New mentoring program makes use
of top experts on Rookdom: sophomores © Oct. 1, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

Students discuss study and coping skills at the second meeting of the Corps of Cadets’ new Corporal Academic Mentoring program, where Rooks learn from second-year cadets.

photo by Jennifer LangilleStudents discuss study and coping skills at a meeting of the Corps of Cadets’ new Corporal Academic Mentoring program, where Rooks learn from second-year cadets.

Four students clustered around a table in the Norwich University dining hall. Three were Rooks—first-year members of the Corps of Cadets—who listened intently to a sophomore, drinking in every word.

“You have to be careful,” said the older cadet. “Some classes give just three assignments all semester. If you blow one off, you blow off 33 percent of your grade ... and those classes usually have a lot of reading.”

A few feet away, another group discussed ways to meet the many demands of freshmen year.

“Focus on academics,” the sophomore advised the new students. “You’re not going to get a grade in rookdom. If it comes down to writing a paper or studying the Rook Book, write the paper.”

This is a great way to give them an introduction into how to lead by using their intellect and not fear and intimidation.

~ Alison Lanz,
Class of 2010 regimental commander

The three freshmen nodded. They got the message.

When a freshman described her difficulty staying awake in class, another sophomore offered tips, such as chewing gum and drinking coffee—even just standing up.

“Apples can be better than coffee—they’re crunchy,” said the sophomore. “Stand up. Go to the back of the room. I did a lot of that freshman year.”

The cadets doling out the advice are participating in a new program called Corporal Academic Mentoring [CAM]. Started in fall 2010, it gives sophomores a leadership role and freshmen a new kind of academic support.

Every Sunday, sophomore mentors meet for 20 minutes with two to four mentees, all sharing similar academic concentrations. The sophomores follow a set curriculum each week. Topics include time-management strategies, study habits and note-taking skills. All Rooks must participate.

Army 2nd Lt. Alison Lanz, a recent Norwich graduate and Class of 2010 regimental commander of the Corps, spent the summer planning the program while waiting for her commission to begin. She explained that, historically, “sophomore year has been an in-between year. Cadets have no leadership positions. The program is designed to bridge that gap ... This is a great way to give them an introduction into how to lead by using their intellect and not fear and intimidation.”

Second Lt. Jessica Levine, also a 2010 Norwich graduate and former Corps deputy commander, helped design the program and said it answers the question: “What are we going to do to prepare you to be successful in junior year?”

She speaks from experience.

“Sophomore year, you get complacent. You don’t have someone looking over your shoulder,” said Levine, whose sophomore GPA was the lowest of her four years at Norwich. “This program would have helped me stay focused.”

Dr. Peg Meyer, director of Norwich’s Academic Achievement Center, said CAM offers a model of leadership embraced by all four military branches. “Leadership should counsel and mentor,” she said. “It’s not solely about rank order.”

Meyer added the program is unique on college campuses. Research shows that giving freshmen an academic toolkit boosts their chances of success. “And they bond to the institution by having relationships with sophomores,” she said. “And the sophomores have a name and a purpose. It’s a win-win-win-win situation.”

The 140 sophomore CAMs had three days of training, learning how to actively listen, ask guided questions and identify at-risk students. In a scavenger hunt, they covered the entire campus, locating important resources such as health services and security. To qualify as a CAM, sophomores must meet a minimum GPA and have clean discipline records.

Sophomores have embraced the program.

“It’s a good idea,” said Ashley Barber, a biology major from Fayetteville, N.C. “Now we have something to do throughout the course of the year ... I actually have something to do on Sunday other than sleep like my roommate.”

After two sessions with her freshmen mentees, Barber has learned an important lesson.

“It taught me you can build a relationship with people under you without yelling and actually have a civil relationship without them being afraid to talk,” she said. “It makes the rooks less scared of the upperclassmen—we have personalities.”

Sophomore civil engineering major Scott Guerin, from Thompson, Conn., said he better appreciates the importance of proper communication. “I have to express myself in a way so that they understand,” he said.

“I’ll do a better job next year. Now we know how to help them succeed even more when we’re cadre,” he added, referring to the higher-ranked cadets who train those below them. “It’ll be useful when we’re in charge next year.”

Mallory Clark, a second-year biology major from Homer City, Penn., agreed. “It makes you want to succeed and inspire more.”