22 Stories for 2022: Alumni Share Their Journeys Beyond SNHU (Part 2)
A lot changed for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in the 22 years since the turn of the century. But the mission of expanding access to education remains steadfast. In the second part of 22 Stories for 2022, find stories of some graduates from the past 20 years who have transformed their lives through education.
You can also read part one of 22 Stories for 2022.
Stephen Hearn ’12G
Stephen Hearn came to Southern New Hampshire University with a bachelor’s in hand and the goal of becoming a CPA. “In order to do that, I would need to pursue my master’s in accounting,” Hearn said. Having grown up in New Hampshire, he was already familiar with SNHU but said there was a lot of media presence in the Boston market that kept the university fresh in his mind.
“I wanted the opportunity to be able to work and continue to get my graduate degree at a reputable school known for its business pedigree,” he said. “When I chose to pursue SNHU, I knew I would get a challenging and fulfilling degree that was worth every penny while also being able to cater to my schedule and pace (especially during the busy season for public accounting).”
Hearn needed 150 college credits to sit for the CPA exam. “My goal was driven by my parents as they had given up so much for me. I wanted to make them proud,” Hearn said. “My mother is an accountant and math was always something I was passionate about, so going for my CPA seemed like a great career path. SNHU allowed me to get there and provided me great preparation towards taking the CPA exam shortly after completing my degree.”
While he was going to school, Hearn worked in public accounting, involved with audits ranging from community banks to small manufacturing companies. “I transitioned into a larger firm in Boston, Massachusetts, that provided me with additional opportunities in the manufacturing industry including a regional brewery in the Midwest,” he said. “From there I was able to use that experience and join the private sector at a regional brewery and distribution company just outside of Boston.”
Beyond his education, Hearn said he was able to learn about teamwork and how best to interact with different people. “A lot of my classes involved group work ranging from 2-5 other partners and some of these classes were online, thus causing a unique setting that I was unfamiliar with,” he said. “From there I learned different ways to be able to add in my points and find out alternative ways to communicate with the group.”
Given that each person in an online class has different schedules to adhere to while managing school requirements, he saw the importance of setting timelines that were achievable through discussion. “This was something I was able to use in public accounting and now with my finance team in the private sector,” Hearn said.
Vaidehi Malpe ’13MBA
Vaidehi Malpe always had plans to pursue a Master of Business Administration after completing her engineering degree. When she started researching universities, Southern New Hampshire University stood out to her because it offered courses she could specialize in and that piqued her interest, she said. “The courses looked like they would be challenging enough to develop my critical and management skills while giving me enough time to also enjoy my student life in a foreign country,” Malpe said. “It provided me with the structure I was hoping for as well as the flexibility to complete the course per my caliber and speed. It was also close to where my family was located and thus was an easy choice.”
Her main goal with her MBA was to learn the entrepreneurial and management skills that make a great and resourceful individual and manager, Malpe said. “I always knew I would be in a management role and thus wanted to hone my skills accordingly,” she said. “My engineering degree provided me with the technical background needed to get my foot in the door in the service/retail industry. However, with my MBA degree I got a much-needed edge to perform as a techno-functional individual.”
Malpe found the study structure in the United States to be vastly different from India. “Pursuing the MBA degree at SNHU provided me a firsthand experience on how large corporations worldwide function and the intricacies of running a successful business,” she said.
With her MBA in hand, Maple was able to move forward one step at a time in exactly the direction she had envisioned for herself, she said. She started by working at the Department of Revenue in Florida and worked in service as well as retail sectors since. “My ultimate goal is to one day own a small bistro/eatery in some quaint little town where I make people happy by serving scrumptious and healthy Indian delicacies, hopefully unlike the typical Indian restaurants we have across the country today," she said.
Malpe said her college experience taught her to be independent and take care of herself. “It taught me my true strengths and showed me what I am capable of if I really put my head to it,” she said. There were times that she felt she couldn’t complete her degree any further but she pushed through and that’s when she realized her capabilities.
“It allowed me to broaden my horizons about what I expect from myself and the society around me. It taught me to handle disappointments without getting discouraged as well as cherish the small victories,” Malpe said. “Most of all, it taught me to truly value my parents and the sacrifices they made in order for me to reach the place I am at today.”
She said it taught her to be more compassionate as a person and realize that she likes being a guide or advisor to other students who may be going through a similar journey.
“It was at SNHU that I met my husband, thus I will forever be grateful to this institution for enriching my life in so many unexpected and unanticipated ways,” Malpe said.
Christie Conticchio ’14
It was a desired career change, from a middle school teacher to an accountant, that brought Christie Conticchio to Southern New Hampshire University. SNHU was highly recommended by her sister-in-law and a friend, both of whom had furthered their education at the university. “I liked SNHU because it fit with my busy schedule as an educator,” Conticchio said. “I took classes at night while I taught during the day.”
Affordability was another key reason for her choice. “I was able to pay my way and walk away without debt by taking a class a semester and two during the summer,” she said.
As she hoped, Conticchio was able to change careers as a result of her master’s degree. While she started in this new field at entry level, she is now a senior accountant. She said her college experience not only advanced her career possibilities but also brought her a group of friends she still keeps in touch with and allowed her to experience different cultures.
Samantha (Whittier) Staebner ’14
Southern New Hampshire University’s hospitality business program was a draw for Samantha Staebner as was the opportunity to compete at the Division II level on the soccer field. “I wanted my education to be a priority and through conversations with the professors in the Hospitality Department, I was confident attending SNHU would allow me to do both,” Staebner said.
Her end goal with her degree was to own a restaurant someday but what she never expected was that her education would take her on a brief journey that actually brought her back home again. “The company I was working for part-time through college offered me an opportunity to go full-time as soon as I finished my classes that I couldn’t refuse,” Staebner said. Nine months later though, she gave her notice.
“I had realized a few weeks prior that my mind was always thinking about my family’s farm,” she said. “I was no longer an asset to my company, the staff that depended on me, and the customers we're responsible for serving.”
When Staebner told her parents she had quit her job, her dad asked what her next move would be. “I told him he was going to hire me,” she said. “Five years later, I work with my parents every day. I am the fifth generation on our farm. As a diversified dairy, beef and vegetable farm with a year-round farm store and commercial kitchen, I found my niche doing a little bit of everything at the farm.”
Staebner helps in every aspect of the family’s business, although most of her time is spent in the sales and marketing role. “For example, last spring, I assisted one of our catering customers over the phone from the tractor seat while I was planting corn,” she said.
When she reflects on her time at SNHU, Staebner said you get what you put into it. “After almost dropping out my freshman year, I found on campus jobs and organizations that challenged me and taught me countless transferable skills,” she said. “I thought it would be a few years post-grad before I found my way back to agriculture but the experiences with SNHU Telefund and NCAA Division II SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) gave me the off-farm experiences that helped me realize agriculture is in my blood.”
The skills and ethics from her college experience continue to shape her interactions in her industry today, Staebner said, and the teammate she shared a locker with during her freshman year for soccer became a close friend and they still connect almost daily by text.
Tom Alhadif ’14, ’15MBA
It was just luck, Tom Alhadif said, that brought him to Southern New Hampshire University. “I was a soccer player, who got recruited all the way from Israel,” Alhadif said. “I didn’t know about the university, just knew that the soccer program was nationally ranked and that was a good start for me.” After taking the virtual tour, then reading about the academic environment and general location of the school, he said he was sold – “I can’t explain it, but after a few minutes of looking at the website it just felt like the right choice, and I was committed.”
Alhadif started out as a psychology major, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. “After seeing my academic advisor (the amazing Leah Richards), we made a plan for me to explore a few intro classes during my first semester and only then pick,” he said. “I loved the marketing class with Professor Amendah, who really talked me into the major. Later on, I also enjoyed the corporate finance class, and decided to take it as my minor and later on, my master’s degree.”
As he got closer to graduation, Alhadif knew he wanted to get into the world of finance and work his way up the ladder to the more interesting analytical roles. “I didn’t have any connections, so I knew it would be hard, but believed in myself, my background and theoretical knowledge I acquired between my two degrees from SNHU,” he said.
After graduation, he joined a multinational financial services corporation, moving between a few roles in the company – including within the capital markets division and the institutional fund accounting division. Later he joined the largest Israeli insurance and financial services provider, working closely on an acquisition project with the organization's chief financial officer.
Most recently, he works alongside executives at a single-family office to run its holdings and investments. "I do anything from sourcing, analyzing and recommending investments in real estate, venture capital, private and public equity funds, and other sectors as well," Alhadif said. "I also work on business development and strategy of some of our portfolio companies."
Alhadif said that during the first year after completing his MBA he combined his job at Fidelity with teaching as an adjunct professor at SNHU for two semesters, which was a great experience for him. He also wrote an undergrad international business class with the help of Professor Leila Samii. “All and all, the past four years were extremely busy,” he said.
As an international student, Alhadif said he gained a lot from his college experience. “Aside of the trivial things, such as language and understanding the American culture, there are a few things I got from it,” he said. “First, college, if you maximize the opportunities that are out there, could be unbelievable. I got involved, traveled and spoke at conferences, organized events, managed budgets and much more.”
He said he learned how to “play the system,” how to grow within a large institution, how to manage people, and how to seize opportunities that arose around him. He also made friends and connections that Alhadif said will stay with him forever – “a few of my best friends are SNHU friends,” he said.
Logan McCarthy ’16
Logan McCarthy said he could go on about the Goldilocks campus size of Southern New Hampshire University or the cost-effectiveness of the graphic design program, but it was the White Mountains that deserve a lot of credit for why he chose SNHU. The mountains’ close proximity to the Manchester, New Hampshire, campus meant McCarthy would always have some places to go over the weekend – and just a day trip away for hikes, ice castles, zip lines and skiing. While he focused on what was available just a bit north of SNHU, campus became a place as dear to him throughout his time there. “Everyone has their own favorite corner on campus (for me it was the hills on the East Side), but every space offers something for everyone,” he said.
When he began his graphic design degree, McCarthy said, “I wanted something that could challenge my designer’s eye to improve for the long term without being roped into a conventional career path.”
As a graphic design graduate, he said “I found the careful guidance I needed to further understand the fundamentals of design, develop my personal style and learn how to continue learning after graduation. SNHU taught me to look at things objectively, make improvements and turn a good final product into a great one.”
And his journey since graduation has taken him abroad, teaching English in Japan. McCarthy wanted to live in Japan for a few years, so he got his TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate and worked as both an assistant teacher at a wildlife sanctuary and as an online English teacher for Chinese students. He also taught English in the classroom to children of varying ages – from pre-schoolers through the middle school level. Working in Japan gave him an opportunity to explore the country and enjoy some of its national holidays, too.
McCarthy was still teaching abroad when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck. "I got to see how the school systems were affected by the pandemic," he said. Almost a year and a half later, he returned to the U.S. to focus on some design projects and an online community he is building – but plans to return to Japan once the pandemic subsides. "Japan was wonderful," he said.
For McCarthy, the biggest draw to SNHU was the people there. “By far the nicest, most inclusive body of students, faculty and staff; it was easy to make myself feel at home,” he said. “For anyone struggling to break out of a shell like I was, there’s no better place than SNHU. I feel comfortable being myself in public (even in Japan) and forming friendships that can last a lifetime.”
McCarthy acknowledges that it does take a degree of effort and willpower but said, “SNHU provides an unmatched opportunity for people to blossom and become the best version of themselves," he said. "SNHU will always be home for me.”
Tara Lovely ’17
Tara Lovely had an interest in science and computers from the time she was a kid but a counselor told her that this wasn’t a field for girls. And for a while, she believed that. “It just stuck with me for so long; well, if girls don’t do that, I won’t make it in the industry,” she said.
It wasn’t until, as an adult, she saw an ad for Southern New Hampshire University that Lovely finally put her mind to a degree in IT. “It was like, you know, I’m going to do it,” she said. When she attended her first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 2015 as an SNHU student, Lovely saw she wasn’t alone. She thought, “There’s more of me. There’s more like me. It was eye-opening.”
If the first time at Grace Hopper proved to be a revelation, the next time she attended the celebration as part of a student cohort, Lovely was ready to conquer the career fair and came away from a job offer with New York Life. She’s since attended in 2018 and 2019, initially helping out the New York Life booth and more recently, as an interviewer for her company, where she now serves as a senior security engineer. With a bachelor’s in information technology, she mainly handles privileged access management for New York Life. “I’m the person you’ve got to talk to if you want to get into anything,” Lovely said.
When she thought about recruiting SNHU students for New York Life, Lovely said she felt like they were a good fit. “Obviously I was a good fit,” she said. “I know the programs that are offered. I know all the different things like the Cyber SNHUpers (SNHU's cyber league team); I was on that team. SNHU makes sure their students are prepped. They’re prepared when they get out.”
Lovely said her career advisor was fantastic. “She made sure my resume was ready before I came here (Grace Hopper), and when I got a job offered, she looked it up and said, ‘yes, that’s a good offer,’ so that I knew, okay, what I’m getting offered for pay isn’t getting short-changed, and I am getting what’s fair,” she said. “It helped so much in my confidence when I went in. I know my stuff; I know I can do this.”
Cyndie Ramirez ’18
With an interest in entering the cybersecurity field, Cyndie Ramirez was drawn to Southern New Hampshire University’s online program because it had the courses she wanted to learn from the comfort of her home, she said. While she had an initial interest in computer networking, she found herself fascinated with trying to build networks secured in every possible way so intruders couldn’t gain access. It was then that she wanted to earn her bachelor's degree so she could join a “front-line team that investigates intrusions and helps mitigate them,” she said.
While earning her degree, Ramirez was able to attend industry conferences and gather real-world experience interacting with recruiters, learning about internships and interviewing for positions in her field. It’s experience that paid off.
"After obtaining my bachelor’s in information technology with a concentration in cybersecurity from SNHU, I have been working the cybersecurity field as a security analyst for a large corporation,” she said. “My degree prepared me for work in this field."
She’s also shared her experience as a student and information security analyst at the 2019 SNHU LEADS conference at the Manchester, New Hampshire, campus in a panel discussion focused on empowering women in STEM.
She said her time with SNHU taught her to be more organized and how to stay on track. “I have been able to gain more confidence in myself by being able to complete my degree and being able to find employment in what I wanted,” Ramirez said. “This all proves to me and anyone else anything is possible if you put your mind into it.”
Emmanuel Audu '19 '20G
Emmanuel Audu came to Southern New Hampshire University to pursue his soccer dreams. Originally from Nigeria, Audu learned from a friend that there were schools in the United States offering scholarships to athletes. Given his friend was in school in Rhode Island, Audu began researching schools close to Rhode Island and Boston. That’s when SNHU appeared on his radar. “I checked out their soccer program, then I applied to SNHU,” he said.
An injury curtailed his soccer plans and financial duress at home created additional strain. With help from the SNHU community, Audu was able to continue his studies, graduating with a bachelor's in business administration. “My goals with my degree were and are to work with a company that have the same values that align with mine, which will be to help people become their very best in life” Audu said.
A year later, he earned his master's in information technology with a concentration in business analytics and landed a job as an associate business intelligence analyst at SNHU. "It's been a new world to me, but I am liking it because I am seeing things differently," he said. "... I am grateful to have a job in the analytics world."
During his college journey, Audu said he was very involved on campus. “Getting involved and serving others really gave me the opportunity to meet various individuals both on campus and off campus,” he said. “I was able to use these opportunities to network with people – and I got an internship through that. I got the experience of speaking to a group of people and to individuals (public speaking skills) and I have become more confident in life.”
Perhaps most of all, Audu said his thought process has changed from how he used to be. “I have become more open-minded,” he said.
Shannon Kennedy-Rios ’20
For Shannon Kennedy-Rios, it was a TV commercial that put SNHU on her radar. Having already landed a role as a registered medical assistant in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians in Maryland, she wanted to prepare herself to “move up the ladder” of healthcare. When she researched the online bachelor’s in healthcare administration with a concentration in patient safety & quality, she knew she’d found the right fit.
But that doesn’t mean the path was easy. Between the pandemic and a move across states from New York to Maryland, Kennedy-Rios faced her share of challenges. “It was very hard,” she said. "But it was a journey that was worth it.”
Throughout her educational path, Kennedy-Rios found inspiration in the family around her — from a military mom in active deployment, to the sisters she supported, to a 6-year-old son who’s looked up to her every step of the way. He was the one, in fact, that inspired her to become a medical assistant in the first place.
Today, her message to her son, and anyone thinking about getting their degree, is simple: don't let anything stand between you and your goals. "As hard as it is, it’s worth it in the end," she said. "Once you get that paper in your hand, you know everything you’ve worked for is done.”
Jacob Kane-Conrad ’21
Jacob Kane-Conrad continued a family tradition when he earned his IT associate degree at SNHU. Last year, his mother Tara and brother George graduated together when they finished their Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing and Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs, respectively.
But Kane-Conrad’s recent success is about more than following in the footsteps of his loved ones — it’s about celebrating his own path.
Rather than go after business or creative writing, Kane-Conrad decided to follow his passion for technology. “I wanted to pursue an associate degree in IT because I’ve always loved computers,” he said. “From the time I was a little kid, I was always taking them apart, fixing them and putting them back together.”
The benefits of going to SNHU, he said, were threefold. For one, it was affordable. Second, he preferred the online environment over others, and last — but not least — was the support.
“I do feel that SNHU offered a great level of support. No matter what question I had it was always answered within a timely manner. I’m on the autism spectrum so things don’t always come as easy to me as they do to other people. School has always been a struggle for me,” he said.
Although he’s just recently graduated, Kane-Conrad has high hopes for the future, from creating video games and mobile apps to working with some of the best tech companies in the world. As a freelance web designer, he’s even started to help his mom grow her writing business.
He hopes that his success story can help inspire others like him. “It’s OK to be different. It’s OK to struggle, and it’s OK to ask for help,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, because you can. If you have a dream, go for it.”
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.