A President's Reflections

2020: A Year We’ll Never Forget

Posted on December 23, 2020

As we approach the end of 2020, I am reminded that the holidays are also a time to pause and take stock of that for which we are grateful, even in a challenging year like this one. High on my list is the SNHU community. Throughout the year we accomplished so much together, including accelerating our campus-based education transformation in response to the pandemic (a huge undertaking in itself), acclimating to remote learning and work, opening our new CETA facility on campus, welcoming more than 200 new team members in Tucson, and coming together as a community to help those in need. Through all of the uncertainty, the SNHU community persevered, and we continued to find ways to best serve and support our learners while also taking care of each other. 

Here are my top highlights from 2020, a year we most certainly won’t forget.

Our Learners

In 2020, we unfortunately had campus seniors seeing the end of their college career disrupted, online students afraid for their jobs and health, athletes seeing their seasons cancelled, and international students unsure about their future. It was, without a doubt, a challenging year for our learners, near and far. 

Overnight, it seemed like the world turned upside down, and our learners had to adapt to a new normal. Overall they did well, though we also saw enormous struggles along the way as well. Some were frontline workers who now had to work double shifts in health care or making sure grocery shelves were stocked. Some dealt with family illness or job loss. Others were campus students who needed the scaffolded accountability of a regular class schedule and meetings with their faculty. All of society’s inequities are on display in the pandemic and, given who we seek to serve, our students had more than their share of suffering.

But they also persevered and demonstrated amazing grit and determination. They enrolled in record numbers, stuck with their studies, and continued to progress, graduate, and impress.  

Although we couldn’t celebrate our graduates’ good work at Commencement this year, we were elated to see so many students commemorating their achievements with drive-by graduation parades, living room ceremonies, and socially distanced outdoor celebrations. It was not the pomp and circumstance we envisioned, but seeing these celebrations live on in new ways brought so much joy to the SNHU community. We’re so looking forward to celebrating in person when it is safe to gather again. 

Here are some of my favorite student stories this year:

  • Joanne Coffey and Shaun Collupy, childhood friends and neighbors who attended every school together since kindergarten, enrolled in the same on-campus bachelor’s and master’s programs at SNHU and officially completed both degrees together. The SNHU Bus stopped in their neighborhood for a special diploma delivery this summer. Take a look at their graduation pictures over the years.
  • Kisha Campbell, an online student and mother of six (including two sets of twins), earned her degree after nearly two decades in the making. She celebrated her accomplishment with a living room graduation party, surrounded by her loved ones. 
  • Laura van der Doorn, an extraordinary student-athlete on campus, was selected as a top 30 honoree for NCAA Woman of the Year. It is an amazing achievement and it gave us something to cheer for when so many athletic contests were cancelled. As great an athlete is Laura, she is an even better human being.
  •  SNHU staff members and parents of two, Alexandria and Stephen Audet completed their master’s degrees together online at SNHU. To celebrate their accomplishment, Alex’s mom (Eva, an SNHU alumna) coordinated a surprise graduation parade for the couple with special guests from SNHU, the local fire department, and their chief of police. Alex and Stephen had their shining moment in their caps and gowns on what would have been Commencement weekend and were featured on WMUR

Our Employees

Much like our students, SNHU staff and faculty had to adjust pretty quickly last March. Suddenly, many had to balance remote work and teaching while also caring for kids and other loved ones at home. One of the real gifts of the pandemic year for me was my weekly “drop ins” to team meetings and the chance to spend time with so many staff and faculty. Our faculty and staff inspire me with their dedication, smarts, and the spirit that they bring to the work.

It’s dangerous to start doing special shout outs, but I really can’t do this message without acknowledging the campus faculty and staff who labored away this summer on campus transformation, for the gene.SIS team and their work on that critically important project, for the Student Experience teams that took such good care of students while seeing an amazing surge, the COVID-19 task force that provided expertise and leadership and courage throughout a situation for which there was no playbook, the GEM team that pivoted and figured out how to take care of our most underserved learners, and an endless number of smaller teams that were called upon to do extraordinary work (I’m thinking of the surge facility on campus, the demands on our communications team, the feeding program in Manchester, our DEI team’s work in this year of racial reckoning, and many more). In every instance the guiding question has been, “What is best for students?” I am honored to work with such people.

I’m proud that SNHU has earned the Great Colleges to Work For distinction every year since inception (we are the only institution to do so, I might add) and Forbes’ Best Employer by State this year. I like to think we do a lot of things right (shout out to HR here!), but the thing we do best is hire amazing people. During the pandemic, we have hired more than 200 new employees to support our online student growth as more Americans look to finish or advance their education, and we also welcomed more than 200 new friends and colleagues in Tucson. It’s amazing to see how much talent we have spread across the nation and world, and I look forward to our collective work in the year ahead.

We also got to know one another in ways never anticipated. It’s been delightful to see the images you shared of families and pets and remote workspaces. You discovered new ways to connect virtually – and even showed off some impressive (and not so impressive, in my case) moves during our Friday evening dance parties last summer. (Those are coming back briefly Dec. 30 as part of our holiday festivities, by the way, so dust off your disco balls.)  

Giving Back

In times like these, the importance of working together to help our friends, colleagues, and greater community has never been more important. This year we united to share critical resources with our nation’s educators as they transitioned to remote learning, provided free trainings to frontline workers who needed guidance on how to work safely while mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and distributed more than 150,000 meals to Manchester families throughout the pandemic. 

2020 has been a tough year and I know firsthand the ordeals some of you have braved, but this community never turned inward. I always like to say that SNHU and its people run to where there is need.   

Thus these additional highlights from the year: 

  • An SNHU alumna living in Taiwan donated 2,500-plus masks to help SNHU’s local community here in New Hampshire. 
  • Staff and faculty purchased over 500 Angel Tree gifts this year, and the annual raffle raised more than $12,000 to be split evenly between the New Hampshire Food Bank and the Boys & Girls Club of Tucson.
  • Our new Tucson colleagues cleaned up a 13-acre park, boxed 26,000 pounds of food at a local food bank, prepared and served meals for 60 homeless individuals, bundled 10,000 diapers, landscaped a homeless veterans facility, and made 700 beads and 892 kindness coins for Ben’s Bells.
  • The SNHU Center for New Americans has been delivering food, household items, and gift cards to the families we serve. We’ve also been helping them with their transition to remote learning, and have been a bridge between these families and the school district to address issues as they come up.
  • During the Meals for Manchester program, our very own Volunteer Superstar Jen Kidwell was recognized for her efforts and was named Volunteer of the Year by the Granite YMCA
  • We donated 2,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and several dispensers to the Manchester Fire Department.
  • SNHU donated $10,000 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository (Chicago) and Youth on Their Own (Tucson) to support COVID-19-related relief.
  • The University also donated $10,000 to “Frontline NH,” a collaboration between four community hospitals in Manchester and Nashua serving patients with COVID-19. 
  •  We completed our second Manchester mini pitch, in collaboration with the U.S. Soccer Foundation. The mini pitch will create a safe place for youth to play on the west side of Manchester. 
  • With our friends at the Boston Celtics, we opened a new technology lab at Green Acres Elementary School. 
  • We also extended our annual Global Days of Service initiative. To see the many ways Penmen continued to make a difference in their communities across the globe, follow #ServeWithSNHU on social media.

The list could go on and on. I simply want to thank every one of you who made this possible in 2020. 

Expanding Access & Affordability 

One of our most incredible accomplishments of 2020 was SNHU’s accelerated effort to make higher education more affordable and accessible for students on campus. Over the past eight months, hundreds of faculty and staff members worked together to fundamentally rethink the cost and delivery of place-based learning, and we recently announced our plans

This was not just a tuition reset or a cost-cutting strategy; this effort was the culmination of years of hard work to fundamentally reimagine a broken model that too often leaves students behind. Rather than setting out to simply cut costs through the elimination of programs, services, staff, or experiences, SNHU staff and faculty identified a number of ways to more efficiently deliver high-quality academic programs while ensuring a meaningful coming-of-age experience.

In addition to our campus transformation efforts, we also revised our MBA program so students can complete it in just over a year, opened the new College of Engineering, Technology and Aeronautics facility, and partnered with numerous community colleges across the country, including the entire Pennsylvania and California community college systems (more than 120 colleges), to expand access and affordability at a time when students and families need it the most. 

We also launched through our Office of Diversity and Inclusion a $5 million Social Justice Fund to provide emergency and other assistance to our most vulnerable learners and make recommendations for closing achievement and completion gaps that have persisted in higher education for generations. 

Global Education Movement

Our Global Education Movement team has worked tirelessly over the past few years to serve refugees on their transformative educational journey, and 2020 was a big year for the program. 

This year, SNHU’s GEM was recognized at TED2020, received a grant from The Stevens Initiative to facilitate a virtual exchange program for students based in Lebanon, and, most recently, was selected as a finalist for the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award, a $12 million award that funds bold solutions for long-term transformational change in the lives of refugees. The recipient will be announced in March 2021.

The GEM team is doing amazing work across the globe and is empowering refugee learners to grow in these changing times. The aforementioned distinctions are a direct reflection of the team’s hard work, and I could not be more proud.

The SNHU Community 

2020 was indeed a challenging year for most, but when times are tough, the SNHU community shines brightest.

I’m about to get a bit corny here, but it’s the holidays (“Love Actually allusion there) and this has been no typical year. We don’t use the word “love” very much in higher education. However, there is indeed a kind of love at work at SNHU, if we mean a sense of obligation to those who need us most. It is said that when Masai warriors greet each other, they often say, “Eserian nakera,” which means “How are the children?” The response is typically, “All the children are well,” even if neither warrior actually has children. The exchange is about the well-being of the whole community. If all the children are well – fed, safe, nurtured, happy – then all else has to be going well. The question is an invitation to think beyond oneself.  

Everywhere, across the university, I saw this year that kind of selflessness – yes, let’s call it love of our students and a love of one’s colleagues – and a kind of grace that made me grateful, yet again, to be part of this marvelous community. I think we will come out of the pandemic even better than we were when we went into it. In a shared experience such as this one, when things really were tough, we have forged new bonds, new commitments, and new ways of working together. There was rarely a day in this long journey when I wasn’t amazed by a student, faculty member, or staff person — often more than once and often by an act of kindness and caring for someone else.

My first Board Chair was a wonderful woman named Lillian Farber, a New Yorker and the Jewish grandmother I never knew I needed. She told me that as a little girl she would enter her grandmother’s house and in the hallway, atop a bookcase, was a bowl full of receipts from the various charities to which her grandmother made gifts. She asked her, “Bubbe, why do you keep all these here in the hall like this?” Her grandmother replied, “Ah, shayna punim [I think that’s the expression], when the Angel of Death comes to visit me, I want him to know I was a good woman in this world.” The tough year of 2020 was a time when so many people in the SNHU community demonstrated to whatever angels that might ask that it is indeed full of good people. I won’t miss the year 2020, for the most part, but I also won’t forget how much good I’ve seen in all of you.

Here’s to a brighter year and a wonderful holiday season to us all.

With love and gratitude,

Paul

35 thoughts on “2020: A Year We’ll Never Forget

  1. Allison Launier says:

    It makes me feel good morally to work for Southern New Hampshire University. I am very proud of the organization because we sincerely care about each other, our students, our community, and the world.

  2. Marylou Ross says:

    Dear Paul,

    Merry Christmas to you and your family. May 2021 bring happiness , health and joy to you and those you love. This year has been a time of challenge and you have made magic in so many ways. Thank you for taking care of each one of us , job security, your honestly and encouragement in your Wednesday and Friday visits these gave us strength and courage. Your “love ” of students and our University have shown through in every difficult and necessary decision. When I count my blessings you are among them. We are blessed to have you leading us in this very unusual time.
    With gratitude and appreciation,
    Marylou Ross

  3. Pam Varhol says:

    Dr. LeBlanc, I really appreciate all the messages and videos that you shared throughout 2020. I wish you and Pat a wonderful holiday season. I’m really looking forward to the next in-person graduations. Take care, Pam

  4. Debbie Lloyd says:

    Thank you for instilling calmness during this hectic time. We are grateful for your leadership and compassion. It’s been on honor to work at SNHU.

    Happy Holidays!

  5. Mary Beth says:

    I have never been more proud to state ‘I work for a wonderful employer!’
    You have guided us and kept us calm and informed throughout this pandemic. Thanks to you, all of our health and well-being (students, staff, parents, etc), has enabled us to come together in ways some of us (ok most of us) never imagined.
    Wishing you and your family, as well as all of my colleagues and their families, a reflective, contemplative season with positivity and optimism for 2021 and the future.

  6. Ken Richardson says:

    Paul,

    Thank you for the steadfast leadership during this year of turmoil and “doing what is right” all the time. I know we faced a lot of upset students when the decision was made to go fully remote for students, but, as we can see in hindsight 2020 (yes pun intended), it was the correct thing to do. Everyday I am honored to work for SNHU as the culture permeates through every team member I work with and they are now considered family. Truly the best organization I have EVER worked for. And once life slowly returns to normal with the advent of COVID immunizations, I greatly look forward to our “SNHU RIDES” once again. For now, we have to play in the snow on our snowmobiles.

    Again, thank you for helping to make SNHU “The BEST college to work for!!

    God bless and have a safe Holiday!

  7. John Hatch says:

    Paul,

    Although I just joined SNHU as part of the gene.SIS program in December, I already feel the love, and can tell it starts from the top down. I remember meeting you as you walked through the UC cafeteria when my daughter was an undergraduate living on campus back in 2008 and being impressed with your genuine caring for the students. Thank you for staying true to your core beliefs and cascading them throughout the staff and faculty!

    God Bless you and Happy New Year!

  8. Eva Pagoulatos says:

    As adjunct faculty, I felt so supported by my deans and team lead. I always feel supported by them but in 2020 I felt it more them ever considering they also had their own personal responsibilities to tackle along with their professional responsibilities. This gave me so much more motivation to give that extra push for my students even when I was on the brink of burning out.

    I love working for SNHU. I always feel valued

  9. Mike Baumann says:

    Dear Paul LeBlanc,

    Thank you and all of the staff at Southern New Hampshire University for being there to all of your employees and students during this hardship of the COVID-19. I was in the medical field as a Certified Nursing Assistant in the past and I am impressed with the Online University and the workers thus far. I am excited to be on my educational journey with my fellow classmates and everyone at Southern New Hampshire University. Thank you and may God Bless everyone during this hurdle we all are enduring.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Baumann

    Southern New Hampshire Online Student

  10. Kathy Wigley says:

    2020 has been a difficult year for all of us. I could not hold back the tears as I read though the article. Special shout out to Kristie Metzler, the advisement team, and Dr. Bolden for their support, kindness, and help to pull me though the term after the passing of my daughter due to COVID. All your efforts are appreciated. Thank you!

  11. Dustry Gunderson says:

    Coming from a student I really want to take the time to say thank you to all the staff for reaching out to those of us who do remote learning. This environment is challenging to work in and the SNHU staff and faculty have been great as we have to rearrange our schedules because a lot of us had to go out and get new jobs to make ends meet where we got laid off our jobs. The support at SNHU is unbelievable and I just wanted to say that I would not be doing this well without all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Dustry Gunderson
    SNHU Online Student

  12. Frances Dobesh says:

    I have been working on achieving my Bachelors degree in Psychology, since 2017. I have worked hard and would have been done, but my former college took advantage of the students and were forced to close. I found SNHU, and I have loved every minute studying online. Everyone has been great, and the faculty/staff have been able to assist me in everything that I needed. I can not wait to continue on after my Bachelors, and get my Masters degree.

  13. Annie Wise says:

    Thank you !

  14. Keri Donovan says:

    Thank you for stepping up to the challenges education faced in 2020. The efforts of all SNHU staff was noticed. As a current student and fellow educator – Well done!

  15. Paul Lamy says:

    I am a first year student at SNHU. I am looking forward to being on campus and becoming a part of the community. I am so grateful to be part of such a school that is composed of such incredible people. Bless all of you who read this!

  16. FALILAT ISOLAGBENLA says:

    Beautiful and encouraging. My husband and I are currently graduate students at SNHU in different fields. With Five kids, 2 in college, 3 under the ages of seven and one on the way. It has been a struggle keeping family and school intact, but I am very happy to say with the help of resources and staff available at SNHU, we have made it this far and hopefully make it to the end of our programs at SNHU.

    Falilat

  17. Nice, Very Nice. I am glad to be a part of this school.

  18. Heidi Gordon says:

    As a new adjunct that started at SNHU in March of 2020, I cannot say enough about how welcomed I felt from the very start. In my teaching experience, I have never experienced the level of training and support I have gotten. I am proud to be a part of a great learning institution and look forward to the future with SNHU.

  19. Shannon Still says:

    I have been a student at SNHU for about 2.5 years and I can’t say enough about the support I have gotten on my educational journey. I am so glad that I chose SNHU to earn my degree, and this year I will graduate with a BA in communications. I hope to go on to get my masters. Thank you so much for providing me the opportunity to be successful in my educational endeavors. I love this quote, I do not know who said it but it should be meaningful to all who are students and educators.

    “The whole point of an education is to turn mirrors into windows and obstacles into opportunities.”

  20. Robert Darden says:

    As a new student to the university, Thank you and I look forward to the learning.

  21. Amber Robinson says:

    As a student that started at SNHU in 2018, I cannot say enough that I am very pleased to be welcomed from the start. In my years here I have never had the kind of help from all of my instructors that I had. It is my pleasure to be a part of the great learning and looking forward to my future with SNHU.

  22. Jovella Browne says:

    As my senior years is coming to an end I often find myself reflecting on all the years I’ve spent at SNHU (2016-present) and I must say there’s no place I would have rather be. The environment and the people is extremely welcoming and I honestly believe I would have gotten where I am if I was somewhere else. My advisor Heather is the best and my professors really do care. During these trying times SNHU is one thing in my life that has remained constant and for that I am forever grateful! #classof2021

    -Jovella

  23. William Keith says:

    Thanks for shining a brighter light on the good people are doing. It has been a struggle for many and working with friends, family and neighbors, we will make this more comfortable. Graduating college has been a goal of mine for over 30 years. Even with the struggles last year, the SNHU team has made my course work goals achievable and now have just one term left (hopefully) to complete my BS in Accounting. Even if the vision of walking across the stage to receive a diploma is not fulfilled, the feeling of accomplishment is reward enough. SNHU’s faculty was so understanding as dealt with many personal and business issues during 2020 to assist me in meeting my educational goals. Very proud to almost be a Penmen alum. Cheers to a brighter 2021!!!

  24. Samantha Foote says:

    I am so proud to be a student at SNHU! I have been met with nothing but acceptance, openness, kindness and compassion. Thank you SNHU staff. You truly have some remarkable people working to support students. I am so grateful to be reminded every day why I chose to continue my education here. Thank you Thank you!

  25. Bridget Bendel says:

    I am so grateful I join a college that really cares about the students and shows it! Covid-19 has been an experience for all of us. It is so rejuvenating to see others succeed here especially in the year 2020.

  26. Linda V. says:

    This was a lovely read. Thank you for the time and effort creating it. It feels me with SNHU pride and fond remembrance of the good that can come from struggle. Cheers to you and yours in 2021!

  27. Sarah Brackney says:

    I am so glad to have opened this newsletter. It warms my heart to see God at work within SNHU, its students, and its staff. When the level of servitude is the measure of success for any individual or institution, priorities are right on track, and goodness will come! I’m thankful to be associated.

  28. Claudia McDowell says:

    As an online student very, very far away from New Hampshire, I’m very happy that SNHU remained one of the few constants in my life during 2020. I felt secure and comforted in seeing how the college addressed these new challenges and did not falter from standing up tall during global crises as was shown in the President’s Address regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. Looking forward to achieving my dreams with SNHU this year!

  29. Colleen Russell says:

    I can’t find words that can display the depth of gratitude I have for all of the SNHU faculty. I just finished my Bachelor’s Program that I began working on 32 years ago! After a long battle with breast cancer, I did not think I would ever be able to accomplish such a feat. I signed up with SNHU never thinking I would finish. I lost one of my best friends and my Mom throughout my studies. SNHU taught me resilience. I am now accepted into a Master’s Program with SNHU and couldn’t be prouder to be part of such an extraordinary institution. Thank you for all you do – you will never REALLY know the impact you have on some people.

  30. Sarah Nakata says:

    This was very well put together. The past year hasn’t been easy on any of us but it has but a lot of things in perspective and what matters most. Thank you for sharing this. I am sure this took a lot of time and effort to put together and it means a lot to read this.

  31. What a beautiful journey of 2020, and beautifully noted to add, of so many recognition, stories of resilience and community, that make me feel more proud to have made the decision in attending this college during the pandemic.

  32. LINDA ELIZABETH MAINOR says:

    2020 was a hard year for many. Loved ones lost their lives, homes, jobs, and all of this made it hard for some to keep their heads above water. I’m very thankful for having SNHU during 2020’s covid era. It gave me something to look forward to and knew that I had something good to look forward to every week. God bless those families that have lost loved ones, and may 2021 be a healthier, more prosperous one for all.

  33. Brandon Youngberg says:

    As a December 2020 graduate, I feel as if SNHU gave me the unique opportunities during the pandemic I would otherwise not have been afforded. In March, I was in the hospital with COVID-19, but due to the online platform, when I felt well enough, I was able to keep moving forward. I eventually plan to come back for my Master’s in English. I would recommend SNHU to ANYONE looking for top notch education.

  34. Steve McCorry Sr., PHR, SHRM-CP says:

    I am truly impressed with SNHU faculty and most of all the leadership. It is clear to me that this University cares about their employees, students and the community it serves. Your flexibility and commitment to help students succeed is continuing to grow. I have return to school after graduating in 1991 with my Associates Degree, and an attempt to achieve my bachelors following that was circumvented due to an illness. Through hard work and determination I have made a successful career but I have always wanted to finish my degree. After doing lots of research, I decided to come to SNHU. I am glad that I did. I have not been disappointed in the least. I believe that this school hasn’t received enough recognition for the great environment and accomplishments it is making. Keep up the good work! Thank you for the wonderful message.

  35. Selah Grenewood says:

    As a first year student, I must say how thankful I am to have found SNHU. The school is a great community of considerate, intelligent, supportive minds. I loved reading the featured inspirational stories of students overcoming hard times (or just working hard) and achieving their goals. May 2021 bring you good health, happiness and prosperity!

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