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Discover Norwich University

09/04/2013 04:05PM ● By Ryan Frisch

A Legacy of Firsts

On April 25, 2013, Norwich University President Richard Schneider announced that the school had received the largest financial gift in its 194-year history, a $25 million bequest from Colonel (Retired) J. N. Pritzker. “This gift,” said Schneider, “will transform the university and make a significant impact on future generations of students and faculty.”

In making the gift, Colonel Pritzker added, “There is no other place like Norwich University. This gift demonstrates my dedication to the University, its mission, and my faith in its leadership.”

While a gift of this magnitude was a first for Norwich, the institution has recorded many such distinctions since being founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge. It was the first private military college in the United States and the birthplace of the nation’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. It was the college’s system of balanced and practical education, in fact, that became formalized as the great American System of Education.

Norwich was the first private college in the country to offer training in engineering. Previously, academic institutions focused on the classical studies of letters, arts, and humanities, subjects that were ignored in military education in favor of weaponry and battlefield tactics. At Norwich, classical and military studies were supplemented with courses in civil engineering. The burgeoning nation, reasoned Captain Partridge, needed people with the practical skills to build bridges and roads. It was his philosophy that young military officers trained in a broader scope made better leaders because they were savvy in commerce and able to deal with people both in the civilian and military worlds. The term may not have existed then, but Norwich was the first university to emphasize experiential learning.

In 1820 Norwich created its collegiate military band—another first and still the oldest one in the country. It was the first to incorporate physical education in the curriculum. It was also among the first universities to teach agriculture and to accept international students.

In more recent years, Norwich has continued its tradition of educational innovation. In 1972 it became one of the first military colleges to admit women to its Corps of Cadets. Annapolis, West Point, The Citadel, and the Air Force Academy have since followed. At the time, Norwich’s acceptance of women was widely criticized in military circles. Now, however, it is apparent that the college was simply ahead of its time.            

Norwich was an early proponent in offering online degrees, launching its first graduate program in 1997. Students have participated from as far away as Brazil, Canada, the Cayman Islands, China, Colombia, England, Germany, India, Jamaica, Lebanon, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.         

Norwich by the Numbers

The campus is located in Northfield, a charming and friendly Vermont community located just south of Montpelier, the state’s capital. The school has approximately 2,200 cadets, civilian resident students, and daily commuters, along with about 1,100 online graduate and continuing education students representing 45 states and 20 foreign countries. Men outnumber women three to one. There’s a low student/faculty ratio of 14:1, with over 68 million dollars in federal grants and loans and Norwich grants, and 98 percent of students receive some form of academic or need-based aid.

The university is grouped into five separate colleges offering 30 bachelor’s degrees, nine master’s degrees, two certificates, two bachelor’s degree completion programs, plus a teacher licensing program and four ROTC programs.

Norwich University graduates who have served as general officers in the US armed forces total 138: 102 Army generals, 11 Air Force generals, 9 Marine Corps generals, and 16 Navy admirals. In foreign military services, 26 graduates have served as generals: 9 Royal Thai Army generals, 1 Royal Thai Air Force general, and 16 Republic of China Army generals.

There’s plenty to do outside the classroom, too. Students can choose from among 80 extra-curricular offerings, including academic and professional societies; special interest clubs; literary, theatrical, and musical activities; religious, military, and community service organizations; programming committees; and more.

Norwich has a well-deserved reputation as a sports powerhouse, especially in rugby and hockey, where its teams (men’s and women’s) are frequently among the nationally top-ranked in NCAA Division III. In all, 20 varsity sports, a variety of club sports, and unlimited intramural sports opportunities are available.

The juxtaposition of hands-on academics, a rich extracurricular roster, and, for cadets, a military lifestyle can make for widely varying college experiences, especially during the first few months of freshman year. While day students and civilians adjust to life after high school, those entering the Corps of Cadets begin “Rookdom.” Called “rooks,” they begin two consecutive three-month processes (Rook Basic Training and Basic Leadership Training) that transform them from civilians to cadets.

Campus life at Norwich is vividly described on the university’s website, where student blogs are published so that prospective applicants can hear the unvarnished truth. Jen Letourneau, from Maine, has a tip for incoming rooks.  “Having spent a majority of my life in Maine, I find it difficult to admit that Vermont has a colder climate. In all my life I have never experienced sub-zero temperatures like I have at Norwich. This may be due in part to the fact that the campus is located in a valley, which makes the weather a little loopy. However, you get accustomed to the changes fairly quickly, and the gear you are supplied with as a rook will keep you warm . . . well, except for the glove liners. I suggest that if you are an incoming rook, you purchase a pair of very nice BLACK glove liners. You’ll thank me when you’re the one in your company who doesn’t have frost bite.”

Zachary Leblanc of Shirley, Massachusetts, has the final word on his freshman year: “So, here I am, sitting at home after finishing my first year at Norwich University. I almost never even went to college, but I am glad that I did. Attending Norwich has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made.”

Student blogs are yet another new and different form of experiential learning. The university Captain Partridge founded is continuing the tradition of honoring legacy while promoting innovation by graduating young men and women who are well prepared to meet the challenges of life.

What firsts are in Norwich’s future? No one can say for certain, but Colonel Pritzker’s recent gift ensures that the university will have the facility and resources to continue to promote innovation.

Adds President Schneider, “This gift will transform the university and have an impact on future generations of students and faculty. We are all here at Norwich for one purpose: to educate America’s future leaders. We are humbled by this charge and grateful for the support as we prepare to celebrate in 2019 the 200th anniversary of our founding.” It will be the college’s first bicentennial.

Civilian Students at Norwich

In addition to cadets, Norwich accepts civilian students, both residential and commuters. Whether you’re looking for rigorous academics, championship athletics, or an exceptional variety of clubs and organizations, Norwich offers everything you will find at a large university, with the personal feel of a small private college and supportive community.

At Norwich, civilian students attend school at one of the nation’s foremost leadership learning centers, where they prepare for both academic achievement and success in a competitive global environment. Civilian and Corps students work together in the classroom, on the athletic fields, and in the campus center, learning and benefitting from each another.

By Stephen Morris
Photos courtesy Norwich University

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