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]

Astrophysicist Tabetha Hole on Supernovas, Teaching, and the Universe

Norwich University Office of Communications

March 25, 2016

K. Tabetha Hole joined the Norwich physics faculty last fall as an assistant professor. The daughter of an American doctor, she was born in Nigeria and earned her PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Using computer models and Chandra X-Ray Telescope data, her ongoing research studies the structure of supernovas and massive star winds. This spring, she teaches Intro to Astronomy, the capstone Senior Seminar II, and an independent study while supervising a senior research project. In a recent interview, Hole reflected upon the beauty and mystery of the universe and teaching.

Pop quiz: In 60 seconds or less, explain dark matter.

Dark matter is a name for our ignorance. If we look at the structure of galaxies, how fast the sun is going around the center of our galaxy should tell us how much mass there is in the galaxy. When we look at that, the amount of gravitational mass is way more than we can account for by actually looking at the stuff that’s there.

Ninety percent of the mass of the universe does not correspond to anything we know about on Earth. We’ve tried to account for it. But [we] just can’t. There’s missing mass. We know its effect. But we don’t know what it is, and that’s what we call “dark matter.” It’s “dark,” because it doesn’t glow. It doesn’t interact with light. It’s some completely different kind of matter that we’ve never been able to touch or detect directly. Obviously, we’ve been trying to. But we still don’t know what it is, and we’ve been looking for decades.

What do you call yourself?

Astronomer, astrophysicist, and, of course, physics professor. I spend most of my time being a physics professor. It is my focus, because I really enjoy teaching. Generating new knowledge is wonderful. But as is true in pretty much every academic discipline, if I discover something new about stars, only a few people in the world will ever read about that. Whereas, working with students, teaching introductory physics, I am able to share with them something beautiful and amazing about the universe.

You published a research paper titled, “Can We Detect Clumpiness in Supernova Ejecta?” Well, can we?

Yes.

Why should we care about supernovas?

When a star explodes, it turns out that that explosion makes most of the heavier elements in the universe. The iron in your blood had to be made in a supernova—there’s no other way to make iron—and probably more than one. So the iron in your blood came from multiple stars exploding. We can see supernovas across the universe. They affect the stars around them. They start star formation. They end star formation. They are responsible for changing the chemical makeup of the universe over time. They are responsible for making us. They are a test for our understanding of physics in extreme conditions that we just can’t do on Earth. If you want to study how the universe changes over billions of years or how galaxies change, you have to understand what happens in [supernovas].

Does your brain ever hurt thinking about these things?

Not so much. I think maybe the bigger puzzle is how to get students to understand. Because especially in physics, you first have to remove the misconception and then you can bring in the real fun. And that’s something no one knows how to do perfectly. I mean people ask, If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we feed the hungry? The reason we can’t is because of people. We can harness the power of a couple thousand people who want to work together to go to the moon. [But] you can’t put people in a box and poke them until they do what you want. All in all, I would definitely rather feed the hungry. Humans in some ways are a much harder puzzle than the universe. Helping people learn more about themselves and learn more about the world, that is actually in some ways a bigger challenge.

You say your interest in physics was sparked, in part, while studying astronomy in high school. You mention things like studying the phases of the moon. The moment when you visualized that relationship from space, rather than the surface of the Earth, and how that suddenly provided clarity. Can you talk about that?

By changing your perspective, something that was incredibly complicated becomes incredibly simple and elegant. That’s a larger part of what I find so amazing about the universe. You take things that are on surface incredibly complicated and you peel back the layers to find the incredibly simple rules that the universe operates by. Then you can build back up to the complication, piece by piece, and understand each one. And then the universe is not this weird unpredictable mess. It’s actually beautiful and elegant underneath, even if it’s not what we would ever have expected.

What excites you about the field today?

Oh, there’s so much. One big [thing] is that we now have a new way of looking at the universe: gravitational waves. It’s like opening your eyes. When we’re in astronomy, all we can do is study what the universe sends us. Most of the information it sends us is in light, radio waves, x-rays. Gravity comes from mass. So we now have a tool for looking at things that don’t even necessarily produce light. It’s going to give us more information that we could’ve gotten in the next hundred years using regular telescopes. So that is the most exciting thing right now. That we have a fundamental new way of knowing about the universe.

5 Questions For … Surveillance and Media Culture Scholar Amy Woodbury Tease

Norwich University Office of Communications

September 18, 2015

Assistant Professor of English Amy Woodbury Tease began teaching at Norwich in 2011 after completing her PhD at Tufts. It was during her first year at Norwich that she joined the Council on Undergraduate Research, a faculty body dedicated to fostering undergraduate student research. She now serves as Program Director for the university’s Undergraduate Research Program. A modernist specializing in post-1950 British literature and film, Woodbury Tease focuses her own scholarship on surveillance and media culture. Among other projects, this fall she is co-teaching an honors course with Criminal Justice professor and terrorism expert Travis Morris called, “The Other Side of Innovation.”

Woodbury Tease sat down in her office in Webb Hall to discuss her research interests and why she is such a passionate supporter of independent student scholarship.

What questions do you explore in your research?

I’m really interested the ways in which the ubiquity of technology forces us into this space where we feel really comfortable with our devices. We feel as if they are part of us. But my theoretical perspective is this concept of difficulty. So the ways in which when technical difficulty happens, that’s when we become aware that our positions in the world are not as secure, not as comfortable. That they’re constructed. We are media subjects. Even if we think we’re off the grid. You’re still part of this culture where globally someone is able to see you, right? You can be found or traced in some way. Especially now and in ways we’re unaware of.

So I guess one of the questions is, what does it mean to be a media subject? What are our responsibilities as consumers of media? Things that we watch for entertainment have real world implications. Even if we’re watching a reality television show, there are things about it. What are we actually participating in? What stereotypes are being enacted on those programs? What are we OK with? What are we not OK with? How do we in some ways abandon our ethics and our morals to the screen? That’s one set of questions.

What’s another?

In what ways can surveillance help us? In what ways do these technologies add to our communication? I’m quick to say, and others are quick to say, the screen culture is harming us in more ways than it’s helping us. But in what ways does it allow us to communicate better and talk to people from across world and read text that we wouldn’t otherwise get to read? To share our work with people that wouldn’t necessarily get access to it? So thinking about what I call the possibilities and pitfalls of the media in our digital age.

Do you have a Facebook page?

Yes.

Do you post actively?

I do, but it’s very selective. That’s the other thing. To recognize also that our Facebook selves are constructed. A lot of [my students] are like, huh? A lot of them have grown up into this world. What does it mean for them, too? Because in some ways, there is a generation gap that I’m going to have to deal with. They’re born into this world. Whereas, I’ve become accustomed to it. A lot of things I’ve resisted. With Facebook, I’m one of the few people where I’ve been grandfathered into this space where people can’t actually find me. So I was very paranoid about it when I first started teaching at the college level to allow anyone to see anything. Now I feel more open about it. I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t talk to my students about.

Shifting gears, why is undergraduate student research important?

I think it’s the most important aspect of their education. That they move from being a student in a classroom who is consuming information to being a producer of information. From my freshman students up, I tell them this is where you find your voice. This is where you ask your questions. I’m not going to give you a topic to write about. I’m going to give you a theme or a general sense of a direction, and you need to find what you want. You need to find the thing that inspires you, which is hard. Sometimes you have to sit with them and say, Ok, talk to me a little bit about the things that interest you in class. And you don’t always get what you’re looking for. But I think if students don’t feel like they have the agency or the ability to ask a question that you’re not asking, they’re not really getting the same level of experience.

I can tell them to think what I think. But then in the end, what do they get out of that? They get my particular thesis, which they’re going to get anyway. That’s not to say I don’t have an agenda in my classes. I do. But in the end what I hope is that they will be able to take whatever foundation I’ve given them and think about how they might apply it to something they’re interested in.

And of course those who go out into the field and get to do stuff and get their hands dirty, I think that’s great too.

Interviewed condensed and edited for length and clarity.