Podcast project gets access to top military brass

Top, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Farnsworth, and bottom, Air Force Brig. Gen. Peter J. Lambert

A few weeks ago, Norwich hosted a panel of military officials and top federal employees as part of the Todd Lecture series. For a handful of students, their visit offered a chance to meet and interview some high level federal officials while they were on campus.

“This was a very cool opportunity, I got to talk with a RADM  (Navy rear admiral) who was a student here,” said Liam Wilber, a senior in the corps.

Having over a dozen Norwich alumni General and Staff Officers (GOFO) on campus was a rare event, and an opportunity for students to talk to and learn from alums who began their careers at Norwich. These alumni are now at the pinnacle of their career, according to Professor Sarwar Kashmeri, an adjunct professor of Political Science & Applied Research Fellow with the Peace & War Center, and the Norwich University Board of Fellows and Foreign Policy Association.

Kashmeri’s involvement was to be the faculty advisor to this student-led project. He helped the students meet with Norwich administrators and faculty to help frame their interview questions, and to work out how the students were to use Norwich’s own radio station, WNUB, to record the interviews.

The questions that were the focus of the interviews included: “What Norwich experiences helped them get to where they are now? What advice might they give to Norwich graduates just starting on their career trajectories? The school felt it important to debrief these high-achievers in as many ways as possible to retain their life-lessons for Norwich students,”

The students that were involved with the project were Shane Haughey, Duncan Millar, Liam Wilber and Zachary Gibson, while Sonja Jordan helped out working the sound board in the WNUB radio studio.

“Other than this minor support, it was the students who planned and executed this project. The students were all volunteers, they wanted to be part of the project. They have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with flag officers, not something one is able to do often,” Kashmeri said.

“The way I became involved with this was I was asked because I am a member of the Peace and War Center,” explained Wilber.

Zachary Gibson, a junior majoring in cyber security, started with this process back in September. “It took a long time getting this ready and all set up,” he said.

Kashmeri and the students conducted all the interviews and recordings for the podcasts in the WNUB studio. All of the equipment used was in the studio already, plus all the GOFOs were all on campus, so there were no expenses involved in the production of these podcasts.

According to Gibson there were some issues involving getting permission from the Pentagon to speak with the GOFOs.

“The hard part was getting the generals to coordinate with one date to come and speak with us,” said student Shane Haughey.

Another concern that had to be addressed was that the school was not sure if they would even be able to talk to students because the Pentagon worried that the project was trying to promote Norwich University. “We were able to avoid this issue by telling them we wanted the officers to talk about leadership and how the university helped them in their careers,” said Zachary Gibson.

During his interview with Rear Admiral Daniel MacDonnell, Wilber focused his questions on leadership tactics used both on and off campus.

One question Wilber asked was how MacDonnell would motivate those who are not trying as hard as others.  Since Wilber will be commissioning in the navy post-graduation, he also asked MacDonnell some specific questions relating to the U.S. Navy itself.

Wilber often found himself agreeing with what MacDonnell, an engineering graduate of Norwich, was saying during the interview. “I was reassured that everything will be all right knowing someone at this level feels the same way I do now,” he said.

Wilber said he got valuable insights during his time with the admiral, such as, “Never give up on someone who is not performing well because that could give you a bad look to others.”

Haughey related that during his interview he was told a short story by David Merker, a member of the Senior Executive Service, who was a platoon sergeant in the corps when Iranian students attended the school in the 1980s. “He said this was one of the toughest opportunities that he had in his life,” due to the Iranian Revolution occurring during their stay and the quick recall of all the Iranian students.

“This was hard for David Merker because he had to cut all ties with his foreign subordinates when they all got sent back to Iran,” said Haughey.

Sonja Jordan, who is a sophomore majoring in communications and Mickey Walbridge, a senior majoring in computer science, were tasked with recording and editing the interviews.

Jordan and Walbridge recorded the interviews for 10 ten to 15 minutes each, which allowed a lot of discussion between the student and the GOFO they were interviewing.

While Jordan was tasked with recording and editing the interviews, she was able to absorb some of the lessons that emerged from the interviews.

She said one message was. “I never really know what will happen next and I should always be looking to achieve higher than I thought I could.” Brigadier General Jeffrey A. Farnsworth, NU ‘86, also had words of wisdom, she said.

“Gen. Farnsworth told me that you may not think some things matter now, but when the time comes and it really matters, you will make the right decision based on what you learned here at this school,” said Jordan.

“While I was editing the podcasts, each time I listened to them I found something new to hone in on and remember. This was a great experience for me,” said Jordan.

“She thankfully worked weekends to complete the project in record time and got all five interviews ready to air in two weeks! Prof. Doug Smith should be commended for the communications classes he teaches, which provided the training for Mickey and Sonja. But a special thanks is due to Sonja,” said Kashmeri.

Wilber  noted that “the students asked the questions that they had” instead of relying on faculty to come up with questions to the officers. That was by design.

“Using students rather than faculty to conduct the interviews was a deliberate decision to make these podcasts as useful to students as possible,” said Kashmeri. He said each podcast demonstrates the effectiveness of this decision, and that the conversations in these interviews were direct and useful to any student who wants to reach for the stars. “I would urge every student to listen to as many of these podcasts as they possibly can.”

“This was part of the “Year of Leadership” where students could gain knowledge of what it would be like to be a flag officer,” Wilber said.

“Something that this experience taught me was that if an opportunity like this ever comes your way you should take it. You never know who you could meet,” said Jordan

“Finally, this is Norwich’s “Year of Leadership,” the podcasts done under this project were part of a number of interviews that deal with the question of Leadership; they are hosted on the Peace and War Center’s website.

Kasmeri said the students involved in the project demonstrated outstanding leadership by stepping forward and taking control of this project.

“My own takeaway from the project: the more one challenges Norwich students, the more they achieve. As faculty, we need to challenge them even more,” said Kashmeri.

Gibson agreed. “Having the chance to have them on campus and actually talk to them was a great experience. This allowed us to hear what they had to say about our school and to hear what the seniors would have to look forward to when they graduated,” he said.

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