From Middle East to NH

A Syrian couple’s journey is aided by SNHU’s DEI Mission
Khaleel and Rimi

After Rimi and Khaleel Shreet benefitted from SNHU’s programs, they are now paying it forward by helping other students who were once in their position, so they can also get a college education.

A cold wind whipped over Khaleel Shreet’s ears while he pumped gas into a customer’s vehicle. It was January in Manchester, and while Khaleel had entertained some thoughts of what life in the Granite State would be like, he never could have anticipated the brittle temperatures of an unforgiving New Hampshire winter.

Khaleel, who was born and raised in Syria, had enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University to continue his education while escaping the Syrian civil war. He knew just one other person in the United States.

Unlike other international students who participated in clubs and activities, Khaleel worked 16-hour days at a restaurant and a full-service gas station in order to afford his tuition, leaving little time — or money — for anything else. He wavered daily between feelings of fear for his family’s safety and was overwhelmed with his living situation where he was barely making ends meet.

“I remained positive, optimistic,” Shreet says. “That’s the thing that helped me go through it all. I had a firm belief that it was just temporary, and I was just waiting for better opportunities to come up.”

Halfway through his master’s degree, a faculty member at SNHU reached out to Shreet. “He said, ‘You’ve been a good student, you’re working hard on your studies, and I see you’re working long hours here as well. We may have opportunities for people in your circumstances,’” Shreet recalls.

That conversation led to a sit-down meeting with SNHU President Paul LeBlanc. Shreet still remembers it as a pivotal moment in his life: “That meeting flipped my life upside down.”

SNHU offered Shreet a full scholarship to cover the second half of his master’s degree and a job. He went on to receive his doctorate in educational leadership, and SNHU paid for his wife, Rimi, to take ESL classes and find a job as well when she relocated to the U.S.


Today, Shreet works at Duet, an SNHU program that helps provide academic coaching to help highly motivated students earn a degree more quickly and inexpensively.

Today, Shreet works at Duet, an SNHU program that helps provide academic coaching to help highly motivated students earn a degree more quickly and inexpensively — people who were once in his position.

SNHU has had an extraordinary journey in supporting nontraditional students like Shreet. Since 2003, the school has grown from 2,800 to over 185,000 students and is the largest nonprofit provider of online higher education in the country. It owes much of that success to its competency-based model, which focuses on helping learners access education at their own pace, wherever they are in the world.

“SNHU is a higher ed disrupter,” said Jada Hebra, SNHU’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “The belief is that everybody’s capable; it’s just that everybody doesn’t have the same chances. And so how can we get the most possible people to get a bachelor’s degree, period?”

Demographically, SNHU serves 40% students of color, with as many as 50% of students with low or moderate income. It serves more Black students than the largest historically Black college or university. The community it serves reinforces the university’s core belief that true inclusion starts with identifying and breaking the barriers that limit individuals.

As a director of Duet, Shreet works with people who are trying to make a difference, he says.

“I learn about my students. I try to have a good understanding of their backgrounds, their challenges, and be there for them as a genuine friend,” he says.

Part of the mission is to simplify the educational experience.

“We’re focused on getting people college degrees. Many of them tried college before and couldn’t make it happen because of systemic barriers,” he says. “We’re committed to breaking down these barriers. I’m very happy that we’re making it happen.”

SNHU has developed several initiatives to make a college education more affordable and accessible to underserved communities who would otherwise not have this opportunity. Some of these programs include:

  • The SNHU Center for New Americans. Opened in partnership with YWCA NH in 2017, the center addresses the educational needs of New American families in Manchester. The center serves 100 to 125 youth on a weekly basis during the school year, and up to 200 people total when including English as a second language programming, competency-based higher education and community-building events.
  • The Chandler Center encourages SNHU students to practice civic engagement and become active citizens in their communities.
  • The Global Education Movement offers university degrees to refugees around the world. Since 2017, the program continues to be a large-scale, online learning initiative for refugees. SNHU works with in-country organizations to deliver high-quality, low-cost education that meets the needs of displaced learners.

SNHU also offers Community Partnership programs that help people earn degrees with competency-based education. Instead of attending classes and lectures followed by exams, learners demonstrate a mastery of skills in key business areas. Once they complete 60 competencies, they earn a degree.

While the majority of students take classes online from around the world, about 3,000 students take classes on the Manchester campus. Hebra hopes New Hampshire will continue to evolve and grow when it comes to embracing diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I want it to live up to its motto. You know, ‘Live Free or Die,’” she says. “And I know, that can be taken in many different ways. But the way I think about it is, you know, truly letting people live free and be who they are.”

Hebra also would like to see more young people move to New Hampshire.

“There are great things in the state. And I think, if we can signal that we are open minded, and that we actually do live our motto, truly, I think we would attract a whole lot more people,” she says.

This article is featured in the fall 2023 issue of 603 Diversity.603 Diversity Fall 2023

603 Diversity’s mission is to educate readers of all backgrounds about the exciting accomplishments and cultural contributions of the state’s diverse communities, as well as the challenges faced and support needed by those communities to continue to grow and thrive in the Granite State.

More stories from 603 Diversity.

Order a copy of the print edition.

Categories: 603 Diversity