Monday, February 2, 2015

In Remembrance at Marshall University

(by Kathy Bialk, Marshall University)

A personal reflection of the loss of the late President Stephen J. Kopp, Marshall University President. Dr. Kopp was a Guest Panelist Speaker at the 2014 MASFAA Annual Conference.

Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, 36th President of Marshall University at the 2014
MASFAA Annual Conference President's Panel
Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, the 36th Marshall University President (2005-2014), died on December 17, 2014, from an apparent heart attack. When this shocking news came to me I was immediately stricken with grief. For days, I was very, very sad. I could not reason with myself why I had such a heavy heart when my grief could not compare to what his family or all the others who worked so closely with him were enduring. After all, I am just a Director of Financial Aid, who I believe in a university president’s mind, has a very important job, but ranks far less important than other university jobs or functions. Why would I, from a hierarchical distance, feel this way?

The late Dr. Stephen J. Kopp was one of the four presidents who spoke as a panelist at the 2014 MASFAA Annual Conference in Charleston, West Virginia, this past fall. Many MASFAA colleagues expressed great pleasure in hearing the Presidents’ perspectives and were particularly astonished about how much President Kopp knew about financial aid and how his values about college financing and public education were very closely aligned with the values of many financial aid professionals.

It may have appeared that I prepared President Kopp for this session as was implied by a couple of colleagues. I did not. The Friday before the conference, I provided each President the format of the session and the questions I planned to ask. It was a “jaw-dropping” experience for me to hear my President’s statements at the MASFAA Conference. He, unequivocally, listened (during those limited but opportune times I was able to offer my perspectives as a financial aid professional), understood, and supported the financial aid profession. I knew that, but to hear him articulate that in front of me and a few hundred other financial aid professionals, made me feel that what I do (and what all financial aid professionals do) matters.

The Late Marshall University President, Stephen J. Kopp, with MASFAA
member, Kathy Bialk, at the 2014 annual MASFAA conference
Dr. Stephen J. Kopp was a remarkable higher education leader. He inspired and empowered me; he was my mentor in big and small ways. I am not alone in my admiration for Stephen J. Kopp, the fallen son of Marshall University. I thank him and will miss him.

Kathy J. Bialk
Director of Student Financial Assistance
Marshall University

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