By Eric Baxter, COCE Academic Advisor
The education and technology partnership between Southern New Hampshire University and the storied basketball franchise the Boston Celtics is best illustrated with a literal flip of the switch.
In March 2014, flipping a switch set 30 computers whirring quietly and ready for the attentions of more than 300 middle school students at the renovated computer lab at Henry J. McLaughlin Jr. Middle School in Manchester, New Hampshire. The next lab is slated for Manchester’s Hillside Middle School this spring.
The lab was designed, built and installed as part of the partnership, now in the second of three years. In addition to committing to the renovation of six computer labs — three in New Hampshire and three in Massachusetts — the partnership will result in the SNHU Championships of Opportunity Scholarship Program, which awards a $5,000 scholarship to a qualified Boys and Girls Club member or alumnus every time the Celtics hold an opponent to under 90 points at the TD Garden. In addition, SNHU will commit to one full four-year campus scholarship to a qualified high school junior. The Celtics will share their professional expertise with SNHU students on campus and online and provide internship opportunities for SNHU students.
The SNHU-Celtics partnership is firmly rooted in SNHU’s mission and traditions.
“Our mission is to educate students and help them achieve their goals,” said Scott Durand, vice president of Marketing and Student Recruitment at SNHU’s College of Online and Continuing Education. “The partnership with the Celtics enables us to highlight the opportunities a college education can provide and get it on kids’ radar in an impactful, memorable way.”
In the labs, the computers are state-of-the-art and the spaces are created for each school’s needs. The software gets the same level of consideration and reflects each school’s and district’s desired educational outcomes and goals.
“This just seemed to drop out of the sky,” said McLaughlin Principal Bill Krantz. “And it came at a nice time.”
The school’s computer facilities were aging, Manchester’s school budget was tight and the school’s more than 700 students and staff were in need of fresh resources. Krantz said many of the school’s students are living below the poverty line. Access to resources is limited, and providing the students with technology resources was a boon.
“There are jobs that haven’t even been created yet that they’ll be working,” he said. “Now they’ve been afforded the tools to (learn new skills) with.”
This sends a clear message.
“We tell the kids we care, and they matter,” Durand said. “Even if this just helps one or two kids, then it’s a win.”
After the McLaughlin lab opened, the school’s students gathered in the auditorium for a pep rally. The SNHU dignitaries were joined by notable Celtics personalities, including power forward Jared Sullinger and retired player-turned-staffer Dana Barros, as well as the team’s mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun, who attends SNHU as an online graphic design student.
“The energy is palpable,” Durand said.
SNHU has a long history of civic engagement. In 2011 the university was acknowledged by the Carnegie Foundation for its role in helping communities locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. The university’s community service efforts include tutoring Manchester schoolchildren, raising funds for United Way agencies, providing accounting and technical assistance to fledgling nonprofits, and sending aid to Haiti following destructive hurricanes. University community members have volunteered for several years on Gulf-region rebuilding projects, worked in orphanages and brought technology into township schools in South Africa.
That same community spirit can be felt in the Celtics offices. Steve Thiel, Celtics senior coordinator of Corporate Partnerships, said the franchise had formed partnerships with universities in the past, but SNHU took the effort in a new direction.
The Celtics franchise, like all major sports teams, exists as much in the virtual world as the actual. And that was one of the things that attracted him to SNHU.
“We looked at the incredible growth SNHU is having,” Thiel said. “They are disrupting the online space in a great way.”
The two major players, one in sports and one in education, hit it off right away.
“SNHU came in, we talked, and they said they wanted to make a real impact,” Thiel said. “(SNHU) had a clear emphasis on education and community.”
A Nontraditional Partnership
As the partnership has evolved, the education component also has grown. The team is accepting and training interns from the school. The Celtics also send professionals in the business of sports to speak to classes and provide their expertise and insights to SNHU students.
In turn the team has drawn on the knowledge and talents of students to help design and push promotions, including an Asian-American home game night that featured a logo/T-shirt design contest for on-campus SNHU students. SNHU students gained real-world sport management and business experience by producing graphics and operating behind the scenes.
“This is a nontraditional partnership,” Thiel said. “It took a little while to feel it out and look for the opportunities. Now that we know, we can make even more happen.”
Roughly 60 miles north of the Celtics’ home court and about 10 miles from the SNHU campus, the partnership is yielding results. The computer lab at McLaughlin has become an integral part of the school’s offerings and is proving an excellent addition. Krantz said the lab has also benefited the teachers and staff.
“We use it for professional development,” he said, adding there was a host of tools now available to the teachers through better access to Internet and software resources. “All I can say for this is ‘thank you.’”