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A Conversation with SNHU President Lisa Marsh Ryerson

Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of SNHU, leaning against a wall on campus and wearing a purple blazer

Today, Southern New Hampshire University welcomes President Lisa Marsh Ryerson as the sixth president of SNHU. Senior Content Director Pamme Boutselis recently had a chance to sit with President Ryerson, and hear about her education, professional journey, history with the university, leadership, and what SNHU and its learners mean to her.

What role has education played in your life?

Education is a thread throughout my life. I feel so grateful that I have had that opportunity as a first-generation college student. I grew up in a home where my parents didn't have the opportunity to attend college and that drove them to ensure that my siblings and I had that opportunity.

It was just built in from the earliest days: Go to school, enjoy learning, be grateful for opportunities to learn and work hard. It’s a thread across my lifetime, but it’s also the thread of my career, both by education and experience. I'm a lifetime learner and a lifetime teacher.

Why is education itself important not just to you, but for everyone?

Education is a core social determinant of health. Study after study continues to prove that access to high-quality education at all levels is important for individuals and communities to be healthy and to flourish.

Can you tell us when you first got involved in SNHU, and what that role was? 

I always love being asked about my connections to SNHU because it's a chance for me to reflect on what is now a 21-year journey with the university.

My first visit to Southern New Hampshire University was when I marched in the academic procession for our former President Paul J. LeBlanc's installation at SNHU. I attended that ceremonial weekend with my three daughters, 21 years ago. I learned about SNHU through the eyes of President LeBlanc — and his commitment and passion for the mission.

I returned to SNHU in a more formal role when I joined the Board of Trustees. That was a phenomenal experience to work as part of the governing body; a group of individuals who dedicate their time to ensure the mission of SNHU is fully supported. Two years ago, I returned once again when I was invited to join as the university provost. I treasured and loved every moment serving as provost.

Now I get to embark on this very exciting journey, serving as the president of SNHU.

What has your own professional journey been like?

My professional journey is at its core as an educator. I had two work-study jobs when I was an undergraduate student at Wells College, a small liberal arts college, and that led me to want to be a teacher of some sort.

I was a middle school teacher for fifth and eighth grade for some time. I also worked as a college administrator and in student experience. This was foundational for the work I embarked upon as provost and now as president of SNHU. I've also served as the president at AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) Foundation, a very large nonprofit organization working to end poverty in our nation for adults 50-plus.

It’s a wonderful background that weaves in seamlessly with my work at SNHU. We're an open-access university striving to provide affordable, high-quality, accessible higher education to help people unlock opportunity across their lifetime.

What are some of the most meaningful experiences you've had as SNHU’s university provost?

I don't know that I'll ever have enough time to talk about the number full of meaningful experiences I've had as provost.

What fuels my excitement every day is that I have the opportunity to work with the very best learners and the very best staff and faculty at SNHU. We truly are learner-centric.

Time and time again, I saw our employees coming together in collaboration to make decisions with a learner at the center of every decision we make, whether that's building a new academic program, redoing a program, thinking about the student experience support that we provide or unlocking opportunity for new populations of learners.

Those are the best experiences.

What is it about SNHU that made you want to work here at this point in your career?

When we go back to the mission of SNHU, or the way that we talk about our mission, we remind ourselves of our commitment to transform lives at scale. What drives me is that we speak in our mission about understanding the needs of each and every learner. That attracted me to SNHU.

Throughout my career experience and my professional journey, I am acutely aware that individuals need education to unlock opportunity, and everybody at SNHU works for that cause.

What excites you most about taking on the role of president at Southern New Hampshire University?

Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of SNHU, on the Manchester, New Hampshire, campus

I am excited to be able to work with the most talented people I have worked with for the most meaningful mission. There are 40-million people in our nation with some college, no degree — what excites me most is that we can provide the opportunity for them to reach their academic goals.

I know that SNHU will continue to do excellent work to change as our learners need us to change and to open opportunity for education and learning across the life course for many, many more people.

How would you define your leadership style?

I'm a big believer that our success together is rooted in meaningful connection and deep relationship.

You can count on me to challenge each of us to be radically collaborative in everything that we do, to drive for evermore equitable outcomes in our work and to always have rigor and discipline with evidence as the basis for our decision making. And finally, the people we serve, our learners, need to be at the center of every conversation, all our strategic planning, and all our decisions.

What's first on the agenda for you?

Smooth transition is my number one priority. We are doing such terrific work at SNHU, and we must keep at that. What I love about our community is we don't rest on our laurels. We are constantly, daily, day by day, hour by hour, striving and working to do better, to serve more learners, to drive more equitable outcomes as it relates to degree attainment.

So, first on my agenda is a smooth transition. Next on my agenda is coming together to check our strategic planning, recheck our goals and to get at it, to get at the work together in a radically collaborative way.

When you think about our student population and the learners that are to come, how would you describe them?

With more than 200,000 active learners today, SNHU is educating individuals who come to us with enormous assets, a huge range of identities and intersection of identities and those who are dedicated to serving the many, many communities of which they are members. There's no one SNHU learner.

We are this wonderful, interconnected community, woven together by our commitment to education as a fundamental right for all our learners and for society and communities. But the one thing that our learners share is absolute drive — absolute drive to unlock opportunity in their life and a willingness to partner with our faculty and our staff at SNHU to make that happen.

Away from work, what might you be engaged in?

If I’m not on the SNHU campus or at our Millyard location, or around the nation meeting with SNHU employees, learners and friends of SNHU, you'll find me learning more about my new hometown, Manchester, New Hampshire.

I like to swap book titles with individuals, and you'll often find me returning to Conan Doyle's stories or reading the best new mysteries. I love to take long walks. I listen to a wide variety of music, and mostly, you will learn that I love almost nothing better than time with my family and a great dance party.

What would you want the entire SNHU community to know about you?

I'm grateful to every member of my — our — SNHU community for the support that I have and the privilege and honor it will be to serve with you as president.

Pamme Boutselis ’15, ’17G is an award-winning writer and content producer, currently serving as a senior director of content and a communication adjunct at Southern New Hampshire University. She loves hearing and sharing stories. As a writer spanning a 25-year career, her work has been featured in print and online via news media, career and education-focused blogs, regional magazines, technology publications and more.

A bachelor’s and master’s in communication — earned as an adult learner — positively impacted her life and career, melding decades in diverse industries with professional and academic knowledge and experience. A serial volunteer, Boutselis has been a TEDx organizer since 2013 and a speaker coach. She’s been fortunate to work with dozens of nonprofits throughout the years. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

About Southern New Hampshire University

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

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.