Honor and athletics
define Cassandra Thompson © June 20, 2008 Norwich University Office of Communications

Cassandra Thompson is Norwich University's Student of the Year.

photo by Jay Ericson Cassandra Thompson is Norwich University’s Dean of Students’ Student of the Year.

It’s not easy to become the Dean of Students’ Student Leader of the Year at Norwich University. After nomination by a staff member, a student is invited to complete an application process. That was a challenge for Cassandra Thompson, the 2008 winner of the award. “Writing an essay about me and my leadership qualities was the hardest part,” she said. “It came at a time when I had lots of other work with school and rugby to do, but I thought, if someone took the time to nominate me, I could take the time to finish the application.”

A positive attitude was one of many reasons Thompson was this year’s winner at Norwich University, the country’s first private military college. Dean of Students Martha Mathis, whose office coordinates and chooses the finalist, admits she doesn’t make it easy for students who apply. She has high expectations—Mathis wants well-rounded people from different walks of Norwich to move into this position. “Those students who stand out in a way that, without them and their contributions so much would be missed,” Mathis said, “They are the stars and are the ones invited to apply.”

If you decide as a freshman to come and have a great experience for the next four years, you will. The opportunities are definitely there.

Cassandra Thompson, ’08

Thompson, who graduated in May with a degree in criminal justice and minors in English and psychology, has never shirked challenge or responsibility. During her undergraduate career she kept busy with the rugby team, the Civilian Student Honor Discipline Committee (CSHDC), and honor societies for English and psychology.

In her application essay, Thompson said that she thought that leadership was a natural quality, but given the right setting could be developed. Asked to cite a quality of her own style of leadership, Thompson said she possessed selflessness. “If the coach decided to play another player in my position in a game, I’d know it was for the betterment of the entire team and the right thing to do,” she wrote.

As captain of Norwich’s championship rugby team, Thompson had challenges on her plate this year due to injuries on the team. Thompson referred to Alicia Seda, a freshman who wanted to play rugby but had a cast on her hand. Regardless, Seda attended practices faithfully and eventually was able to play.

She was proud to be part of rugby. “I loved the camaraderie of the team, there were no cliques. We hung out together at meals and weekends. We were family. We knew that it took the entire team, not just a few people, to make it work on the field,” Thompson said. “It takes everyone to win.”

Ashley de Grasse, class of 2009, described her as “a leader on and off the field.” “She was the epitome of a rugby idol,” Seda says of Thompson. “If the team wasn’t happy, Cassie wasn’t happy.”

The women’s rugby team finished the 2007-2008 season ranked fifth in the nation. Coach Austin Hall described Thompson’s leadership style as “supportive, action-oriented and intelligent. She makes her team better by supporting their interests and giving them credit for their success.”

As a member and senior chairperson for the CSHDC, Thompson found other challenges. Friends brought up on disciplinary charges would ask her to help them. “I learned integrity of leadership from that,” Thompson said. “I had to keep process in place and follow the rules and regulations.” Thompson described her experience with the honor committee as “fun and exciting” as she became involved with the Board of Trustees and learned to see things from an administrative point of view.

A native of Blackstone, Mass., Thompson loved her four years at Norwich. After starting in the Corps of Cadets, she quickly realized that lifestyle wasn’t for her. Students have opportunity to choose a military or traditional college experience at Norwich. “I wanted to be at Norwich no matter what.” she said, “I completely enjoyed my experience as a civilian.”

The school’s commitment to academics and teaching was a draw for Thompson. Citing experiences from people she knew in larger universities, where codes had to be entered into a computer to prove a student was in class, she said “there were professors at Norwich I never had who knew my name. I loved the small classrooms and personal relationships with professors.”

Both Mathis and Thompson extolled the environment of Norwich to foster leadership in its students. “Norwich can be what you make of it. If you decide as a freshman to come and have a great experience for the next four years, you will. The opportunities are definitely there,” Thompson said.

“When you come to Norwich, you are buying into leadership. It doesn’t matter what you are wearing, there is no right or wrong clothes or student lifestyle,” Mathis said. “You buy into a life of service, learning to take charge and self-accountability. All are qualities leaders need to get comfortable with.”

What was Thompson’s biggest challenge at Norwich? “Time management,” she said, “I definitely learned how to prioritize.”

In August, Thompson will be working for Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Houston-based engineering and construction firm, as a civilian contractor in Iraq. Thompson sees the opportunity as exciting and is expecting some culture shock.

That same “can-do” attitude about her future sums up Mathis’ feelings about this student leader. “She is smart, athletic, and good at collaboration and making decisions. She is fun and committed. Cassie is definitely Norwich.”