NORTHFIELD, Vt. — Norwich University’s Center for Global Resilience and Security (CGRS) named Dr. Kaitlin Thomas associate director and Dr. Ronald Lessard senior fellow.

Thomas, an assistant professor of Spanish, will fill in a much-needed role at the rapidly growing center. She will be the lead Center for Global Resilience and Security contact for Resilient Vermont network coordination; mentor and supervise all of the center’s student fellows (there were 17 in 2020-21); and will keep current the CGRS website and social media. Thomas will also work to embed humanities and multilingual components in CGRS initiatives including the Dog River Conservancy, environmental security and energy resilience.

“Over the past year, Thomas’ leadership of CGRS’ Academic Resilience Collaborative (ARC) webinar series, along with CGRS Faculty Fellow Dr. Simon Pearish; mentoring of the Resilient Vermont student fellows; and expanding the ARC series to become multilingual have been exemplary,” CGRS Director Dr. Tara Kulkarni said. “In addition, her engagement with CGRS’s Dog River Conservancy, and helping students connect with water conservation topics by focusing on the Rio Grande, using the metaphor of the flow of water versus the flow of humans and exploring bio/environmental politics greatly expanded the scope of what the (conservancy) is and does.

Norwich University’s Center for Global Resilience and Security is dedicated to advancing interrelationships between human resilience and sense of security amid global challenges.

“The way she has woven her expertise in border policies and politics and issues related to migration and immigration with our environment and with the people at the center of these resilience challenges aligns exactly with the humanitarian aspects of CGRS’ environmental security and energy resilience and security initiatives.”

Thomas joined Norwich in January 2015. She completed her doctorate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Birmingham (U.K.), and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic studies and music from Washington College, and a Master of Arts in Latin American and Spanish language and literature from New York University (Madrid). 

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Dr. Kaitlin E. Thomas joined Norwich in January University in 2015. (Image by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

Thomas completed nondegree studies with the Council of International Education Exchange in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Sevilla (Spain), the Centro Panoamericano del idiomas in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, the Universidad Antonio de Nebrija in Madrid, Spain, and the Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas” in La Libertad, El Salvador. She has worked as a legal, medical and education interpreter across Maryland and Delaware, and held several positions with the Migrant Education Program as a liaison between communities and institutions.

At Norwich, Thomas teaches all levels of Spanish language along with the special topics classes U.S. Latinas/os and the Border, Music and Politics in Latin America, Contemporary Cuba, and Popular Visual Rhetoric in Mexico. Her research delves into U.S. and Latina/o identities that are resulting from transborder cultural and national fusion, (un)documented Latina/o immigration, and the U.S.-Mexican border region. She is interested in topics related to migration, intersections between social media and cultural iconography and exploring music as a medium for resistance.

A full list of her academic research, journalism and other writing is here.

Focus on Dog River Conservancy

Meanwhile, Lessard will join the center as a senior fellow with expertise in aerial mapping to support the Dog River Conservancy project.

The 4-year-old Dog River Conservancy offers interdisciplinary, collaborative, experiential and community-focused education. Previously, Norwich electrical engineering students used drones to map out the invasive Japanese knotweed that has taken over the Dog River’s banks. For the conservancy’s project, Norwich biology students worked with local grade-school students to verify on the ground the data collected from the drones.

Lessard’s work will augment this project.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force as a communications electronics officer, Lessard completed a doctorate in engineering, developing an artificial intelligence (Al) lumber-drying controller, and later worked as an electronics design engineer for a commercial meter manufacturer in New Jersey.

In July 1979, he joined Norwich University’s electrical engineering faculty. He served as department head for 20 years of his 42-year Norwich University career.

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Donald Lessard joined Norwich University’s electrical engineering faculty in 1979. He served as department head for 20 years of his 42-year Norwich University career. (Photo by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

Lessard’s work with Norwich students included sponsored industrial control projects, artificial intelligence, autonomous underwater vehicles and work on resilient supervisory computer systems designed to recover automatically after a cyberattack.

Subsequent senior projects developed a quadrotor drone team of three flying robots that used cellphone data to search for a lost hiker. The drone project evolved to a ground-station controller for the Japanese knotweed-mapping drone.

The Center for Global Resilience and Security (CGRS), launched in 2017, is a Norwich University research center of excellence dedicated to advancing interrelationships between human resilience and sense of security in the face of global challenges. CGRS is focused on challenges in climate change, water, energy, and infrastructure and their impact on resilience and security. CGRS crafts creative, innovative and sustainable solutions for building resilient communities through interdisciplinary research and design collaboration.

About Norwich University
Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by U.S. Army Capt. Alden Partridge and is the nation’s oldest private military college. Norwich is one of our nation's six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). www.norwich.edu

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