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Senior Associate Dean Dr. Sharon Kibbe: A Faculty Q&A

SNHU Senior Associate Dean Dr. Sharon Kibbe.Dr. Sharon Kibbe is the senior associate dean for online computer science and STEM programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Prior to joining SNHU as an adjunct, then team lead and then associate dean, Kibbe had more than 25 years of experience in academia ranging from associate dean of IT, systems programming and director of an early college high school program. She was also the director of Second Life, a virtual 3D environment.

Kibbe's work experience includes managing higher-level technology projects, providing expertise in web-conference platforms, computer programming, public relations, web-page development, server support, LMS/CMS and the initial deployment and training of mobile devices at East Carolina University. She served as an instructional designer, technical support and mentor to students and faculty throughout her career. Kibbe is the author of “The Virtual Worlds Handbook” which was published in December 2009, several chapters books for online learning and education, and presented at national, state and regional conferences. She has been active in multiple organizations, including the Grace Hopper Celebration, was chair of the EDUCAUSE Evolving Technologies Committee, and is a graduate of the EDUCAUSE Management Institute.

Kibbe earned her PhD in Information Systems Management (Applied Management and Decision Sciences) at Walden University in 2013, a master's degree from East Carolina University in education and instructional technology and undergraduate degree from Mount Olive College, North Carolina in business. Her dissertation was on the use of 3D virtual words as a system for learning in an online environment: How E-Learning with Second Life, an Online Virtual World Technology System, Affects Teaching and Learning.

What first drew you to higher education?

I left the federal government after 9 years because of becoming a mother and the desire to stay at home for a while to raise my daughters. While watching them grow and learn, I decided when I returned to the work force education was the right path for me. It was inspirational watching them grow and learn, mastering concepts and figuring out things through just playing. This continues now as I watch my grandchildren.

I started by degree journey, first with my undergrad, later, I also decided to pursue my master’s degree and then my PhD. All of these were personal goals, but also, I was the first in my immediate family to obtain that level of education. I did it for my family, but also for me as I continued to grow and discover a new world of opportunities.

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

I’ve always enjoyed learning and was excited even in elementary school to return to school each year. Just the thrill of getting textbooks was an amazing experience and feeling. Textbooks opened whole new worlds for me and others in learning. At the time, I did not travel a lot, therefore, seeing experiences open up in pictures and text made the world beyond me real.

I did not set out to achieve higher levels of education, but as I achieved each one, I realized the knowledge I gained made me a better person, helping me value varying ideas and value of other individuals. 

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

It is easier now to learn and achieve new goals with everything being online. I was one of the first to prepare an online course at the community college I worked with, and it opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities of education for everyone. At the time, I was in a physical class, teaching Introduction to Computers. I took that content and put it in Blackboard and it was thrilling! Through this medium I reached students on a new level and some that couldn’t attend a physical location because of family or work commitments, were suddenly online and expanding their knowledge. 

That inspiration continues today as I work with STEM faculty, staff, and students to achieve their dreams. Continued education for me, happens through access to journals, articles, conferences, and through collaborative partnerships with individuals I work with at SNHU and other universities. I use the skills gained throughout my career to evolve and learn. This helps me lead with vision and purpose, building coalitions and coaching others to success.

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

STEM is a field that yields value and is very versatile. It is a field where you can learn to be a computer scientist, engineer, developer for game programs, and learning about information technology. Each has its own unique aspects, but they all lead to understanding a set of diverse skills. 

The faculty offer contributions to the students in the form of knowledge through the advancements in their respective fields. The students absorb the knowledge through the content in the courses and the faculty teaching the content, creating a circle of learning and fostering a mindset that includes critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills that will take them to the next level. 

The programs are strategically designed to walk students through to the end that includes job-ready skills. This is very important, it is not just about obtaining a ‘degree’ or see a name printed on a document, but that this leads to a better life or experience for the student and their families. The faculty in STEM are unique because they help deliver the rigorous and challenging curriculum, sometimes being role models for the students. It is a heart-warming experience to see it all come together at graduation. 

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

The best moments are when the students respond, do the work and accomplish the tasks. This comes together at the end of each and every term as students respond through email or through the course that they really achieved their goals and “got it”. There is not one particular moment, but it is a collection of moments. 

When I was director of the Early College High School program, this enabled me to see the power of education in a population of students that may not have attended college because of life circumstances or the lack of opportunities. Many reached out to me over time to thank me for the chance to be the first in their family to move forward in an educational journey. At the current time, as a senior associate dean, I get to see a broader impact because of the number of students in the programs I oversee. It is always a good day when students are successful.

How have you found ways to effectively connect with students? 

Through the course of my career, I connected with students on varying levels. First, in the classroom, and now online. We use various methods of communication and connection with students at SNHU in the STEM program. We hold coffee chats, have some faculty that hold online sessions for students to improve their success, and we receive emails from students engaging them in the curriculum. 

We also work closely with advisors, checking in to see how students are doing and if they understand the direction and purpose of the programs they are enrolled in. We have special programs and events, such as Hour of Code, in which students can attend sessions one-week a year and just have fun coding. Faculty, staff and many others contribute to these sessions and experiences.

What advice do you have for new and current students?

While obtaining my PhD, I worried about the time commitment along with holding a full-time job and still being very much involved with my family. A wise person once told me, don’t focus on the ‘big,' focus on the 'small' first. If you can schedule 15 minutes a day — you accomplish that 15 minutes and that time may turn into 20 minutes and so on. Just set a goal per day for doing your work and it all comes together.

We all have distractions, but keep track of assignments, deadlines, etc., and just tackle something. It helps clear the mind. Also remember, you entered the field for a reason, and you bring something into the programs with your own knowledge. That already sets you apart from others. The last piece of advice is to take care of yourself and your well-being.

Ensure, somehow, that you get enough sleep and some 'me' time.

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

There is no one-size fits all anymore for any program, especially STEM. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (ChatGPT, BARD, etc.), there are also more opportunities for learning and exploring. This is just an example of what educators have to be prepared to face and particularly in the STEM field. Technology is ever changing, as we all know, it stops for no one.

There is also a greater emphasis on global perspectives, encouraging students to explore and incorporate diverse cultural influences. The concept of lifelong learning is now embedded in everything we do, even if we don’t know it. Continue to learn and grow through research and life experiences. Everyone can help educational institutions understand what they need, what they want to learn, and discover new job opportunities that we do not even know about. Ongoing discussions among educators, policymakers and stakeholders will continue to shape the trajectory of education. I enjoy being a part of those discussions and creating the landscape.

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

Education can address disparities in access to so much for many given the international and global reach we have now. Education put me where I am today, which is a rewarding career that I will always cherish. It allows you to see all views, makes people self-aware and breaks down barriers. 

As I watch my grandchildren grow and my children continue to grow as adults, I realize the impact education had on my family. We are all educators and have a passion for sharing knowledge. It isn’t always an easy job, but it is rewarding and helps me lead by example. Education has opened doors for me, created lasting friendships and good memories. It is a transformative journey, and one I am proud to be able to contribute to.

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

My passions and enjoyment come from a lifetime of playing tennis and other sports. Tennis involves working with others and being on a team. It is so much fun and a social element I enjoy. When you walk off the court, you are energized and it is a sport I can play forever!  I love being outside, learning from nature and listening to what is has to offer.

Kayaking is peaceful and I relish seeing geese, deer and fish along the way to calm the day. I truly enjoy nature and started following some websites about eagles now, how they live, raise their young, and go through life. It is very educational to watch them through the world of a webcam (of course, using technology!) as well as inspirational. It is my hope, we learn to take care of our world and providing an educational opportunity through my pursuits may help with that endeavor.

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

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