May 20, 2016
A new education partnership between SNHU and Major League Soccer (MLS) is turning heads and raising hopes.
"It's huge," says Scott Durand, vice president of Marketing & Student Recruitment in the College of Online and Continuing Education. "There is no relationship like this between an educational institution and a major league sport anywhere else. We're solving a major problem for MLS. Through education, we will help them achieve a long-term goal of developing U.S. soccer professionals who are on par with any country in the world."
MLS' challenge is keeping its highly talented, homegrown players in the fold as professionals. Top-talent high school players must decide between a professional contract and a college scholarship. The answer is SNHU's College of Online and Continuing Education, a pathway for athletes to pursue a degree while playing in the pros and improving their game by staying with a professional club.
"They can have a professional contract and an education," says Durand. "They can take a chance on themselves while they follow their soccer dream.
"Whether it's a top line guy in the World Cup or a kid who signed a contract and was cut after two years, they still have access to that other dream through education."
MLS isn't the only winner. SNHU benefits include opportunities for campus and online students to learn from sport business experts and from added visibility. For example, by becoming a league partner, SNHU is more visible to a new audience, including American Hispanics who make up roughly a third of the more than 100 million U.S. soccer fans - an untapped market for higher education.
"This is an audience that we really haven't been in front of," Durand says. "They're tech-savvy, family oriented, understand the need for higher education and are rabid about their soccer."
Durand couldn't be more excited about the opportunities the partnership is bringing to SNHU campus and online students, including SNHU soccer players being invited to coach and teach youth players at the mini-pitch sites and internship opportunities with the teams across the league and at league headquarters, which could result in employment opportunities for SNHU alumni in the long term.
Online and campus students also will benefit from webinar and face-to-face speakers series with executives from the league and its corporate sponsors, such as Audi, Heineken and Microsoft, and from other opportunities, such as hands-on projects and events with the league.
"It's a great business application without question, but the educational benefits are a phenomenal opportunity for the league and also for our students," Durand says.
Ed Foster-Simeon, president of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, says the collaboration elevates doing well by doing good to a higher level.
"We're using the sport to have a social impact on communities that need it the most," he says. "They go to school because they have to. But they go running and laughing all the way to soccer."
SNHU also has joined Major League Soccer, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Adidas in the "20 for 20 Mini-Pitch Initiative." The initiative is to build 20 half-size soccer fields, or "mini-pitches," for children in underserved communities located in MLS cities across the country. The program is part of MLS' 20th-season celebration and is designed to give back to the communities MLS serves through soccer and community service.
Each mini-pitch will offer children in "a safe place to play that encourages unstructured play in a soccer environment and supports the continued growth of the game in North America." They are supported by the U.S. Soccer Foundation in partnership with local agencies such as the After School All Stars and Soccer for Success programs, which mentor kids for school work and developing healthy habits through activities such as soccer.
"We're using sport as a vehicle for youth development and social change," Foster-Simeon says.
In January, there were four mini-pitches up and running: in Newark, New Jersey, home of the New York Red Bulls; in Denver, where the Colorado Rapids play; in Chester, Pennsylvania, home turf for the Philadelphia Union; and in Washington, D.C., the stomping ground of the DC United. An additional 16 are scheduled to be completed before the 2016 MLS All-Star game.
For kids growing up in underserved communities, soccer is emerging as a perfect match.
"You don't have to be super tall. You don't have to be super big. Boys and girls are equally suited," Foster-Simeon says. "And it makes the principal happy because you can serve an entire student population with one program."
SNHU's participation aligns well with the effort's focus on education and development. The mini-pitch initiative also may provide opportunities for SNHU students to join the effort. For example, members of the Penmen men's and women's soccer teams may be able to offer soccer clinics to children in these communities.
"The partnership with MLS ties in very well with SNHU's mission to provide access to quality education nationally," Durand says. "In addition to internships, white papers and an incredible speaker series, SNHU students will be able to participate in charitable events, assist MLS clubs in game day activations and have an inside track to learning opportunities which go well beyond the classroom."
When Dayna Puryear was growing up in East Orange, New Jersey, her parents urged her to be her own person.
"They always said to me, 'We didn't raise you to be typical.' It was always in my head, and I made choices that weren't the typical choice," she says. "If my friends went right, I went left. I had an independent mind."
The advice paid off.
In September Puryear, who runs the afterschool soccer program at George Washington Carver Elementary School in Newark, was awarded a full scholarship to SNHU. It was the first of 20 that the university will award to members of communities participating in the "20 for 20" mini-pitch program partnership with Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
The scholarship program came with the launch of the university's partnership with MLS, after university representatives learned about the efforts of local afterschool programs involved in the mini-pitch programs.
For Puryear, who holds a B.S. in public health and now is pursuing her MBA online at SNHU, the scholarship is both incentive and validation.
"As an adult, I've had corporate jobs, the large checks, but for me, it wasn't where I felt I could give my strengths and talents and skills," she says. "I'm just fit for this, good at it, because my parents let me know it's okay to do things a little differently."
The university also is offering partial scholarships to former MLS players, now in their early to late 30s, who missed out on college or left early and never finished as they pursued their professional soccer careers.
You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep. That's true for organizations, too.
At SNHU, every partnership is based on having education as the "core foundation," says Bill Hartglass, vice president of Strategic Partnerships and Marketing & Student Recruitment in COCE.
"Our partnerships are much more than merely getting our name out," Hartglass says. "We've sent large organizations back to the drawing board, asking, 'How do you benefit education?'"
A commitment to education is the philosophical glue that holds together SNHU's relationships with its many partners, including Major League Soccer, Berklee College of Music, the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics, and military/veteran advocacy organizations Soldier Strong, WT3 and Operation Homefront.
"Our focus with partnerships is really about filling a need. It could be a need we see in our own offerings, like with Berklee, or a need that goes beyond SNHU," says Hartglass, pointing out how the relationship with Berklee expands the MBA program.
"Our primary reason is to benefit society as a whole or target a group," Hartglass says. "It's about doing something greater than ourselves."
More than 2,200 guests visited campus for an action-packed line up of homecoming events Oct. 13-15, and alumni and students checked in on social media from Tennessee, Minnesota, and Italy.
SNHU unveiled its 24th mini-pitch to help in-need communities across the country. This one was built in partnership with the LA Galaxy Foundation in possibly the neediest of communities.