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.
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.
- Tyler White, an active-duty service member who was not able to walk at Commencement with his wife in 2018, got a special diploma delivery while serving in Korea.
- 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.
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.)
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,