For longtime VP of students Frank Vanacek, Norwich character seen as defining trait

 

Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Vanecek has been at Norwich almost four decades, and has a strong sense of what defines the school.

As a boisterous laugh from outside his first-floor window peeled his eyes away from his computer screen, Frank Vanacek’s gaze rested on a group of students laughing in the warmth of the spring weather outside. Smiling to himself, the Vice President of Student Affairs turned back to his desk and let his mind wander to years past.

“I have taught at three other institutions other than Norwich University during my time working in higher education, and I will say that after my experiences at those other schools, I would choose Norwich over them every single time,” said Vanacek, who has been a higher education professional for almost four decades.

Vanacek doesn’t mean any offense to the other institutions that occupied his time, he simply says, they didn’t have what Norwich has. “Their students didn’t have that special character about them. They didn’t have the Norwich character,” said Vanacek.

For almost 200 years, Norwich University has made a name for itself not only in the military world but in the civilian world as well. Every student who has passed through the rigors the school presents to those who walk through its halls has come from different backgrounds. Yet according to Vanacek, and others from in and outside of the Norwich community, they all leave alike: They all embody what has been dubbed as the “Norwich Character.”

Having been in higher education as long as he has, Vanacek has interacted with hundreds of students from various perspectives, as a professor, later a college dean and now the perspective of a vice-president of a university nearing its 200th birthday. Through all of it, he says that Norwich students have a character that has been distinctly different than most – and he thinks he knows what that difference is.

“Over a period of three years starting in 2014, we took a survey of all of our incoming freshman to see how they prioritize values in their lives. The top five values amongst them were courage, accountability, loyalty, determination, and confidence,” said Vanacek.

“Just to put things in perspective, the top five values amongst high schoolers nationwide, were achievement, popularity, financial success, image and number one, was fame. The difference between the students Norwich attracts and the average student speaks for itself.”

The notion that Norwich students have a distinctly different type of character floats beyond the confines of campus. Those from other schools have taken notice as well, and are impressed by what they have experienced.

“I don’t go to Norwich, but I have never once felt like an outsider,” said 18-year-old Molly Quinn, a freshman at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. “The students and faculty alike care about one another and are always going out of their way to share the insights for the betterment of their community. They just all seem so invested in the lives of those around them, and all seem so connected.”

One characteristic that is often mentioned and that Quinn touched upon, is the theme of unity and brotherhood that is harbored by everyone at the school, and how timeless that bond seems.

“It is pretty awesome to see such strong bonds between people so young, especially considering the rise of social media which has gradually gotten in the way of interpersonal communication,” said Quinn, a New Hampshire native. “Maybe the military aspect of the school is what contributes to the closeness of everyone, especially having gone through Rookdom. The strongest relationships tend to come out of shared struggles.”

It is one thing to embody such unity through a student’s four years at school, but do these qualities persist after their years at Norwich end? Sophomore John Hickey would argue that they do.

“One quality that has always really resonated with me about Norwich and its graduates, is that the camaraderie between not only members of the same class, but in-between classes is consistently strong,” said Hickey, a 20-year-old history and politics major from Stillwater, N.Y. “Even as a sophomore, I feel as though I have some really strong connections with people here. It’s really comforting and honestly quite inspiring to see that for so many the relationships only get stronger after they leave campus.”

A hallmark of Norwich University is its strong alumni network, and the work done by those very same alumni to help current students find internships and jobs post-graduation. That desire to help those coming after them out into the real world is what Norwich individuals would dub selfless-service, and acts as a cornerstone of what many who attend call the Norwich character.

“It has always been clear to me the passion that everyone has here for the relationships that they have built with those around them,” said Quinn. “That is why I have very little doubt that if someone on this campus asked for some help, their call would take very little time to be answered. It makes sense why so many here are going into the military, everyone has such a commitment to service, even in regard to the little things.”

“I can honestly say I have never worried much about getting a job after I graduate and get my degree,” said Hickey. “The alumni do a very good of reassuring us that they will help all of us undergraduates out, and what’s even more, they act on their word. That is why I believe a large part of the Norwich character is watching out for the little guy, to help others find their way in life. I want to be in a point in my life where I can help others just like I have had others here watch out for me.”

Hickey believes that helping out those who come after oneself is the ethically correct thing to do, no matter where you come from. That is one thing that Vanacek sees through and through in every Norwich man or woman that he has crossed paths with: That sense of doing the right thing, no matter what.

Others might know it, simply, as integrity.

“We surveyed the incoming freshman from 2014 just a few weeks ago, as they are now in their senior year. We wanted to see how their top five values had changed after experiencing the Norwich lifestyle for four years,” said Vanacek. “The results were pretty incredible, but what stood out the most, was for almost everyone, the value of integrity was either number one or number two on their list. If that doesn’t speak volumes about what goes on at this school, I don’t know what could spell it out any clearer.”

“Often times, it is really difficult to pinpoint one specific thing that could be used to define what the Norwich character truly is. Both General (Gordon) Sullivan and President (Richard) Schneider claim it to be something called, ‘The Secret Sauce’,” said Vanacek. “I think the reason they have that name for it, is because it is something that simply doesn’t have an answer. Sure, we can come up with a long list of characteristics that Norwich guys and gals embody, but defining their character is harder than that.”

After serving Norwich for four decades, Vanacek believes that the Norwich character is still undefinable, but current students believe it is simpler, more tangible.

“I believe what we all have at this school, it is having the strength and integrity to build relationships that last. To watch out for one another as if we all really were siblings and not just rook siblings,” said Andrew Harris, a California native, and Norwich sophomore. “Everyone here has such an authenticity about them. They all mean what they say, they commit to something and really do keep promises. Honestly, the network of trust here is massive, and even a bit can be found between people who barely know each other.”

That very same sentiment is expressed even by those who don’t occupy the halls of Norwich, but by those on the outside looking in.

“Everyone is so caring and seems genuinely interested in how your life is going. It is genuine to the point where it is almost shocking,” said Quinn. “I think I would be quicker to trust the people I have met up here at Norwich than at my own school, if we are being honest.”

Integrity, an affinity for building and keeping relationships, and a trustworthiness that transcends the years that are spent at Norwich are what staff and students alike deem the strongest characteristics of Norwich men and women and are proud to do so.

“They understand responsibility better than most college kids I met, yet they still have such a lightheartedness about them as well,” said Quinn. “They are all just such all-around genuine people, exactly the kind one would consider themselves lucky to be acquainted with.”

Comments

  1. Steven P Robinson, NUCC 79 says:

    Even before reading the article, I will attest that Dr Vanacek is the epitome of the Norwich Spirit.

    He was a hoped for (but unexpected) ally when I applied for readmission as a nontraditional, long distance completion student in early 2012. He not only found out if it could be done, he acted as my academic adviser through the process. Only after I was admitted did he let me know he was no long Professor Vanacek, but Doctor Vanacek, and Vice President instead of Dean of the Business College.

    He handed me off to Dr Benabess, who was also an exemplar of that Norwich Spirit, which means to me that if you buy into Norwich, Norwich buys into you, lock, stock and barrel.

    They worked with me, bolstering my self confidence to get this done.

    I’d also like to laud the Registrar and Academic Records offices for their diligence in gathering the information needed to see what I had o do to complete.

    I attended Norwich from August 1975 – December 1979 and left with a well deserved 1.88 GPA.

    My transcripts from Norwich, Springfield Technical Community College and the Community College of the US Air Force were gone through with a fine toothed comb.

    I took the courses I needed during the summers of 2012 and 2013, being awarded a Bachelor’s in Business Management on 24 August 2013, 38 years to the day from when I first set foot on campus.

    When my wife and I came up to the Hill the day before graduation the following May. Dr Vanacek took 3 hours out of his day to show Anita and me around campus, including having lunch in the faculty lounge. The next day, my mom got to see me walking across the stage and I could see him with that warm smile of his.

    Norwich is fortunate that Frank Vanacek decided to join the family.

    Nota bene: After reading the article, the above stands as my example.

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