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Academic Effectiveness Associate Dean Seth Matthews: A Faculty Q&A

SNHU associate dean Seth Matthews in front of a red brick wall wearing a blue shirt, grey sweater.Seth Matthews, an associate dean on Southern New Hampshire University’s Academic Effectiveness team, joined SNHU in 2014 as an instructor following a career in substance abuse counseling. He holds a bachelor’s in communication sciences and disorders from the University of Central Arkansas and a master’s in counseling psychology from Harding University.

Recently, he answered questions about how he connects with students, the importance of education and more.

Tell us a bit about your professional background. 

Prior to joining SNHU, I worked as a mental health professional, primarily with children and families involved with the juvenile justice and foster care systems, and worked as a clinical supervisor for a couple of agencies.

What first drew you to higher education? 

I originally transitioned to higher education specifically to support students with learning differences and was pleasantly surprised to see that working with a broader student population was a good fit as well.

What aspects of your own education have been particularly influential in shaping your professional life in academia?

Having a focus on behavioral psychology in my previous career really did help prepare for a career in supporting learners. Learning is often about changing behavior — study habits, how to ask questions — which certainly tracks with work I’ve done in the past. 

How do you continue to learn and evolve as a leader in higher education? 

Listening. To students, to faculty and other professionals in the field. Learning never stops, and learning about learning definitely never stops. Listening and applying the learning I’m gaining from other professionals in the field is the best way to keep growing as a teacher and a leader. 

What do you feel is unique about the faculty, students and programs you oversee?

The mission-driven nature of the work, both for professionals teaching and emerging professionals learning. Folks enter the human services field with exactly that: a strong desire to serve. This is really a strong area of opportunity for relationship building. 

Can you think of a particularly impactful or eye-opening moment as a faculty member?

My students surprise me every term, in a number of ways. In a recent term, I had a call with a student who was commuting home by train from work and hopped off at a stop to run into a diner and use their wifi for the call.

This reminded me of the array of students we serve, and the different circumstances our students are facing as opposed to a traditional brick-and-mortar environment. What was great about that encounter is that we got to talking about the job he was commuting from, and were able to apply knowledge from that work to the concepts we were working to clarify in the course.

Learning at different stages and places in life can certainly be an advantage, and this was an excellent reminder of that fact. 

How have you found ways to effectively connect with students?

Really it comes down to understanding what the individual student is seeking. Why are you in this course? In this program?

There are a number of individual motivations that can be brought into the classroom. Once we have, as an instructor, an understanding of what the student is seeking as an individual, it’s easier for us to tie the material in to the student’s goals, and help to understand how the learning we’re doing in the moment gets them to those goals. 

What advice do you have for new and current students?

Seek and take feedback. Your instructors are here to help, and it’s not expected that you will always get the answer right the first time. You have excellent teachers. Listen to what they’re sharing with you. 

When it comes to the future of education, particularly for programs in human services, what’s on your mind?

Growth. The need for qualified human services professionals is growing exponentially and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. 

Why is education important to you and the world at large?

We talk about the life-changing power of education, and I’ve seen that personally in my own life and frankly want to be able to support as many others as possible in achieving that same power. Education equals options.

Beyond work, what’s something you’re passionate about or really enjoy doing?

Historically, I’ve done a lot of outdoors-related community service with some nonprofit organizations. That’s slowed down a bit recently as I’ve been focused on academics, but something I hope to return to when warmer weather comes around.

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Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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