In Their Own Words – Fall 2017

“For the Students,”
Professor Frank Vanecek.

Frank Vanecek arrived in 1976 as a twenty-three-year-old instructor of computer science. Since then, he has worn many hats at Norwich University.

A few years ago, when I first heard about the coming Year of Legacy, I thought about my four decades at Norwich and considered what I would want my Norwich legacy to be. I could point to key academic accomplishments such as the creation of new courses, the implementation of several degree programs in computing, and the accreditation for the business programs. But, after further thought, I asked myself the question of why I stayed at Norwich so long. The simple answer is—for the students. The Norwich students have always been my primary focus and thus, they are my legacy.

Many of my former students have come back to see me years/decades later and recount the meaningful encounters we had in my office, in my classroom, or just walking around campus. One of my favorite recollections is about Colonel Frank Curtis ’82, USAF (Ret.). He was a student in my computer programming class back in 1978. Following his graduation, I did not see Frank again until 28 years later, in 2010. During that mini-reunion, Frank reminded me of an event that took place in my classroom when he was still new to Norwich. I was shocked and overwhelmed at hearing his story about how my simple interaction with him changed his life and the lives of others that he subsequently touched. I asked him to put it in writing for me so that I could keep it in my files. Here is what he wrote:

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was failing your course miserably and as you handed me my final exam, you turned it upside down on the desk and said “just do your best.” You told me you never saw someone try so hard and yet not quite grasp the material. You told me that based on my efforts over the semester that I should be ok. The rest is history. I failed the final exam yet passed the course with a D. That brief moment in time has helped shape me to be the leader/manager I am today. When someone that works for me, employee/soldier, is struggling with an assignment, I ask them, “Did you try your hardest, did you give it your best?” If they respond yes and I can see the conviction in their eyes, I simply say, “Don’t worry about it.” I’ve learned that people don’t set out to fail and we all have different skill sets. Sometimes people need to hear “you’ll be ok—just do your best.” So yes, I owe you a great deal for the lifelong lesson you gave me, a lesson that I proudly use today. And when I am sitting with a struggling employee/soldier, I tell them the story about me and my college professor who didn’t give up on me because I couldn’t grasp the material. Professor Vanecek, your legacy with me has been cemented, and I in turn, have passed this legacy onto others. I guess sometimes people don’t realize the power of their actions and words. Thank you for your actions and words in 1978. You had a friend for life and didn’t even know it!

Over the decades, I have spoken with many Norwich students who share their recollections of how their lives took a different, positive turn because of a simple interaction with me. What more could I want out of my career at Norwich? Having touched the lives of my students in a positive way—that is my humble legacy.

Today, Professor Vanecek is the senior vice president for student affairs. In his four-decade Norwich career, the students have been his number-one focus.


Comments are closed.