Illustration: Photo collage of NU women students

NU undergraduates talk about their role models, career plans, special superpowers, and reimagining the status quo


NORWICH RECORD | Winter 2021

Shawnae Evans ’21
Neuroscience major | Fort Lauderdale, Florida

We’re embracing equality as a nation now, and I think it’s an important topic to talk about. Those of us in Generation Z are more open to talking about things of that nature and getting to the bottom of these issues. I think that’s something that older generations have a harder time dealing with. Women today are open-minded but strong. We’re go-getters, and we know exactly what we want. We’ve seen our grandparents, our mothers, and others grow up in ages where they didn’t have the same opportunities. Today, we’re moving away from that. It’s completely okay, by the way, if women want to stay home and raise kids. But at the same time, I’m seeing a lot of people stray away from that. We want education, and we want to feel like we’re making a difference in the world. I want to make a difference in the world. I’m aiming for medical school right after I commission, which would be phenomenal. It’s an unusual track for an Air Force ROTC student, so it’s been a challenge.

“We’re go-getters and we know exactly what we want.”

I have many role models—first and foremost, my mom. I think she’s the strongest person in the world. She is someone who has influenced my life in terms of my future career in medicine. She is a home health aide for elderly hospice patients. Seeing her work with them, the care for her patients, and her altruism, really resonated with me when I was younger. I pursued a more academic route, but both my parents played a huge role in pushing me to see my potential. Also, the surgeon I shadowed over the summer. Her name is Dr. Keyne Johnson. She’s a neurosurgeon at the Brain and Spine Institute for Children in Orlando, Fla. She works with many patients, but most of them are children with traumatic experiences or who sometimes need long-term treatments. I love how reassuring she is as a doctor to both her patients and their family members. It’s becoming increasingly hard to find doctors who are truly invested in their patients and believe in patient-centered care. I think it’s important to be a holistic doctor and not just account for the patient’s diagnosis, the same way I believe in being a well-rounded person.

My superpower? God-given resilience. It’s a trait that I pride myself in. No matter what the situation is, no matter how bad things get, I always see it through. Nothing makes me happier than hearing those that come after me tell me they wanted to throw in the towel, but they keep going because I kept going. I’m always honest in my response. The only reason I keep going is so we could all make it, together.

Air Force ROTC scholar Shawnae Evans is the executive officer of the NU Corps of Cadets and a tabholder of the NUCC Drill Team. A distinguished undergraduate research scholar, she serves as a member of Student Government, the vice president of the Tri-Beta Biology Honors Society, co-president of the Neuroscience Club, and was recently awarded an Air Force scholarship to attend medical school.

Haley Bechard ’22

Nursing major | St. Albans, Vermont

Women today are leaders. Especially on this campus today, I feel there are so many women here that are coming out of their shell and stepping into a leadership role. I serve in many myself, most recently as the student orientation coordinator this past year, which was a huge responsibility. I worked with incoming freshmen and new transfer students. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about connecting with others from different backgrounds. I’ve also been involved in a lot of Board of Trustees meetings and now the Civilian Junior Ring Committee. I am the co-chair this year. I was just so fascinated by the ring. It is such a big deal here, and I really wanted to be on that committee. I don’t regret it a day. I’m super happy. It’s a really good design. It’s great to get civilian students—both commuter and residential students—involved and passionate about our class ring.

“Women are stepping up and taking the spotlight.”

This year I’m a junior leader in the Center for Civic Engagement’s Civic Scholars program, which is a four-year program for volunteerism. By the end of the four years, you have served 500 hours of community service. I’ve had quite a few different community service roles. I’ve been at People’s Health and Wellness, which is a non-for-profit clinic in Barre, Vt. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work there. I was with a nurse, and I shadowed her for a period of time. We went through basic intake of a patient, and evaluating the patient’s concerns, chatting with them, seeing what we could offer, and kind of providing them with community resources. I also volunteer with the blood drives on campus, and now I help with NU’s COVID testing every single week.

I definitely don’t feel that there is a level playing field for women, but I think that we’re working towards it. I see changes happening within politics and our world today. I hope, as I go out into the workforce, that that changes and we become more equal.

I know this sounds like a very basic answer, but my role models were definitely my parents. I grew up on a farm in kind of the middle of nowhere in Vermont. I definitely acquired a work ethic and perseverance at a very young age. I take those skills here.

My superpower? I wish I had a couple of superpowers. Can we go with that? But let’s say, I’m very focused and very driven in my goals. From a very young age, I’ve known what I want in life, and I won’t stop until I get it.

Haley Bechard became a licensed nursing assistant in high school and has worked at Northwestern Medical Center for the past three years, serving in surgical, intensive care unit, and emergency settings. The job’s skills and life experiences have “shaped me into the leader I am today,” she says.

Rebecca Garcia ’21
Psychology major | New Mexico

I feel there’s a lot more support for women in leadership and leadership roles. But if I’m going to be honest, it’s still difficult. But I see women com¬ing together and helping support other women. That kind of creates a whole environment for others to join in, like men or non-binary people. Everyone just empowers women, and we empower each other. When I was younger, I felt we were all against each other. We were kind of competing, because there were not many women in the military or at least not during training where I was five years ago. And so it was kind of like a competition, “Well, I’m going to do this better.”

But now I see the women I work with. We’re lifting each other up, and we have each other’s back. I’ve witnessed that in civilian jobs and social circles, as well.

“Women today should fight for today’s woman. We should uphold those around us.”

What is my superpower? Maybe my superpower is being humble. Because I’ve been asked this before, and I really couldn’t think of anything. Someone pointed out to me that being humble is a power in itself, because I help anyone regardless of what the situation is.

I want to be in the National Guard, and I want my civilian full-time jobs to be in social work, because I had a lot of experiences with social workers growing up. In high school, I did a mentorship program and I worked with occupational therapists and also social workers. I really like that field. I want to be in social work, because I just want to help children. A lot of people tell me that I have the personality to pursue that career, because it’s one of those careers that not everybody can do. It’s really a heavy job.

I come from a rough background myself. Most of the experiences I had with social workers were when I was growing up. They really helped me, and my family. I really appreciate them. They really made an impact on our life. We’re doing better now, and I want to be that person in many people’s lives, as well.

Rebecca Garcia is bilingual and a residence advisor and Army ROTC cadet, who serves as the officer in charge for 2nd Lieutenants in the NU Army ROTC program. She enlisted during high school and transferred to Norwich as a junior after attending a two-year military junior college in New Mexico.

Olivia Giarrizzo ’21
History major | Tampa Bay, Florida

My superpower? Perseverance. I’m 4'10", 95 pounds, and I’m a Marine now. I feel like everyone has a demon in their life. It can be physical, mental, an outside source. But for me, it’s always been my size. I’ve really, really struggled in the past couple of years, sort of trying to work with it instead of against it. I feel my superpower could be both resilience and perseverance, because the day I realized that my height and my weight was my advantage, not my disadvantage, it changed everything for me. It helped me persevere through, I think, one of the hardest times in my life — junior year here at Norwich. I was really struggling with the physical aspects of being a Marine, because I’m so tiny. But I had to make it my friend and really persevere through it. Because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d never earn the title of United States Marine. And I didn’t really know how to live with myself with the thought of that. So definitely perseverance. My career hasn’t even started, so I just have to continue using that as my superpower.

“It’s our job as Generation Z to do our best to educate others to see that the world is changing.”

What have I learned about leadership? Leadership is mutual. Give to others as a leader what you would expect them to give to you. I just call it being a human. That’s it to me. That’s what leadership is. Being a human taking care of people, giving them guidance, mentoring them. I think it’s our job as Generation Z to do our best to educate others to see that the world is changing and that it’s not necessarily for the worse. I think one way that we as women can help that, is not giving others a reason to doubt our abilities as women. I think we’re so quick to say, “Oh yeah, you’re right, we can’t do that. It’s not possible for a woman to be President. It’s never happened, so it’s not going to happen.” But that’s giving away our power.

Olivia Giarrizzo is a Navy ROTC Marine Corps Option scholarship recipient and a member of the NU Corps of Cadets. After graduation, she plans to commission into the Marines and serve as a second lieutenant strategic communication officer.

Caroline Ells ’20
Accelerated nursing program major | Barnstable, Massachusetts

My dad went to Norwich. He graduated in ’84. I believe he only had four women that graduated in his class with him. I believe it’s a 4:1 ratio for men to women right now. Norwich is progressing with our generation, also the empowerment of the generations before. Norwich has really taken hold of what’s going on in the world, and I feel like I’ve been given every opportunity coming here to succeed.

From my standpoint, going into a new career, there are still so many limitations. Women still have that pay gap. There are not as many leadership roles available as there should be, and that’s for all genders. As a young woman, I see that there are a lot of barriers, especially with my generation. I’m going into this new field, but at the same time, I’m still going through college and I can’t afford to really live on my own. I’m dependent still on my parents. So you are seeing this generation that is thriving with independence, that is progressive, that has all of these things that they want to do. But at the same time, we can’t. It’s like we’re kind of missing that one step.

“I’m one of those active leaders that likes to throw myself into the fire.”

The differences in every single woman are remarkable. I admire women for everything that they are capable of doing. I admire my two twin little sisters (their names are Lucie and Lillie) and the way that they have been brought up within their generation versus my own. They’re 16. They’re in high school. With every¬thing in the world that’s been going on, it’s so interesting to see how progressive they are. I really admire them for the stance that they are able to take and the opportunities that they have. It’s empowering to see that in a 16-year-old girl.

Women today are better off than they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. I think the important thing for women today to recognize is that sometimes we have to take five steps backwards to take that one giant leap forward. To continue to be progressive and to be outspoken and to empower one another is what is going to help us succeed in the future.

Caroline Ells graduates in December from the School of Nursing’s 18-month accelerated nursing program and recently accepted a position as an inpatient surgical nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. One of five siblings, her older sister Elizabeth ’18 and younger brother Ted ’24 are also NU legacy students.

Cheyenne Khoury ’21
Civilian criminal justice major, English minor | Glendale, Arizona

I’m working in the Center for Civic Engagement as the student community outreach coordinator. This fall, I was an orientation leader. I’m also the liaison between student volunteers and the Bridges afterschool program in Northfield and a board member and costume coordinator for the Pegasus Players. I’m also assisting as the student leader for the university’s COVID-19 testing site.

Why does that work appeal to me? Honestly, as corny as it sounds, I’ve al¬ways loved the idea of helping someone who needs it. Especially working with children, which is usually my primary volunteer sites. I usually do theater with the local students here or music or anything arts-related, sort of to help with self-expression and day-to-day stuff. I’ve always liked the idea of being somebody who I wish I had when I was growing up. That’s really what drives me to do a lot of volunteer work.

“Women of my generation understand the need to rely on their own strength.”

I’ve learned there’s no perfect style of leadership. Over my four years here, I’ve always believed in giving it my all and really caring for your subordinates. That’s kind of what my style has developed into. That took a lot of trial and error. I think that was my main takeaway from Norwich—there is no perfect equation for leadership. You kind of develop as you go.

Who are my role models? My really dear friend, Molly Alfond ’20. She really paved the way for me here at Norwich. She showed me what a strong woman is and how to overcome adversity. She’s someone that I go to even now. And as cheesy as it sounds, probably my mother. She’s Lebanese, and she immigrated here when she was 13 with her family. She has a lot of health issues. Having seen her overcome all of that drives me to do better.

My outlook? I feel like women have come a long way from even 20 years ago. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I feel like we’re doing a good job as far as women and power goes. I think we’re on the right track. We still have challenges, but I think we’re doing okay. We’re really starting to see more women in power, especially at the school. We have a lot of women role models and women leaders here.

My superpower? Probably being able to quote every single episode of Supernatural. That’s 15 seasons worth, so that’s a pretty cool superpower.

Cheyenne Khoury’s father was born in Bulgaria, her mother in Lebanon. She plans to pursue a career in law enforcement after graduation and aspires to one day work for the F.B.I.

Fergie Ferguson ’21
Criminal justice major, political science minor | Middletown, Delaware

Because we have the ability to do it, most women today break re¬cords and norms constantly. Yet that does not mean we are respected for it. Sometimes it is hard to be confident when there are people who completely disregard you. The hardest truth some¬times is trusting your instincts. In my experience, some guys are stuck in the idea that women just are not as capable as men.

I feel my father did a good job raising me to be hard working. I always put my¬self in positions to grow and not think so much about who wants me to be there. At Norwich, I learned who the best version of myself is and how I can support her. I know who I am meant to be now and that it can be a forever work-in-progress. I initially came here wanting to be an Air Force lawyer. Today, I am a few months away from graduation, and I am pursuing a commission as an infantry officer in the Army.

“Our generation is a turning point in the right direction.”

My superpower would be my drive and resilience. I will always try and never quit. There are many things I have failed at. But they have shown me who I am and what I am made of. I wouldn’t have dis¬covered that without the setbacks I’ve experienced. I know what I want now by going through things I didn’t want to. Believe it or not, that’s hard for me to put out there. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. You’re not defined by anything you go through, rather how you come out of it.

One of the best things about Norwich is how leadership roles for females can switch between grades and ranks with the males. Right now, I’m going out for Mountain Cold Weather company, and my rook is in a leadership role. At one time I taught him, and now he is teaching me. As a leader trust and respect are vital. The loyalty you gain from your subordinates and your peers is unique. You learn what you want to do better as a person. You set expectations for how you interact with people and what you expect of them in return.

My mom inspires me. She runs her own business and she’s always charismatic and upbeat. She has shown me that strength exists on various physical and emotional levels. That working with people is a struggle. But by being secure in yourself, you will never be at a disadvantage by needing anything from anyone. The key is to be at peace with yourself and grounded and to recognize that nothing is more painful than being stuck where you do not belong.

I think our generation is a turning point in the right direction. Incremental change is permanent change. By em¬bracing the truth that strong is beautiful, we’re also killing the notion that it is impossible to live both.

Fergie Ferguson is an Army ROTC scholar and a captain in the Corps of Cadets, where she leads the International Platoon. At Norwich, she has played varsity rugby and served as vice president of the Criminal Justice Student Association, a master physical trainer of Unify, a physical training instructor for the Ranger Challenge, a member of the Pre-Law Society, a volunteer liaison for Rotaract, and as a Civic Scholar with Center for Civic Engagement.

Interviews condensed and edited for length and clarity.

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