Summer Passion Afoot at Norwich © July 27, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications

Photo of Meredith Farkas.

photo by Jay Ericson Meredith Farkas in the Kreitzberg Library.

As it is at other universities, summer on the Norwich campus appears to be a relaxed state of affairs; campers toss Frisbees across the UP, a handful of summer students move ahead in their educational pursuits and staffers enjoy outdoor lunches beneath the campus’ maples and pines. Looks can be deceiving though, and so it is on The Hill where learning and academia remain in full swing.

According to newly appointed Associate Vice President of Research Dave Westerman, Norwich expects its faculty and staff to “remain engaged in curious inquiry as part of their development through the years.” And this summer, that expectation is being met as more than forty-five faculty and multiple staff members are involved in critical research and inquiry.

English professor Topper Morris is a prime example of the way in which many Norwich faculty and staff members spend their off-time. The author of three books, Morris said he looks forward to the summer because it allows for intellectual growth.

“Writing books is a private passion for me,” he said. “I always devote time in the summer, because during the school year, it’s very hard to get work done.”

This summer, Morris is preparing for a spring-2008 Fulbright Fellowship in Austria by compiling lectures on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for presentation. Upon his return to Vermont, Morris said he plans on working the material into book number four. The idea came from the last book he wrote, Figure of the Road, in which he discusses the Mississippi River as a road for Huck. “After that book,” he said, “I knew I wanted to go back to Twain and develop that point.”

Curiosity is contagious. Professors that are feeding their curiosity are recognized by students immediately. They understand the excitement that the professor brings to the process.

~ Associate Vice President of Research Dave Westerman

The classes that Morris teaches at the University have also lead him to potential book subjects. Morris, who will be transitioning into retirement this fall, noted that he has book plans based around a film noir course that he teaches. “These two projects are what I will be working on up to and after retirement,” he said. “It’s what I like to do.”

Judith Stallings-Ward, associate professor of Spanish, also spends her summers researching her passion: Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The author of four papers on the subject, she noted that “Cervantes has been a passion of mine since I began studying Spanish. I was obsessed with the cave scene [in the novel] because it was so challenging.”

Her groundbreaking research showing that Cervantes had access to the works of Erasmus, which were previously thought to be banned by Pope Paul IV, lasted for five or six years.

“I used the Christmas break, Easter break and part of the summers to do research,” she recalled. It wasn’t always easy supporting her theories, though. “I truly had to follow my instincts and dig deep and hard in research to support what I really felt was correct.”

Stallings-Ward plans to continue her scholarship as well. She is currently researching the 20th century Spanish poet Gerardo Diego. With a doctoral dissertation and two articles on Diego completed to date, Stallings-Ward said she hopes to write a book on him in the future.

Norwich has another recent book author in its ranks with Meredith Farkas, distance learning librarian at the Kreitzberg Library. Farkas’ first book, Social Software in Libraries, was published in April and offers advice on how libraries can more effectively utilize technology to connect with patrons online. As with Stallings-Ward and Morris, Farkas said passion has to play a role in the writing process.

“Writing the book was so much fun, but you have to be passionate about the topic,” she said. “When you love a topic, it just flows.”

Her passion for social networking software began when she was in library school. Farkas later authored her own blog on the topic, and that led to the book. “One of my readers, who was an editor, emailed me and asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book,” Farkas said while grinning. “Yeah, when I was 10.”

As for the future, Farkas said that her first offering will definitely not be her last.

“It’s kind of addictive—writing books,” she said. “It’s fun to be in the process of research and writing. You either love it or you hate it.”

Vice President of Academic Affairs Bjong Wolf Yeigh said faculty and staff research is encouraged at Norwich. He said that while faculty “are expected to engage in some form of basic to applied scholarship,” they are not left to their own devices to do so. Through its faculty development grant system, the University extends its help by offering internal grant opportunities to assist faculty in their research process, a system Yeigh described as the “best…in the state.”

Moreover, the University is also creating a support structure for faculty involved in research. “The best way to promote research and writing is to create the infrastructure to help pull it off,” Yeigh said. In creating an associate vice president for research position as well as adding a grant writer to the staff to help faculty write grants for scholarly work, Norwich has committed itself to supporting its faculty’s scholarly endeavors. Ultimately, that support becomes a benefit to the entire Norwich community.

“Curiosity is contagious,” Westerman said. “Professors that are feeding their curiosity are recognized by students immediately. They understand the excitement that the professor brings to the process.”