How GEM students continue to study and succeed despite uncertain times. READ MORE LEARNING THROUGH A GLOBAL PANDEMIC 2020 Annual Impact Report TED TALK: A PATH TO HIGHER EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT FOR REFUGEES Chrystina explores how GEM helps refugee students and transform lives in the process. READ MORE 2020 Annual Impact Report Lowering degree costs and contributing to the financial sustainability of GEM 2020 Annual Impact Report THE IMPACT OF GEM HUB READ MORE


Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc President and CEO of SNHU

Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc President and CEO of SNHU


Dr. Chrystina Russell Executive Director of SNHU's GEM

Dr. Chrystina Russell Executive Director of SNHU's GEM


Dear GEM supporters, family and worldwide partners,

It’s an understatement to say these are extraordinary times. In addition to its impact on human life, the global COVID-19 pandemic created a wave of disruption across every sector, including higher education and humanitarian agencies.

Similar to most other organizations, Southern New Hampshire University’s Global Education Movement (GEM) faced a myriad of challenges. Yet, as a new way of approaching everyday life unfolded across the world over the last year, many opportunities also emerged.

At the onset of the crisis – and throughout its duration – GEM has worked closely with its partners to prioritize the health and safety of GEM students and their families.

The next immediate priority was to limit interruptions as far as possible to the ability of GEM students to continue their studies, engage in internships and forge pathways to high-quality, dignified employment.

Around the world, in-person and even more insulated institutions of higher education were at risk of closing or have closed. GEM, however, is proud to have offered continual, uninterrupted access to higher education to students throughout this challenging year, regardless of the challenges they may face politically, security-wise, climate change-wise or because of the impact of the global pandemic.

As with the many emergencies GEM students have encountered in their lives, this year, they continued to thrive despite facing seemingly insurmountable barriers.

Throughout the pandemic, 100% of GEM students continued to engage in internships as we grew our digital internship program. The pandemic has also accelerated GEM’s efforts to promote and support digital employment, with 70% of internships being digital.

Working with partners in each of its locations, GEM is proud to offer high-quality services to students through a blended learning model. As the global pandemic took hold, GEM collaborated alongside partners to shift in-person student support online.

Each partner showed creativity, dedication and agility to offer students what they need.

Budgets were immediately repurposed to ensure students received data bundles to continue their learning at home during times when learning centers were closed. GEM partners came together in virtual retreats to share best practices in student services within a new reality, to collaborate on challenging problems, and to share messages of support and love during a tough time for partner staff and students alike.

The pandemic also allowed GEM to enable more inclusivity and problem-solving across sites more frequently than before the pandemic. A shining example of this was a virtual mental health retreat for all partners, where a group of clinical psychologists based in Rwanda guided partners on techniques for self-care as well as how to support students during their academic and coaching sessions.

The challenges everyone has faced across the globe have been substantial and this is, of course, true for GEM as well.

  • Partners and learners struggled with how to balance work and life.
  • Already challenging operational environments became even more wrought with obstacles in the context of COVID-19.
  • The pandemic continued to unveil the planet’s inequities for vulnerable individuals, of which refugees are some of the world’s people most in peril.

From deaths to lost employment to extreme psychological distress, the challenges have been incredible. At the same time, the pandemic has also allowed for the flexibility and innovation of GEM’s model to shine, and the GEM students, as always, continue to demonstrate remarkable resilience and creativity in the face of challenges.

International recognition

The innovative GEM model and the dedication of the students that make this program a success has drawn international attention.

The Falling Walls Foundation recognizes science breakthroughs in ten categories annually, ranging from life sciences to science in the arts. In 2020, GEM’s efforts to make higher education accessible to refugees was awarded in one of these prestigious categories.

“Chrystina Russell and her Global Education Movement initiative have been awarded for being the organization offering the highest impact with the highest learning efficacy, at the largest opportunity of scale. GEM focuses on millions of displaced people, who are prevented from adequate access to education.” Jury Chair Deborah Quazzo

To ensure the continued success of GEM’s effort, the program has to be sustainable. This requires costs to be kept as low as possible, while ensuring high-quality education that results in successful graduations followed by meaningful employment. This is how the GEM program compares to higher education statistics across the U.S.

Average 4-year graduation rate for GEM Students

Average 4-year graduation rate for US public universities

Average 4-year graduation rate for US private universities

Average global MOOC completion rate


GEM’s average cost per student per year


US public in-state average cost per student per year


US public out-of-state average cost per student per year


US private average cost per student per year

Awe-inspiring student stories

Cape Town

Julia led the online migration of the Women’s Platform curriculum within two weeks to deliver uninterrupted access to training for 800 women during the pandemic.

Kakuma refugee camp

This innovative BA student is also a soapmaker, building the camp’s first factory to mass-produce soap, and providing it to vulnerable refugees and local residents in the camp. Read more

Dzaleka refugee camp

Roger started a school, which serves more than 500 learners in a socially-distanced manner, and provided at-home materials for when schools were closed.


Hamza is working as a health aide worker post the Beirut explosion, assisting with both an explosive and pandemic catastrophe – a complex humanitarian emergency.

No matter what challenges the world hurls at them, GEM students tackle them with creativity, grit, grace and tenacity. From this viewpoint, perhaps for refugees, unlike other individuals, this year may have felt as familiar as other years, with seemingly insurmountable obstacles around every corner threatening to halt their progress.

As always, the GEM students rose to the occasion and continue their forward momentum no matter how daunting the task. Similar to past years, the GEM team remained deeply inspired in 2020. Both the incredible stories of life transformation and our student data demonstrate the power of the GEM model.

In solidarity,

Paul and Chrystina

Follow the

Global Education Movement podcast

In GEM’s special COVID-19 podcast series, we interview students, staff and subject experts to learn how people around the world are coping with lockdown and doing their part in the battle against a global pandemic. Topics range from mental health, to remote working and studying, to childcare and more.

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