A Look Back at 2021: Stronger Together

Repost Paul LeBanc’s end-of-year blog.

As I look back on 2021 this holiday season, I continue to be amazed by our students, staff, and faculty. Over the pandemic, we have seen first-hand the strength and resilience of the SNHU community. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, remote work and learning, and the ever-changing higher education landscape, our community did not skip a beat and persisted through the pandemic. Not that it wasn’t tough, or that we didn’t have our occasional stumbles, but it was a year abounding in care for each other and for our students.

This year, we have returned to some sense of normal  — maybe a new normal? — and it has never been more clear: the SNHU community is stronger together.

Here are some of my top highlights from the year:

1. Our Learners

After many months without seeing students in-person, it was an absolute joy celebrating Commencement this fall – our first ceremonies since May 2019 – and welcoming students back to campus. Nothing compares to the SNHU energy as we commemorate our graduates’ hard work and dedication, or seeing campus come alive again. I think we can all agree that we missed these moments dearly.

Meet some of our extraordinary students and graduates from 2021:

Katie Smith, a nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, was able to complete her degree online with SNHU while on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. She floated to different units during COVID, and submitted her final SNHU project on nursing burnout. In celebration of her accomplishment, Katie was surprised with a special diploma delivery at her workplace.

Most college freshmen don’t have a 12-year history with the university they attend, but Ryan Menter isn’t your typical teen. Ryan’s relationship with SNHU began in 2009 when the then five-year-old was adopted by the SNHU Men’s Soccer team through Team IMPACT and the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. He is completely blind due to a pediatric brain tumor and has incredible spirit and determination. Ryan started his path to a criminal justice degree at SNHU in 2021 on campus, and he is an inspiration to the entire SNHU community.

Shannon Rios-Kennedy, a Registered Medical Assistant specializing in pediatrics, completed her healthcare administration degree in the midst of the pandemic. At Commencement, she walked across the stage FaceTiming her mother while her young son and husband proudly watched from the stands. She hopes her degree will allow her to continue advancing in the healthcare field.

Amanda Osborne is a first-generation college student who started her college journey in 1999. A mother of two and a licensed EMT, Amanda put her degree on hold after her busy life got in the way. Now, more than twenty years later and with a communications degree under her belt, she is following her passion and pursuing a new role. She joined an organization that specializes in accessible activities for children with terminal and long-term illnesses. She said, without her degree, this role would never have been possible.

Theresa Colon, a two-time cancer survivor, earned her bachelor’s degree online with SNHU. She put her degree on hold after receiving her first diagnosis in 2000. She felt like if she could beat cancer twice, she could do anything. Despite working full-time, getting her boys through remote learning, and focusing on her own courses, Theresa graduated from SNHU with honors this fall and hopes her story can inspire others.

Tierra Dabbs and Devin Mckeone, Pennsylvania parents, persisted through the pandemic and graduated college together this fall. Through true perseverance and grit, Tierra completed one of her final projects while in the hospital, mere hours after giving birth to their daughter because she “wanted to prove you can do anything you put your mind to.” Following her lead, Devin finished his coursework soon after bringing their daughter home. Despite the struggles of having a newborn during a pandemic, the couple pushed through, both graduating with honors.

2. Our Employees

This has been a particularly challenging time for the workforce – near and far. Through all of the uncertainty, our staff and faculty continued to best support our learners and I could not be more thankful for our dedicated team here at SNHU.

With their help, SNHU was once again recognized as the Most Innovative University in the North and was named to the Great Colleges to Work For list for the 14th consecutive year.

As a university, we came together this year to support thousands of online learners looking to upskill during the pandemic or finish a degree many years in the making. Many people across the nation sought higher education after being laid off or while transitioning to a new career, and we rose up to meet the market demand. Thank you to our admissions folks, advising team, faculty members, and all who support our online learners.

We welcomed students back to campus in the fall and continued our collective work to rethink the traditional campus experience to provide more affordable, flexible, and accessible pathways to higher education for students and families. We rolled out our first programs as part of this work. The Campus Transformation initiative has been a large undertaking, and I thank the campus community for its continued and collective efforts.

Additionally, in response to the pandemic, we debuted Project Synergy in 2021, our new multi-dimensional distributed workforce program. The program – designed to create synergy between the work and home lives of our staff and faculty – embraces remote work and provides our employees more flexibility. At SNHU, we have continued to adapt to this increasingly complex time in our world’s history and I am so proud of our growing and diverse team.

While tirelessly supporting our students, balancing working from home and family obligations, and acclimating to our new normal – during a global pandemic no less – our employees were also working hard to complete their degrees this year. Among our 2021 graduates were 160 faculty and staff members who earned SNHU degrees. Congratulations to our 2021 staff graduates!


3. Giving Back 

In true SNHU form, we rallied in 2021 to figure out what was possible during the pandemic because we knew our communities were still very much in need of our help. Instead of our typical month-long event, Global Days of Service was expanded to span four months, from February 1 to May 31, to offer flexibility and more opportunities to engage. Each month brought attention to a different societal issue: hunger, shelter, environmental justice and the pandemic’s essential workers. More than 1,050 individuals from eight countries, 48 states and Washington, D.C. raised their hands to participate, completing more than 5,500 hours of service.

As part of our social impact initiatives, we opened our 14th Celtics Tech Lab at Webster Elementary as well as successfully completed our meal distribution program this year. Fuel Our Families was established in response to the pandemic; it distributed more than 200,000 meals and raised almost $900k. This program undoubtedly touched many lives in the Granite State, at a time when many needed it most.

During the pandemic, the SNHU Center for New Americans continued to serve NH’s immigrant and refugee population. The Center hosted vaccine clinics in partnership with the Manchester NAACP and the Manchester Health Department that served over 150 people, and provided resources for new Americans to adapt and thrive in New Hampshire. In recognition of its work, the Center was named a NH Innovator by the Union Leader.

In Tucson, we provided $40,000+ of local financial support for 15+ organizations in 2021. These organizations were supported financially, through critical donations, and through employee volunteerism.

Our students also stepped up to make a difference in the community. Nearly 190 campus students incorporated service into their coursework, working with 16 community-based organizations. Our fraternities and sororities participated in the annual Greek Day of Service where they sorted donations for the NH-based PassAlong Project, a nonprofit that provides a week’s worth of clothes to kids who have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

The SNHU community is truly stronger together and it is amazing to see our collective impact.

4. Expanding Access & Affordability 

2021 was a big year at SNHU for access and affordability. This year, we celebrated a full decade of frozen tuition for our online programs, and launched our first $10k and $15k campus programs as we continue to reimagine the traditional campus experience. When we set out to radically reduce the cost of place-based higher education, we knew that it would require a holistic approach, and we are proud of the work our teams have done tirelessly during the pandemic to rethink the cost and delivery of our campus model to put higher education within reach for more learners.

In 2021, the university also made great strides with its foray into microcredentials. In March, SNHU acquired Kenzie Academy, an Indiana-based national leader in online technology. Our aim was to expand access to alternative credentials, creating a new, diverse pipeline of talent and closing the opportunity gap for underserved students. As part of our work, the SNHU-Kenzie team launched a software engineering program developed with Amazon to the general public.

Additionally, the early successes of the SNHU-Duet model was recently the focus of a new working paper released by Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) and Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, in partnership with Trio New College Network. Promising initial results of the hybrid model include improved graduation rates for students participating in the program, with faster time-to degree outcomes and lower costs than Massachusetts institutions serving comparable students.

5. Global Education Movement 

The challenges of this year – the ongoing pandemic and global vaccination effort, refugee crises around the world, unrest in Lebanon and South Africa, refugee camp closures, and growing intensity of the climate crisis – have made GEM’s work more critical than ever.

Four years ago, GEM started with one site in Rwanda and has since expanded to five countries with 10 sites and more than 3,500 students and alumni. We’ve seen our students exemplify GEM’s mission of transformative outcomes – leveraging their SNHU GEM degrees to transform the lives of those in their community.

One powerful example: Using the skills from his SNHU GEM business degree, alumnus Remy Gakwaya launched the Dzaleka Entrepreneurship Center, with support from SNHU, to offer first-of-its-kind coding skills to more than 2,000 students in Malawi’s Dzaleka refugee camp. For this groundbreaking work, he was recently recognized as a Falling Walls Breakthrough of the Year.

David Kinzuzi, another GEM grad, was just named a Schwarzman Scholar. I met David on my last trip to visit GEM sites and he is a remarkable young man, a refugee working on behalf of other displaced people, environmental causes, and African leadership. He is SNHU’s first Schwarzman Scholar. Our remarkable students inspire me.

In the years ahead, GEM will focus on evolving to meet this moment while growing GEM’s footprint and building a sustainable program.

6. The SNHU Community

With 2022 and our 90th Anniversary on the horizon, it is incredible to see how far we’ve come. In 2020, we abruptly closed our offices and campus, and postponed exciting events like our Esports Arena opening and Commencement ceremonies. Now, 20 months later, our students are back on campus, employees have begun returning to the office, our Esports Arena has been unveiled (the team recently won two championships, I might add), and we celebrated our 2020 and 2021 graduates. Through it all, our good work never stopped and our North Star – transforming lives at scale – is stronger than ever. Thank you to our incredible community for helping SNHU live its mission.


Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season!


Reposted from the President’s Corner Blog.