By Alina Buzgar
Catherine King-Todd has been helping students realize their dreams for over three decades. Since 1989, she has played the role of Director of Financial Aid.
Trying to summarize her 33 years’ experience at Thunderbird in a short article was a daunting task. Fortunately, her soft speaking and inviting personality immediately calmed my nerves as soon as I started speaking with her. Making students at ease seems to come so natural to her and I guess she has done this many times before.
Her beautiful office is filled with many treasures from all over the world placed on shelves along with pictures of her loving family. Ms. Catherine’s story at Thunderbird started when she moved to Phoenix from a small town outside of Chicago following her husband. She recalls how she “fell into the job” when a relative (and an Alumnus of Thunderbird!) recommended her for a position here. Without knowing just what to expect, she recalls: “I quickly fell in love with the place and the history and… everybody!”
After 8 years of doing counseling and loan processing, she followed her predecessor to become the second Director of Financial Aid in the history of the school. “The job includes some administrative responsibilities to the government and several institutional reports, but I still meet with students even if I don’t do the day to day work” she says. She continues to talk very fondly of students. “They are so dedicated and committed to what they want and so focused on the international piece. Even though funds available over the years have varied, I would like to help all of them. Some students leave here with debt, but most are cognizant of what they want to do and where they want to go.” Financial aid is what sets Thunderbird apart, especially the continuing student scholarship that most of the other business schools do not offer.
While reminiscing about the beginnings of her career, in 1981, Ms. Catherine smiles because it was before cellphones, before the internet and almost before computers “except the one mac that they had in the office.” There are some things that changed through the years, and she mentions Inerad, a program focused on marketing, where student teams would work during the term and present a commercial at the end. She also remembers a time when there were as many as 1,600 Thunderbirds on campus at any one time. “We liked to think of ourselves as a village. There wasn’t as much growth in the neighborhood and not so many places for students to go outside campus without a car.” Foreign languages were frequently spoken in the office and she has a small regret that it doesn’t happen as often now. French was part of her undergraduate degree and some of the students would come by and chitchat making it easier to keep up with the language.
“What hasn’t changed is the mystique of Thunderbird and the mini UN and the excitement of students outside the classroom as well as their care of one another.” she says. “I love my job and that is because it always boils down to the students and helping them. […] A lot of students might not be able to make it without the tasks that we do and seeing them progress through the program, hear them talk about their latest project or what is going on with their interviewing process, you become part of one big family. […] There is that common connection at Thunderbird that allows everyone to know each other. […] I could go around the world to cities where no one I know lives and that would be all right. It just makes it all fascinating!”
We thank you Ms. Catherine King-Todd for the work you do, for your love and your passion.