President LeBlanc reflects on a year of accomplishments for SNHU students, staff, and faculty across the globe.
As 2022 comes to an end, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) President Paul LeBlanc looked back at a year filled with collaboration, community and ensuring higher education is accessible and works for everyone. For SNHU’s Global Education Movement (GEM), 2022 has been an incredible year: We welcomed a new SNHU Vice President and GEM Executive Director, Rachael Sears; hosted a roundtable discussion with SNHU GEM students and alumni to celebrate World Refugee Day; attended graduation ceremonies for students from Rwanda, Lebanon, and South Africa; and Rose Bampende Maskini, became the first SNHU GEM student to attend Commencement at SNHU’s New Hampshire campus.
Read President LeBlanc’s reflections on SNHU’s accomplishments in 2022 and the work ahead.
Reflecting on 2022 has filled me with an abundance of joy and a resounding sense of community during this special time of year. I look back with a new perspective, developed out of two years that changed the way we saw ourselves and the world. If 2020 was the year of shock (a pandemic?!) and drawing together to get through a scary time, and 2021 was a year of both medical miracles (effective new vaccines in record time) and frayed nerves, 2022 was the year in which we started to make our way back into a renewed sense of community, adjusting to new ways of work and navigating the world, assessing the changes and the lingering and often very tough impacts on so many, and charting our way into the next phase of SNHU’s work in the world.
At SNHU, we continue to stand up and show up for our learners in this new landscape. For the students we want to serve, we also see the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and their struggles are our struggles. To see this institution get laser focused on persistence, investing millions to do the right thing for students who need us, and bringing innovative new practices to the work reaffirms for me our mission and our values. Amazing new people are also joining us as faculty and staff. Someone recently commented to me that, “People look at SNHU because of an interesting job opportunity, but they want to come to SNHU because in the process they fall in love with the mission and are inspired by the people they meet in the process.”
2022 brought many reasons to celebrate at SNHU. Here are some of my top highlights from the year:
For the first time ever, we celebrated our graduates with Commencement ceremonies in both the spring and fall this year, commemorating the achievements of nearly 33,000 graduates. As part of the celebrations, we hosted our first virtual reality (VR) ceremony as a way to recognize more learners, near and far. I’m delighted to report that, with these new options available, we have more than doubled our student participation in Commencement.
Connecting with our learners throughout the year and hearing their stories are some of the most inspiring and memorable moments. Our students endure personal challenges with great fortitude, and I admire their determination to reach their goals. This year, I heard stories of celebration, of resilience, and of triumph. Meet some of our remarkable 2022 graduates:
- In July, we teamed up with Walmart to surprise an inspiring SNHU graduate and Walmart employee with her diploma. Carol D’Anna, 62, pursued her degree through Walmart’s Live Better U program and never gave up on her studies despite a long road to recovery after suffering two strokes. As an essential worker during the pandemic, Carol persisted, completing her bachelor’s degree in business administration online with an impressive 4.0 GPA.
- Due to a rare genetic condition known as Mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS), campus student Sam Caswell was not expected to read or be in a mainstream classroom. After 38 lifetime surgeries and having to relearn how to walk, talk and read in the middle of his degree program, he beat the odds and earned his Bachelor of Arts in Communication.
- Markita & Nikita Ferebee, 62-year-old twins from Maryland, celebrated their very first graduation ceremony together with SNHU. As young children, they were separated in school when Nikita repeated a grade. Determined to complete their degree programs, the duo enrolled in SNHU’s competency-based program and were thrilled to graduate together for the first time.
- As the only deaf individual in his family, Lyle Clason is unfortunately not able to pursue the same career opportunities as his loved ones. With a family with strong military ties, Lyle enrolled online with SNHU to continue his family’s legacy of military service in his own way. After earning his bachelor’s degree in history, he hopes to obtain a position at a military museum and aspires to make those experiences more accessible to individuals with disabilities.
- Sabrina Mentis, a grandmother of two and mother of three from Florida, graduated alongside her daughters, Kellyann and Stephanie. Originally from South America, Sabrina started her journey to a degree after immigrating to the U.S. in her early 20s. Determined to complete her education, she enrolled in SNHU’s online program and inspired her daughters to follow in her footsteps. The trio received their business administration degrees and shared, through many happy tears, how amazing it was to reach the finish line together and share this special moment.
- When the pandemic made the bright lights of Broadway go dark, Emily Walton, one of the Broadway stars of “Come from Away,” wasted no time and began pursuing her psychology degree online with SNHU. During a curtain call in January, I surprised Emily on-stage after her performance. She received her diploma after nearly two years of hard work amid so much uncertainty for her and everyone who works on Broadway. She joined us for Commencement in the spring, and has now enrolled in our masters in counseling program.
SNHU staff and faculty across the country have shown, as they always do, that they are connected by a common goal: supporting our learners. Their drive and dedication has been a source of inspiration for both myself and our students, as well as a cause for celebration.
We have thousands of talented employees on the SNHU team, and we continue to diversify our growing workforce through our distributed work program, Synergy. In 2022, we increased the number of Synergy approved states from 11 to 33. Whereas only 15% of our employees lived and worked outside of NH, that percentage has jumped to 35% and continues to grow. Distributed work is now our future and getting more states on the list is important. Broadening our geographic presence gives our employees more flexibility and expands our external recruitment efforts in support of diversity initiatives and student and employee support needs.
This year, SNHU celebrated its 15th consecutive year earning the Great Colleges to Work For distinction. Fifteen consecutive years is a long stretch of time to win one of the most respected workplace-recognition programs in the country. SNHU is the only institution to make the list every year since its inception, and that is due entirely to our team’s dedication and efforts.
We were recognized once again as a top 10 Military Friendly® School, and by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for Women” in the U.S, an achievement that feels particularly important as we appointed the university’s first female Board Chair this year. I am so proud of this community we are creating, and honored to be a part of it.
The university also celebrated 270 SNHU employees who earned their diplomas in 2022. While tirelessly supporting our students, balancing work and family obligations, and navigating life as we emerge from the pandemic, they also worked hard to complete their programs. Meet some of our incredible staff graduates:
- Judy Dionne, an SNHU staff member on the Information Security team, graduated from SNHU alongside her daughter Madison. They both earned their master’s degrees and faced a number of challenges along the way. Judy survived a brain tumor and Madison has dyslexia. Despite their challenges, they pushed through and finished their degrees together.
- Graciela Mora, SNHU admissions representative, earned her bachelor’s in business administration. A first-generation college graduate, military spouse and daughter of immigrants from Mexico, Graciela says her studies have helped her become a better resource for learners at SNHU. She is now pursuing her master’s degree.
- Laura Moran, who helps plan SNHU Commencement and other university events, earned her master’s in organizational leadership to support that work. After her ceremony, she proudly marched through the employee clap line, a time honored SNHU tradition, with her fellow team members.
Over the past few years, our world has changed in a way that has felt both everlasting and overnight. The growth and transformation of this university has presented its own SNHU-specific challenges that our team has championed, by introducing our one university academic catalog, our first university-wide environmental sustainability strategic plan, our campus transformation efforts, and returning Homecoming to campus for the first time since 2019 to name a few. Thank you to the SNHU team for your grit, courage, creativity, and unwavering commitment to student success.
The generosity of the SNHU community was in full force again this year. This holiday season, SNHU staff and community members donated more than 420 gifts to 14 nonprofit partners and their constituents. The Gifting Tree program also raised more than $12,000 for charity, which will be donated between Families in Transition and the Boys & Girls Club of Tucson.
Global Days of Service, our volunteer initiative that cultivates global impact, was another great success. This year, the program spanned two months and supported more than 135 organizations across 46 U.S. states and five countries. A huge shout out to our more than 1,200 volunteers – alumni, students, and employees – who stepped up to help and completed over 5,500 hours of service.
In honor of SNHU’s 90th birthday, the university community helped us exceed our Founders Day Giving Challenge donation goal, raising more than $145,000, funds we will use to continue to support and innovate for SNHU learners.
As part of our social impact efforts, we launched a Community Service community of practice to encourage SNHU employees to utilize their Volunteer Time Off (VTO) benefit and learn about service opportunities in their local communities. I’m proud to share that employees used over 5,600 hours of VTO in 2022, an impressive 82 percent increase from the previous year.
In 2022, the university also provided $320k to 51 nonprofits, including Webster House, the Nashua Police Athletic League, and Granite United Way. We also renovated the library at Wilson Elementary School in collaboration with our friends at the Boston Celtics. The library was transformed into a STEM and literacy lab, allowing students to explore various concepts in an exciting, age-appropriate space. This was the 15th lab we’ve opened in New Hampshire.
The success of the Center for New Americans contributed to the Manchester School District launching a Welcome Center at Central High School for new Americans and English language learners and their families. SNHU donated furniture and provided financial support for the Welcome Center and we are in discussions for future centers.
Thirty-one campus students were awarded a total of $35,000 from the Findlen-LeBlanc Travel Scholarship for study abroad experiences this year. These students will be traveling to England, Ireland, Japan, Finland, Sweden, France, and Spain this spring and summer.
As part of a coalition led by the City of Manchester, SNHU was one of 21 recipients of the Build Back Betterregional challenge this year, which was hosted by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. SNHU will lead the “Work & Learn” project which focuses on creating equitable pathways to education and the workforce within the emergent BioFabrication industry for the City’s most vulnerable communities.
Together, we continue to make a profound impact on the communities in which we serve. I’m honored to be a part of a university so willing to lend a helping hand and support our growing global community.
Global Education Movement
I had the privilege of participating in a World Refugee Day roundtable discussion with five SNHU GEM students and alumni from across the globe and our new SNHU Vice President and GEM Executive Director, Rachael Sears. The group shared their personal experiences navigating higher education as refugee learners and the impact they’re making in their communities. Our discussion was an important reminder of why we do the work – when refugees have access to higher education, they not only improve their own lives, but create opportunities for their families, communities, and beyond. It was wonderful to hear the ways that SNHU GEM students and alumni have come together to make a measurable impact.
One story that exemplifies this is that of SNHU GEM student Glory (Lukambo) Luundo. Glory is co-leading the Fishing in the Desert project in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where a group of refugee students collaborated to design a self-sufficient agricultural system of fish ponds to feed camp residents and fight malnutrition. The project won an innovation award and received support from the UN World Food Programme for its sustainable approach to fighting hunger. I spoke with Glory during the roundtable event, and he is a remarkable young man.
For the first time, we also welcomed a SNHU GEM graduate to New Hampshire for Commencement. Rose Maskini, a sister to 12 and a mother of four, always dreamed of pursuing higher education. After being displaced from her home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she never gave up on her dream and enrolled in our SNHU GEM program in 2018 with our in-country partner, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, in South Africa. It was an honor to celebrate her achievement in-person this fall, knowing that the distance wasn’t the only challenge she had to overcome to obtain her degree.
Refugee learners across the globe display matchless resilience and determination as they pursue their education. Rose put it best, “When refugees are given opportunities like I have received, we can have an impact on the country that received us, on our home country, and on society. We just need a chance.” At SNHU, we are proud to support them with academic opportunities and be part of their journey as they become leaders and changemakers and huge kudos to Rachel Sears and the GEM team for continuing to lift the program, serve more learners, and transform so many lives.
I met Rose Maskini, the first SNHU GEM student to attend Commencement in New Hampshire.
Expanding Access & Affordability
Our North Star goal of transforming lives at scale continued to shine bright this year. Through our work with Guild Education, SNHU was selected as a national education partner for Amazon’s Career Choice program in March. The program affords more than 750,000 hourly Amazon employees the opportunity to pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree from SNHU. We’re thrilled to expand access to debt-free education for thousands of employees and work with Amazon toward our shared commitments: educating and training the current workforce to meet industry needs and providing adult learners the flexibility required to pursue an education to advance their careers.
Kenzie Academy continues to be a leading online coding school preparing learners from diverse backgrounds for careers in tech. 2022 marked Kenzie’s five-year anniversary, launches of new programs, new leadership, graduations, the first homecoming, and welcoming more learners than ever before. In October, the first cohort of learners since Kenzie Academy and SNHU joined forces graduated with SNHU certificates. Congratulations to our 48 Kenzie grads!
Working with the Urban College of Boston, we are partnering to explore new models of access and opportunity for learners in deeply underserved communities. This partnership gives us a “laboratory” for experimenting, learning, and trying out new models. It’s a wonderful example of being a learning organization.
Additionally, 25 students who graduated from the Manchester School District last spring attended SNHU this fall as part of a new initiative. Manchester Promise, a program launched this year by Mayor Joyce Craig, enables Manchester public school students who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity and who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to attend college debt-free. Students have the option of attending SNHU as a traditional two-year or four-year student, through the Duet + SNHU program, or Manchester Community College. These options are designed to meet students where they are and ensure that students find the right pathway to higher education that meets their individual needs.
The success of Penmen athletics has been incredible to witness throughout 2022. Back in June, SNHU won its first NE10 Presidents’ Cup in the 22 years it has been a member of the conference, an absolutely amazing feat. The Presidents’ Cup is presented annually to signify overall athletic excellence in the NE10. It is awarded to the institution that compiles the most cumulative points based on finishes in the regular-season standings from all of its programs competing in league championships. The highest previous finish for the Penmen had been fourth.
The SNHU Penmen also recaptured the Queen City Cup with a 20-14 win over cross-town rival Saint Anselm. Between ties and shortened COVID years, the Cup is back on the right side of the river for the first time since 2016-17.
In addition to these major successes, the Penmen have earned a myriad of individual and team achievements this year. Please join me in cheering on our student-athletes for the outstanding victories of 2022:
- Women’s basketball won its first NE10 Regular-Season Championship, finishing 15-4 in league play and 21-7, overall, as it earned an NCAA postseason berth for the first since 1990 and hosted the NCAA East Regional at the Stan Spirou Field House for the first time ever.
- Women’s outdoor track & field took home its first NE10 title in program history, led by graduate student Ashley Corcoran, who was an NCAA National Championship qualifier and the NE10 Athlete of the Year, after also reaching both feats during the indoor season.
- Baseball captured the NE10 Regular-Season Championship and then repeated with its fourth NE10 Championship title, before claiming its fourth NCAA East Region crown. The team advanced to the NCAA National Championships in Cary, N.C., for the second consecutive season and the third time in five years.
- AJ Cavotta of the men’s golf team qualified for the NCAA National Championship as an individual.
- Senior Joe Fiorino of the NE10 Regular-Season Champion men’s ice hockey program was named the NE10 Man of the Year – the third Penmen to be recognized with the award since its inception in 2013.
- Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, six NE10 Coach (or Coaching Staff) of the Year recipients, including Elie Monteiro and the women’s soccer staff, Karen Pinkos (women’s basketball), Sean Walsh (men’s ice hockey), Matt Arvanitis (men’s golf), Scott Loiseau (baseball), and Lex Butler and the women’s outdoor track & field staff.
- Women’s tennis captured its fourth NE10 Championship title and first since 2012-13, with Greg Coache being honored as the Coach of the Year for the sixth time and senior Magdalena Hubickova earning NE10 Player of the Year honors for the second time.
- Both tennis programs were successful at the ITA East Regional Championships. Senior Magdalena Hubickova and graduate student Alexxa Etienne captured the doubles title on the women’s side, while sophomore Jonathan Berling and grad student Fernando Torres successfully defended their doubles title. Berling was also the singles champion, making it a clean sweep for the Penmen.
- Women’s cross country won its first NE10 and NCAA East Region Championships, with grad student Ashley Corcoran finishing first at both races. The squad’s regional victory automatically qualified it for NCAA National Championships in Seattle, Wash., where it competed for just the second time (2019).
- Men’s cross country narrowly missed out on a trip to Nationals, but grad student Jacob Logan advanced as an individual and ran a race that saw him set a new personal best by 20 seconds and also come up just four seconds short of the program record.
- Women’s volleyball put together a historic season, setting a new program record for wins (19), winning its first NE10 postseason match, hosting an NE10 postseason match for the first time, receiving its first NCAA postseason berth, claiming its first NCAA postseason victory, capturing its first NCAA East Region title and advancing to the NCAA National Championships in Seattle for the first time.
The SNHU Community
What an incredible year it has been! We celebrated SNHU’s 90th anniversary, we cheered on our student-athletes as they proudly took home their first Presidents’ Cup, and we established The Center for Higher Education Policy and Practice (CHEPP) to continue to advance our policy work and help more learners across the globe gain access to high quality, affordable higher education pathways.
We welcomed the first female Board Chair in the history of SNHU, Winnie Lerner, and celebrated the outgoing Board Chair Mark Ouellette with a special naming ceremony in honor of his 26 years of service on the Board.
Following extensive research across our university community, SNHU also adopted a new visual identity in 2022, welcoming the next evolution of SNHU with a refreshed look. The logo was developed in-house by our creative team based on feedback from faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as external research. It represents our continued commitment to our mission and to always innovating, growing and evolving to meet the needs of our learners.
All of our 2022 aforementioned successes could not have been accomplished without our collective efforts. Together, we continue to transform lives across the nation and the globe.
As 2022 comes to a close, my wish for 2023 is continued SNHU connection and more love, kindness and happiness for us all. Happy holidays and cheers to 2023.