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  • Norwich's Men's Cross Country Coach Michael McGrane named GNAC Coach of the Year after championship season

    Norwich's Men's Cross Country Coach Michael McGrane named GNAC Coach of the Year after championship season

    • Athletics News
  • Applications are open for the June 2023 GenCyber Teacher Training Camp.

    Applications are open for the June 2023 GenCyber Teacher Training Camp.

    • Special Events
  • Norwich University's Dr. Rachele Pojednic featured in Eating Well article on the health benefits of celery.

    Norwich University's Dr. Rachele Pojednic featured in Eating Well article on the health benefits of celery.

    • Norwich In The News
  • Norwich Men's & Women's Basketball host the 25th Ed Hockenbury Classic Dec. 2 - 4 in Andrews Hall.

    Norwich Men's & Women's Basketball host the 25th Ed Hockenbury Classic Dec. 2 - 4 in Andrews Hall.

    • Athletics News
  • The 2022 Journal of Peace and War Studies is published by the Norwich's John and Mary Frances Patton Peace & War Center.

    The 2022 Journal of Peace and War Studies is published by the Norwich's John and Mary Frances Patton Peace & War Center.

    • University Publications
  • 'So Much to be Thankful for'

    'So Much to be Thankful for'

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“Irish Merchant Princess and Abolitionist: The Story of Isabel Jennings”

Supported by a 2015-16 independent study leave, Professor of English Patricia Ferreira completed a 10,000-word independent article, titled Leaving Frederick Douglass’s Arm: Isabel Jennings on Her Own, and submitted it for publication consideration to Nineteenth Century Literature. Prof. Ferreira fully researched the context for the material artifacts she has acquired relating to Jennings’s life. She also drafted a book proposal for a feminist biography of her subject for Cork University Press and met with the director while in Ireland. She has nearly completed drafting a book-length manuscript which, once accepted for publication, will serve as the culmination of her work on Jennings. While very proud of her accomplishments during her independent study leave, Prof. Ferreira is most gratified by what she has learned in the process: how the industrialism of the 19th-century was centrally linked to the social reform of the era; how women’s philanthropic work in the early part of the century was an important stepping stone to their demands for equal rights, including the right to vote, in the later part of the century and the beginning of the next; how Irish women were an integral part of the anti-slavery campaign and the way Jennings distinguished herself as a leader.

Editor’s note: Independent study leaves constitute the University’s sabbatical program, with awards based on scholarly proposals for projects intended to enhance the professional effectiveness of faculty through study, research, writing, travel related to professional development, and/or practical experience in the faculty member’s field.

Norwich University’s Center for Global Resilience and Security together with Vermont Emergency Management will co-host Vermont’s Hazard Mitigation Action Planning workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 22, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. in Kreitzberg Library.

The workshop brings together Vermonters from diverse walks of life to develop a sound plan and informed actions to build resilience and create a stronger Vermont. In May, the 2018 Hazard Mitigation Plan’s vision that “Vermont will be safe and resilient in the face of climate change and natural disasters” was approved. The mission of the group: “To protect life, property, natural resources and quality of life in Vermont by reducing our vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters” was also approved.

Several goals, and overarching principles now guide the work assigned to three groups in the following topic areas: Environment & Natural Systems; Built Environment; and Plans and Policies. In addition, a steering committee will work on a fourth goal categorized under Education and Outreach, which emerged from the meetings of the steering committee, and working groups so far.

The meeting is open to the public. Anyone interested in joining, please register with This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Learn more about Vermont Emergency Management here: http://vem.vermont.gov/plans/SHMP.

Launched in 2017, the Center for Global Resilience and Security (CGRS) is a Norwich University research center of excellence dedicated to the advancement of the interrelationships between human resilience and sense of security in the face of global challenges. Its first major initiative upon its founding was to take over the role of coordinating the Resilient Vermont Network and host its annual conference, among other activities. CGRS is focused on challenges in the areas of climate change, water, energy, and infrastructure and their impact on resilience and security. CGRS will craft creative, innovative, and sustainable solutions for building resilient communities, through inter-disciplinary research and design collaboration.

By Jacque E. Day | The Norwich Record Alumni Magazine

The energy is buoyant in Mike Prairie’s Monday afternoon junior-level electronics lab. Grouped by twos — lab buddies — the students pursue their work at a friendly, kinetic pace, as if each pair wants to be the first to successfully complete the task at hand. Cadet Command Sgt. Maj. Nolan Fergusson, whose classmates call him Fergie, describes the exercise. “Today we’re working on Class A, Class A-B, and Class B amplifiers, simple circuits.” He says with a chuckle. “But you may want to find another example. Ours is not working.”

Prairie, who has been floating between the projects in typical lab-prof fashion, appears instantly and checks the wiring on their circuit board. “You wired it correctly,” he tells them, “so my next suggestion is to move the circuit in case you found a bad spot on the Proto-Board.”

A few feet away, Alex Sciacca chimes in. “Professor, we’ve got something.” Behind him, a couple of cadets queue up music on a tablet. Sciacca instinctively raises his voice a notch to adjust to new background noise as he explains the objective of the lab. “The eventual goal is to connect a phone to a speaker with an auxiliary cable to create our own amplifier,” he says.

Across the room, Artmiz Golkaramnay and Tim Clemens examine data they’ve collected from the A-B amps. “We’ll use the data to plot the (Fast Fourier Transform), and the FFT will give us the relative power of the harmonics,” Golkaramnay explains. “And from the relative power we can then find the total harmonic distortion. The end goal for this lab is to see the basic types of output stages using different amplifiers,” she smiles. “Then I think for fun we’re going to hook it up to a sound system.”

Prairie inspects their data and Proto-Board. “Are you ready to hook it up to a speaker?” The two nod, and he zips off to fetch the sound system and cables.

Meanwhile, students across the table burst into an a cappella rendition of Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” ostensibly as a prelude for what’s to come. Moments later, with the speakers connected, Clemens presses play, and the classroom serenade abruptly halts.

Softly at first, the unmistakable synthesizer overture to Europe’s 1980s stadium-rock hit graces the air. Prairie suggests that they change the value of one of the resistors to increase the amplifier’s gain, and as Golkaramnay makes the adjustment, the volume rises and “The Final Countdown” — the original this time — fills the space.

Sound engineering: Music as a teaching tool

For electrical engineering professor Mike Prairie ’83, employing music as a teaching tool is nothing new. In 2010, he co-published a paper titled “Machine Shop Training with a Musical Note” with Norwich mechanical engineering professor R. Danner Friend. The paper, presented at a conference of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, details a “hands-on machine-shop training activity … with the goal of teaching basic shop tool skills” by “creating a useful object,” in this case, a simple flute. “So, we came up with engineering drawings that had the actual parts,” Prairie says. “And the whole idea was to teach them how to use the tools in the shop safely and how to do different operations. So they used a lathe, the milling machine, and the drill press. And in the process of a three-hour lab, each group made a flute that actually worked.”

This is just one example of how Prairie folds music into his electrical engineering curriculum. While music has been one of a triad of occupational passions in his life—engineering and woodworking being the other two — he made a discovery more than a decade and a half ago that fused these three disciplines together, and for him, it was a game-changer — and a life-changer.

“I was in the high school band, so when I came Norwich, like everyone else, I was drafted into Band Company,” he says with a chuckle. “Yes, I am a Zoobie.” He played the baritone horn in the Regimental Band for one year, at which point he decided to shift focus and pursue other leadership opportunities within the Corps. By his senior year he had risen to the position of battalion XO and was captain of the rifle team.

Following his 1983 graduation, Prairie commissioned into the U.S. Air Force and the next year, completed a master’s in electrical engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He spent a handful of years working for the Air Force Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base before returning to school and earning a doctorate from North Carolina State in 1991. Two more Air Force Lab assignments followed, first at Kirtland, then at Bolling. During this period, he and his wife, Sharron, started their family. He retired at the rank of major in 1998 and would go on to work in industry for the next decade.

Through all that, music remained a vibrant part of his life, and he seized every opportunity to play. He was also cultivating his woodworking hobby during this time. In the late 1990s when his father-in-law, a juried potter, attended a craft show, Prairie tagged along. “There, I saw this guy playing (wood) flutes.” The sound blew him away, but the instrument was way beyond his price range. Later, at home, he asked Sharron to pull out her old elementary-school recorder. “She had a nice one … it was actually made out of wood, the $8 version instead of the $3 plastic version. I tried to play it.” But the sound of that wood flute haunted him.

A few years later, while under U.S. Army contract on a long-term engineering project, he attended a Native American flute festival. “One of the guys was selling a kit for 20 bucks. So I bought it, stopped at Lowe’s to get some glue, took it back to the hotel, and made it. And when it worked I was like, I can do this! And it was easy to play. So I started making them from scratch.”

But he encountered a problem — the flutes he was crafting were badly out of tune in the second octave.

“So, I dusted off my engineering books and started looking at the acoustics,” Prairie says. “And I discovered that the Native American-style flute can be modeled in the same manner as an electrical transmission line. It’s the same math. You just substitute pressure for voltage, and vibrating air flow for current, and you’ve got the same thing.”

That revelation marked a new beginning for Prairie. “Those three things, the woodworking, the music, and the engineering background all came together. And I’ve been very distracted by the whole idea ever since.”

A band of robots

In a Juckett Hall classroom, Prairie gingerly unrolls a large, soft cloth containing roughly two dozen flutes he has crafted over the years. “Never bought one,” he says, “just the kit.” He picks up his first flute, plays a smooth phrase, then places it gently back on the cloth. “On this one, I made a few mistakes that I would never make again, but I learned a lot, and it works.”

When Prairie joined Norwich’s faculty in 2008, he initially hesitated to engage his students in his flute-making hobby. “Having been in the military and worked for the government, and knowing Norwich’s experiential-learning model, I have a very strong conviction that whatever I’m doing for research should be something that I can take into the classroom to teach the students electronics and electromagnetics,” he says, “something that makes me a stronger teacher.”

He began instead with a basic idea: a signal. Most signals can’t be seen, he says, nor felt nor tasted. “The best way to experience a signal with our senses is to bring it down to a spectrum or a frequency that you can hear.” To demonstrate this principle, he built a dulcimer, a simple stringed instrument, “to show the students how a magnetic pickup works. What are the electromagnetics associated with it, and what are the electronics associated with amplifying the pickup vibrations on the string?”

That got him thinking, and he approached his colleague, electrical engineering professor Ron Lessard, for a collaboration.

“Ron does a lot of computer architecture stuff, and he’s into robotics and he likes teamwork,” Prairie says, “So, we started putting our heads together and came up with this idea of having a musical ensemble play together in a robotic band.”

Although the idea is still conceptual, it gave rise to several senior projects, including one that looked into assistive technology to help someone without fully functioning hands fret a guitar, and another that evolved into a mechatronic banjo. “The students learned a ton about power electronics because they had to charge up big capacitors and release lots of currents all at once. And they got the banjo to work.”

In the 2014-15 academic year, some mechanical engineering students revisited the guitar-fretting project using a mechanical approach. “The concept was actually pretty good, and they submitted it to the RESNA Student Design Competition.” Prairie, a member of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, has been in contact with a Veterans Affairs group in Richmond, Virginia, that is doing similar work with assistive technology. This could, he acknowledges, be a new direction for his research.

The Craft of Engineering

As history and pre-history have borne out, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to make a flute. Using trial and error, “someone with no math background can make a really nice-sounding Native American-style flute,” he says. Prairie, however, prefers to approach flute-making in the manner of an engineer. “I determine which flute I want. I do the math and punch in the numbers. And out pops a spreadsheet with data.” Still, he admits that he initially drills the holes smaller than the calculations advise. “I’m always tweaking at the end. That’s where crafting comes in.

As exciting as his work becomes, Prairie will always keep his flute-making percolating on the side. He still occasionally finds flute-related classroom applications, such as one electronics lab in which students explored the instrumentation of a tube. “The idea was to map out pressure waves inside the tube, and some of the students built this apparatus and were able to measure the pressure at different points in the bore.” Of course, playing a flute is part of the fun of making one, and he does enjoy playing in church and in the occasional performance. And, while he makes flutes for the peace it brings him, a small part of him hopes that his designs will catch on with professional flutists.

The Prairie Flute. That has a nice ring.

As for the future, he is hard at work with some Australian scholars who have sought his expertise to help create designs for 3D-printed microtonal flutes (see photo, page 14). And, he is holding onto that vision of the Norwich Robotic Band.

“I can dream,” he says with a laugh.

BY SEAN MARKEY | NU Office of Communications

Updated Jan. 31, 2017

After distinguished service in the Air Force and private sector, Michael Prairie, Ph.D., returned to Norwich, his alma mater, in 2008 to join the faculty of the David Crawford School of Engineering. Prairie holds an MS from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a doctorate from North Carolina State University. At Norwich, he chairs the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. We asked the associate professor to reflect on what excites his professional passions.

Why do you teach?

I teach because it inspires me. As students mature, they tend to ask harder questions, and helping them find the answers gives me a chance to learn new things. Not too long ago, I came to really appreciate that people have different ways of knowing things, with my way being in pictures and images of concepts and how they relate to other things that I know. Articulating that to someone who thinks differently than me is a challenge. So I look for ways to help them make their own connections, so they can see how new concepts fit with what is already in their heads. The reward is the “aha!” moment when the new idea drops into place for the student. Especially when the students start to build their own connections and take ideas in directions I didn’t expect. I would like nothing more from my teaching than to see my students go so far in their learning as to turn around and teach me something new — to see the pupil become the master.  

What drives your passion for your field?  

My field in electrical and computer engineering is centered around understanding how things relate to their surroundings by looking for their signatures. If I can use the right kind of sensor to see how something is working, or look for an imprint of that thing in something else, I can turn that observation into a signal that can then be examined and analyzed. If all goes well, I can see a feature or signature in the data that will allow me to understand how the thing works and how I might be able to make it work better or for a different purpose. Whether the thing is how gestures made by a disabled person can be turned into signals to control a device for daily living, or it is how air flows through the whistle mechanism of a flute in the context of my acoustics research, making those useful connections is what keeps me going.  

What questions do you explore in your scholarship?  

The word “scholarship” is a curious term, as it suggests the academic pursuit of research and publication to people who are more familiar with it in the context of research institutions than they are with what it means at an undergraduate teaching university like Norwich. There is much more to our mission to prepare our students to become useful citizens. Norwich was founded to be a place where students could grow beyond the ability to simply think and conceive great ideas as was the norm of the day; it was created as a place where they could learn to act upon and execute those great thoughts as well. That being said, with technology evolving at an explosive rate, much of my scholarship is focused more on maintain proficiency by consuming technical literature rather than creating it, and in the pedagogy of how best to use it in my teaching to prepare our students for their careers. So, the big question I hope to answer through my scholarship is, “Are we doing the right things to be at the forefront of preparing students to be useful engineers in an increasingly complex technological society?”

After distinguished service in the Air Force and private sector, Michael Prairie, Ph.D., returned to Norwich, his alma mater, in 2008 to join the faculty of the David Crawford School of Engineering. Pr.airie holds a Master of Science from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology and a doctorate from North Carolina State University. At Norwich, he chairs the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

We asked the associate professor to reflect on what excites his professional passions.

Q: Why do you teach?
A:
I teach because it inspires me. As students mature, they tend to ask harder questions, and helping them find the answers gives me a chance to learn new things. Not too long ago, I came to really appreciate that people have different ways of knowing things, with my way being in pictures and images of concepts and how they relate to other things that I know. Articulating that to someone who thinks differently than me is a challenge. So I look for ways to help them make their own connections, so they can see how new concepts fit with what is already in their heads. The reward is the “aha!” moment when the new idea drops into place for the student. Especially when the students start to build their own connections and take ideas in directions I didn’t expect. I would like nothing more from my teaching than to see my students go so far in their learning as to turn around and teach me something new — to see the pupil become the master.  

Q: What drives your passion for your field? 
A: My field in electrical and computer engineering is centered around understanding how things relate to their surroundings by looking for their signatures. If I can use the right kind of sensor to see how something is working, or look for an imprint of that thing in something else, I can turn that observation into a signal that can then be examined and analyzed. If all goes well, I can see a feature or signature in the data that will allow me to understand how the thing works and how I might be able to make it work better or for a different purpose. Whether the thing is how gestures made by a disabled person can be turned into signals to control a device for daily living, or it is how air flows through the whistle mechanism of a flute in the context of my acoustics research, making those useful connections is what keeps me going.  

Q: What questions do you explore in your scholarship? 
A: The word “scholarship” is a curious term, as it suggests the academic pursuit of research and publication to people who are more familiar with it in the context of research institutions than they are with what it means at an undergraduate teaching university like Norwich. There is much more to our mission to prepare our students to become useful citizens. Norwich was founded to be a place where students could grow beyond the ability to simply think and conceive great ideas as was the norm of the day; it was created as a place where they could learn to act upon and execute those great thoughts as well. That being said, with technology evolving at an explosive rate, much of my scholarship is focused more on maintain proficiency by consuming technical literature rather than creating it, and in the pedagogy of how best to use it in my teaching to prepare our students for their careers. So, the big question I hope to answer through my scholarship is, “Are we doing the right things to be at the forefront of preparing students to be useful engineers in an increasingly complex technological society?”

Norwich News

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  • Norwich's Men's Cross Country Coach Michael McGrane named GNAC Coach of the Year after championship season

    Norwich's Men's Cross Country Coach Michael McGrane named GNAC Coach of the Year after championship season

    • Athletics News
  • Applications are open for the June 2023 GenCyber Teacher Training Camp.

    Applications are open for the June 2023 GenCyber Teacher Training Camp.

    • Special Events
  • Norwich University's Dr. Rachele Pojednic featured in Eating Well article on the health benefits of celery.

    Norwich University's Dr. Rachele Pojednic featured in Eating Well article on the health benefits of celery.

    • Norwich In The News
  • Norwich Men's & Women's Basketball host the 25th Ed Hockenbury Classic Dec. 2 - 4 in Andrews Hall.

    Norwich Men's & Women's Basketball host the 25th Ed Hockenbury Classic Dec. 2 - 4 in Andrews Hall.

    • Athletics News
  • The 2022 Journal of Peace and War Studies is published by the Norwich's John and Mary Frances Patton Peace & War Center.

    The 2022 Journal of Peace and War Studies is published by the Norwich's John and Mary Frances Patton Peace & War Center.

    • University Publications
  • 'So Much to be Thankful for'

    'So Much to be Thankful for'

    • President's Message
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