Honors program plots an enriching
four-year academic path for freshmen © Nov. 11, 2011, Norwich University Office of Communications

Freshman in “Scientific Method: History, Legacy, Controversy”the first class in Norwich’s new honors course, study Mary Shelley’s novel <em>Frankenstein</em>

photo by Jennifer LangilleFreshman in “Scientific Method: History, Legacy, Controversy,” the first class in Norwich’s new honors program, study Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.

First, students in Norwich University’s pilot honors program watched clips from a selection of Frankenstein movies, from the classic 1931 Boris Karloff version to Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.

Next, they discussed how a modern director would approach a remake [the monster would carry a chainsaw and there would be at least three car chases, students concluded].

Finally, Norwich math Prof. Jeffrey Olson wrapped up discussion of the original 1818 Mary Shelley novel by asking the question, “Is the monster human?”

We’re not just reading, we’re analyzing and making connections.

Lorin Fiske,
engineering management student

“If the police caught him, would he be brought to trial?” he asked.

“I don’t think the monster counts as a human,” answered one student. “He wasn’t born. … We sympathize because he has human qualities. … He wanted a wife, which is very human. … We see him as human even though he’s not.”

A second student disagreed: “Since he came from human body parts, that makes him human.”

“He has no emotion when committing murder,” countered a third. “Human qualities are emotional.”

The class, “Scientific Method: History, Legacy, Controversy,” is an interdisciplinary course offered for the first time to 18 students, and the introductory stage of the four-year honors program. It’s purpose, according to its director, chemistry and biochemistry Prof. Natalia F. Blank, is to recognize academically talented and driven students.

“What we’re hoping to create is a way for them to challenge themselves and personalize their education,” said Blank. “We want to create a learning community of young scholars.”

Students start the seminar as freshmen and continue through four years of college. Sophomore year, they’ll begin working closely with a professor to identify topics of interest associated with their major. By the end of junior year, they will have defined a thesis topic to work on senior year. The goal is to present their thesis at an appropriate national conference.

Norwich invited accepted students with a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher and solid SAT scores to apply. Students submitted an essay and references. Class members come from a range of academic disciplines and represent both civilian and military lifestyles.

Olson assigned six books, including The Philosophy of Science by Geoffrey Gorham, The Scientific Method for Beginners by Stephen Carey and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. He called the class intellectually rigorous with a focus on processing, thinking and writing, and said he’s never taught one quite like it before.

“It’s incredibly stimulating for me in the classroom,” said Olson. “We can all go much higher together.”

After class, four students enthusiastically praised the program.

“We’re not just reading, we’re analyzing and making connections,” said Lorin Fiske, a construction engineering management major from Westfield, Mass. “Other classes are lecture and listening. Not this one. We think outside the box.”

“The course makes you think about what you are reading,” agreed Kyle Vautrinot, a criminal justice major from Eastham, Mass. “How does it relate to what I see around me?”

Students said the honors program confirmed their decision to attend Norwich.

“I was excited and happy when I got the application,” said Fiske. “I thought of it as an opportunity. It will look great when I apply for jobs. I think that it helps the kids who have more drive than other students to learn topics that aren’t taught here.”

“I’ve always been in favor of studying new things,” said Brendan Perry, a Studies in War and Peace major from Griswold, Conn. “This was just my caliber. I knew Norwich was the right place for me; this program enhanced it. An extra little enrichment in academics pushed me to sign up sooner.”

For cadets, the honors program complements the physical challenge of a military lifestyle. Norwich is the oldest private military college in the country.

“I’m all about challenge here,” said Caitlin Stange of Herndon, Va. “I’m here on a Marine Corps scholarship. The challenge there is physical. The honors program makes this year challenging academically. … [Norwich] is teaching me to push my body and push my mind.”

Students are already looking forward to later stages of the program.

“Norwich was the only school that said we would create a thesis and present it at a national forum,” said Vautrinot. “That’s what I found really intriguing—throwing a challenge right at me.”

“The ultimate goal,” said Perry, “is not just research but teaching you to contribute to the topic.”

Students also said they are glad to have found other students eager to benefit from the extra workload.

“Some of my fellow students don’t get it,” said Stange, who is majoring in psychology and teacher education. “[They say,] ‘That sounds awful,’ and I’m like, ‘No, it’s awesome.’”