A million-dollar man: Ryan Lee


Each year Ryan Lee awards millions of dollars to Lamar University students. Well, not personally and not without help from his colleagues, but as LU’s assistant director of operations in LU’s Financial Aid Department, Ryan certainly plays a critical role ensuring students get the funding they need for their educational pursuits. A native of Illinois, Lee finished his bachelor’s degree in economics eight years ago and entered the career field of financial aid where he enjoys the technical side of job. “I work in the backend dealing with systems’ issues, packaging of financial aid awards and generating reports,” said Ryan. “I enjoy building the systems and making sure everything is running smoothly and it all goes well.”

This year has been atypical because of COVID-19. In addition to awarding students financial aid for the upcoming school year, Ryan and his co-workers have also been charged with awarding federal funding through the CARES Act. “Congress passed the CARES Act that made a number of changes that impacted us. They released funding to schools so we received $3.3 million from the feds to hand out with regulations attached to our students. We’ve been hard at work a month and a half to distribute as best we can, and we’re still working on it. We released the application in May and had 2,000 applications to manually process so it’s been an all-hands-on-deck project.”

“I want to improve all of our processes and simplify policies to better help students. I’m looking at changes in compliance and making sure automation is good to go.”

While processing and distributing the CARES funds, LU’s Financial Aid Department is also engaged in its regular operations - awarding several million dollars of financial aid from state and federal funds as well as from hundreds of scholarships. “We’ve been pretty active awarding for the upcoming school year. At the same time, we’re finishing out the 2019 school year and handing out money for CVOID-19 so it’s been very active.” Ryan, like all employees in the Financial Aid Department, has been working a rotational schedule which includes some days in the office and some days working from home. The entire team plans to be functioning back on campus by July 1.

Since joining LU, Lee has sought to ensure accuracy and automation in the financial aid processes. “We have thousands of students we reward so making sure the system is giving full eligibility and having reports on the back side and making sure its correct is my biggest focus.

I’m very concerned with accuracy.” As a stickler for details and seamless processes, Ryan says he has a long list of system improvements, he wants to implement for the benefit of students. “I want to improve all of our processes and simplify policies to better help students. I’m looking at changes in compliance and making sure automation is good to go.” He is also concerned with regulations. The financial aid business is wrought in state and federal regulations which change frequently. Ryan and his colleagues attend annual conferences, in person and now on Zoom, to learn new regulations, discuss changing ones and the implication and impact of those changes.

“No one person is really fully versed in all the regulations; it’s a journey for everyone. We rely on each other to make sure we are obeying those rules and are aware of federal, state and LU’s own regulation so that we’re sure we are compliant.” Although there are federal handbooks, Ryan says they change every year so once you learn them, you have to relearn them annually. Each financial aid program, like the Federal Work-Study program, is different and comes with its own set of rules and regulations, too. In addition to looking forward to the entire financial aid team being back together again July 1 in the Wimberly Building, Ryan is anticipating exploring more of Texas and beyond, something COVID-19 interrupted.

But once the pandemic is over, the Chicagoan, who is also an Eagle Scout, the highest honor awarded a Boy Scout, is ready to camp and fish and explore the state. “Since moving down I haven’t been able to explore Texas a whole lot. I want to make it to other cities besides Houston. I haven’t discovered where to fish. I need to do that, too.” The financial aid team inclusive of Ryan regularly interacts with students, either in person or via Chirp, the chatbot on the financial aid website. They also participate in LU’s new student orientation and present at high schools to perspective students. Ryan welcomes the interaction with students because it helps financial aid get students the funding they need. “The best part of my job is when students get their financial aid; it’s a really good feeling.”

Category: General , Features

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