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Academic Spotlight: Dr. Beth VanOrsdale, Associate Dean of Academic Effectiveness

Dr. Beth VanOrsdale, associate dean of health professions at SNHUDr. Beth VanOrsdale, associate dean of academic effectiveness at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), began her career in nursing after earning her associate degree and then earned her bachelor’s degree while working full-time as a registered nurse. She went on to earn her master’s in healthcare administration and doctorate in nursing practice, before working  for a national consulting firm and teaching in higher education. Recently she answered questions about how she connects with students, the importance of education and more.

Can you tell us about your professional background?

I attended a technical college and completed by associate degree in nursing after high school as I did not have the ability to go away to school as many of my friends were able to do. Shortly thereafter, I was fortunate enough to be able to complete by Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) while working full time as a Registered Nurse (RN), though the commute was quite lengthy.

I worked in multiple areas of nursing including hospitals, clinics, long-term care, home health and community education, which prepared me for many of the things I do today.

At age 40, I returned for my master’s in healthcare administration and fell in love with learning — specifically online learning where I also completed my master’s in nursing and my doctorate in nursing practice in executive leadership.

The additional degrees helped me advance my hospital career in quality and risk management, and I was able to work for a national consulting firm that specializes in assisting hospitals and clinics with highly reliable care solutions.

What first drew you to higher education?

I needed to pay off my student loan. Seriously, nurses have many part-time jobs, and I had experience in both community and staff education so I began exploring where I could use my master’s degree and teaching others was logical. I was very blessed to work with an organization that had excellent higher education training and support and, again, I found that I loved helping others in a different way — with their learning.

What aspects of your own education have been influential in shaping your career in academia?

I totally relate to our students having a demanding job while working evening and nights pursuing your education. Nursing needs more bachelor’s prepared nurses, so those two factors fueled my desire to help other registered nurses obtain their four-year degree and beyond.

What attracted you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it?

Like many, I became a nurse because the profession helps people. The excitement in nursing comes with being able to problem solve how to assist a person and/or their family in their health journey. And, in nursing, we always have a new project or initiative in which to work.

What brings you the greatest joy in your work as an associate dean?

Connecting with new faculty. We have over 9,500 adjunct faculty members with tremendous growth in the last two years. These faculty serve our students well but as with any new faculty member, they need guidance. I enjoy being able to assist them in a situation that perhaps they haven’t encountered before and use my experiences to help them assist students in their classroom.

I see guiding faculty, whether new or existing, as an essential part of delivering on SNHU’s brand promise to students.

What do you feel is unique about the faculty and students you work with?

My work on the faculty dean team is amazing. Our group, 18-people strong, works to manage and develop world-class faculty to deliver that exceptional student experience while also working collaboratively to enhance academic programs.

Our team supports each other daily to work through issues to ensure that students are getting what they deserve and supporting the faculty. If I need help, I will be overwhelmed with offers of assistance. My thoughts and opinions are valued — we have an amazing group to support faculty.

From a student perspective, nursing students add joy to my life. I appreciate being able to see the growth in their work in a short 10 weeks as I feel like I am growing the next generation of nursing leaders.

What does SNHU’s mission to transform the lives of learners mean to you?

Because I lived in a rural area and had limited resources, my educational opportunities were very limited. The two-year degree in nursing really gave me an opportunity to help others while helping myself. I want others to have similar opportunities to better themselves and their families, so my connection with SNHU is far greater than a job.

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

I volunteer at my church and at the local food bank. My husband and I love to travel, and last year were able to cruise the New England coast.

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Joe Cote is a writer and organic marketer at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), where he has worked since 2016. Previously he spent more than a dozen years as a reporter and editor at weekly and daily newspapers in Vermont and New Hampshire. He lives near SNHU's Manchester, New Hampshire campus with his wife and daughter. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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