“The Kind of Place I Had Always Wanted to Land” - An Interview with Dr. James Ehrman

by NU Online on 12/11/21 7:30 AM

December 31st, the last day of 2021, will also be the last day of work at Norwich University for Dr. James Ehrman. Dr. Ehrman is the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies for the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies (CGCS). He earned his BA in history and political science from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and his MA in history from Kansas State University in 1997. Professor Ehrman continued his studies in history at Kansas State University and completed his PhD in history in 2006. Dr. Ehrman has worked at Norwich University since 2004 when he accepted a visiting instructor position with the university’s Department of History and Political Science. In 2006, Professor Ehrman served as the associate program director for the military history program at CGCS. A year later, he was appointed to the position of program director for the Master of Arts in Military History program and the Master of Arts in History programs where he served until August 2017.

To help celebrate the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one, we thought it would be fitting to ask Jim to reflect on his time at CGCS, tell us a little bit more about his life outside of work, and learn about what he is most looking forward to next.

Dr. Ehrman headshot
Q: Where did you grow up – and what were some of your most memorable experiences as a child?

“I grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa. My parents were dairy farmers, so my childhood experiences revolved around farm life. My siblings and I all helped with farm work as soon as we were old enough, and in retrospect, it was a wonderful way to grow up. The farm work was constant, and many of the tasks were physically demanding. The changing seasons always brought different kinds of chores and unique challenges. Due to the fact much of the work was physically demanding, and some tasks required many hands, neighbors helped neighbors with planting, harvesting, making hay, and fence making.  Over the past fifty years, machines have eliminated all the grinding physical labor and the need for crews of farmhands. The farm life that I experienced as a child is now essentially extinct, so I feel lucky to have experienced it.  

One of my earliest memories of working on the farm was when I was five or six years old. My father put me on a tractor and hitched a wagon to it. He put it in low gear (walking speed) and positioned me behind the steering wheel. He pointed the tractor down a long row of hay bales and told me to steer the tractor, driving it along the row of bales. While I was driving, my dad and my older brothers threw hay bales on the wagon. As we approached the end of the row, my dad would jump on the tractor, take control, turn it around, point it down another row, and put me back in the driver's seat. I remember what fun it was and how happy I was to help my dad with his work. A six-year-old helping out with farm work was normal for that time. I laugh now, thinking that parents in 2021, who seem obsessed with their children's safety, would likely be shocked and appalled that my dad had his six-year-old drive a tractor.”  


Q: What was your first job – and what was most memorable about it?

“Aside from farm work, my first part-time job was as a clerk in a discount store in my hometown. The only thing memorable about it was the work was much easier than farm work, and it was nice to work in a climate-controlled environment.”

Q: How did you begin working at Norwich University – and why?

“I started work at Norwich in 2004. I was at Kansas State University and at the "all but dissertation" (ABD) stage of my PhD. One of my K-State classmates worked at Norwich as a one-year lecturer and had accepted a job at Fort Leavenworth. He contacted me to let me know the lecturer slot would be open again the following year but that he had accepted a job elsewhere. He knew I was looking for work and recommended me to the Norwich history department. One of my professors at K-State also knew Professor Pennington and put in a good word for me. I was offered the job and accepted it without even coming to campus. I got rid of everything that would not fit in my truck and drove from Kansas to Vermont in August 2004. After many years in grad school, it was terrific to finally get a full-time job and a steady paycheck with benefits.  It was also great to teach at a small military college like Norwich. It was the kind of place I had always wanted to land after I finished my PhD.”

Q: What has been one of your favorite experiences working at CGCS

“My favorite experience has to be the Thursday and Friday of the annual Residency Conference. The Academic Recognition Ceremony and Commencement bring home just how many lives are impacted by the work of the programs. Seeing people cross the stage and receive their diploma makes all the trials and tribulations of running a program worth it.”  

Q: Over the course of your time at CGCS, Norwich Online has grown quite a lot. What are your thoughts on that growth?

“CGCS, or Norwich Online has grown very quickly over the years. When I first started, it was only a handful of graduate programs, MMH, MDY, MBA, MCE, MJA (now MPA), MSISA (now MSCY). There were no certificates, bachelor's degree programs, or associate degree offerings.  There were no non-credit enrichment opportunities. The level of growth over the past 15 years has been impressive and has compelled the university to compete in and embrace an extremely dynamic education market. Without CGCS, the university would be in a very precarious position. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that creating CGCS and encouraging it to expand and grow has been one of the most critical decisions in the university's history.”

Q: We know you love hiking – what (or where) has been your most memorable, all-time favorite hike, and why?

“The most memorable and favorite hike we have done (so far) is the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier in Washington. The Wonderland Trail is a 95-mile circuit around Mount Rainier and is on every through hiker's bucket list. The trail requires a permit, and it is often not easy to get one. Our hiking friends Ingo and Susan were able, on their first attempt, to obtain a permit for the four of us. The Wonderland Trail is aptly named because the vistas, glaciers, and meadows full of wildflowers are spectacular, and hiking is much easier and more forgiving than hiking in New England. My wife and I had never hiked in the West before. The vistas were so beautiful, engrossing, and distracting we completely forgot to top off our water before hitting a long, dry section of the trail. If we had not found some snow to melt, we might have been in big trouble!”

Wonderland  Trail Mt Rainer
Q: After Dec. 31, 2021, what are you most looking forward to doing with your free time?

“My time in 2022 will be divided between finishing projects around the house and training for the big hike in 2023. I have a long list of projects I have to finish before the fall of 2022, and I also need to head to the Midwest to help my brother with some projects on our farm.”


Q: In just a few words describe your overall experience at Norwich and CGCS?

“The words that come to mind are fast-paced, accelerated, and complex. Compared to the residential campus programs, CGCS is an entirely different universe. Things happen quickly at CGCS, and I think it is fair to say that everyone at CGCS gets flooded with dozens of issues each day that require immediate attention. Time passes very quickly here. As soon as one term ends, another begins. CGCS does not rest until the Christmas break. Things are far more complicated and complex today than when I joined in 2005. There are different calendars, different degrees, multiple processes, and an increasing thicket of internal and external policies, procedures, and regulations to navigate. That complexity can make it difficult to foresee all the consequences of a decision, streamline business processes or launch new, strategic initiatives. On top of this complexity is the need to compete in an increasingly dynamic and competitive higher education market.”

End of Long Trail

Finally, here are a few parting words to Jim from some of his colleagues at CGCS:

“Jim has been an integral part of CGCS, serving expertly in key roles over the past many years with us, particularly in building the military history program and, more recently, in his leadership of our graduate programs. We will miss him dearly since he was a great ambassador for CGCS and a good friend to all. I wish him the best as he undertakes the next chapter of life, he will always be a friend of CGCS and Norwich University.” – William Clements, CGCS Dean

“Jim is a trusted colleague whose contributions to the success of MMH, MAH, CGCS, and Norwich are too many to enumerate. I am grateful to have worked with Jim since he joined us in the mid-2000s, and in spite of his avoidance of pink shirts and carob, I am blessed to call him my friend.” – Debra Wick, CGCS Associate Vice President

“It has been a pleasure to work with Jim. He brings a calm and clear vision to every conversation he is in. I so appreciate his thoughtful nature, advocacy, kindness, and professionalism. Jim, you will be missed, but your next big adventure awaits!” – Bethany Scalzo, CGCS Director of Enrollment

“Remembering the day long ago that you joined the Military History program as I reflect upon your upcoming parting. You have contributed so much to CGCS in what you have done and just by being you. You will be greatly missed. Your last contribution comes to us all in the inspirational life message that is your departure - happy trails!” – Melinda Appel, CGCS Instructor Developer Team Lead

“Your boots ‘were made for walking, that’s just what they’ll do.’ Now go enjoy those long trails brightened by good books, and we will remember your lasting advocacy for quality online education. Happy retirement!” – Peter Gill, CGCS Regulatory Compliance Officer

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