A President's Reflections

A Look Back at 2018: A Record-Breaking Year at SNHU

Posted on December 19, 2018

2018 was a record-breaking year for SNHU. Along the way, we passed several impressive milestones, including hitting the 100,000 mark for both current students and alumni, opening four additional sites in Africa and the Middle East to expand access to education for more refugee learners worldwide, and hosting the University’s largest Commencement to date — with more than 19,000 graduates eligible to attend. We also held our first regional graduation celebration on the West Coast, and we rolled out our new, five-year strategic plan. It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come over the past few years, and how much we’ve accomplished in the past year alone. Here are some of my favorite moments from 2018.

1. Our Learners

Our learners never cease to amaze me; they truly are extraordinary. This year, I met many incredible students on campus, at Commencement, and at SNHU events around the country. I spoke with working adults who cram in their studies until the wee hours of the morning, after putting their kids to bed, students who’ve been working hard to become the first in their family to graduate from college, and military students who have overcome great obstacles to earn their degrees. Each story I heard this year was incredibly moving, and I continue to be amazed by the grit and perseverance of SNHU students. Here are a few of my favorite student stories from 2018:

  • Tyler White, an active-duty service member stationed in Hawaii, and his wife Alexandra completed their degrees together this year after 2.5 years of hard work. However, due to training commitments, Tyler was not able to travel to New Hampshire with his wife for their Commencement ceremony in May. When SNHU heard their story, we knew we had to do something to make their graduation special, despite the distance between them. Thanks to technology, we were able to FaceTime Tyler into the ceremony via a large iPad, so he could “walk” across the stage with Alexandra to receive their degrees. Watch the moment, here.
  • Nick Malafronte, a former lifeguard who had to postpone his schooling after a tragic diving accident that left him paralyzed, completed his bachelor’s degree online with SNHU. To celebrate his accomplishment, we brought the SNHU bus out of retirement to surprise him with a special diploma delivery and graduation party.
  • Cassie Levesque, a 19-year-old SNHU political science major, championed the fight to change the child marriage law in New Hampshire and successfully raised the minimum age to marry in the state – now 16 with a judge’s permission. She earned the Girl Scout’s Gold Award for her advocacy work, and was offered a full-tuition scholarship to SNHU. Cassie was also elected to the NH House of Representatives during the midterm election, and hopes to continue advocating for the causes she cares about.
  • Wendy Bisbee, an academic advisor here at SNHU, and her son Nate reached an important milestone together and celebrated an extra special Mother’s Day this year. They received their hard-earned diplomas together at Commencement in May, walking side-by-side. As you can imagine, it was a momentous occasion for the two of them. 

More than 19,000 students graduated this past May and 135,000 learners around the globe are currently continuing their education with us, all of whom have their own stories of grit, commitment, and success.

2. Our Employees

Our employees are what make SNHU great, and I am so lucky to work with such an amazing group of colleagues dedicated to student success. It’s because of you we’ve consistently been named a “Great College to Work For” every year since the award’s inception — one of only three institutions in the country to do so. This recognition is a direct reflection of the work we do collectively every day, and I could not be more proud of each and every one of you. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to our mission of student success.

Many of you also took advantage of one of the best benefits we offer at SNHU. This year, more than 500 SNHU staff and faculty graduated in May, and 1,274 are currently enrolled in courses. I’m so proud of your commitment to lifelong learning, and I know that it’s no easy feat earning a degree while working full-time and managing other priorities.

3. Giving Back to Our Community

SNHU’s Global Days of Service was another great success this year. Throughout the month of April, more than 1,350 SNHU community members participated in our month-long community service event, logging a record-breaking 6,400 hours of service. Staff, faculty, students, and alumni organized projects across the country, from North Yarmouth, ME to Waimanalo, HI, and across the world, from Calgary, Canada, to Kigali, Rwanda, many of whom volunteered at local food banks, cleaned up public parks, delivered groceries to the elderly, and so much more. In addition, more than 200 of our staff and faculty took advantage of our Volunteer Time Off program throughout the month. To those who participated this year, thank you for helping to make a difference in communities across the globe.  

As a university, we also donated to 22 local nonprofit organizations this year — including Families in Transition, City Year New Hampshire, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters — and we opened several technology labs with our partners. Together, SNHU and the Boston Celtics unveiled two STEM labs at local schools in New England, and donated more than 300 computers and tablets to local schools since the partnership began. The new labs and resources are helping to improve computer literacy for hundreds of students in the region. Together, we’ve also equipped schools with CAD software, 3D printers, Apple TVs, digital cameras, science kits, streaming players, furniture, and more.

Ahead of the MLS All-Star game in Atlanta, we opened a brand new computer lab at Clarkston Community Center in Clarkston, Georgia, often dubbed the most diverse square mile in America serving more than 50,000 people from nearly 60 countries. Like the Center, we have a strong commitment to diversity at SNHU and work hard to support immigrant and refugee populations around the world. Our hope is that this lab will support the Center’s important work and help take its programming to new heights.

4. Supporting Service Members, Veterans, and Military Spouses

SNHU has doubled down on its efforts to serve our military community. Last month, we announced a major initiative with our new employer partner, Walgreens, to provide career and educational opportunities to 5,000 U.S. veterans over the next five years. Through the new program, Walgreens will hire veterans into store leadership roles with opportunities to advance, and they will also have the ability to pursue a bachelor or master’s degree from SNHU. The program will allow these veterans to achieve their educational goals while advancing their careers in the civilian world.

In June, we traveled to Seattle to celebrate a local noncommissioned officer for not only an amazing career in the military, but also for achieving a lifelong goal: completing her college degree before she retired from the military. U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer KC Duenas finally achieved that goal with just a few months to spare, earning her degree online from SNHU with a near perfect GPA. However, since she was serving active-duty, she wasn’t able to make it to Commencement, so at her husband’s request, we brought Commencement to KC. She was able to have her shining moment in her cap and gown with her entire family, naval unit, officers, and friends there to celebrate.

Continuing our commitment to our nation’s military spouses, we hosted four Homefront Celebrations with Operation Homefront in 2018. Each celebration honored military spouses with an elegant night out; guests were treated to a catered dinner, remarks by a motivational speaker, and night on the dance floor. In addition, one full-tuition SNHU scholarship was awarded during each celebration. To date, we have hosted 18 celebrations and have awarded 22 scholarships.

We also hosted Operation: Back of the Net again this year, an annual program in collaboration with Major League Soccer that raises funds for and honors the men and women who selflessly serve our nation. Through the initiative, SNHU donated $190,000 to the USO to support transitioning service members and awarded six full-tuition scholarships to deserving military-affiliated MLS fans.

 

5. Penmen Athletics

The Penmen had a lot to celebrate in 2018! Both our men’s tennis and men’s golf teams won NE10 Championships this year, and for the first time, our entire men’s cross country squad qualified for the NCAA Division II National Championship. SNHU Senior Matt Paradis also won individual medalist honors at the NE10 Championship for the second straight year — the first golfer to do so since 2012-13.

In addition, the SNHU baseball team made it to the College World Series in Cary, North Carolina. The team was one of four left standing in the entire country — the furthest they have ever advanced — and continue to make us proud. During their time down south, the team made a “walk wager” with their biggest fan, 15-year-old Ian Price. Ian, who is in a wheelchair, told the team if he walked across the parking lot, they had to win their next game. Both held up their end of the bargain, and it was the farthest Ian has walked in six years. Watch the inspiring clip, here.

As some of you may know, Ian was matched with the Penmen through Team IMPACT, a nonprofit organization based in Quincy, Massachusetts that matches children who have life-threatening illnesses with collegiate sports teams. We have worked with Team IMPACT since 2012 and over the years have matched 11 new Penmen with our athletics teams, two of whom joined the field hockey and ice hockey teams this year.

Another highlight to note is that our men’s and women’s soccer teams were recognized by the NCAA this year for assembling “JoyJars” for children currently fighting cancer. The NCAA named SNHU as a finalist for their DII Award of Excellence, and awarded the Penmen $500 for future community engagement activities.

Last but definitely not least, Stan Spirou, our head men’s basketball coach, retired this year after 33 years at the University. He will surely be missed by the entire community, and I know his lasting legacy will inspire students for years to come. We wish Stan a happy retirement, and are thrilled to welcome Jack Perri, our new head men’s basketball coach, to the SNHU community.

 

6. Expanding Access Across the World

As you know, one of our major focuses for the months and years ahead is around access and equity. I’m proud to say that we’ve made some great progress over the past year, but there is still more work to be done. Our goal is to give learners the opportunity to pursue just the right learning, at just the right time, at just the right place in their lives.  

This year, we announced a major initiative to help learners do just that. Last month, we merged with LRNG, an organization that works to connect low income youth to meaningful skills and employment, to build a learning and workforce solution for people, cities, and employers across the U.S. This new solution will streamline educational pathways from K-12 to the workforce, help unlock talent and opportunity across the country, put people on the path to middle-class jobs, and build an employment pipeline between underserved communities and employers seeking to attract and retain talent.

With generous support from The Shapiro Foundation and TheDream.US, we also launched an initiative this year to educate 1,000 DACA students over the next five years. Working with on-the-ground partners, the initiative will provide full scholarships to DREAMers to pursue associate and bachelor’s degree programs through SNHU’s competency-based education program, College for America. There are roughly 690,000 DACA students nationwide who are unable to access federal financial aid to support their dreams of pursuing higher education. While the political debate on DREAMers continues, we hope that this initiative will provide opportunities for these students and a pathway toward a degree.

Our Global Education Movement team, also known as GEM, has also made some great progress in 2018. This year, we expanded our refugee program to four additional sites around the world. We now serve students in Lebanon, Malawi, South Africa, and Kenya and this effort has received global recognition. In January, I’ve been asked to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to present the work of our GEM team.

 

7. Our Campus Community

It has been another exciting year for our campus community. This year, we welcomed our largest incoming class to SNHU and opened two new facilities on campus, Penmen Stadium and Kingston Hall. Penmen Stadium was officially unveiled in late February; if you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you to head over to campus and cheer on the Penmen at one of their next games.

We also opened our newest residence hall, Kingston Hall, this fall and it is absolutely stunning. The 382-bed hall was constructed where some of SNHU’s original dorms once stood, and has views of the Merrimack River. It also has the University’s second set of Autism Spectrum Disorder-compliant rooms, which have increased acoustical protections and lights that can be dimmed.

As you may have noticed, we’re in the midst of building our brand new CETA facility, which is located in the heart of campus. It is slated to open in fall 2019 and will house flexible classrooms, collaboration spaces, teaching and computer labs, a maker’s space, a robotics lab, a cafe, and four CDIO (conceive, design, implement, operate) hubs. Check out the fly-through video of this amazing building, here.

 

Our students and faculty members on campus continue to work on amazing projects with a focus on giving back to the community, including two of our campus game design instructors — David Carrigg and Ed Brilliant — who worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation this year to create a video game for a local boy, Parker, who was waiting for a new heart. Parker drew his characters — “Bob” and “Strawberry Man” — and our instructors and students brought his designs to life. His very own game is called “Super Parker Galaxy.”

As part of a semester-long project in a special topics course between the biology and engineering departments, four SNHU students helped design a new bike prosthetic for 4-year-old Maggie Sloboda who was born without part of her right forearm so that she could graduate from training wheels and ride bikes with her grandmother, and SNHU employee, Marilyn Nieuweboer. The students designed two prototypes that they 3-D printed especially for her (in her favorite colors – purple and pink!). Maggie was all smiles as she rode her bike around the halls of the CETA annex, high-fiving students on their way to take final exams. Her family said this is “the best Christmas gift” their family could ever receive.

 

8. The SNHU Center for New Americans

Programming at the SNHU Center for New Americans officially began this year and has made quite the impact on the Manchester community. More than 85 local families have joined us at the Center for youth programming, ESOL classes, college information nights, college mentoring, and many other community events. In the past few months alone, we have hosted a girls’ coding party, multiple supply drives, and continue to host monthly “family dinner” nights at the Center. Most recently, we invited New American families to the Center for their first traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Our youth program has also been a huge success. In partnership with Inti Youth Academy, we serve more than 80 bright and talented students between the ages of 6 and 21. The Center has provided these kids a safe, welcoming space for both educational and recreational activities. They have been learning English language and life skills through art, theatre, STEAM activities, and sports.

In addition, through our partnership with Duet, the Center now serves 25 New American College for America students who are currently working toward their degrees. We are incredibly proud of their achievements, and are honored to provide a home base for them as they continue their studies.

We’re also proud to see so many familiar faces at the Center — over 50 SNHU staff and nearly 20 students volunteered at the Center this year. Many of you also participated in our back-to-school drive in August. With your help, we collected six boxes of supplies and more than 60 backpacks. This drive served 62 children from the New American community in Manchester. The Registrar’s Office also held their own supply drive for the Center, stocking the kitchen with every item on the wishlist. These supplies will support the Center’s monthly “family dinner” nights. Thank you to all who contributed!

If you’d like to learn more about upcoming programs, events, and volunteer opportunities, please contact Courtney Perron (c.perron1@snhu.edu) to subscribe to the Center’s newsletter.

9. Launching Esports

This fall, SNHU officially launched a competitive esports program on campus and will begin offering scholarships to students next fall. It is the first competitive esports program in New Hampshire and one of only a few in New England. In its first year, 100 students tried out for SNHU’s 20-person team. Earlier this month, the esports team also joined the East Coast Conference as an associate member. I’m looking forward to learning more about the games (if they let me play!) and watching our new student-athletes participate in some upcoming tournaments.

In addition to our new esports program, we recently outfitted housing on campus designed specifically for gamers, and have plans to open an esports arena on campus within the next few years. More on that coming soon!

10. The SNHU Community

Starting and ending with learners, I also wanted to share a great video with all of you that features many of our student voices talking about their SNHU experience. I never get tired of watching it and love to share it while I’m on the road. I encourage everyone to check it out!

6 thoughts on “A Look Back at 2018: A Record-Breaking Year at SNHU

  1. Dr. Jeff Czarnec says:

    I love the fact that we don’t wait for change, but create it..!

  2. Pam Varhol says:

    Congratulations to all the graduates. I am looking forward to an amazing 2019.

  3. Patrick Duffy says:

    Tremendous accomplishments………thank you, Paul LeBlanc, on behalf of the SNHU and Greater Manchester community!

  4. mark hecox says:

    Very proud to see the values of SNHU expressed in so many productive ways. Let’s keep it going!!
    Thank you Paul & Team for the continued leadership.

  5. Kelly OSullivan says:

    Absolutely beautiful!! Thank you so much for sharing this. I believe education has the power to transform individuals and be life changing. This video captured this wonderfully. As an adjunct faculty member, I have felt privileged to be a part of this process. I am very proud to work for SNHU!!

  6. David Kusnetz says:

    It is really amazing to see how much progress and innovation and construction New Hampshire College has achieved since changing its name to Southern New Hampshire University. I vividly remember the days I was at the school and loved my time frame. I have visited within the last few years and the changes have been tremendous.

    i know the next generation of students will be able to take their knowledge and education to the next level as they graduate and move into the job force.

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