In the 2022-2023 school year, SNHUdents caught a whiff of normalcy in the school’s first year without a slew of COVID protocols. Although the idea of COVID still lingered throughout campus, the student body thrived and took advantage of being together.
As the days go by, life becomes less affected by the pandemic. The SNHU community heads into the second year of “normalcy,” and SNHU President, Paul LeBlanc, recognizes the impact that COVID has had on the university.
“I have to remind myself that the pandemic has a long tail of impact, and it is playing itself out in many ways….I think the team did a great job last year really listening hard to what students were saying about what would improve their experience,” LeBlanc said.
One crippling issue within society today is the mental health epidemic that has spread through college-aged students across the country. LeBlanc sees mental health as an area that the university not just wants to focus on, but needs to focus on.
“I worry a lot about mental health and wellness. I think it’s just such a frightening level of struggle that so many people are carrying right now,” LeBlanc said. “I’ve spoken with Felix Pizzi (Senior Director of the Wellness Center and Student Support Services) and Heather Lorenz (Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus-Based Initiatives) to talk about how are we moving through that work.”
To LeBlanc, having a sense of belonging in any place where students spend most of their time is important to their development, not only educationally, but on a personal level as well.
“Students have talked [about] wanting a greater sense of belonging….There was a lot of unhappiness with food service and we listened to students. Then we changed the payment plan so that it could be a bit more affordable,” LeBlanc said. “I think people are going to be crazy happy about Dunkin’ Donuts and Einstein Bros Bagel Co.”
A major development in the world of technology is Artificial Development (AI). Rather than seeing this as a burden, LeBlanc embraces AI and sees it as an opportunity to promote innovation.
“What is the proper use of AI? I’m in the camp that says we should encourage students and everyone else to play with it…a lot. But, when we use it, we should declare it,” LeBlanc said. “We should say something along the lines of ‘hey, in this paper, I used AI, Chat GPT to help get started, or whatever, and this is how.'”
LeBlanc’s commitment to AI goes beyond just ‘playing with it.’ The university has hired George Siemens, a leading researcher on AI in education.
“We’re hoping he can really help us think through this emerging world, and we’ll do some interesting work in that space,” LeBlanc said.
An area that students will see much more focus on is sustainability on campus. “How can we move faster on our sustainability? The team’s done great work and we’ve made a lot of progress, but I think we have to do more,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc has always been outwardly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, and that focus will continue into this school year.
“So many members of our LGBTQ+ community feel besieged; they feel under stress. It’s a difficult time in the country. I’ve been pretty committed to how we can continue to support that community,” LeBlanc said. “I’d say if you don’t feel safe in your community…we want to help you. We’re going to work to try to support students and employees who need extra resources. There’s just a whole bunch of changes in the country right now that are troubling, and a big part of my job is to sort out our response [to] these troubling issues. It has to start with our saying loud and clear that we embrace everyone in our community.”
With the beginning of the new year upon us, LeBlanc is committed to the success of campus and working with members of the leadership team to keep student’s wellbeing at the forefront.