Snowshoe racers honor Carol Stephens

On July 30, 2011, Carol E. Stephens ended her battle with breast cancer. As the first female engineering professor at Norwich University, Stephens’ life inspired a scholarship through the students and community members she influenced.  On Mar. 3, NU hosted the 1st Annual Carol Stephens Memorial Engineering Scholarship Fund Snowshoe Benefit at the Shaw Outdoor Recreational Center.

“It’s an attempt to honor someone who had given so much to Norwich,” said Kathleen McDonald, associate professor of English at NU. McDonald took charge of pulling together a benefit of some kind to help support the scholarship fund.

Snowshoers at the Carol Stevens fundraiser. (Thomas Carson Photo)

Snowshoers at the Carol Stevens fundraiser. (Thomas Carson Photo)

At the suggestion of Nicole DiDimineco, the director of the center of civic engagement, McDonald and the others involved decided to host a snowshoe race on Paine Mountain.  “I thought ‘great, I’ve never snowshoed before, but I am willing to put together a snowshoe event,’” McDonald said.

To accommodate all skill levels, the event was divided into a racing group who set out for a four-mile course, and a recreational group which trekked a one-mile course on Paine Mountain on a cold, overcast day.

Stephens was known to snowshoe quite a bit, therefore this event was selected to pique student interest. The planning stages were headed by a committee consisting of McDonald, Interim Dean of the School of Engineering Greg Wight, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Elizabeth Guirian, Assistant Professor of Spanish Gina Sherriff, and Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering Tara Kulkarni.

Just as in the committee, there was much support for the event across the academic disciplines.  “Norwich is a small community and the reality is that at a lot of bigger schools, you do only know people in your department or discipline,” McDonald said.  “Here at Norwich it just doesn’t work that way. We all know each other.  It’s a small faculty (and) it’s a very receptive faculty, friendly across discipline lines. It’s a fantastic thing!”

In addition to the support of donors, to include raffle ticket holders and participants, the event gathered local support as well. The NU bookstore, the NU women’s hockey team, the Northfield Pharmacy, Pizza Depot, The Rustic, The Knotty Shamrock, Village Pizza, Trombly’s Florist, Trombly’s Greenhouse, Video and More, and Shear Edge Salon were all enthusiastic to donate items or money to the scholarship fund, Mcdonald said.

“All of the local community, the local businesses were so willing to donate,” McDonald said.  Most of the supporters and their owners knew Stephens due to her active role in the community.

In addition to the registration fees of the 29 participants and the donations, the committee decided to host a raffle to provide additional support for the fund aside from the event itself. The prizes included an array of donated items from supporters. Professor of Psychology Johnnie Stones, for example, donated an induction cooker for the raffle.

Having taught at NU since 1996, Stephens was popular among her co-workers, her students, and the community she played an active role in. “She was just beloved by her students, a great professor,” McDonald said.

“She was a great teacher. (It was) one of those classes where you worked hard but learned a lot,” said Barbara McCarragher, 22, a former student of Stephens and senior civil engineering major from Lebanon, N.H.  “She was also a professor who looked out for the well being of her students.”

Since the establishment of the scholarship fund in 2012, the engineering department has been working in a number of ways to raise money to support the scholarship. On Jan. 28, 2012, the women’s hockey team hosted the “Cadets Skate for the Cure” game, which raised $2,600 for the scholarship.

Kalya Weimert, 22, also a senior civil engineering major from La Plata, Md., came out to support her former professor. “She was a good professor. She knew how to teach, she knew how to relate to the students.”

Students race through the snow at the Carol Stevens Memorial Snowshoe Run. (Thomas Carson Photo)

Students race through the snow at the Carol Stevens Memorial Snowshoe Run. (Thomas Carson Photo)

“She was one of my favorite professors. She had a really good sense of humor,” said Fianna Barrows, 22, a senior civil engineering major and former student of Stephens from Bristol, Vt.

Though Stephens battled with breast cancer for years and underwent extensive chemotherapy treatment, she never missed classes and always maintained a sense of humor. “She pushed through it, even when you could tell she wasn’t feeling well,” said Barrows.

Even during the snowstorms that hit the campus in the winter of 2010-2011, Stephens still managed to make her classes. “She snowshoed over,” Weimert said with a laugh.  “She was there and made sure that we were there for class too.”

Though she’s no longer with the Norwich community, the dedication and spirit she embodied lives on and the Carol E. Stephens Memorial Fund will continue to help engineering students reach their goals. “I think it’s exciting that a lot of her students have come together and tried to bring together this scholarship and have made so much progress in such a short time,” McCarragher said.

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