22 Stories for 2022: Alumni Share Their Journeys Beyond SNHU (Part 1)
The year 2022 is a significant milestone for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), which began the 2000s still as New Hampshire College, before its evolution to a university in 2001. Throughout the past 22 years, SNHU has expanded its academic programs and global reach in ways that would have seemed unimaginable back in 2000. The mission of providing affordable access to higher education remains at the forefront – and the privilege of seeing graduates transform their lives and the lives of those around them as a result of their education continues to inspire the work at SNHU.
In this two-part article, we celebrate SNHU graduates, some of whom are continuing on to another degree at their alma mater. These are some of their stories:
Meghan Dalesandro ’00
Meghan Dalesandro had toured many schools by the time she visited Southern New Hampshire University – then New Hampshire College, all of which she said were lovely and checked the right boxes. But when she visited SNHU, something just clicked. She said it was the people who made the difference, hands down.
“During the New Hampshire College group tour, our guide said hello to every student we passed,” she said. “Not only being friendly, but really knew these people and called them by name. I quickly fell in love with the supportive and friendly surroundings. With this welcoming personality, coupled with the non-pretentious and comfortable atmosphere, I knew I had found my place.”
Dalesandro said she always knew she wanted to do something in business. “Although it took until my senior year to go from undecided to declared, my goal had always been to not only learn as much as I can but also learn how to learn so that I could one day play a part in helping a business grow,” she said. “Having the opportunity to deep-dive into everything from accounting to operations to marketing from experienced and inspirational professors meant I could rely on my utility player status as I graduated.”
Upon graduating with a bachelor’s in business, Dalesandro joined a small tech company owned by a fellow alum. Because it was a small company, she said she could dabble in several areas of the business, including finance and operations, allowing her to create a foundation for her resume. “After that, I transitioned into a sales role with a new company, something I never thought I would do, but the experience and knowledge you get about a company by representing it to the market is unlike any other,” she said. “Learning all the ins-and-outs and growing with this company was my new goal."
She said that having gone from sales to business unit management, including acquisitions and process development, and now overseeing the company’s operations, it’s a perfect fit. The company has grown significantly since Dalesandro first started, "and I continue to leverage both my technical skills and personal growth from my New Hampshire College days,” she said.
She continues to hold her college experience near and dear to her heart. “Sure, I can understand supply and demand or how to balance debits and credits, but even more important, I grew as a person among some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” Dalesandro said. “Being part of the innovation and transformation from New Hampshire College to SNHU and seeing it flourish today is an ongoing inspiration for me. And to top it off, I met my husband at SNHU."
Jaime Darquea ’01MBA
When Jaime Darquea was researching Master of Business Administration programs, he said Southern New Hampshire University seemed like the best option. “Process was straightforward, education level and degree obtained was competitive, hiring ratio after graduation was high, practical training seemed an interesting option, staff was very friendly and responsive, location was beautiful,” Darquea said. “In summary, it had a very good cost-return ratio.”
His ultimate goal was to learn more, prepare himself for future roles and be able to continue his career at top multinational companies, something he said he was able to do with multiple job offers right after graduating.
“Twenty years after graduating, I have been working in a variety of high-responsibility positions in leading multinational companies,” Darquea said. “I have managed to live in different countries, expanding my vision and understanding of the world. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy what I do and feel I truly make a difference.”
His college experience allowed him to get to know other students and staff from all over the world, which he said was a great experience on its own. “Learning to empathize, develop social skills, accountability and purpose is crucial to succeed in every aspect of life,” Darquea said. “Southern New Hampshire University truly helped me to develop these facets of my personality.”
Dr. Mark Hecox ’02DBA
When Dr. Mark Hecox came to Southern New Hampshire University, it was the only university to offer a PhD in International Business, he said, that met the needs of a busy executive working full time in Boston at Reebok. “The flexibility and quality of the teaching faculty was key as well,” Hecox said.
When it came to earning his doctorate, originally, Hecox wanted to learn more about what he was already doing in his role in global business development at Reebok. “The company was willing to pay for my tuition, so it was a great opportunity and it made an immediate impact on what I was doing at Reebok,” he said. “As I progressed through the program, I realized I also wanted to teach. I had great mentors like Nick Nugent and Massood Samii.”
His degree became the perfect career transition, Hecox said, to teach full-time as a professor of sport management at SNHU’s Manchester, New Hampshire, campus. “This degree opened doors and enabled me to seek and pursue my passion. I also enjoy the lifestyle; more balanced and healthy,” he said.
Hecox said his experience enhanced the joy of learning and his desire to continue learning throughout his life. “This is a process I have applied in all areas of my life, including family, racing triathlons and seeking new adventures,” he said.
Chris Gonyea ’04
When Chris Gonyea embarked on his college research, he was looking for a school with small class sizes, a good reputation for successful students and graduates that offered lots of options for growth and was still in New Hampshire. “After searching around, (then) New Hampshire College stood out to me,” he said.
Gonyea really wanted to start a career in the tech industry, he said, as this was around the time of the original dot com boom. “I also decided … that I wanted to improve my grades and make the most of my educational opportunities at SNHU,” he said. “At the time, there weren’t really any internet start-ups in the New Hampshire area, so I focused on a more traditional IT career in the beginning.”
For the first five years after graduating from SNHU with a bachelor's in information technologies, Gonyea said he worked in entry-level IT positions where he specialized in ensuring employees had reliable computers to complete their work. In 2008, he heard about a small start-up based in Manchester, New Hampshire, called Dyn. “When I heard Dyn’s CEO, Jeremy Hitchcock, speak at a conference, I decided this was my chance to finally work for a local internet start-up that worked on a little known but critical part of the internet infrastructure, the Domain Name System (DNS),” he said. “I shifted my career focus from IT and joined as a customer support technician in early 2009 as employee #20.”
Within a short period of time, Gonyea said he became the first full-time enterprise support team lead for Dyn and soon built a team of support and sales engineers as Dyn’s growth exploded. “By 2015, Dyn had grown to 400+ employees, was powering many key internet and enterprise companies and was involved in pretty much every single interaction any person had with the internet,” he said. “As for myself, I held several roles at Dyn, including several years as a product manager of Dyn’s Managed DNS product.”
In late 2015, Gonyea decided he wanted a change and a new challenge, he said, and joined another rapidly growing internet start-up, Fastly, which was quickly becoming a key player with its Edge Cloud capabilities that rapidly accelerate content delivery. “Fastly is based in San Francisco and has a strong remote culture, which I have been able to take part in from here in New Hampshire,” he said. “I have also held a wide range of roles at Fastly, from customer support manager to building the technical account management team, involved in incident response, and now building the mission control team.”
Gonyea feels his degree from SNHU has enabled him to be very adaptable as his career focus changed, and he’s worked for a wide range of companies. He said many people he met at SNHU have become lifelong friends, which he said is invaluable. “Being at SNHU taught me how to live on my own for the first time, how I can be successful, and that it is possible to live, work and play in New Hampshire,” he said. “Additionally, with my involvement in the early years of RadioSNHU (IT director 2002-2004), I was able to participate in some important moments in SNHU history, including broadcasting the Men’s Soccer Final Four appearance in 2001 and several basketball playoff appearances.”
Matthew Sharp ’04, ’06MBA
When he was a senior in high school, Matthew Sharp was on the lookout for a school where he could study hospitality, be within a day’s drive of his home in Vermont, and wouldn’t be so large that he’d begin to feel like he was just a number. “Most importantly, somewhere I felt a sense of belonging,” Sharp said. “Southern New Hampshire University (New Hampshire College at the time) checked all those boxes and more. In addition, SNHU provided a great financial package that allowed me to begin and end my college journey with minimal debt and financial burden.
When he started at SNHU, Sharp’s goal was to graduate with a bachelor’s in hotel/resort management and begin his career in the hospitality industry soon after. “As Commencement crept closer my senior year, I was approached about an opportunity to stay at SNHU for two more years as a graduate assistant,” he said. “This opportunity would allow me to receive my master’s degree in business administration (MBA) while working on campus in the Campus Programming & Leadership department. Upon accepting the graduate assistant position, I knew my initial goals would change and create opportunities I would haven’t imagined when I started with only a bachelor’s degree in mind.”
And his plans did change as his academic experiences broadened his worldview. Sharp said it sparked an interest in the field of student affairs in higher education. “Upon completing my MBA, I accepted a job at a university in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I served as the director of student involvement and leadership for 11 years.” While he enjoyed his experience throughout that time, he eventually felt it was time to begin a new adventure.
“In July of 2017, I was able to combine my recent higher education experience with my SNHU education and start a brand-new position at a local Charlotte nonprofit, RunningWorks,” Sharp said. “In the role of chief operating officer (COO) at a small nonprofit, I am able to utilize my hospitality and business skills and education to develop organization and structure, enhance our customer service and care for our clients, and ensure sustainability for the future. It may be a non-traditional path from where I started my freshman year at SNHU but this path is what brought me here today.”
Sharp said it’s more than just the education at SNHU that made a difference for him. “To be honest, if I had only gone to classes and hadn’t become involved in the many facets of college life at SNHU, I know I would not be where I am in life today and most certainly would not have become the person I am,” he said. “Whether it was through shared experiences at events or in student organizations, learning how to balance a work-study job and studies, navigating the intricacies of living with roommates or just meeting and building relationships with people not like me, I can say without hesitation that my experiences outside the classroom truly helped to provide me a holistic college experience and provide me (with) perspectives that have shaped the person I am today.”
John Bowler, Jr. ’06G, ’06MBA
At the outset, John Bowler, Jr. said, it was the ability to earn a degree online without having to go to a campus that brought him to Southern New Hampshire University. “I live 3 miles away from campus, but my current job had me traveling all over the U.S.,” Bowler said. “I wanted to do something for me while I was on the road and not be consumed by work.” He pursued not just a master’s degree, but a dual master’s degree, and said it fit well since it didn’t interrupt family time. “It was a great balance between personal development, professional demands and family balance," he said.
Bowler’s company, at the time, had many leaders that had obtained a PhD. “So, if you didn’t have an advanced degree, you didn’t have much of a voice,” he said. “My dual degree provided me with a voice, business acumen, particularly in leadership. These attributes also set me apart from those with a PhD because their PhDs were often in small scientific disciplines and did not imply they were great leaders.” Bowler was able to bridge the gap between business and relationships between customers, direct reports and business peers.
“My degree has taken me all over the globe, but more importantly, it has helped me to get others excited about wanting to develop themselves professionally; that a degree can take them other career choices, companies and positions," Bowler said. "I have been able to see things in creative and innovative ways, leading to drive new potentials at the organizations I have had the fortune of being a part of.”
He said his college experience has allowed him to lead others by example. “Many of those that have reported to me as well as peers have taken the initiative to challenge themselves in new ways leveraging education,” Bowler said. “Personally, my wife and eight kids have also worked on getting advanced degrees.” His wife finished her bachelor’s at SNHU while raising their kids. Three of their kids have received a master’s at SNHU, while a fourth is a year into his program and a fifth is planning to start this spring.
“The rest see a value for them in achieving an advanced degree early in their lives,” he said. “Seeing my family make these choices early helps me know that they are laying a foundation on which they can build their professional and personal endeavors on. For myself, it has helped broaden my perspective on things and see through different lenses to build the best view of challenges and opportunities.”
Lisa Saunders ’07
A southern New Hampshire native, Lisa Saunders originally started college at a school in Massachusetts. “I was studying interior design, and after one semester, I realized quickly that I really wanted to do graphic design and marketing,” Saunders said. She also didn’t want to live on a campus; it made her feel less independent. So, she moved back home and applied to Southern New Hampshire University as a transition school, not knowing SNHU had just started a new graphic design program.
“I quickly enrolled in the major,” she said. “It was such a small group but I loved the 1:1 attention with my professors. At the time you could choose a graphic design track, and I focused on advertising and marketing.” She also minored in arts and humanities.
Saunders said she switched to graphic design because she didn’t want to box herself into only designing spaces. “Graphic design allowed me to move into marketing and touch a variety of channels from digital to print,” she said. “The goal was to serve my creativity, while also being able to have a successful upcoming career.”
“I finished my degree at SNHU as a commuter student in 2007, and I’ve been using my degree ever since,” Saunders said. “I graduated at the cusp of web 2.0 (AKA ‘social web’) and that put design at the forefront of everything digital. My graphic design skills were and still are in high demand.”
Her degree, Saunders said, has allowed her to work for a variety of brands, industries, products and solutions. “I continue to do graphic design every day, but I’ve grown into a more strategic role," she said. "... I love it. I get to leverage a variety of marketing technologies to design, develop and push out campaigns and communications.” Last year, she became the director of marketing communications for a data organization.
While she graduated in 2007, Saunders remains a big part of the SNHU community. “I really enjoy staying close to the school through volunteering,” she said. She has worked closely with the career development office, taking on interns, assisting with mock interviews and mentoring a graphic design student. “It is really rewarding to watch someone grow into an amazing and talented adult,” she said.
Wadzanai “Wadzi” Garwe ’08G
Wadzanai "Wadzi" Garwe said she was looking for a program that suited her work and home life when she discovered Southern New Hampshire University. “As a wife, mother of two young children and the main family breadwinner, I could only afford (a) limited time to study,” she said. “The community economic development program was ideal for a professional trying to study and work at the same time.” She said the 6-week intensive summer classes coupled with doing the other work online and from her country of origin worked perfectly.
“I was able to do the 2007-2008 program and collect data while still attending to my other obligations,” Garwe said. The program was affordable and helped her interact with professionals in the developing world, she said, thus allowing her to develop a network of like-minded professionals with whom she has formed friendships and professional relationships. She’s also visited many of them in different countries.
Garwe’s primary goal was to get the relevant qualifications to apply for jobs at the United Nations and other development agencies. “The second goal was to translate the knowledge I had acquired over time into an academic degree,” she said.
Immediately after earning her degree, Garwe said, she and Professor Martin O'Reilly and 2006-2007 student Dany Kamaro won a 6-month consultancy to provide the Citi-Tsao Foundation with a course titled “Financial Education for Mature Woman” in Singapore.
“We lived together and trained 40 women,” she said. “I am currently an economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I joined them in 2010.” In that role she has performed 44 missions to countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Pacific as a team leader and economist.
Garwe said the main benefit of her college experience is the rich and diverse friendships she has formed with the students and professors she met at SNHU. “I was privileged to represent the student body at our graduation, and I have subsequently attended the wedding of a former student and visited several other students (and) their families in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Thailand, the Philippines, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea,” Garwe said. She noted that one of her classmates, Oscar Pyng Mutanda, passed away – “May his soul rest in eternal peace.” Garwe celebrated her 50th birthday in Cuba with Alicia Fitzpatrick (student in 2006/2007) and former professor and now friend Catherine Reilly.
She co-authored a book, "Township Girls: The Crossover Generation," an anthology featuring the stories of 31 women who grew up in two countries; Zimbabwe prior to its independence and Zimbabwe post-1980.
Garwe said the picture of her that accompanies this article, taken in the spring of 2019 in Ella, Sri Lanka, depicts the way she feels about her SNHU experience – "a moment of enlightenment."
Sam Mahra ’09G
It was a new job opportunity that brought Sam Mahra to Southern New Hampshire University, where he said he had the pleasure of working with amazing people in the Office of Admission from 2006-2013. It was during that time he decided to pursue a master’s degree in organizational leadership, with the goal of becoming a better manager and effective leader.
“My organizational leadership degree gave me a better understanding of how to lead an effective organization,” Mahra said. “It also helped me understand how to motivate individuals and apply that to a group setting. I truly enjoyed the social science and corporate social responsibility aspects of the program.”
Beyond that, his degree enabled him to advance in the higher education industry, he said, since many of the roles he’s held required an advanced degree. “It also encouraged me to continue to be a lifelong learner,” Mahra said.
Shu-Yuan "Grace" Wu ’10 ’17G
As an adult learner, Shu-Yan “Grace” Wu had two important reasons for choosing Southern New Hampshire University; SNHU is accredited and transfer-friendly. “SNHU accepts up to 90 undergraduate credits for bachelor’s degrees; they believe students should get the credits they deserve,” Wu said. “SNHU offers an opportunity for adult learners like me to continue higher education.” She earned two degrees from SNHU – a bachelor’s in business finance with a 3.797 GPA and the second, a master’s in finance with a 3.975 GPA.
When Wu began her degree work at SNHU, she hoped to use her education to advance her career and help her achieve success in future professional lives. “But, more important, I wanted to use what I have learned to solve real-world problems or help others,” she said. “Knowledge is power, but it’s only partly true; knowledge should be applied to the right place to benefit others or serve the public good.”
Beyond her career, Wu is also a mom and said it’s not easy to find ways to balance it all, “so I do the best I can.” Since graduating from SNHU, she’s worked in different fields, including equity research, education evaluation (evaluating tests in mathematics), small business, international trade and website design. “Currently, I work for a small business; my duties/responsibilities are to help this business grow stronger,” she said. “What I had learned from (the) MS in Finance program helps me think critically and logically; as a result, it helps me find a better solution and make a better decision.”
Wu said she learned a lot from her professors and peers while at SNHU. “I have enjoyed connecting with others and helping each other,” she said. “It’s never too old to learn. As a lifelong learner, it makes me feel good about myself knowing that I’m a hard-working and capable person who can solve different kinds of problems in my professional and personal lives.”
Lamont “Tory” Stapleton ’11
Lamont “Tory” Stapleton wasn’t familiar with Southern New Hampshire University when coaches Stan Spirou and Jeff Gore recruited him to play basketball. He said, “It’s really crazy to me how a sport can open up so many doors and take you down a path you didn’t even know (was) there.”
When he first came to SNHU, Stapleton recalls he wanted to be a filmmaker, using his art as a means of making positive change in the world. Given he was very much into photography and film at the time, he wanted to find a major along those lines, he said, which led him to a digital media degree.
Post-college, Stapleton moved to Los Angeles, landing a marketing job at a Lionsgate-owned television company, he said. “Although my degree was not in marketing, they liked that I was proficient in different aspects of content creation,” Stapleton said. “This is something I credit to my courses at SNHU.”
Not long later, the entrepreneurial bug hit him, and he left that role to start a social movement called “I’m Just Different,” to promote individuality and acceptance of differences. “Graphic design and video editing played a big part in the success of this movement,” Stapleton said. “Fast forward a few years, I started a T-shirt line called “Struggle is Common” as a reminder that everyone is going through something.”
He said the skills he learned at SNHU allowed him to design the shirts, photograph them, create his own website and market it.
More recently, Stapleton started a prison basketball program, “Between the Lines.” “We go into prisons and run basketball clinics to aid in the process of rehabilitation and positively impact the recidivism rate,” he said. “As a means of spreading awareness and growing our program, we capture content on the inside and share with those on the outside.”
His understanding of photography and film makes a big difference while working with the program’s creative director to properly portray the work they’re doing and the impact it’s making, he said. “To sum it all up, my degree has certainly opened some doors for me, but more so, the skills that I’ve learned have proven and continue (to) prove themselves useful on my entrepreneurial journey,” Stapleton said.
Reflecting on his college experience, Stapleton said he can’t say enough about how much his college experience prepared him for life after. “Learning to coexist with people of all walks of life and from all over the world was invaluable,” he said. “Most of what I do now is rooted in service to others, and I can say that my compassion and love for people grew tremendously in the years that I spent at SNHU. The community was extremely special. I always felt like I was at home although I was many miles away.”
The community as a whole – SNHU faculty, his coaches and peers – he said, challenged him daily and helped grow his understanding of himself as a person.
“I honestly don’t know where I’d be without the lessons my years at SNHU have taught me,” Stapleton said “The wild thing is that I graduated almost 10 years ago, and I still feel just as connected to the university as I did when I was on campus. They do such a great job of reaching out to alumni and keeping us informed and involved in what’s happening with the university. I’m so proud to say I am a Penmen.”
For more stories, check out part two of 22 Stories for 2022.
Pamme Boutselis is an adjunct, writer and senior content director in higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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About Southern New Hampshire University
SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.
Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.