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

  • 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

  • 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: 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

  • 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.”

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

  • 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

Ideas @ Work: #18 Cutting Red Tape

33 ideas big and small from Norwich students, faculty, staff, and alumni that are transforming campus and the world.

The Norwich Record

Spring 2016

This academic year, Gregory Matthews, Norwich’s new vice president of enrollment management, wrote a memo outlining ways NU can think more strategically about student retention, applying concepts of user-experience product development to campus culture. “It is important to consider what makes up an ideal student experience and then work back from there,” he wrote. Key components include clear paths to outcomes, simpler processes, and good stuff to do often. Hailing the insights, Norwich President Richard W. Schneider shared Matthews’ memo with faculty and staff.

More Ideas@Work:

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