(image credit: Thomas Cahalan)

People are sometimes all talk and no action. Beth Anderson, the Vista for the Community Center for Engaged Learning (CCEL) is not one of those people.

Her position, which is officially known as the AmeriCorps VISTA, entails a year of servicing the community at large. A large part of her job is directed towards the capacity building of nonprofit organizations to help that organization run more smoothly. As the Vista, she provides the services of program management and education about programs people have access to, while helping current programs run more smoothly.

For example, a key role of hers is helping Kelley Hobbs, assistant director of CCEL, run service learning.

In a matter of 5 years, the amount of service learning classes jumped from 5 to 30. Service learning classes operate in the classroom like regular classes, but require students to meet and volunteer at an organization once a week. Anderson has the role of the facilitator where she provides students with support during their volunteer activities.

College Access is another program she’s heavily involved with. The College Access program focuses on providing opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds to enter college and stay in college to keep them from becoming at risk of dropping out.

Another big initiative she’s a part of is called “Ask Big Questions”.

Ask Big Questions is a seven-question program aimed at understanding how to change the world for better, while initiating a more productive conversation that won’t cause people to shut down. The idea is to make it apolitical and take away arguing by asking low-risk questions such as “Where do you feel at home?” or “Who is in your community”, since everyone has an opinion about those questions.

Anderson’s Ask Big Questions initiative is one of her major tasks this year. The goal of this initiative is to help establish a community through asking questions where everyone has something to say.

“It’s proven as a society we’re becoming less of an involved community,” stated Anderson.

Ideally, the “Ask Big Questions” initiative will help establish a community on campus through the process of deep conversation; however, one of the biggest challenges to a campus community is that tough questions are often asked, and people don’t feel like they know what to say, because they don’t want to be wrong. Anderson gave some insight into this dilemma.

“People shut down, and fall into more of an argument. There wasn’t a space where we could come together and talk.”

This initiative will allow people to talk about diversity in a way that deals more with people’s experiences rather than specific viewpoints. Discussions are a big part of this initiative, and it will be interactive. The overall goal is that, in a couple of years, this initiative will encourage the campus community to come together and answer the challenging questions.

“It’s all about the fact that we’re human beings and getting to know people,” explained Anderson.

Anderson also helps run programs like Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in November and Human Trafficking Awareness week during the Spring Semester.

Before becoming the Vista, Anderson graduated from SNHU in 2015 and went to the Dominican Republic for two years to work in an educational nonprofit. Afterwards, she thought about attending graduate school but eventually decided on joining the AmeriCorps since she loved working in a field that always had a vision and a purpose. AmeriCorps was a yearlong endeavor for Anderson.

While searching for the next part of her journey, she spoke with Elizabeth Richards, director of CCEL, and learned they previously had an AmeriCorps Vista and would welcome another one in a second. She knew it would be a perfect fit, as she loved her experience at SNHU, and she’s not shy about the fact she loves her job.

A major cause she is passionate about is education access for everybody. “I really believe education works to break the cycle of poverty.”

Another issue she is passionate about is food insecurity and homelessness. Anderson formed her passion for these causes during the alternative breaks she went on during her time at SNHU.

Anderson was a big participator of the alternative break program, because coming in she knew she wanted to volunteer in community service related activities. Her older sister participated in Habitat for Humanity over spring break at her university, so she thought she’d do something similar here.

For her first alternative break, Anderson traveled to Washington D.C. The trip mainly focused on fighting the hunger and homeless situation in the nation’s capital. It was this trip that acted as the catalyst for her true passion: service.

“A light bulb went off in my head that I had this experience, and it altered my view of my place in the world.”

After the D.C. trip, it was clear this was the type of career she wanted to pursue. She went to D.C. two more times and was program coordinator for both trips. Senior year, she was a coordinator during an alternative break program in the Dominican Republic for two weeks that focused on education and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Being a Childhood Adolescent Psychology Major, she wondered about what type of career she wanted to pursue. Instead of going down the clinical path like a lot of her classmates, she wanted to go into organizational leadership, and the organization Outreach 360 would give her that opportunity.

She commented that working for Outreach 360 in the Dominican Republic was challenging in the best way. Every day there was a purpose. Not only did she work to provide English education to students, but she got to work closely with volunteers from North America too.

“To be a part of this organization when I was 21, 22, 23, was humbling and exciting.”

She had a lot of fun living in another country and becoming connected to another culture too.

Anderson also gave some insight into what it’s like being a SNHU alumna. One major perk of being a SNHU alumna, she explained, is getting to see everything happen from a professional viewpoint rather than a student viewpoint. SNHU also puts a huge emphasis on maintaining connections and building communities.

Graduates from other universities don’t have the same alumni experience, so SNHU alumni experience a more genuine connection with their university. Even after coming back to work at SNHU, Anderson still feels that SNHU is like a home.

Her main source of inspiration has been the people in her life. The people she works and worked with, her family and friends, are some of the many people that pushed her to reach new heights. Social issues have also inspired her to stay on the path of active citizenship.

Anderson also revealed why she chose SNHU as her college of choice.

Logistically, she knew she wanted a small school where there was more hands-on learning. Going to school that provided numerous opportunities for on- and off-campus involvement was another aspect she was looking for.

“I didn’t want to be a number, and I think about SNHU at the time six years ago and today, it still provides that community feel. They knew I was investing in them, and I knew they were investing in me.”

If she had to make the choice again, she’d still choose SNHU.

Some fun facts about her are that she recently hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and enjoys relaxing in hammocks. Anderson also played golf for a year and a half, and was also a part of club field hockey before it became a Division II sport her junior year. During her time in the Dominican Republic, she also learned how to speak Spanish.

If anyone is interested in contacting Anderson about the programs she’s involved with or wants to learn how to get involved, contact her at b.anderson3@snhu.edu or stop by the CCEL office in the Green Center, room 118.

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