Cadet sets sail for high seas adventure

sailing shipIt's anchors aweigh for Norwich University senior Major Stephanie Thompson, who is leaving campus next semester to spend six weeks at SEA Semester in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, followed by another six weeks sailing from Tahiti to Hawaii in the South Pacific aboard a state-of-the-art research vessel.

Thompson is an environmental science major on a Navy ROTC scholarship. Even though she grew up near the sea on Cape Cod, she has never sailed before. This nautical expedition will be the first turn at the helm for this midshipman.

"I wanted to be a marine biology major, but with no ocean in Vermont and no marine biology major at Norwich, environmental science was the closest thing.... I've always wanted to learn how to sail," Thompson said.

In order to participate in SEA Semester, Thompson first had to get approval two years in advance from the Navy, which ultimately said yes to the $21,000 adventure, for the "sailing experience." A portion of Thompson's Norwich tuition will pay for the program, but she's had to apply for additional scholarships and take out a personal loan to cover the rest.

"It's been a long process, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without the incredible support I received from the Navy ROTC department," said Thompson.

Cadet ThompsonThompson is the first Norwich student to participate in the prestigious SEA Semester.

"It's a great program, and we are proud to have such a high-caliber student representing Norwich for the first time," said Norwich President Richard Schneider.

Cadet Thompson will be learning the ropes along with twenty other US students aboard the 120-foot SSV Robert C. Seamans, stopping at exotic ports and French Polynesian islands to study Oceanography, Nautical Science and Maritime Studies. She will be using the latest in oceanographic technology -- an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler -- to study currents in the central Pacific Ocean.

In the future, Thompson says she wants to do graduate work on bio-acoustics, a field which studies sonar effects on whales and dolphins. Thompson said sonar is having detrimental effects on marine mammals, and she hopes one day to be able to work with the Navy to reduce the noise pollution in the world's oceans.

Thompson's grandfathers served in WWII -- one in Europe with the Army and the other on a Navy submarine in the South Pacific. She said her trip to the other side of the world is particularly meaningful at this time.

An exemplary role model, Thompson holds the rank of 3 rd Battalion Executive Officer in the Norwich University Corps of Cadets. She competes on the Norwich cross-country team and holds a place on the University Scholar list. She was selected as a Presidential Fellow for the Mathematics and Sciences Division in 2005, one of the highest academic honors at Norwich.