Making like rooks: Grad students
connect with Norwich traditions © July 2, 2008 Norwich University Office of Communications

Students from Norwich University's School of Graduate Studies follow in the footsteps of undergraduate rooks as they slog through the Dog River during Residency Week on June 9, 2008.

photos by Jay Ericson and Kate Becker
photo illustration by Eric Hobart
Students from Norwich University’s School of Graduate Studies follow in the footsteps of undergraduate rooks as they slog through the Dog River during Residency Week on June 9, 2008.

Cold river water saturates 36 pairs of sneakers as students fumble and slip over slick and angular river rocks on an early-morning run down the middle of the Dog River.

It’s June in Vermont. The sky is slightly overcast. Temperatures will rise into the 80s and 90s later, but at 6:30 a.m. no one’s feeling the heat. The least logical solution to the chill is immersion in the water for riverbed push-ups. "One-two-three-one! One-two-three-two!" barks former Norwich Cadet Keith Brudnicki, the leader of the run who sets the pace for "PT."

The exercise is an echo of rook training, and the participants are Norwich University School of Graduate Studies (SGS) students who are on campus for Residency Week.

Residency Week brings students, who conduct online studies from all over the world, to the Northfield, Vt. campus of the country’s oldest private military college. While on campus, students present capstone projects, attend conferences, meet fellow students and instructors, experience the Norwich heritage and attend commencement. Activities on campus, like the Dog River Run and a ring ceremony, cultivate a bridge between graduate students and the university.

This year marked the second annual SGS Dog River Run. SGS adopted the tradition when a Norwich cadet alumnus, an SGS student, told cohorts about it. The run dates back to August 1973, when then-Regimental Cmdr. Michael Kelley, now Gen. Kelley, vice president for student affairs and commandant of cadets, took his rooks into the river to cool off.

The tradition has great meaning for rooks, some of whom say it is the first time during Rook Week they were able to share smiles and relax with fellow cadets.

“Everything else is a blur,” says Cadet Kayla Morgan ’09. “(The Dog River Run is) supposed to be fun more than anything else.”

Beginning with exercises, the run includes push-ups in the shallows and ends when a student selects a rock from the river to keep as a memento ─ some cherished through their time at Norwich.

The SGS version of the run is slightly truncated, and doesn’t include squirming through the deep, muddy “worm pits” like the rook run. SGS students have taken to signing each others’ rocks.

Mark Popov, a Master of Business Administration (MBA’08) program student who heads a reconnaissance squad of 110 soldiers for the Canadian Army, says he participated in the run to protect his reputation. “I was afraid if word got back to my troop that I didn’t do it,” he says.

Once I put (the ring) on, I’ll never take it off.

~ Stephanie Nelson,
MJA ’08

Mike Burkott, a student in the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL’08) program, had wanted to attend Norwich as an undergraduate years before, so he enjoyed participating in the tradition. “We’re only up here once for a residency and only once as a graduate student,” he says.

A less-rigorous cadet tradition has also made its way into SGS culture. Class rings, which date back to 1923, are a long-standing symbol of leadership and service. This year SGS held its first ring ceremony.

“Norwich truly is a family,” says Stephanie Nelson, a student in the Master of Justice Administration (MJA’08) program, as she slipped on her ring at the conclusion of the ceremony on Monday night

“Once I put (the ring) on, I’ll never take it off,” says Nelson, a probation officer for juvenile offenders in Virginia Beach, Va.

“It stands for a lot more than other class rings,” says David Culp, MBA ’08, from upstate New York.

Kimberly Williams-Czopek, MSOL’08,  is senior manager and director of user experience for a national web development company in Chicago. Sitting on a sofa on the ground floor of the Wise Campus Center the day before graduation, she says coming to campus was an important part of the graduate program.

“Residency was part of why I chose this program,” says Williams-Czopek. “It’s an opportunity to come together and to demonstrate the culmination of knowledge.”

Norwich SGS Valedictorians

  • Virginie DarrowVirginie Darrow MSN Madison, Wisc.
  • John GlabachJohn Glabach MCE (Environmental Engineering) Fort Collins, Colo.
  • Adam LantvitAdam Lantvit MCE (Structural Engineering) Chicago
  • Heidi McGinleyHeidi McGinley MEd Lisbon Falls, Maine
  • William MusserWilliam Musser MJA Meridian, Idaho
  • Michael PixleyMichael Pixley MDY Tuscon, Ariz.
  • Mark PopovMark Popov MBA Petawawa, Ont., Canada
  • Richard TuttleRichard Tuttle MSIA Katy, Texas
  • Ken WatrasKen Watras MMH Goodyear, Ariz.
  • Kimberly Williams-CzopekKimberly Williams- Czopek MSOL Chicago
  • Ronald YulickRonald Yulick MPA Medford, N.J.