Class of 1959 bridge brings
students to a new home on The Hill © Oct. 2, 2009, Norwich University Office of Communications

A student strolls across the Class of 1959 Bridge, heading toward the main part of campus.

photo by Jay EricsonA student strolls across the Class of 1959 Bridge, heading toward the main part of campus.

When Jose Sinclair, an employee and graduate of Norwich University, stands on the dramatic new foot bridge that connects South Hall dormitory with the rest of campus, he sees two perspectives.

When he faces the new residence hall, inhabited by about 280 civilian students, he sees the potential of what Norwich will be in 2019—the 200th anniversary of the Vermont university. When he turns to face the direction of the Upper Parade Ground—a series of rectangular quads circled primarily by barracks that house the Corps of Cadets—it symbolizes the deep traditions of the country’s oldest private military college. He remembers marching in arrow-straight paths alongside its green lawns as a freshman rook.

“To me, it unifies both—something that ties the future with the past,” said Sinclair, of the arching bridge, built of gray granite and dedicated to the Class of 1959 on Homecoming Weekend in October 2009. “It’s beautiful. I love it.”

A Class of 2006 graduate, Sinclair is uniquely suited to see Norwich from multiple points of view. He began his education as a military student, but moved over to a civilian lifestyle after a year. Now, he works as director of Student Life on campus and lives with his family in an apartment in South Hall. He views the new building as an important benchmark for civilian students. Not only is it the first campus building constructed entirely with their needs in mind, but South Hall is a terrific facility he hopes will inspire students.

“We want them to feel this space is their home,” said Sinclair.

The 77,000-square-foot building was opened to students in August 2009, and was inhabited to full capacity during the first semester—two years ahead of schedule. South Hall not only provides additional amenities such as sound-proof study areas, a music practice room and meeting spaces, but has opened up a new part of campus, he said. It has also freed up space in the Corps of Cadets’ barracks.

South Hall brought Jordan St. Pierre back to campus. The senior mechanical engineering major from Manchester, N.H., was quick to cross the double he shares and point out the view from his fifth-floor window, which faces north toward the main part of campus.

“You get the whole mountain range,” he said. “You get the whole school, too. It’s definitely worth walking up five flights.”

St. Pierre found he spent very little time in his off-campus apartment during junior year. It was too far away for quick trips during the day. South Hall, he said, provides more of a home base he can stop by between classes and appointments. It’s also a better social atmosphere, with students gathering at the workout room, around the pool table or in the television lounge.

“They’re always packed,” he said.

St. Pierre sees few downsides to his new accommodations, but wonders if the additional five-minute walk will put a barrier between students who chose different lifestyles, and whether he will see as many civilian students walking around the Upper Parade Ground. He believes civilian and military students get along very well, particularly after they’ve had the chance to settle into their lives at Norwich. While civilian students arrived in the mid 1970s, the Corps of Cadets, with its rigorous military training and customs, has defined Norwich since it was founded in 1819 and makes up close to 70 percent of the residential population.

“In your underclassmen years, you definitely do feel in the minority,” said St. Pierre.

For incoming freshmen, St. Pierre, who is president of the Robotics Club and active in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, recommended immersion in student and academic life. Through challenge, he said, civilian and Corps students come to rely on one another, and become part of the same family.

“Don’t think of yourself as a minority,” he said. “Think of yourself as a member of this school. ... Whether Corps or traditional, we’re all still students.”

Zach Martineau, a sophomore from Waynesburg, N.Y., never worried about differences between lifestyles when he came to Norwich in 2008.

“My father’s in the military, so I always had a sense of what it was,” said Martineau, who serves as a resident advisor in South Hall. “It’s not difficult to be friends with people in the Corps.”

He was drawn to Norwich by the architecture program, and threw himself into a challenging schedule, minoring in civil engineering and art in addition to his major. Martineau also found opportunities to volunteer through Norwich’s Center for Civic Engagement, where he volunteers through AmeriCorps and Rotaract programs.

Sinclair always advises new students to take this kind of advantage of opportunities. It’s the best way to feel engaged, he said, and learn the leadership skills that define a Norwich education.

“There are many things a [civilian] student can do here, but you have to put yourself out there.”