A Woman of Substance

Dr. Reina Pennington, Dana Professor of History:

Reina PenningtonNorwich history professor Dr. Reina Pennington’s non-professional life can be summed up in three words: Gardening, German shepherds, and Guns—or the three Gs, as she likes to call them. The term accurately describes her 20-acre property in Vermont, which includes a shooting range, a German shepherd named Gunner, and a vegetable garden.

Her professional life is not so succinct. Now in her 15th year at Norwich, the acclaimed national and international author is at work on her fourth book, What Russia Can Teach Us About War, and has recently been retained to consult for a film on “night witches,” Soviet women who flew night bombers in World War II. All of this, of course, is in addition to a full teaching load that includes such courses as Russian history, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, senior seminars on Women and War, and her all-time favorite: The Second World War.

Norwich’s newest Charles A. Dana Professor of History was first introduced to The Hill while attending the Russian School the summer before her senior year in college. As an undergraduate majoring in Soviet Area Studies, Pennington was quickly recruited by the Air Force for her knowledge of the Soviet Union and her Russian-speaking ability.

For the next nine years, Pennington served as an Air Force intelligence officer with a specialty in Soviet fighter tactics; and although she had initially anticipated a longer military career, it ended abruptly when, as she puts it, “The Soviets went away as ‘the bad guys’ in the 1980s.”

After completing her doctorate in History, Pennington turned to teaching and was reunited with Norwich when an assistant professorship opened up in the History Department. Known for her creative teaching methods, Pennington introduces each course with rolling quotes that relate to the topic, accompanied by music from the time and place. In The Second World War, she assigns roles to the students based on the major players for the Axis Powers and Allied Forces, and then ignites debates between them. Mike Anton, a 2010 History and Studies of War and Peace graduate who went on to earn his Master of Arts in Military History from Norwich in 2013, called it, “the most fun class experience I have ever had.”

He is not alone in his assessment. In a recent appraisal, History Department chair Dr. Gary Lord wrote, “Students…describe her courses as ‘perfect,’ or ‘absolutely extraordinary,’ or ‘wonderful,’ or simply ‘fantastic.’ One student searching for an appropriate superlative resorted to the inventive neologism ‘fandamntastic.'”

When not in the classroom mediating debates or on her shooting range with her Glock 9mm in hand, Pennington finds time to volunteer for several prestigious historical organizations, among them, the Department of the Army’s Historical Advisory Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Society of Military History. In addition, she serves as a Presidential Counselor of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Lord sums up Pennington’s accomplishments by saying, “…her productivity and the quality of her scholarship provide a worthy, if not essential, model for the University to consider as it aspires to reach to the top of Tier I in the U.S. News & World Report ratings.”

–audrey seaman ’13

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