"Community Organizer" Receives Presidential Award of Excellence
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
November 14, 2007
UNH Photo Services
Michele Holt-Shannon, the assistant director of Discovery at UNH, describes
herself as “a connector and a boundary crosser.” She has probably
done as much as anybody in recent memory to foster the value of community on
In her current position, Holt-Shannon helps students find their footing and
make the correlation between learning both in and outside the classroom. She
was instrumental in transforming the idea of a University Dialogue into a successful
yearlong program–one that includes lectures, discussions, films, theater–anything
that underscores the Discovery Program's goal of showing students how “curriculum” can
“I kind of see myself as a community organizer for the campus. Sometimes
people don't always see that there are so many opportunities for collaboration
here,” she says. “I know I cross boundaries but I try to do it
in a way that keeps everyone thinking about the work and the outcome.”
Holt-Shannon's colleagues take this self-assessment a step further. Their
praises, which ring from the tower of Thompson Hall to the corridors of Hamilton
Smith, herald her as a “major contributor,” a “strong advocate” for
students, and a “deft facilitator” whose calm and confident leadership
style guides her as she helps people and programs make connections nobody thought
could exist–until Holt-Shannon pointed the way.
She loves to bring people together. If she's having a conversation with someone
about a particular project, she is quick to link him or her to someone else
who is doing something similar.
“That's the thing I enjoy the most,” Holt-Shannon says, “having
good, honest, transparent, healthy, and fun relationships with my colleagues.
I always try to have positive relationships with people. I think most people
Holt-Shannon came to UNH in 1999 when her husband Mark became a hall director.
Their first daughter was born eleven years ago while they were living in Williamson,
and spent her first year of life learning to walk in Smith Hall.
Her first job at UNH was assistant to the director of residential life. From
there she went on to become interim program director of the MUB and program
director and then assistant director of Student Life.
Now she spends most of her time working with faculty and staff, but the focus,
she says, remains on the students. Her primary role is to create and support
associations between academics and out-of-classroom curriculum.
She still maintains direct connection with students by being involved in such
organizations as WildACTS, a social-change theater group on campus that tackles
the complexities of social and health risks among first-year students. She
also lends her voice to other social-justice initiatives and has developed
social-justice training workshops.
Holt-Shannon is comfortable with and thrives on change. She says the University
Dialogues satisfies that part of her personality because it is brand new every
“I see the commitment, passion, and effort that faculty and staff devote
to student success and I think, 'man, this is a committed bunch of people.'
I'm lucky to be a part of it all.”