Growing up on his family’s 200-acre farm outside of Saratoga, N.Y., engineering student Jake Keasbey ’17 had always been aware of the issues surrounding agricultural runoff—and its potential negative impact on water quality. But it wasn’t until he completed this year’s inaugural NU Launch* series that he understood what to do about it.
“It was an epiphany,” he recalls. “We had been discussing what was happening with Lake Champlain, and something clicked.” The results of that awakening could very well lead to one of the first commercially viable—and sustainable—technologies to address the rising incidence of toxic algae blooms.
Jake’s idea involves capturing agricultural runoff before it hits major waterways and cultivating that runoff into commercial-grade algae that can be sold as biomass for fuel, food, vitamins, and other consumer products. After presenting his business plan to a panel of experts at NU Launch, Jake won $1,000, which he will use to fund the next important step in his plan: developing a catchment-pond prototype and testing his assumptions in a real-world situation.
Kenneth Johnston ’82—CAO of GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. and one of the competition’s judges—was so impressed with Jake’s vision that he personally invited Jake to meet this summer with his water-resource engineers in Boston.
“Jake is a genuine example of what we look for in a future civil engineer,” says David Feinauer, Jake’s faculty advisor. “‘Civil’ at its root means ‘for the public,’ yet the profession is often overlooked as one that truly helps people. With the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of students like Jake, however, we can be assured of very civil solutions to some of our most major challenges.” –Jane Dunbar (Norwich Record | Summer 2015)
*NU Launch comprises a series of workshops designed to introduce students to the worlds of innovation and entrepreneurship, and culminates in a competition during which participants pitch their business plans to a panel of experts in hopes of winning start-up funding.
On a Saturday last September, I attended the Vermont Comic Con with my husband, Art Pallone. We went purely out of curiosity. A member of Norwich’s physics faculty, Art had never been to a comic book convention, an irony that was not lost on me since the CalTech physicists (and one lone engineer) portrayed in the hit TV series The Big Bang Theory are fanatical comic-con participants. As a physicist, Art must be able to say he attended a comic con, I reasoned. So I brought him.
In the lobby of the Burlington Sheraton, I told him, “Be prepared to see Darth Vader.” He replied, “I’ve already seen two.” The convention teemed with enthusiastic con-goers of all ages, sporting guises of fabled characters of comic and cinematic lore. In casual street clothes, we were, well, underdressed for the occasion.
It wasn’t long before we encountered a throng of Imperial Stormtroopers—Darth Vader’s masked, faceless foot-soldiers. As the group parted and flowed around us, one stopped and gave us a shout, “Norwich forever!” before moving along.
I blinked. How did—. Then I remembered. Often when Art and I go out, we wear something Norwich. Invariably, someone will spot the Norwich name and stop to chat. We enjoy these encounters, and this one induced a smile. But it also took the cake in the unusual factor; with our greeter’s face completely covered, we were left wondering, Who was that?
The following Monday, I learned the mystery man’s identity: Andrew Liptak ’07 & M’09, presently an instructor for the Norwich College of Graduate and Continuing Studies (CGCS). I also learned that Andrew and his fellow Stormtroopers had attended the Vermont Comic Con for a purpose greater than just indulging in a hobby. They were there as part of the 501st Legion’s New England Garrison, an organized group of Star Wars aficionados with a charitable focus, working—and playing—to make peoples’ lives better.
When we stumbled into the Stormtroopers, they were running a raffle event called Droid Hunt, in which con-goers donate money in exchange for droid badges. The Stormtroopers then patrol the convention, stopping anyone with a badge and asking, “Is this the droid we’re looking for?” Badges are exchanged for raffle tickets. By the end of the weekend, they had raised more than $500 for the Vermont Children’s Hospital.
But Andrew stresses that their role isn’t strictly a fundraising one. For instance, nationwide, members of the organization have made countless hospital visits to children. “Sometimes, kids just need to have their minds taken off their circumstances,” he says. “And having a visit from a Star Wars character picks them up.”
Mike Anton ’10 & M’13, a CGCS admissions counselor, was among the comic con Stormtroopers and has also participated in Relay For Life, the March of Dimes, and Toys for Tots drives, to name a few. “The most rewarding part of what we do is seeing the kids’ faces light up,” he says. “I love using my love of Star Wars to have a positive impact on others and to be a force for good.”
Close to the holidays, the Vermont contingent participated in a fundraiser to provide gifts for Shelburne House, a home for troubled teens. “We delivered the gifts in Stormtrooper armor,” Andrew chuckles, “which they thought was pretty cool.”
Originally published in the Norwich Record, Spring 2016.
Professor Edwin “Ed” Schmeckpeper regarded the hulk of sheet metal thoughtfully.
The material had arrived on Disney Field late—very late—and his students were restless. For months, they had intellectually, creatively, and physically poured themselves into constructing a portable, eco-friendly, 200-square-foot accessible bedroom and bathroom that was imminently scheduled for public debut at Norwich. This unforeseen delay jeopardized the August 31 deadline they had been working so hard to meet.
And “it had to be ready for that debut,” Schmeckpeper says. “Period.”
So, the seasoned civil-engineering professor simply did what needed to be done: He measured, cut, and wrangled the metal into a serviceable shower stall during the span of a single afternoon.
“Ed’s talent goes beyond the classroom,” says Wheel Pad co-conceptualist Julie Lineberger. Together with her husband, Joseph Cincotta, she co-owns LineSync Architecture in Wilmington, Vermont. Cincotta is the principal architect, and Lineberger, the business manager.
“The act of creating something where there is nothing—it can test a builder’s resolve,” Cincotta says. “Ed has the uncanny ability to do this at a moment’s notice.” “He’s smart as a whip,” Lineberger agrees, “and he gets things done.”
Schmeckpeper is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves: Prior to entering academia, he worked as a construction carpenter. Today, as chair of Civil Engineering and Construction Management at Norwich University, he strives to offer the same kinds of experiential learning opportunities to students that he has enjoyed in his profession.
As it turns out, this particular learning opportunity proved to be an unparalleled interdisciplinary experience—one whose result ultimately promises to transform lives.
It all started with a chance encounter.
Back in October 2015, Lineberger was pitching their bed-bath unit idea, called Wheel Pad, at the InnovateHER VT competition in Burlington, Vermont. “I was seeking funding to build the prototype,” Lineberger explains. The Wheel Pad concept was inspired by the experience of renowned videographer and family friend, Riley Poor, whose struggle to find accessible housing following a catastrophic injury left him increasingly frustrated and isolated. As the Harvard-educated duo envisioned it, Wheel Pad would easily attach to an existing home with just two extension cords and an insulated hose—offering supportive, temporary housing for individuals confined to a wheelchair.
Lineberger landed a $10,000 grant from the Vermont State Employees Credit Union that day. More importantly, her proposal caught the interest of Norwich electrical and computer engineering professor David Feinauer, seated in the audience. “He introduced himself and said, ‘I think Norwich students should build your prototype,’” Lineberger recalls.
Feinauer knew plenty of undergraduates would be keen for such a hands-on undertaking. He also identified a resonance that neither Lineberger nor Cincotta had considered: Norwich, as a military institution, likely had alumni who could benefit from a concept like Wheel Pad. “It was then that I understood Wheel Pad’s even greater potential,” Lineberger says. (A profile of Feinauer appears here.)
The data support Julie Lineberger’s epiphany.
According to the Congressional Research Office, as of June 1, 2015, close to 1,650 military personnel required major limb amputations following overseas deployments. And, statistics previously released by the U.S. Army Surgeon General’s office estimate that 83 percent of those amputations comprise one or both legs. Today, close to 60,000 veterans (including those who served prior to 9/11) are living with spinal-cord injuries. Many are permanently dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. “We would hear stories from families about their sons and daughters languishing in rehabilitation facilities simply because they had no accessible place to go,” Lineberger says. “They couldn’t go home. They couldn’t return to a job. And there is no worse blow to a person’s self-esteem than ongoing isolation and the feeling that he or she can’t be a productive member of society.”
The Paralyzed Veterans of America advises that accessibility fosters independence and confidence, helping accelerate the healing process—both physically and emotionally. The ability to recuperate at home, Lineberger realized, and adjust to a “new normal” in an affordable, temporary space near family and friends, could “revolutionize the way our wounded soldiers come home.”
“This chance encounter with David [Feinauer], and the connections he made for us at Norwich—it was a game-changer,” she says.
Which brings us back to Schmeckpeper. Having learned of Wheel Pad from Feinauer, he was eager to introduce the project to his students. Building the prototype began as a directed study for construction management major Crandall Miller ’16.
Charged with scheduling the job, estimating and procuring the materials, and initiating the fabrication, Miller served as the de facto general contractor and site supervisor throughout the spring 2016 semester. He also helped Schmeckpeper recruit the labor: other students who would work on site, not for pay or class credit, but for the applied skills they would gain, such as reading blueprints. “Let’s face it; in the classroom, we spend more time talking about and pointing at blueprints than anything else,” Schmeckpeper says. “As a student, wouldn’t you rather learn to interpret and implement one in the wild, than sit in a lecture hall?” Given the enthusiastic student response to the project, their unequivocal answer was “yes.” During the course of the eight-month endeavor, dozens of undergraduates majoring in architecture, engineering, and construction management collaborated to help complete the job.
As it turns out, the experience surpassed their expectations. In a move Schmeckpeper describes as rare for professional architecture firms, Lineberger and Cincotta proffered broad latitude on site—trusting students to manage the project budget, suggest process improvements, tweak some designs, and address unanticipated challenges. “They learned how to deal with irregularities—the time and budget constraints inherent in any construction job,” says Schmeckpeper, who maintained a strictly advisory role on the project until the final push for completion. In one instance described by architecture major Joseph Wood ’17, “We needed a custom board fabricated for the exterior, and the supplier kept shipping us the wrong thing, six or seven weeks in a row!” Forced to solve problems like these on their own, Schmeckpeper says, “truly developed the students’ confidence.”
After assuming responsibility for the Wheel Pad build and crew from Miller—who graduated in May—Wood “pretty much did a little of everything” on the project. As the only participant with previous experience building houses, he was also no stranger to a construction site. But this was different. “Joseph [Cincotta] is unlike other architects I’ve met,” Wood says. “He would take us to lunch and ask, ‘How’s it going?’ Because he was truly interested in the answer, I felt comfortable mentioning things that weren’t working well. He even implemented some changes I’d suggested to the design. I’m much more passionate about my chosen field as a result.”
With Professor Schmeckpeper’s 11th-hour assist, Wood’s confidence, competence, and determination helped successfully drive Wheel Pad across the finish line. On August 31, 2016, on time and on target, the team unveiled a fully functional prototype now known as the Norwich Model. “This wasn’t a term paper, or a foam-core model we assembled for a grade,” Wood says. “Someone is going to be living in what we built, and it’s going to make their life easier. There’s something very rewarding in that—and you don’t get that in the classroom.”
The Wheel Pad made its journey from the Hill to Wilmington, Vermont, last fall, and is yet unoccupied.
Incorporated as a low-income, limited liability company currently seeking B-Corp certification, Wheel Pad L3C will—as Julie Lineberger envisions it—create permanent, livable-wage manufacturing jobs in economically depressed southern Vermont. Until then, she and Joseph Cincotta plan intensive research and development to help refine their prototype for production.
Toward that end, the Norwich Model is available, free of charge, to qualifying families who need short- to medium-term housing solutions for members facing new mobility challenges. In return, recipients agree to actively partner with Wheel Pad, advising Lineberger and Cincotta on improvements to the design. Can you, or someone you know, benefit from this free lease? Apply today on Wheel Pad’s website. Applicants within driving distance of Wilmington are preferred. – Jane Dunbar with photos by Carolyn Bates (Norwich Record | Spring 2017)
What does it mean to be disabled in the public space?
This is the question Norwich philosophy professor Brian Glenney, in collaboration with Boston-based colleague Sara Hendren, sought to answer in 2011. And amid the intersections of three seemingly unrelated disciplines—philosophy, street art, and architecture—they discovered the potential for redefining the future of accessibility.
“It is the philosopher’s job to question the built environment,” Glenney explains, “to ask, ‘Why was it designed this way?’ And it is the street artist’s job to ‘edit’ that environment in ways that challenge the status quo.”
A skateboarder and graffiti artist, Glenney is accustomed to viewing the urban landscape through the lens of accessibility—solving such problems as how to board-slide down a railing not meant for that purpose, for example, or reach the most visible building exterior for his artistic message. Thus, when he and Hendren began debating how the International Symbol for Access might better signal inclusivity, Glenney knew exactly what to do: launch a guerilla editing project of their own. Soon, using stickers that Brian designed, the duo began altering handicapped parking signs in and around Boston—transforming the static wheelchair symbol into an active body propelling itself forward.
“We wanted to reclaim an aspect of the built environment to provoke dialogue around individual agency,” Glenney says. And, although their work “was never intended as an activist campaign,” it ultimately inspired the Accessible Icon Project—a global movement among disability self-advocates and their allies to amplify their voices through the microphone of design activism. Today, you can hear their call for inclusivity echoing the world over—one sign at a time.
Glenney’s original symbol now complies with International Organization of Standardization ISO requirements and is available for legal use around the world. Among others, the states of Connecticut, New York, and Washington have officially adopted its use—as have the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cigna Health Care, and the country of Malta. It also resides in the Museum of Modern Art’s Permanent Collection.
For more information on the Accessible Icon Project, visit accessibleicon.org. – Jane Dunbar
Norwich University officials announced that several members of the faculty have secured competitive research grants through the Vermont Genetics Network, which is funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Norwich also received funding to award three student fellowships for research during either the summer or academic year.
The professors and their research:
VGN has additionally awarded Norwich three student fellowships for research during the summer or academic year to work with any of these funded faculty. In addition, some students are directly funded through the faculty’s Project Awards.
Molly Alfond, mathematics, and Tom Wagner, physics, will work with Dr. Joe Latulippe. Mallory Dutil, Environmental Science and Chemistry; Dillon Zites, biology; and Colter Sheveland, biochemistry, will work with Dr. Tom Shell. Additionally, two Norwich students were accepted to the Vermont Genetics Network’s undergraduate student summer research program. Lauren Kenneally, Nursing, will work with Dr. Paul Holtzheimer at the White River Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Warren Yacawych, exercise science, will work with Dr. Bryan Ballif with the University of Vermont Biology Department.
“The impact of these awards will be far-reaching, not only on the professional development of the faculty and students that are working on the projects, but in recovered indirect costs that are generated from the grants that continue to support research in the departments, colleges, and university,” mathematics professor and Norwich’s VGN Coordinator Darlene Olsen said.
Norwich University’s Office of Academic Research encourages and supports Norwich faculty and students in their efforts to carry out original research, scholarship and creative projects, and to promote the exchange of their results at all levels within academia so as to contribute to global knowledge and further enhance our academic reputation.
“The Vermont Genetics Network has been the funding source responsible for furthering my passion in biomedical research since I began undergraduate coursework,” Yacawych said. “I am very excited to have the opportunity to work at a research institution this summer, and to work with researchers that I would not have had the chance to otherwise study under.”
Over the past decade, Norwich has grown its investment in faculty and undergraduate research of endowed income and reinvested grant overhead to over $800K, to go along with approximately $3 million annually of externally acquired research and institutional grants managed by the Office of Academic Research. Approximately 300 students have conducted research since the Office of Academic Research was created in 2007, thus formalizing research activities at Norwich.
Research reported in this release was supported by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant number P20GM103449. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIGMS or NIH.
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 Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation's six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).
Norwich will celebrate its bicentennial in 2019. In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders, Norwich launched the Forging the Future campaign in 2014. The five-year campaign, which is timed to culminate in 2019, is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities and is designed to enhance the university’s strong position as it steps into its third century of service to the nation.
Daphne E. Larkin M’17
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