University leadership visits Newington facility, engages with alums on staff

Monday, September 18, 2023
UNH leaders tour SubCom facility

UNH President Jim Dean and several members of UNH leadership, including Marian McCord, senior vice provost for research, outreach and engagement, Cyndee Gruden, dean of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and Diane Foster, director of the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, toured SubCom's Newington facility as part of an Aug. 31 visit. (Photo courtesy of Courtney McDaniel/SubCom)

SubCom, an international leader in the subsea fiber optic cable industry, employs more than 50 UNH graduates at its Newington location, including several – like James Toth ’89 – who have enjoyed a professional journey as circuitous as some of the intricate cable networks SubCom has assembled on the ocean floor.

Toth graduated from UNH with a degree in business administration and geography before embarking on a long career as a software engineer in the financial sector. About a year ago, though, he traded in the equations and Oracle Databases to join SubCom.

To program lasers.

“I worked most of my career in the financial services industry – if you told me I’d be here programming lasers, I’d have told you that you were crazy,” Toth says. “But it’s been a wonderful change.”

Indeed, SubCom prides itself on creating a culture that encourages advancement across disciplines and inspires loyalty, and several members of UNH leadership visited the Newington plant Aug. 31 to hear first-hand accounts of that approach and to explore ways to further bolster an already flourishing partnership.

SubCom cable being placed
Subcom has placed its subsea fiber optic cable in every ocean around the globe. (photo courtesy of subcom)

SubCom is a giant in its industry, manufacturing and placing subsea fiber optic cables that power the digital world – cables that are “really running daily tech life,” says SubCom CEO David Coughlan ’96G, who looks back fondly on his own UNH days. Hyper-scalers are among SubCom’s many high-profile customers, and are the “biggest global providers” in data communication infrastructure. SubCom has placed its networks in every ocean around the world, Coughlan says.

One of the biggest providers of employees for SubCom remains UNH, through what is a prosperous pipeline that both entities are eager to continue building upon. UNH leadership that made the trip briefly toured a portion of the manufacturing facility before sitting down for a roundtable discussion with more than a dozen UNH grads working at SubCom, including Coughlan and Dan Sousa ’94, vice president of manufacturing operations.

Representatives from UNH leadership included President Jim Dean, Senior Vice Provost for Research, Outreach and Engagement Marian McCord, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences Dean Cyndee Gruden, Director of the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering Diane Foster and Associate Vice President and Chief Business Development and Innovation Officer of UNH Innovation Marc Eichenberger.

“When students come into college, they’re thinking about four years; we’re thinking about 40 years,” Dean says of the UNH faculty and staff’s approach to preparing students for successful careers. “Every time we get to meet with a group of people like you and we see the product of a UNH education – and what you’ve made of it – we’re just really proud. We’re proud to be a part of it, and we’re proud to have partners like SubCom who give people opportunities.”

"Every time we get to meet with a group of people like you and we see the product of a UNH education – and what you’ve made of it – we’re just really proud. We’re proud to be a part of it, and we’re proud to have partners like SubCom who give people opportunities."

Though engineering and marine positions understandably make up a decent portion of the opportunities at SubCom, the company has a workforce in many additional departments, as well, including human resources, finance, marketing, information technology, law and more.

It also has a strong track record of employee retention and a commitment to supporting its people through transitions to new departments and jobs, advancement the company embraces and encourages.

Beyond Toth, Valerie (Pycko) Drexel ’07 also changed course at SubCom, arriving in the finance department with a business degree before ultimately moving into her current role as senior project manager, overseeing the implementation of the cable system. The UNH alums in the room represented majors and focus areas in a variety of academic disciplines.

“So much of what we do has to be taught, and what we want are people that want to learn,” Coughlan says. “If you’re willing to learn and try new things, that’s what we’re looking for.”

That outlook has encouraged longevity for many employees at SubCom, something that has an impact on new hires, as well – like James Ennis ’23, who has only been at SubCom for a few months after graduating from UNH in May.

“One of the things I noticed so far is a lot of the people in my department have been here for a long time. That was a big thing when I first got hired, talking with people that have been here 15, 20 years. That’s a good outlook for my future, I think,” Ennis says.

Leadership from both UNH and SubCom enthusiastically brainstormed ways to strengthen and expand the partnership that has landed so many UNH graduates in Newington. There was talk of potentially creating job shadow opportunities during UNH’s J-term in January, as well as discussions about specific trainings or certificate-type courses that could be created to tie directly to the kind of work being done at SubCom. Both sides expressed an interest in exploring as many ways as possible to make the collaboration between organizations continually beneficial for both sides.

It was UNH that brought Coughlan, who was born in Portsmouth before living most of his life in New York City, back to New Hampshire as he pursued his MBA, and his experience as a student and his interactions with the university as a SubCom leader are a big part of why he’s so keen on ensuring the relationship continues to grow.

He has two daughters going through the college selection process right now, a journey that has only further driven home the things he thinks set UNH apart.

“When you go to the open house, you can actually talk to the professors, and they are so caring and so direct with the students. When I was there, people were making a personal investment in me getting work experience while I was going to class,” Coughlan says. “It’s a different class of interest in the student’s outcome than I’ve seen at other places. I wouldn’t have gotten a job here if UNH wasn’t trying to craft an opportunity like that for me.”