Norwich University Celebrates Graduating Class of 2016

Photos: Norwich President Richard M. Schneider
Norwich University Office of Communications

May 14, 2016

Norwich University celebrated Commencement today, sharing its affection, pride, and faith in the Class of 2016.

Affection for the 469 young men and women it was privileged to serve and know these past four years. Pride in their individual character, hard work, and many accomplishments.

Faith that they will apply what they learned at Norwich—about themselves, about leadership, about their chosen field, about each other—to solve some of the many challenges facing the world today.

“We can’t wait for you to get out there and do amazing things,” Norwich University President Richard W. Schneider told the 296 Cadets and 173 civilian students about to receive diplomas in 1 master’s and 32 bachelor programs.

Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno delivered the Commencement address before an audience of 4,000 at Shapiro Field House this afternoon.

He urged members of the Class of 2016 to blaze their own path and to serve the nation and others. “Give back. Give to others. Make a difference in other people’s lives,” he said. “That will be your legacy as a graduate.”

After the last diploma was handed out, a sea of Norwich cadets and black-robed civilian students hurled their white caps or pumped their fists skyward.

Other smaller ceremonies took place throughout the day too, starting with the Nurses Pinning ceremony at 10 a.m. in White Chapel. Speaking to a group of senior nursing graduates, NU School of Nursing Director Paulette Thabault told them, “We’re so proud of you.”

“We hear over and over how well prepared our [nursing] students are,” College of Professional Schools Dean Aron Temkin told them. “You guys are ready.”

Graduating nurse Samantha Nelson gave the school’s class address, evoking knowing laughter as she recalled the thrill of wearing scrubs for the first time, the anxiety-inducing wait for exam results, and countless other milestones. “We supported each other,” she said. “We made it together.”

Across campus, faculty at NU’s School of Architecture + Art held a senior show and awards ceremony for its graduating seniors and master’s students. School director Cara Armstrong kicked off the celebration, telling graduates, “I know I’m going to get choked up, so I’m going to keep it brief.”

Associate professor of Architecture Danny Sagan told the assembly, “The world needs … architects.” He said the world has experienced a historic shift in the past five years. For the first time in human history, the majority of the global population now lives in cities.

Architects are uniquely positioned to solve problems connected to our built environment, he said. “If there are people who are trained to make the quality of life better, it’s architects.”

Outside Chaplin Hall, unfamiliar sights bid farewell to the unseasonably cool spring. Bright sunshine, lush lawns, leafing trees, and cars parked along the Upper Parade ground. License plates spoke of celebratory road trips from Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois, South Carolina, and beyond.

Elsewhere, at a reception for the NU College of Science and Mathematics, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff and Norwich Board of Trustees Chair Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan ’59 chatted with newly appointed chair Alan Deforest ’75. They stood in Weintz Courtyard at the granite foot of Norwich founder Alden Partridge, surrounded by faculty, students, and their families.

In Dole Auditorium, engineering majors were inducted into the Order of the Engineers and received stainless steel pinky rings, a symbolic reminder that lives rest on the integrity and safety of their work.

Beyond rings and diplomas and hopes and dreams and future plans, Norwich’s graduates carried something else today. They carried the things they learned here about themselves and their lives going forward.

“Norwich taught me to be a confident, independent woman,” says Shaili Patel, a civilian student who double majored in architecture and history. “It showed me that I have the capabilities to be a leader, as well as the capacity to grow and learn as a person.” Patel will begin a master’s program in architecture at Norwich this fall and will later commission as an officer into the U.S. Navy.

Samantha Thornton majored in criminal justice major and served as first lieutenant in the Corps of Cadets. The former homecoming queen from Tampa, Fla., says Norwich helped her discover a remarkable inner toughness and her professional passion for helping victims of sexual assault. “I think I learned here that you can accomplish anything—really, honestly—anything put before you,” she says. “It’s a mindset. Whatever anyone throws at you, you can most certainly do.”

Olivia DeSpirito, a biology major from East Brunswick, R.I, joined the Corps of Cadet at Norwich, served on the university’s Honor Committee and traveled to Macedonia. “What I really learned about myself here at Norwich is that you have in yourself the power to do great things—provided you don’t give into pressure around you.” She starts graduate school this fall, studying forensic science to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a forensic pathologist.

Kenneth Sikora, a commuter student from Calais, Vt., majored in biochemistry, led the Norwich Fencing Club, and translated medieval Chinese poetry while completing the university’s rigorous academic Honors Program. As an undergraduate, he investigated the differential expression of genes that influence cancers among countless other research projects.

Sikora, who plans to apply to med school, says one thing he learned at Norwich was to take a deep breath. It’s natural to be nervous in front of a crowd. The feeling will pass, often in just a minute. Then you can tell the world what you know.

Norwich Commencement | The Graduates: Hannah Bell ’16

Photo: Hannah Bell speaks to an unidentified cadet in a Norwich classroom

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Hannah Bell ’16

Hometown: Newberg, OR
Double Major: International Studies + Spanish
Minor: English
Student Path: Civilian
Activities:

  • Rugby Team Senior Captain
  • Four-time Women’s Rugby Div. I National Champion
  • Three-time Women’s Rugby All-American
  • Academic Achievement Center Peer Tutor
  • Undergraduate Research Ambassador

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What Norwich Taught Me

I am driven person in part because I like to be in control….a lot of life is out of my hands and … I need to be at peace with that. Norwich taught me to time-manage and problem-solve efficiently through leadership opportunities like captaining the rugby team.[/content_band]

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On Academics:

The research I conducted the summer after my sophomore year was my first scholarly experience. I learned so much about process during this time. I also put together a really polished product, which is one of my accomplishments I am most proud of. I was selected to present this research … analyzing prominent, Western women novelists of the 20th century at the selective Posters on the Hill event [in Washington, D.C.]. I spoke with congressmen and their staff about my research and the importance of undergraduate research, which was an amazing experience.

Also, presenting my senior thesis for International Studies was a very proud moment. I discussed immigration policy and border security in Spain, which was a timely topic considering our own political rhetoric and the refugee crisis.[/content_band]

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On Athletics:

The second national championship I won in a Norwich jersey in North Carolina … It was incredible to come from behind in the final and defend out title. We came back from a 12-point [deficit]—winning in the final two minutes. Our team that year was made up of such exceptional players and people and that tournament was so much fun.[/content_band]

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Future Plans:

I will be heading to San Antonio to attend induction for the Teach For America San Antonio Corps. For two years I will be teaching in an under-served elementary school in San Antonio. I grew up in a household committed to social justice. My father is a Presbyterian pastor, and I always planned on … nonprofit work. I have been inspired by many great educators throughout my career and have had so much fun learning. I want to be able to help other kids fall in love with learning like I did. Ten to twenty years from now, I want to be a state prosecutor or a family doctor. I plan on taking the next two years to figure out which path to take.[/content_band]

Norwich Commencement | The Graduates: Phung Pham ’16

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Phung Pham ’16

Hometown: Hanover, Mass.
Major: Computer Security & Information Assurance (CSIA)
Student Path: Corps of Cadets
Activities:

  • Association for Computing Machinery (Student Club)
  • Coaching for Leadership
  • Center for Civic Engagement

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What Norwich Taught Me

Time management and an unwavering focus on academics. Pham spent countless hours studying in Kreitzberg Library and talking to professors outside of class to understand course material. “This is not [an] easy habit for everyone,” he says. “The Norwich motto “I Will Try!” [was] always in my mind. It helped me overcome problems.”[/content_band]

Phung Pham entered Norwich University’s Class of 2016 just two years after arriving in the U.S. from Vietnam. Pham participated in the inaugural Coaching for Leadership program at Norwich as a first-year Rook. There, he met NU alum and former trustee Richard Hayden ’68. Hayden advised Pham to focus on his academics, improve his English, seek leadership opportunities in the Corps, and become a U.S. citizen. In November, Pham realized all of those goals as he took the U.S. Oath of Allegiance, the final step in becoming an American citizen.

“Phung is an example of the best that Norwich can produce,” Hayden writes. “He will be a great alum and, I expect, an even greater American.”

A member of the Vermont National Guard, Pham returns to Fort Benning, Ga., following graduation to complete seven weeks of U.S. Army Advanced Individual Training. Upon completion, Pham hopes to join the U.S. Coast Guard via its direct commission program. He also plans to continue his education at Norwich. He was recently awarded a full scholarship for an online master’s degree with NU’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies.

Norwich Commencement | The Graduates: Kenneth Sikora ’16

Photo: Kenneth Sikora poses in white lab coat before chalkboard

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Kenneth Sikora ’16

Hometown: Calais, Vt.
Major: Biochemistry
Minor: Biology
Student Path: Commuter
Activities:

  • Academic Honors Program
  • Norwich University Fencing Club
  • Chameleon Literary Journal
  • Summer Research Internship
  • Undergraduate Research Program Ambassador
  • Published research in The Oswald Review + the International Journal of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics

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What Norwich Taught Me

“[Norwich] taught me all the basics of performing research—formulating a research question [and/or] hypothesis, writing a proposal, troubleshooting, failing, and communicating results with an audience comprised of individuals who are not familiar with my field’s lingo.”
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“I am deeply grateful to all the professors who taught me,” says graduating senior Kenneth Sikora. “Without venturing into hyperbole, the least I can say is essentially every one of them was a generous, kind, patient, and knowledgeable teacher.”

Sikora plans to attend medical school in the future, where he hopes to train as a general practitioner. During three intense years at Norwich, he solidified his love for language and chemistry, he says, and led the fencing club while completing NU’s academically rigorous honors track.

Inspired during a world literature course with writing professor Sean Prentiss, Sikora became interested in the translation of medieval Chinese poetry. He began work on Lady Su Hui’s Star Gauge, written in A.D. 360, and plans to continue the project after graduation. He also published a refereed journal paper on Beowulf and edited the campus literary journal, the Chameleon.

In the lab, Sikora studied bioinformatics among other topics, examining the differential expression of genes behind certain types of cancers as part of a research project. He developed a protocol to express the H.pylori enzyme NDGluRS in E.coli bacteria with Assistant Professor of Biochemistry & Chemistry Ethan Guth. He also worked with Associate Professor of Chemistry Seth Frisbie to test the fit of calibration curves, which are often used to convert electrical signals to chemical concentrations.

Asked to comment on a highlight of his time at Norwich, he says, “My experience was that the whole time was a highlight, with only one or two dim spots. Perhaps my introduction to the field of research was brighter than the rest. But my first organic chemistry class was equally thrilling at the time.”

Norwich Commencement | The Speeches: MG John W. Baker’s ’85 Commissioning Address

Photo of Maj. Gen. John Baker ' 85 speaking to Norwich ROTC commissioning officers on the Norwich campus

On Sunday, May 15, 2016, Norwich alum and U.S. Army Major General John W. Baker ’85 addressed ROTC commissioning officers from the Class of 2016 at the formal Norwich commissioning ceremony. Baker, who serves as Commanding General of the Army’s 7thth Signal Command (Theater), shared the following copy of his prepared remarks.

Alan, Thank you for your kind introduction. General Sullivan, sir, it’s always good to be with you. Thanks for your service. Lieutenant General Valcourt, good to see you sir and all the other general and flag officers, welcome.

So, good morning, Rooks! Just kidding! Thought you might like to hear that word one last time! Although you know that in the military Second Lieutenant and Ensign are just other words for “Rooks!” But seriously, good morning team mates. Let me start by thanking Admiral Schneider for inviting me to speak. It is an honor to be present with the faculty, future officers, and families from Norwich – my alma mater! Thanks also to professors of military science, COL Eric Brigham, COL Andrew Hird, and COL Robert Kuckuk and their spouses Vicki, Alicia, and Jennifer, as well as the other ROTC officers and NCOs for leading our future officers! I would also like to thank everyone that has made this occasion possible today and for the warm reception that my wife, Laurie and I have received upon returning to “The Hill”. And, the Norwich Band, give it up for the toobies! The Honor Guard and Salute Battery!

You know, my dad brought me to Norwich in the fall of 1980 during my senior year of high school. My dad served in the Army for over 31 years; enlisted at 18 and was commissioned at 19 through Officer Candidate School. He was a tough artilleryman. Over the years of his career he met many Norwich graduates in the Army.

When I told him I’d like to go to a school up north where I could ski, play lacrosse, and wanted to participate in ROTC, he immediately said “Norwich!” We came up, toured the school; I stayed the night in Alumni Hall with some lacrosse players and the rest was history! Norwich is the only college I applied to, and maybe the only one I could get into! I knew this was the place for me at first sight.

I’m assuming that many of you, by your presence here today, share that same experience.

I’m not sure what the secret sauce of future success is, but Norwich has it in abundance! In part, it’s the sports and coaches. Back in my day, I played lacrosse at Norwich. Our coach when I was here was a legend. Coach Wallace “MAJ” Baines! MAJ started the lacrosse program here in 1968 and is in the Norwich University hall of fame. He was a “technician” of the sport, knew its complexity and intricacies. But he also knew the human dimension of building a team, of teamwork, of relationships, and bringing out the best in his players.

We all loved the sport, we all loved our team and teammates, and we all loved “MAJ” and HE…WAS…TOUGH! How tough? Chuck Norris tough! He dipped; you know, he chewed tobacco. Always had a chew of tobacco in his mouth. Problem was, we never, ever, saw him spit! Think about that. He would just smirk at the players who chewed and spit! We just figured “MAJ” had a cast iron stomach! I’m sure there’s a “MAJ” in your stay here at Norwich, too! You’ll remember this person fondly.

My own commissioning ceremony at Norwich was 31 years ago this month on 17 May 1985. General John W. Vessey Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was the commissioning officer. My experiences at Norwich shaped me into a leader as I entered the Army as an Armor Officer. The tough academics, varsity lacrosse team experiences, hundreds of hours on the national ski patrol on Paine Mountain, and four years in the Corps of Cadets all intersected to help prepare me for a lifetime of service. And for the last three decades, the leadership crucible of life at “The Wick” and ROTC training that are the key ingredients of the Norwich experience have been my foundation. You are all many steps ahead of your contemporaries from other colleges and universities as you enter your respective services. And you, too, will find your time at Norwich is the foundation from which you will grow and succeed in our profession of arms. It’s like the face-off in a lacrosse game, because I was a middy and I took all the face-offs. The face-off winner is the quickest and the one with the most agility. And just like in a face-off, you will find during your time at Norwich that the agility of thought and the speed of decision-making you have learned here for four years will give you an early edge as you come into our military. So use it and go!

Allow me to be one of the first to congratulate all 129 of you, whom we are about to commission as Second Lieutenants and Ensigns into this great military of ours! I know that you have worked hard and are prepared to take on leading America’s best young men and women; starting in about ten minutes!

Now my remarks this morning are peppered with anecdotes and insights gleaned from many years of service. Here is the first of them: “You are never too senior to be the junior.”

Let me explain. During a recent training exercise, a newly commissioned Lieutenant was driving down a muddy back road and encountered “me.” I was driving another tactical vehicle. Unfortunately, the vehicle was stuck in the mud and I mean stuck!

This very polite and eager Lieutenant got out of his vehicle and came over to me and said:
“Your vehicle stuck, Sir?”

“Nope,” I replied as I smiled and handed him the keys, “Yours is”!

In addition to my anecdotes, if you don’t take anything else out of what I will talk about this morning, then understand my remarks are about honor, courage, and service. This is what our military and Nation needs of you. This is what your fellow Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen expect of you. Our men and women in uniform ask so little of us as leaders; only to be well led by Officers of the highest character.

And, we are going to give you the opportunity to lead. The enlisted men and women that you lead and the country that you serve deserve nothing less than your best, every minute, every hour, every day that you wear the uniforms of our country. And you will lead, in good times and in the fog, friction, and uncertainty of combat.

For all of you digital natives using your mobile devices to Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, Vine, or Tweet my speech, I’ve placed the full text of my remarks on my command’s Facebook page and you can read it later. But here in this moment, as you are about to be commissioned, hear this: You will be looked at for leadership among the people that you serve — your platoon, your flight, your ship’s division, your team! They don’t want to be your friend, but it’s ok if you were friendly. They expect a human being, not a machine. But they also expect a leader. They want somebody to stand up and show them the way. That’s what we’ve trained you to do here at Norwich; show them the way!

Next, you need to guard your integrity! No one can take your integrity from you. People can take a lot of things from you, but nobody can take away your integrity. This attribute is uniquely yours; to maintain and guard. And, it will be challenged. But, your integrity, the ability to always demand, tell and insist on the truth, to always come forward and deal with the facts, is the foundation of our military profession. We must believe what people tell us as our lives depend on the highest integrity.

Your allegiance, when you take the oath momentarily, your allegiance is to our military – and your respective service! Remember, the absolute allegiance of what you’re about is to the institution of our military. Remember that every day of your service!

Be kind to those our nation asks you to serve! Treat everyone with dignity and respect, because no one in our military is unimportant. We can’t afford to have Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen who are unimportant. Each member of our team has a critical part. We need to treat everybody with dignity and respect and the understanding that your life — your life — depends on them, and their lives depend on you.

And, you have to learn to trust your fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen! You have never had to trust in someone as much as you’re going to have to trust the men and women of our military. You will weave a tapestry of trust – an unseen but very real bond that unites us. This is a very unique part of our profession.

Learn your service history! Everything that you are wearing today, your coats, your pants, the rank insignias, the branch insignias, is all built on a heritage and a legacy and it has a reason for being a certain color, shape, or style. Learn it and you’ll understand its importance. It defines who you are as an officer of our military and who you will be as a representative of our profession.

Always remember to wear hearing protection! Everything in our military is really loud: tank main gun rounds, jets, helicopter rotors, machine guns, bugles at revile, and tough Non-commissioned Officers and Chief Petty Officers. Protect your hearing so you can hear your wife or husband telling you to take the trash out, your children’s laughter, or your daughters telling you NO when you give them a curfew decades from now.

Let me end with something bigger than ourselves – I’m referring to the core values that are common to us all whether you serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

Serve with Honor: Conduct yourselves in the highest ethical manner. Be honest and truthful; Be accountable through your honorable professional conduct.

Serve with Courage: Courage is the value that gives us the moral and mental strength to do what is right; and always in the service of our country.

Commit to Service: Have a sense of service before self; realize your needs are secondary to the needs of those you lead.

Ok, we’re almost done, stay with me now. This bit of advice is very, very important. I want you to call, Skype, text, or write your mother once a week. No one has more unconditional love for you than your Mom. Pay it back with frequent contact.

Last thing! We’re doing this by row; like a tactical engagement officers. I want our soon to be officers to stand up and point to the family members that got you here today. That’s an order! Families, you’re the friendlies; help your officers. Make eye contact, identify your location, yell, shout, let them know how much you appreciate them, love them and thank them! Sit back down once you see them!

Family members and friends, STAND UP, yell back. That’s a request! Make eye contact. Shout to your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandsons and granddaughters, nieces and nephews, how absolutely proud you are of them. Don’t sit down until you see your officer. And remember this moment!

One last insight; this one is about the importance of timeliness, because in our military it’s all about being on time.

There was a retired Officer who landed a civilian job in a fortune 500 company. During his first week, he came in about five minutes late over a couple of days, which irritated his Boss. During his second week he came in about ten minutes late every other day to the “exasperation” of his boss. During his third week he was a half hour late; every day.

His boss couldn’t take it anymore and called him into his office and berated him for always being late. “What did they tell you when you were late in the military??” the Boss asked. The retired Officer replied, “GOOD MORNING GENERAL…”

Again, thank you very much for inviting me here this morning; it’s a true honor.

To my officers…..
Please look at me…..
You’re in the 1% now! The 1% who have volunteered to serve our nation in the military.

Now, Go out and make a difference! Lead from the front! Be the Officers that our nation needs to shape and mold our military.

And, as we say in the Army’s Signal Regiment, I’ll see you on the high ground.

God bless our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Civilians, and our Families;

And may God bless the United States of America.

Norwich Commencement | The Graduates: Shaili Patel ’16

Photo: Candid photo of four civilian and cadet Norwich students, Shaili Patel second from right

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Shaili Patel ’16

Hometown: Nashua, NH
Double Major: Architecture + History
Student Path: Civilian
Activities:

  • NU Honors Program
  • Student Government Association
  • Residence Advisor
  • CityLAB: Berlin Semester Abroad
  • NUVisions Abroad: Philippines
  • Undergraduate Research

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What Norwich Taught Me

“Norwich taught me to be a confident, independent woman,” Patel says. “It showed me that I have the capabilities to be a leader, as well as the capacity to grow and learn as a person.” She credits Norwich faculty for opening countless opportunities and Norwich friends who “helped me develop my backbone and break me out of my shy shell.”
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Shaili Patel was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and immigrated to the United States when she was 10. In the U.S., she moved often as her parents—both professionals—sought better economic opportunities. She quips that the experience at least taught her how to pack.

Patel found an academic home at Norwich, where she double majored in architecture and history and seized numerous opportunities. She won a coveted NU Summer Research Fellowship and stipend that sent her to London to study the seminal work of architects Christopher Wren and John Gwynn. While at Norwich, Patel entered the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Collegiate Program. The day before Commencement, Norwich President Richard W. Schneider presented Patel with the one of two inaugural student leadership awards. In addition to her parents, her high school drafting teacher attended her graduation.

Patel plans to intern with Norwich chief administrative officer David Magida and his staff this summer as they continue work on bicentennial capital campaign building projects around campus. This fall, Patel continues her studies at NU’s School of Architecture + Art in the one-year master’s program. Upon completion, she will commission as a Civil Engineer Corps Officer in the U.S. Navy. “I want to pay it forward to the country that helped me become who I am.”

NU Commencement | The Graduates: Olivia DeSpirito ’16

Photo: Norwich 2016 graduate Olivia Despirito by lake in Macedonia

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Olivia DeSpirito ’16

Hometown: East Greenwich, R.I.
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry
Student Path: Corps of Cadets
Activities:

  • Norwich University Honor Committee
  • Men’s Ice Hockey team manager
  • NATO-sponsored Southeastern Europe Counterterrorism Training Course, Macedonia.

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What Norwich Taught Me

“What I really learned about myself here at Norwich is that you have in yourself the power to do great things, provided you don’t give into pressure around you. I chose as my senior quote ‘persistence overcomes resistance,’ and I really believe that was my mantra for all four years here. I’ve had a lot of rough patches throughout my college career, but I didn’t give up. Norwich has taught me all about self-motivation, and really pushing through the tough times. Because you know there is something good on the other side.”[/content_band]

Olivia DeSpirito arrived on the Norwich campus four years ago with a passion for forensic science. “I saw my first CSI: Las Vegas show when I was six, and I was hooked from that point on.”

At Norwich, DeSpirito joined the Corps of Cadets, majored in biology, and minored in chemistry. In her spare time, she read up on the early history of forensic science and the chemistry used in the first crime labs. “My parents have actually told me I’m a bit ‘different’ for being so passionate about your body after you die,” she says. “But that’s alright. It’s too interesting for me to stop now.”

This fall, DeSpirito starts a two-year master’s program in forensic science at the University of New Haven in Conn. She credits chemistry professor Seth Frisbie, chemistry department chair Natalia Blank, and her academic advisor, biology professor Scott Page for their impact on her Norwich academic career. Her chemistry professors made a minor possible and all wrote multiple letters of recommendation for graduate school. “[They] have really supported me in all of my courses and throughout my time here.”

May 16, 2016