Our greatest assets—and that of our school partners are the exceptional people who comprise the Champion team.
Driven by their passion for helping students, it’s our people who set us apart from others.
Mary Lyn Hammer
PRESIDENT AND CEO
In January 1988, a private career school in Tempe, Arizona anticipated the importance that would be placed on student loan default prevention and hired Mary Lyn Hammer as a full-time Default Manager. Coming from a banking background where the primary goal of servicing was to keep borrowers current and prevent foreclosures and repossessions, Ms. Hammer was appalled to find that fraud and abuse were rampant in the student loan industry.
Early on, Ms. Hammer realized that the only way to insure proper loan servicing was to intervene and act as a liaison between the borrowers and their servicers, a truth that remains today. The Champion program is based on essential, proven-successful “Hands On” techniques that were exceptional at preventing student loan defaults then, and remain just as effective now. Numerous requests from schools needing assistance led Ms. Hammer to form Hands On Default Management, Inc. in January 1990. Since then, many schools have experienced dramatic results by implementing this program.
In 2004 Ms. Hammer formed Champion College Services, a name which better represents the company’s objectives and goals, portfolio of offerings, and the relationships between ourselves and the clients whom we serve. Our professional strategic partnerships coupled with our vision will propel our direction to continually improve our offerings and our relationships in the higher education arena.
Ms. Hammer has worked closely with congressional representatives and key staff at the U.S. Department of Education on many issues during her career in higher education. She remains politically active today as an expert advisor to Education officials, lawmakers, and industry liaisons in her drive to maintain student loan integrity and quality education for all students. It is through her vision and passion that Champion continues to lead the way in student loan management and default prevention.
On January 22, 2016, Ms. Hammer’s released a special report (made publicly available in book format) which provides well-documented evidence of the U.S. Department of Education’s consistent pattern of data manipulation, misreporting, and strategic lack of reporting that drives the agendas that threaten to annihilate American education ideals. (more about the special report Injustice for All)
Ms. Kesson started her experience with student loans working for Southwest Student Services as an Account Maintenance Specialist in 2005 where she processed forbearances and deferments for student borrowers as well as updating accounts from Clearinghouse reports. When the company was purchased by Sallie Mae, Ms. Kesson was hired on to work in loan originations for FFELP loans and expanded her knowledge into PLUS and private loans.
Ms. Kesson came to work at Champion College Services in July 2006 as a Support Services Specialist and was promoted to Auditor in her first year. In July 2007, Ms. Kesson was promoted to Client Relations Manager where she was the direct contact for all of Champion’s clients. She assisted school clien ts in understanding their rates and trends and what was needed for them to meet their goal of low default rates. Ms. Kesson has given presentations at several conferences and schools on default prevention and provided training to school staff to help them better manage their default rates.
In June of 2015 she was promoted to her current position of Operations Manager and oversees the daily operations of the company. Her responsibilities include the staffing and training of the customer service call center, production goals for the support services team, and support for new product sales. Ms. Kesson has been voted Manager of the Year six times as well as receiving awards for Outstanding Contributions to the company. In March of 2016, Ms. Kesson completed CFEI (Certified Financial Education Instructor) training through the National Financial Educators Council. The CFEI coursework meets standards for the highest academic rigor while providing practical lessons that increase the impact of a trained financial educator.
Prior to working in the student loan industry, Ms. Kesson spent many years in customer service, retail management and sales positions. Her strong background and experience in customer service along with her drive to help people is what she loves about being at Champion. She believes in Champion’s mission to help students and schools to be successful.
Born and raised in Connecticut, Ms. Kesson moved to Arizona sixteen years ago. She now resides in Mesa with her son Spencer, a student at ASU in the fall, and their canine companions, Barnum and Coraline.
John White joined Champion as Sales Manager in 2013 and has built many strong relationships within the industry.
He studied communications at Arizona State University to start a fast-paced career in sales. With more than eighteen years of sales experience, he has held high level sales positions at leading access control companies including PTI, Site Safe Security and CCS Connections—roles that provided him the expertise and high-level management skills required to oversee sales operations at Champion. Mr. White works hard to find the right solution for each school in order to meet the school’s goals and stay within budget. His optimism, enthusiasm and positive outlook are contagious, which makes him a huge asset to the Champion team. Mr. White lives in the Phoenix area and in his free time you will find him spending it with his family, playing golf, coaching his sons little league team or DJing local events.
Jeff Recker has earned the trust of his colleagues in Higher Education for eighteen years, and joined Champion as a Sales Manager in 2017.
Jeff earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Arizona. As a first-generation college graduate he understands the challenges associated with the path to success for under-served and non-traditional students, and uses that to motivate his every-day activities in helping others achieve their dreams. He also understands the importance of institutional effectiveness, and how it relates to student success and has consulted schools in finding solutions to meet their goals, effectively adapting to the ever-changing landscape that is Higher Education. He’s held leadership roles throughout his career, and above all enjoys the relationships he’s built along the way.
Jeff lives in Colorado and enjoys an active lifestyle, traveling, and skiing with is family. He is an avid runner, cyclist, and triathlete, having competed in more than thirty marathons and six Ironman Triathlon competitions. In his down-time he enjoys writing and reading. He is community driven and spends time volunteering at local running events, and announcing many others, such as his home-town’s annual holiday Parade of Lights.
Offering over twenty years of expertise in the student loan/school business, Mr. Cox studied at the University of Arizona and then began his career in the financial aid office at a local trade school, and moved on to serve as part of the Financial Aid Service Team at Mitchell Sweet and Associates. Mr. Cox enjoys saying that “he grew up in the school industry” while working for Champion from 2001 to 2005, and at the national trade ass ociation AACS (American Association of Cosmetology Schools) from 2005 to 2015 as Member Services Manager. While at ACCS, Mr. Cox helped the association grow from approximately 600 members to over 1,100. AACS brings together all facets of the cosmetology industry (students, individuals, teachers, and suppliers); to further the education of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences; and to represent the interests of cosmetology institutions and students before Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and state legislatures.
In March 2015, Mr. Cox rejoined Champion as the School Engagement Manager, with the primary responsibility of managing the client relations team that focuses specifically on meeting the needs of school clients. In February of 2016, Chris completed CFEI (Certified Financial Education Instructor) training through the National Financial Educators Council. The CFEI coursework meets standards for the highest academic rigor while providing practical lessons that increase the impact of a trained financial educator. In 2017 Mr. Cox was promoted to Office Manager.
Since 2008, Mr. Cox has been a volunteer staff member at the Phoenix Film Festival as a Guest Relations Coordinator. The Festival is part of the Phoenix Film Foundation, and is a sibling of the Phoenix Film Society, the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival, IFP/Phoenix, the Arizona Student Film Festival and the Phoenix Critics Circle. Mr. Cox also enjoys basketball, swimming, reading, Game of Thrones, plus watching and writing about movies. For the last fourteen years, he has lived in Chandler, Arizona.
CLIENT SUCCESS MANAGER
Kevin Ree’s career in financial services began ten years ago at Bank of America where he worked for three years as an Electronic Bill Pay Specialist. In 2010, he joined Champion College Services as a Customer Service Representative (CSR) and began learning all about loans from the point of view of the students he served. Over the next few years, he finely tuned his customer service abilities to help each student he served by understanding their loan details and the impact that a default has on their life. His CSR role expanded into assisting and creating skip trace procedures, helping to manage and increase student contact rates, and subsequently reducing delinquent and default rates for several schools. Mr. Ree has also served at Champion by training and guiding other CSR’s.
For the past two years, his focus has been on the school side of student loans, working directly with our school clients to monitor and minimize default rates, planning and analyzing trends to identify weaknesses in monthly and yearly rates. He works closely with schools to create strategies to continue to drive down default rates and provide desired results. From addressing the short and long term goals of many Champion schools, and witnessing the personal impact directly through interactions with students, Mr. Ree became aware that the rampant lack of financial literacy skills is a major factor in student loan defaults and that there is a void of financial knowledge at the student level that needs to be filled. He is proud to be a part of the Champion team direction of teaching financial literacy.
As of March 2016, Mr. Ree became a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) through the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) and continues to learn and apply aspects of financial literacy that help both the students and the schools directly. In 2017, Mr. Ree was promoted to School Engagement Manager. Mr. Ree attended Mesa Community College (Mesa, AZ) and has a goal of continuing his educational advancements. He is interested in health, nutrition and learning what the body is capable of as an avid fitness enthusiast, working out and hiking. Besides being a health nut, he enjoys reading, cooking, traveling, writing, composing music, playing guitar, piano and drums. His two canine daughters, Kaylee and Ginger, keep him busy and usually entertained.
CUSTOMER SERVICE MANAGER
Candace Restivo began her career with Champion College Services in January of 2013 as a Student Loan Counselor, providing financial education to borrowers regarding their U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Loan repayment responsibility and default prevention options. She is an excellent listener who helps to guide students in making the most beneficial long term solutions. Her kind and helpful nature helps to reassure students while expertly providing them with the options available, explaining and helping them to understand those options, and then she qualifies the students for the assistance that is suitable for their individual situation.
Champion quickly recognized Ms. Restivo for her compassionate, individualized assistance and delivery in a high-quality customer experience, not only to students and clients, but to employees as well, and she naturally stepped into a role of leadership and mentoring in November of 2015. She became Team Leader to the Customer Service Department and focuses on supporting the team and providing the needed tools to help them achieve team/individual goals and maximize their potential. She is open to answering questions, identifies and resolves issues, coach and refines customer service skills, communicates information and changes, and meets the needs of her team and students. She manages and improves protocol and procedures to increase student, school and loan counselor recoveries, knowledge, and peace of mind, while upholding our mission to develop healthy life skills. She works closely with all other departments to optimize efficient operations and processes, and believes that each department and person is a valuable piece to the puzzle that connects to a common vision. This belief contributes to Ms. Restivo’s main objective “to create and promote a positive customer service focused environment within the company.” She has collaborated with other team leaders to develop and manage corporate culture programs concentrated on genuine recognition, value, unity, and fun!
In March of 2016, Ms. Restivo’s completed CFEI (Certified Financial Education Instructor) training through the National Financial Educators Council. She concluded the year of 2016 by humbly receiving the compliment and honor of Employee of the Year. In 2017 she was promoted to Customer Service Manager.
Ms. Restivo enjoys being a facilitator in her personal relationships as well, in the sense of the Latin origin, to make (their obstacles) easier. She looks forward to continuing her education in mentoring and counseling. She enjoys overall wellness and being with her family.
TECHNICAL SERVICES MANAGER
Ms. White started at Champion in 2003 as a Loan Counselor, bringing her financial collections experience to help struggling students with repayment options for their student loans. From there her knowledge grew for her to expand into Quality Assurance and Auditing. She left Champion briefly in 2008 to gain knowledge in fraud and technology. Upon her return to Champion in 2011, she combined her student loan and technology expertise to improve system performance and business procedures as an Application Systems Analyst. In 2017, Ms. White was promoted to Technical Services Manager where she continues to enjoy enhancing the system to improve interactions with students and clients.
Born and raised in the Chicago area, Ms. White moved to Arizona twenty years ago. She now lives in Mesa with her husband Jeremy, stepson Eric (now in high school), and son Logan (still a toddler), and two dogs Jaina and Kulu. She enjoys spending time with her family, watching movies, spending time with friends at home and at kickboxing class.
Marketing and Communications Manager
Ja-lene Clark has the heart and drive of an entrepreneur combined with the spirt of a teacher and learning style of a hands-on apprentice. She has served for over two decades as a publisher, developmental editor, writer, in marketing, graphic design and web design (skilled in Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and WordPress) with a focus on self-help and self-improvement subjects.
From 2009 to January 2016, Mrs. Clark served as a graphic designer of marketing and sales materials, website developer and assisted Champion by performing publishing tasks on a consultant and freelance basis. In February 2016, she accepted a salaried position with Champion and has since continued to develop marketing materials, is responsible for writing, producing and designing the graphics and web-based elements of four online courses (launching three), developing, maintaining and updating five websites, managing social media campaigns, writing, editing and publishing and distributing press releases and white papers.
Ms. Clark resides and works from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She and her husband Tom enjoy being full-time caregivers to two of their grandchildren, Gabriel (currently age 11) and Savannah (currently age 10). The family also has two beloved canine companions, Rosie and Toby.
TRAINING AND EDUCATION MANAGER
CeCe Keeto has touched many lives by serving in the higher education industry since 1988. Ms. Keeto truly believes helping students is changing lives one student at a time. Her passion to help students has only grown stronger with each year. Throughout her professional journey she contributed to the success of many schools in a multitude of capacities, ranging from Corporate Financial Aid Director, Corporate Financial Aid Officer as well as Campus Director. To further her contribution to the schools, she became an Accreditation Evaluator for the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences and also became a Certified Training Educator for the Nuts and Bolts Business Training Program.
In November 2017, CeCe joined Champion as the Training and Education Manager and is excited to share her knowledge with a new audience. At Champion her focus is on working with high schools to deliver life skills and financial literacy classes to help educate and to empower their students into becoming Champions as they face real-world situations.
CeCe is a huge car enthusiast and attends a variety of car events. She takes piano lessons, enjoys all genres of music, but her favorite is hip hop. She enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, going to dinner, movies and concerts. Miniature Schnauzers are her favorite breed of dog and her dog Frasier is her car cruising companion.