicated system. Fun fact: Marvin is a huge basketball fan and obsessively follows the NBA and college basketball.

MVP Thomas Le
Thomas is the associate director of financial aid reporting at New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, but initially started out in consumer banking and pivoted to higher education as a financial aid counselor at Pepperdine University, where he also earned his master's degree in educational technology. It was here that Thomas grew passionate about helping students pursue higher education. He currently serves on the executive council as secretary for the California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (CASFAA) and has been a longtime member of both the Western Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (WASFAA) and NASFAA. Fun fact: Thomas is working on his language skills looking to improve his Vietnamese and maybe even learn Spanish. 

MVP Brian Dixon
Brian began his financial aid career with firsthand experience during his undergraduate work through an internship with former Sen. Herb Kohl’s (D-Wisc.) office, which got him engaged in how the policy side of higher education worked. That work, along with a stint in an admissions office, led him to the financial aid sector where policy experience highlighted the ways in which families and students can easily grow frustrated with the process of enrolling in higher education. Being able to streamline and cut through the clutter to help people get the results that they're looking for was what ultimately led him to financial aid. Fun fact: Brian would like to go to all the presidential libraries across the country. 

If you know a financial aid colleague with something interesting to say, send their names and a short note about why you're nominating them to [email protected].


Publication Date: 12/13/2021

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