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Donna Cooper began her career in the Registration office processing new enrollments in 1975 when Excelsior College was known as Regents College. Thirty-eight years later, the name of the college may have changed, but her career path in higher education still continues.
Excelsior Life:Where did your career start?Cooper: In 1975, I started at Regents College with about 19 employees in the testing and registrar’s office. I worked as a clerk-typist.The college was so small that jobs were condensed. I processed enrollment forms, sent welcome letters, processed incoming transcripts, acted as the front line to advising students over the phone. There were no computers. All our materials were paper and we recorded all transactions on index cards. Paper files were made for each student and color coded labels were placed on the files according to their degree program.
Excelsior Life:How has your role changed over the years? Cooper: My roles changed dramatically as the college grew and as I pursued my education. I began as a clerk-typist and moved into the Director of Financial Aid/VA Certifying Officer in 1999. In between these periods, I held six different positions and applied for job advancement opportunities throughout the years. Today, I am still working 50 percent of my time in financial aid.
Excelsior College inspired me to pursue my own college degree. I received an associate degree at Hudson Valley Community College, a bachelor’s degree from University of State of New York Regents College, and a master’s degree from the College of Saint Rose.
Excelsior Life:What are some of the innovative changes you noticed in working for a college? Cooper: Many changes have happened over the years. I think one of the biggest changes I experienced was when Excelsior College first started offering courses.
Offering courses has been an awesome opportunity for our military. Whether they use Tuition Assistance (TA) or Veterans educational benefits, they can get the dollars they need to continue their educational goals. Before we offered federal aid, aid was very limited. After giving students their options and telling them there was no federal aid a student would say, “Is this a real College?”
Excelsior Life:In celebrating 38 years at Excelsior College, what is one of your fondest memories?Cooper: My fondest memories at Excelsior College are working with individual people at the college. In writing this I do not want to point out any names because there are too many people to mention. They have touched my life in many ways and I hope I have touched theirs.
For example, in late 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery, chemo, radiation, I was preparing to return to work. My first day back in the office 90 percent of staff in my building wore pink to welcome me back.
Excelsior Life:Are there any other colleagues who have worked over the last 10, 20, or 30 years with you? Cooper: As of today, I am pretty sure that I am the employee that holds the status of the longest tenure at Excelsior College. Mary Anne Hilton left me with this status. She retired in July with 41 years. Although I have been at the College for over 38 years, there has been CHANGE, CHANGE, CHANGE. I worked in five different buildings and had seven positions. Excelsior College has grown exceeding all my expectations. As we move forward to help each other and our students, I want everyone to know that Excelsior College has been a blessing in my life.
Excelsior Life:What are some of the most frequently asked questions you would hear about the college or financial aid? Cooper: “Are you Empire State College? People confuse our school with one in Saratoga, NY. Things are different now as people are more familiar with Excelsior College. Another frequent question is from students who previously received aid at a traditional brick and mortar school. As one can imagine, this would create many questions in an online setting.
Excelsior Life:What is the biggest change you have noticed in higher education since you started? Cooper: Hands down technology.