The idea was simply to offer online business students at Southern New Hampshire University an opportunity to join a small honor society. Instead, 3,000 applications flooded in and now - four years later - the SNHU chapter is approaching 20,000 members and is the largest National Society for Leadership and Success (NSLS) in the country.
Helena Iaquinta, SNHU's assistant director of online engagement, is one of the chapter's co- advisor. She said participating in the NSLS gives students more than an acknowledgment of academic success.
"We were looking for a society that not only gave them an accolade for academic achievement but gave them skills that would benefit them in the future," she said.
What Is the National Society for Leadership and Success?
Students qualify for membership in the NSLS if they maintain a certain grade-point average and earn a minimum number of academic credits but also have to demonstrate leadership ability, according to the group's website.
The NSLS is also unique in that it includes both undergraduate and graduate students and isn't delineated by academic major.
Danielle Clark, an NSLS chapter support manager, said the group has nearly 1 million members on more than 600 college campuses. The leadership development program members go through earns them a certification and the ability to "take their place among the top student leaders at their campus and across the country," she said.
"Leadership, networking and goal-setting skills integrated within the society's program are sought-after skills to know, no matter the degree you are seeking," Clark said. "We pride ourselves on the positive impact we make on our members and hear stories of life-changing transformations almost daily."
Students Taking the Lead
While Iaquinta acts as the group's co-advisor and helps facilitate group discussions online, the NSLS chapter also benefits from student leaders. Called Peer Leaders, they help fellow students engage online and assist new members through the application process.
One peer leader, Joseph Surve, said his participation in the honor society has had a direct impact on his career. A severe fear of flying held him back from certain opportunities at work that required travel. By talking to fellow NSLS members and working on ways to overcome his anxiety he was recently chosen to participate in a two-week project in Brussels, Belgium. A new promotion sees him flying to Georgia monthly, he said.
"My association with NSLS ... has vastly improved my life," Surve said. "We at (NSLS) make leaders who want to make a better world. It's our motto, our code, our commitment to success and each other."
Surve has helped more than 130 students through what the NSLS calls its induction process. In addition to being admitted as a member, the induction process requires more from members. To be inducted, students go through a training and orientation program, watch three Speaker Series presentations and then organize a Success Networking Team. The team has to meet at least three times to identify a personal or professional goal and then work toward accomplishing that goal. Once inducted, members can embark on an additional process that includes more Success Networking Teams as well as community service to become a National Engaged Leader, Iaquinta said. Even as the largest NSLS chapter, SNHU had the group's second highest induction rate at 21%, according to NSLS data.
"That goes to show you that these students are willing to do more than be recognized for academic excellence but also are intentional about impacting their communities," Iaquinta said.
Another peer leader, Brandi Goss, said she tries to spend two or three periods a day online answering questions about NSLS and helping student groups - called Success Networking Teams - through a process of setting and committing to a series of self-improvement goals. Goss said participating in the group has helped her open herself to new opportunities offline as well.
"I feel the NSLS has really helped me take a step out of the old me and become a better person, wife, mother, student, follower, leader and neighbor," she said. "I have met fellow students from across the globe as we support each other through ... an education and personal process that we as adults go through."
National Society for Leadership and Success at SNHU
The impact of the NSLS chapter at SNHU has been wide-ranging, including live-streamed leadership speaker series as well as regional networking meetups with alumni and current and previous NSLS members.
"SNHU LEADS (Lead, Engage, Achieve, Discover, Succeed) brings together members of the university's online students, staff, and alumni."
"The conference is held on the SNHU campus in Manchester, N.H., and includes topics like...."
Perhaps the most visible NSLS activity at SNHU is the annual SNHU LEADS Conference. SNHU LEADS (Lead, Engage, Achieve, Discover, Succeed) brings together members of the university's online students staff and alumni. The conference is held on the SNHU campus in Manchester, N.H. and includes topics such as Be a Leader, Not a Dictator; Resume and Interviewing Success Strategies, and Conflict Competence.
Iaquinta said hosting the conference on campus is another opportunity for online students to foster a tighter connection to SNHU. "It's really interesting to see what relationships are created from attending," she said. "To me, it creates an authentic and real experience for our online students and staff. It is encouraging to see how they are able to empower each other as they bond over their shared experiences."
Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.