In mid-March, online students, alumni, faculty and staff came together on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire with a joint focus: Leadership.
The SNHU LEADS conference, now in its fifth year, is presented by the Office of Online Engagement in collaboration with the Office of Alumni Engagement. The annual event provides an opportunity for 150 online students and alumni to connect face-to-face, share experiences and learn from others throughout the SNHU community.
“This year, we had an unprecedented 23 states represented,” Helena Iaquinta, assistant director of online engagement, said. “We love how students, alumni, faculty and staff light up when they get to spend time together and learn from one another.”
Leadership, Academic Achievement, Career Discovery
The conference is broken out in 3 tracks: leadership, academic achievement and career discovery. The day began with a keynote and Q&A with Katrina Jagroop-Gomes ‘15MBA, chief information officer for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, followed by breakout sessions related to the 3 tracks and opportunities to tour the campus, and enjoy time with others, too, in a variety of activities. SNHU Career Services, members of which presented in various sessions, were also on hand to answer questions and discuss benefits available to students and alumni of the university.
Sessions were led by faculty, staff and alumnus, such as 5-time CIO James Chilton '98MBA, who spoke to students about grit and determination. Other session topics included storytelling for success, leadership bootcamp, ensuring hiring managers will notice you, empowering women in STEM and growing connections to feed your future, among many others.
It was the first time for many attendees to meet others from SNHU in person -- and it meant a lot. Donna Whisman, a peer leader, is working on her BA in Communication through SNHU’s College for America program. She traveled from Delaware to attend the conference and was appreciative of the opportunity to step out of her comfort zone and make connections. “Just meeting everybody and networking is a wonderful experience,” Whisman said.
For Brittany Frizzell, an MS in Marketing student and second-time attendee, a major takeaway also centered around those meetings and what she learned in the sessions. “Especially being an online student, it’s nice to meet people face-to-face you might not usually meet...making more connections and growing my network so I can go further,” she said.
“One of the major exciting moments for me is getting to see people that I’ve met in the past years or faces seen on SNHUconnect (an online portal for students),” Dyksinski said. “Just really making those personal connections with people. I really enjoy hearing people’s stories and being in an in-person experience is a great way to learn about others.”
Rachel Kahn recently finished her MS in Higher Education Administration. She said the LEADS conference was a great opportunity to network with a lot of other folks that are also online students. “Taking the opportunity to come to campus and take advantage of these types of events is a great way to meet the people and put a face to the name,” she said.
Honing Leadership Skills, Revisiting Goals
Paulo Dosreis, a first-timer at the LEADS conference, said he decided to attend so he could come and practice being a better leader. The business management and information systems student said, “I’ve never really been in a leadership role. Being here, all the classes and meeting the people and networking will help build the skills to be a better leader.” He felt the experience is allowing him to become more confident in his leadership abilities as a peer leader.
An organizational leadership major and communication minor, Matthew Seawright attended the conference for the third time. In reflecting on his initial experience, Seawright said, “My first year was amazing. I learned so much and it actually motivated me to do a lot more to become a more effective student and leader.” So much so that he presented at LEADS the following year.
“One of my greatest takeaways from the LEADS conference is you’re in an environment that is innovative and creative, and it’s really a breeding ground for entrepreneurs,” he said. “You get just a very diverse perspective about the leadership qualities you possess already and then others that are introduced to you.”
For Seawright, taking advantage of the environment and the energy present at the conference is especially important.
Another Student Advisory Board member, Megan McKinney, is earning her BS in Operations Management with a concentration in Project Management. For McKinney, an important takeaway was “learning to put yourself out there and connecting with others and learning to grow.”
For some, the LEADS conference serves as a grounding event.
William Kahn, who is earning his MS in Healthcare Administration, said, “One major takeaway from this year’s event is find your fire, find your passion. I think SNHU has guided us in that direction and this conference has been great to revisit to what’s important to you and your goals.”
This was Amy Driggers’ second LEADS conference. Earning a bachelor’s in business administration with a concentration in leadership, Driggers said, “What I gained from attending LEADS each year is the momentum of being inspired to keep working hard...it’s great to network and see and talk to other people about how they’re managing life, having a family and then also do well on your academics. So you always get takeaways from other individuals of how they’re accomplishing that -- and the speakers are always inspiring."