We sat down with College of Graduate and Continuing Studies (CGCS) Dean Bill Clements for a Q & A session on the first virtual Residency Conference, which is being held on June 22-26.
Q: Could you please describe your history with Norwich and CGCS?
“I have been with Norwich 33 years about now. I moved to Northfield, Vermont, and came to the Norwich justice studies program from the Philadelphia area. I taught on campus for almost 20 years, and concurrent with that, I was very interested in the technology and continuing to adapt technology within the university. There was a transition between moving from mainframe computing and distributed computing into PCs. I typed my master’s thesis on a typewriter and my dissertation on a mainframe processing program uploaded from large floppy discs off a PC. I was involved in initiatives with the President of NUARI Phil Sussman, who, at the time, was the CIO for the university. We worked closely together on a number of other projects, including creating the first online program. Then, as a result, I stepped in and became CGCS dean in 2005 and have been doing that ever since.”
Q: Can you also please describe your history with the CGCS Residency?
“I have been participating in Residency ever since it started. From the beginning, Residency was always a structured part of the online programs, but it had a very different format. It used to be that each program created its own Residency program, and the only time all the students were together was at the opening event, which used to include a large opening dinner. At one time, we couldn’t fit everybody on campus at once, so there were many years where we would run two Residency Conferences. The new dorms gave us great capacity to fit everyone at once. Over the last decade, we moved Residency from a stovepiped individual event by a program with independent events, into a coordinated conference where students have program responsibilities but can have opportunities to participate in and join activities, which is the current structure today.”
Q: Can you please name your favorite memories from previous Residency Conferences?
“My first standout Residency memory is the 2016 Residency. My daughter finished the Master of Science in Leadership program, and I had the opportunity to give her the diploma. I also remember General Alfred M. Gray was retired out of the Marine Corps – he was our commencement speaker. He gave a great speech, then as we handed out diplomas, we had a disabled student in a motorized chair come across, and General Gray dropped down to his knees and shook the student’s hand. On top of that, there was when the Owens family who came for the Navy SEAL who was killed while earning his degree. We flew up his wife and their three children who accepted the degree on his behalf. We picked them up from the airport and got to spend some time with them when they came up, and that was special. It was one of those things you remember forever.”
Q: What are your favorite aspects and traditions of the traditional Residency experience?
“The informal time with the students and faculty is one of my favorite aspects of the Residency experience. Just walking around and talking to people, visiting during check-in, watching students meet their classmates and professors for the first time, hearing stories and making connections, and finding out things I did not know about the students or students finding out things about me that they did not know about Norwich. For example, karaoke in Plumley and the Dog River Run. I have rocks from all the Dog River Runs – there must be a dozen of them. The informal part of Residency is always a lot of fun.”
Q: How do you plan to continue Residency traditions that may be impacted by the virtual Residency? For example, the Dog River Run, Dean’s Welcome, etc.
“I think we are going to do as many of those events virtually as possible. There are certainly pluses and minuses to that. I think, on the positive side, for those students who could not come to Residency for a variety of reasons, it opens up access to some of these events and activities that they would not have been able to attend in the past. Ideally, I would like the Dean’s Welcome done in person, but I think we can continue that and provide for interaction in a virtual environment. And, I will definitely be getting in the river for the Dog River Run. We were proficient as a university in virtual learning and meeting tools before, so we will be able to do these things quite well now.”
Q: Although the virtual Residency is being conducted due to unfortunate circumstances, what are you looking forward to most with the new Residency format exclusive to 2020?
“I think trying new tools and new approaches are some aspects I look forward to with the virtual format. There is no reason that we cannot do some of the special topics, webinars, and sessions that folks have stuck their hands up to do. There are the core pieces for the core programs, but there are also a lot of companion events that have been developed, and I would like to keep that momentum to give folks a platform to inject more of a hybrid synchronous learning environment into what we do all year. From that respect, it is unfortunate that we cannot have everyone here, but we are also learning quite a bit about how we can use these new tools to make our regular operations better. We are learning how we can sustain some of what we have learned and think about how our programs will be built going forward.”
Q: How do you plan to stay engaged with students and their families, faculty, and staff during the virtual Residency experience? Do you see any new and exciting ways that hosting Residency online can keep students, faculty, and staff engaged in ways that the traditional Residency Conference may not have been able to?
“I think opening our eyes up to guest speakers, how we widen the net of involvement, and how we can do that in synchronous ways can provide some tools to have synchronous interaction. I know we have competing time zones and schedules, but whatever we do synchronously, we have the capability of recording, too. People can go back and see if they are interested. I have had the ability to ask questions when participating in live webinars. Live virtual interactions illustrate that our world is more blended. Live events, such as webinars, are the kinds of things that I think we could do more of.”
Q: What opportunities do you suggest students take advantage of during the virtual Residency?
“My advice would be, just because you are not here does not mean that you should not take advantage of everything that you can that interests you. Signing up to participate in some of the other activities would be beneficial, so find those sessions that have some interest or relevance to your work, much like you would do at a conference. It might not be in your program, but if you are able to, I would strongly suggest doing that. Take advantage of as much as you can. We do not hold the conference every week of the year – it is just this one week, so be prepared to take advantage of the sessions.”
Q: Do you see the virtual Residency and the results of COVID-19 impacting the way future Residency Conferences are structured? Are you looking forward to any of those new aspects?
“I think the virtual Residency gives us a chance to look at new tools and rethink how to make Residency more expansive and more inclusive. First, there is always a small percentage of students for reasons beyond their control that are not able to attend. With having Residency activities in a dual format going forward, I might expect that we would be more mindful of whatever we are doing on campus and virtualize it to be more inclusive to those who might not be there and how we can open up participation. We cannot always bring all the speakers we would like to have here, but we can do that in a virtual way in the future. I see some of the changes from virtual Residency hanging on in some form becoming a permanent part of future Residency Conferences. The way we think about getting together has forever changed.”
Q: Finally, is there anything you would like to say specifically to the online students graduating this year?
“This is a unique time in history – a unique event that we need to remember. In the future, try to remember what it was like now because this time period is going to reformulate the economy and how we perceive the world. Another important note is how we respond now, collectively, but importantly as individuals, is going to shape how our future looks. We have to remember and have to be conscious of what resiliency means. Resiliency is not tested when things are going well – it is only tested when things are difficult. We need to reexamine our personal and professional lives. We need to think about the things we take for granted and make more meaningful relationships and plan. Lastly, look at the opportunity in this. What has this told us? Does it clarify our career path? Are there new business opportunities that will develop? Part of being able to bounce back is not to lament what is lost, but to think about how we can affect the future given the circumstances. It is an opportunity that we should not waste, as frustrating as it can be. Continue to look at the opportunity."