Incoming students contemplate academic, social possibilities as phased-in on-campus arrivals begin

When Leah Cole was growing up in Barre, Vermont, she revered her Norwich-graduate grandmother, who earned a nursing degree, became a registered nurse and Washington County Mental Health Services home care provider serving special-needs children.

“I used to play nurse with her,” Cole said of her grandmother. “She made up fake diseases and we got to diagnose them.” (One was Conkis of the Bonkis, which presented when patients’ brains were too big for their heads).

This week, Cole, herself a nursing student, joined the rest of the university’s students in remote study, having transferred from Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire. On-campus arrivals start Friday. As in the fall, students will arrive in phases and enter campus quarantine. About 1,700 students will be on campus to reduce campus capacity as a COVID-19 precaution. Forty-four new students will be among the arrivals.

“I want to know what I can know in the time that I have and become a nurse.” Leah Cole ’24, nursing major and transfer student

At Norwich, Cole, part of the 2024 graduating class, will prepare to fight real pathogens, including the novel coronavirus, and its mutant variants, which lie at the center of the global pandemic, as she enjoys domestic comforts and studies hard.

“I’m excited to come to Norwich because my Nana was there, and that means a lot to me,” said Cole, who will commute to campus from her Barre apartment. “And I’m excited that … I can become what I want to become and also come every night and be in my own house.

winter faculty min
Students arriving for Norwich University’s Spring 2021 semester will add face masks to their winter coats-hats-gloves ensembles, as this collection of Design+Build Collaborative faculty, students and partners did in December in Barre, Vermont. (Photo by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

“Because it’s a military college … it’s straightforward, ‘This is what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen,” Cole said, adding that she hopes to help administer COVID-19 tests with the other nursing students at Plumley Armory. “That’s really beneficial. … I want to know what I can know in the time that I have and become a nurse.”

Thy Yang, Norwich’s assistant vice president of international education, said this spring’s international cohort will adjust along with their U.S.-born peers, living in campus quarantine. Technology helped prepare students coming from abroad for their U.S. arrivals with teleconferenced orientations, Yang said. Because of the campus quarantine, she said, arriving students won’t be able to go shopping for sheets and sundries, so Yang said students had the option to have these items bought in advance and placed in their rooms.

She added that the International Center planned to use the semester’s scattered respite days, which will replace the traditional spring break, as occasions to gather. Meanwhile, she said, the new arrivals will start getting to know their peers during quarantine.

“Everyone’s experience is going to be very, very similar — the quarantine, the (COVID-19) testing, the online classes, the restrictions,” she said. “I’m hoping that shared experience will accelerate the getting-to-know-you bit.”

Cold open

Teresia Mwema, an international student from Kenya, will come to campus from Georgia (the state, not the nation), where she’s been quarantining. Earlier, Mwema, part of the Class of 2024 cohort, was in Tennessee. 

Mwema, who will study health sciences, said she’s excited for Norwich’s cultural exposure, bucolic setting and academic opportunities. Winter will be new, too.

cole and pins
Leah Cole, who’s transferring into Norwich University from Colby-Sawyer College, will study nursing, as her Norwich-graduate grandmother did. Cole treasures the nursing-related pins her grandmother earned. (Photos courtesy Leah Cole.)

“I have never seen snow before, since I came from the equator,” she wrote in an email. “I am a little bit scared about the winter season in Vermont. However, I believe that if I am well bundled up for the season I will adapt. … It is just a matter of time.”

Gwendolina Ephraim, an international student who was born in Ghana, will come to Norwich from Rwanda, where she’d moved with her mother, who works for the United Nations. She’ll study communications.

Like Cole, Ephraim said she’s looking forward to Norwich’s academic rigor and serious ethos.

“I haven't been to the school in person yet but from all the research I have done it shows that the school is disciplined and they prepare students for life,” she wrote in an email. “Aside from that, the size of the school is very good for me and I can easily socialize.”

Ephraim will join Mwema in adjusting to winter, and the Northfield’s step-into-the-freezer chill.

“I’m ecstatic to see something different,” she wrote. “Everything (about) Norwich, especially Vermont, is something amazing to me.

“I expect to make new friends and be challenged and also build a good relationship amongst my peers,” she added. “This change is an exciting adventure that I look forward to.”

(Slideshow photos by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

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