Meet Dr. Ben Cole, Campus Dean of Arts, Sciences & Education
Dr. Ben Cole is many things: a deputy emergency management director, fire department lieutenant and assistant town moderator. He’s also a husband, a father and a hiker. More recently, he became the dean of the School of Arts, Sciences and Education (SASE) at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
Coming from a background of teaching political science and overseeing other programs within the social sciences and education disciplines, Cole reflected on his growth as a leader, SNHU's programs, the future and more.
1. Tell us a bit about your professional background.
I’m a political scientist by training, and my first full-time teaching position was as a lecturer in the International Affairs program at UNH, where I had finished my bachelor’s and master's degrees. I was still wrapping up my dissertation when I accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth, where I helped run the Policy Research Shop and taught courses in research methods and U.S. public policy.
After I finished my PhD, I took a tenure-track position as assistant professor of political science and international relations at Simmons University in Boston in Fall 2012 and taught all across the sub-disciplines of political science while I was there. I was tenured and promoted in 2018, became department chair, and then quickly moved into positions of increasing responsibility in college administration, serving as a division director for the social sciences and education, then associate dean for curriculum and academic programs, which led me to SASE at SNHU!
My public policy degree set me down a path into applied aspects of that academic profession, and I have built a second career, or perhaps avocation, in municipal service.
After a term on the Kensington School Board, I was appointed by a judge to be an interim selectman in Kensington from 2018-19, and I currently serve the town as deputy emergency management director, assistant town moderator (overseeing elections) and as a lieutenant on Kensington’s fire department. I direct a nonprofit organization that is restoring the town’s Union Meetinghouse, a culturally and architecturally significant mid-19th century meetinghouse and church in the center of town.
2. What first drew you to higher education?
My parents didn’t go to college after high school but rather married, started working and had me and my brothers, so higher education was not really on my radar until my mom went back to school for a nursing degree when I was in junior high.
I remember my mom studying hard to earn her RN and associate degree, and I don’t remember college being a question after that: I was going. My mom is really an inspiration — she went back to school two more times, once to earn her BSN, and earlier this summer, she graduated with a master’s degree.
My route inside higher ed was circuitous, but once I found joy in original research with a faculty mentor in my junior year and realized that people could get paid to read, write and talk politics with young people, I was hooked, and I never left!
3. What aspects of your own education have been particularly influential in shaping your professional life in academia?
I found a love for original research and data late in my undergraduate experience, but that has shaped my scholarship and leadership and continues to influence my preference for data-driven decision-making today.
I have also been blessed with brilliant, caring mentors and advisors throughout my life: from the professor in college who told me to get my act together and start earning A's if I wanted to land a graduate fellowship, to graduate school advisors who pushed me to my limits and helped me break them, and treated me as an equal, to department chairs and faculty leaders that I continue to rely on as professional mentors.
One of the things that attracted me to SNHU was a similar emphasis on building and maintaining these kinds of relationships and putting our students first.
4. How do you continue to learn and evolve as a leader in higher education?
I’m learning all the time — from my faculty, the SASE dean’s office team, my fellow deans Kyle (Viator) and Diego (Nocetti), and from the leaders and mentors I serve.
While I think my experience and training have prepared me for the role, it’s quite different from any job I’ve held before. As a result, I’m learning new things every day. I love that, really. I think it’s important (and humbling) to always be doing something new — to be a rookie.
5. What brings you the greatest joy in your work as a dean?
The greatest joy in my work is making a positive difference for our learners and for our faculty. More often, because they are awesome, it’s in watching my team, especially Associate Dean Shawn Powers and Assistant Dean Michael Glaeser, do this. They work incredibly hard to make miracles happen every day. I’m proud to work with them.
6. What do you feel is unique about the faculty, students and programs you oversee?
During my interview, I had the opportunity to visit a game design class held in the Inkwell Studio, combining classes from game programming and game art programs in an experiential learning environment where they worked in teams to make a video game.
I have never seen students offered this kind of experience, nor faculty so gifted at teaching in such a hands-off, coach-like style, which takes a real leap of faith for the faculty member. The classroom environment was warm, welcoming and inclusive, and students were doing incredible work.
I have rarely been so impressed by students, faculty and program, and I continue to be amazed by what our faculty and students are doing here at SNHU.
7. What advice do you have for new and current students?
I would encourage every student to get involved. Go to office hours and get to know your faculty. Go visit your advisor. Find your people by joining a club, participating in a sport or just hanging out at the e-sports arena during the day.
There is so much going on at the SNHU campus, and you’ll get the most of this college experience by getting engaged. It’s one of the few things in life where a reliable way to build wealth — of experience, joy, companionship — is to utterly bankrupt yourself in giving.
8. When it comes to the future of education, particularly for programs in the arts, sciences and education, what’s on your mind?
What’s on my mind… too much for a short answer. We’re in a moment of rapid advancements in technology that vastly outstrip our ability, as a society and as educators, to adapt. COVID upended education and students’ lives in profound ways, which we are still realizing and are unlikely to be reversed.
Recent, much-publicized developments in AI will have a profound effect on education, and we are learning about such tools in real-time, with classroom policies lagging months or years behind. We are just now realizing the dangers of social media for young people, and the potential for its utility in a classroom setting.
There’s a tendency to default to a position of fear and anxiety, but I see a great deal of hope and opportunity as well, especially for programs in SASE. In addition (to) the intrinsic benefits of studying art history or philosophy, society needs students trained in those fields more than ever to help us understand and respond to these changes.
We need graphic design students, communication students and teachers to help us communicate about these complex issues without driving people to paralyzing despair. We need students trained in the social sciences to help us measure and evaluate their impact and propose policy solutions to mitigate damage. We need biologists, chemists and environmental scientists to help us find a way to reverse climate change and guarantee a future for our great-grandchildren.
These are only a few examples, but SASE is central to the future of education.
9. Why is education important to you and the world at large?
Education is the single greatest, most cost-effective tool for improving human life.
10. Beyond work, what’s something you’re passionate about or really enjoy doing?
Family, I guess, is the most important thing in my life. My wife Shannon teaches third grade, my daughter Maia is 15, and my son Wyatt is 13. When I’m not with them, I am extremely passionate about community service and spend most of my free time working for the town of Kensington, New Hampshire.
My biggest commitment is to the Kensington Fire Rescue Department, where I’m a lieutenant, training officer and firefighter/EMT. It’s a lot of fun, satisfies my adrenaline addiction, and I get the honor of leading an incredible team of ordinary people who give their time and energy to help their neighbors in moments of crisis. Every call is a new challenge, and I’m always learning something new.
I also serve as assistant town moderator (helping lead/plan our elections and town meetings) as well as deputy emergency management director (mainly conducting drills related to the nuclear power plant in Seabrook), and direct a nonprofit dedicated to restoring the Union Meetinghouse, an architecturally significant meetinghouse and church in the Kensington town center. I served Kensington on the school board and board of selectmen in the past.
When I’m not doing community stuff, I’m with my family on our farm, playing video games with my kids or hiking with my high school best friend Andy.
Online. On campus. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees that can take you where you want to go.
Rebecca LeBoeuf Blanchette ’18 ’22G is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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.