By Zackary Bennett, NU Senior Writer

A passion-driven project born of an alum’s curiosity aims to take the University to new heights.

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“We have to stay true to our core values,” said Norwich University Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff Danielle Pelczarski when thinking about the institution’s path forward. “This rebrand and marketing campaign is us very clearly and deliberately getting back to our identity and being intentional about who we are: the most historic senior private military college in our nation.”

Norwich leadership wants Norwich to leverage the vast wealth of excellence that the University offers. “We aren’t as well-known as we should be,” said Pelczarski. “This rejuvenation and initiative aren’t just about a logo; we are rejuvenating ourselves and telling our story better.” In that spirit, the new logo features elements that are distinct to Norwich: the typeface is inspired by lettering on buildings and signs around campus; the familiar maroon; the cavalry sabers from cadets’ dress-uniform pins; and the year Norwich first opened its doors to the eager citizens prepared to make a difference.

The University’s previous logo had “a wonderful run,” and Pelczarski admires the history for which it honored. “It celebrated our founder through Alden Partridge’s image alongside the staircase and lamp post,” she said, referencing Norwich’s ambition to continuously aim higher while being led by Partridge’s vision. “The new logo is getting back to the basics of who we are, the original senior military college and birthplace of ROTC.” And the place where students are challenged to not only learn but to become the best version of themselves to serve their families, communities, and country.

The new logo is paired with what is known as a “final positioning” in the marketing world. That positioning takes everything that makes Norwich special and encapsulates it into a singular idea: “Go Beyond.” Norwich has always aimed to recruit gritty, determined, and resilient students who are ready to take on the challenges that await them on The Hill, and this positioning allows the University to tell them what they can expect to accomplish with just two words. 

“When we say, ‘Go Beyond,’ we’re talking about going beyond your comfort level,” said Pelczarski. “Here, you can do things like climb into the rugged mountains of central Vermont while at the same time stimulating your intellectual curiosities. You can go beyond your expected boundaries, whether it’s intellectual, physical or mental.”

Many in the Norwich family have felt similarly, even if it might not have been perfectly articulated up until this point. Norwich Trustee Bill Lasky ’69 spent much of his career in marketing and sales, eventually ending up as the CEO of multiple companies; today, he spends his time as a board member across several organizations as he lives in Florida. Unsurprisingly, he ended up finding another Norwich graduate in his community.

“I started talking to John Gatti, who I got to know,” said Lasky. Gatti is a Trustee and graduate of the Class of 1986, described by Lasky as a “very brilliant guy” who had a successful career involving semi-professional football and an MIT post-graduate education. 

“We’re sitting in my living room one night just talking about Norwich since we’re both on the Board of Trustees,” said Lasky. “I asked him, ‘John, why did you go to Norwich?’” What should have been an easy question caused both to fumble their words. Somewhat confused that they didn’t have a quick answer, they spent the rest of the night discussing their backgrounds and what led them to Norwich. 

Lasky knew there was something special about Norwich, and he needed to find out what made it draw people in; he needed to explore Norwich’s “secret sauce.” 

“After our little discussion at my house, I kept thinking about it,” said Lasky. During an after-hours meeting with trustees over cocktails, Lasky began his impromptu story. “I told them about John and I, how we realized we were two totally different people from different generations,” he said. “We both went to Norwich, but we didn’t have to go to Norwich.”

Lasky said that when he was looking for a school to attend, his parents wanted him to learn to support himself and earn a strong foundation for life. Fairleigh Dickinson University was just around the corner from the New Jersey native, but at the time, it was a brand-new school. “It was more like a community college compared to today when it’s a well-regarded university,” he said. “My father told me if I went to Fairleigh Dickinson and lived at home that he would buy me a brand-new Jaguar XK-E. I love cars, and my father loved cars. Nobody had ever bought me one, and he offered to buy me the hottest and most beautiful car – but I went to Norwich.” Something about the school drew him in. “I chose Norwich, and I didn’t quit. I didn’t drop out.”

“Why did I go to Norwich versus Fairleigh Dickinson, or some other university? Why did our friend John come here? Why did Jack and Jill and everybody else come here?” he asked. “There is a DNA.” 

Drawing upon his professional history, he recalled a time when a company he was with hired the University of Florida’s dean of psychology as a consultant during the hiring process.

“He met with us and studied the company,” said Lasky. The dean put together a test with the intention of profiling potential candidates for their fit. “It just so happens that I was starting to recruit and interview people, and they wanted me to use this tool,” he said. 

“Now, I got scared. All of a sudden, I’m told I’m the one who is going to be implementing this. I raised my hand in the meeting and told the president of the company I was unsure.” The response was signing Lasky up to take the test to learn how it works.

Lasky took the test, and the dean evaluated his results. 

“This guy who I’d never met before, who didn’t know how I grew up or anything about me, told me so much about my family, my life, and my preferences from this test that it made me a believer. We used that tool to improve our retention of employees.” 

The board members took his story to heart and set in motion the campaign to rejuvenate the University’s presentation, leading to the creation of the “Secret Sauce Committee.”

Retention rates are an important part of any university, and Norwich must retain students to produce the world’s leaders.

“We’re rejuvenating the DNA in our souls,” said Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff Danielle Pelczarski. “That’s what lifts enrollment, retention, graduate rates, and alumni engagement; these are the four pillars of the secret sauce.” 

Luckily, with the help of Pelczarski and Norwich Trustee Dr. Isabelle Desjardins, University of Vermont Medical Center’s chief medical officer and an associate professor, the Board of Trustees was uniquely equipped to conquer the challenges ahead.

Pelczarski and Desjardins come from two different backgrounds but are both deeply connected with Norwich. On one hand, Pelczarski has extremely unique experience to draw from in both the corporate and military spheres. On the other, Desjardins is the mother of an alum and brings her valuable perspective as an objective outsider with a psychiatry background.

Desjardins got involved with the Board of Trustees because of her son’s transformation at Norwich. “I was fascinated by the process by which he was transformed as a person, a student, and a leader,” she said. The rejuvenation of Norwich’s identity was the perfect time for her to examine things more closely. “I’ve been curious about the different elements of training, the context and the environment, and how that fits with the personality of the students at Norwich. I have a curiosity about human behavior in that sense.”

Understanding the combination of a student’s personality, character traits, and context in which they receive their education was key for Desjardins. “I thought it was very interesting to identify the commonality among this great alumni community and successful student body,” she said, adding that Norwich students are from a common thread that has to do with grit, curiosity, humility, acceptance of failure, and perseverance in the face of failure. “From an outsider’s observation, it's really palpable when you’re meeting Norwich graduates from different generations that would otherwise be disparate in terms of their profile,” she said. “They are an eager and competitive bunch, and there is a generosity of spirit that transpires through the context of Norwich, transcending the students themselves. It’s a shared experience among the community.”

Combined with Pelczarski’s brand agency and military background, the seeds planted over drinks and stories were beginning to sprout. Thanks to her unique combination of experiences, she could see what others might have missed. “I talked with them and said, ‘Don’t you guys realize what the secret sauce is? It’s you. You’re the DNA.’”

Though the pair had a solid foundation for the project, they knew they needed reinforcements for something of this size and scope. They would eventually bring on Brand-Ed Solutions, a brand marketing consultancy, led by Founder and Principal Sarah Stefaniuk (now Norwich University interim vice president of the Marketing and Communications Office). 

“Our mission is to adapt best-in-class brand strategies, processes, and tools to develop brands in sectors that wouldn’t otherwise think about branding like consumer product goods companies do; places like higher education and non-profits, for example,” she said. “There is limitless opportunity to harness the methods of iconic brands, and Norwich University was a no-brainer.”

Stefaniuk knew that with an institution as storied as Norwich, the newly forged path ahead must resonate with the University’s mission and identity. “I knew the positioning of the brand would be rooted in Partridge, but I wasn’t sure what answers we’d come out with after the process,” she said. “The school today has the same goal as it did at its founding, but we need to articulate that for the citizens of the next several decades.”

“This is what the whole purpose of the brand initiative is clearly about,” said Pelczarski. “We might have lost our way a little bit and forgotten what our true roots are. This initiative helps convey our story to the people who want challenge and want to stretch themselves.” 

Many who come to Norwich are driven to go beyond their wildest dreams, whether it is finding success in the military, a three-letter-agency, or the private sector. “They have an idea and we’re polishing that stone a bit. I think Lasky, Gatti, and anyone else who has come to Norwich realized that this was the place to build that foundation.”

Lasky said that the input from highly qualified individuals who did not graduate from Norwich was key. “We sort of have unwritten bylaws on the board that we want a certain number of trustees who aren’t Norwich graduates,” he said. “We don’t want to be high fiving ourselves just because we went here. We want to be objective, and we need to have a good balance.”

After finding their balance through a “cross pollination across campus,” according to Pelczarski, the “Norwich Together” project was officially started. “That’s basically the team of around 20 people who went through most of the year to get to the brand positioning and logo identity,” she said. That team, made up of faculty, staff, the development team, and other stakeholders from across campus and beyond, would set to work finding the best way to tell Norwich’s story to the world.

One of the first steps in the process is known as “discovery.” As the name might suggest, this entails getting to know your stakeholders through things such focus groups, surveys, and research. Stakeholders ranged in their familiarity and connection with Norwich. Some, like the cadets and civilian students in the focus groups, are fresh to Norwich and offered their fiery passions for the school. They are the “DNA”; the customers that Norwich must market to. Others, like Dana Professor Emeritus of History Gary Lord, Ph.D., could offer a deep and contextual knowledge of the school and its history.

One of the project’s first responsibilities involved facilitating the focus groups, which were initiated by Stefaniuk and Brand-Ed Solutions to learn more about the “DNA” of both past, present, and future Norwich students. Though all around campus have strong feelings about the University, when put into words, you may end up with unexpected results. “In marketing, you always have an impression of what the brand is all about – but you’re always proven wrong,” said Stefaniuk. “The customer sets you straight.”

By now, the seeds of change were much past sprouting and had taken root; the growing project needed additional support. Beardwood & Co., a branding and design agency based in New York, was brought on in a supportive role at this point to see it all to fruition. “When they approached us with this brand project, we were more than happy to get involved,” said Head of Strategy Courtney Berkery. “Our role was really to collaborate with Norwich on the brand strategy, positioning, personality, and tone.”

A main responsibility of Beardwood& Co. revolved around helping in discovery, but more specifically, deciphering the hundreds of pages that were the result of all the research. Norwich, Brand-Ed Solutions, and Beardwood & Co. began to pore through the information gathered. “Beardwood & Co. really helped distill this information and ran the brainstorming,” said Stefaniuk. They led several work sessions with the Norwich Together Project Team to clarify the “DNA” and recurring Norwich themes. Their efforts to learn about what makes the Norwich family tick yielded plenty of results.

Persistent themes of grit, resilience, and accomplishment were continually brought up. Students arrived at Norwich University because they had big dreams, and many realized that once they set foot on The Hill that they held more potential within themselves than they had ever realized; it’s not surprising that the “I Will Try” motto resonates with them so strongly. 

At Norwich, they could go beyond their perceived limits. Berkery said that she was impressed by “This craving for challenge that Norwich students have.” Stefaniuk said that this resonates with the day-one mission of Alden Partridge. “If Partridge was alive today, in addition to his vision of ‘well-rounded civilian-soldiers,’ I think he could describe our students as those who are willing to push themselves and lead others courageously.”

“This craving for challenge is so surprising, especially when you see it in a teenager,” said Berkery. “That starts to make sense when you talk to incoming students. When we interviewed students who told us about past experiences, they would often tell us about why their first year was so difficult – then they would say, ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way.’”

While this insight seems obvious, it is also important to clarify what this means to Norwich. Simply put, Norwich customers with the “DNA” are looking for a university that will challenge them. They do not want an easy path. Whether they know it or not on a conscious level, they want an experience that will transform them into the best version of themselves and provide them with the life and leadership skills to meet and exceed their future goals. The act of trying ignites the process within themselves. This mentality was everywhere and defied demographic, socio-economic, and cultural descriptions.

After vetting the concepts, Norwich Together Project team eventually identified the two that were most truly Norwich. The team took these two final concepts back to focus groups. “What I love about Norwich students is they’re very honest and direct,” said Berkery. “They told us when we had ideas that don’t sound like Norwich, or if any university could tell them that.” The brutal honesty made the marketing firm expand their playbook and search for new answers. Their feedback was crucial to ensuring that the rejuvenation of Norwich University was true to the soul of the customer and the institution. “At the end of the day, this is about translating Norwich’s history to something that’s relevant to students today,” she said. “We’re not going to change what Norwich is about, but we could improve the way we talk about that history so people who don’t know much about Norwich can feel that same passion.”

Finally, they had their positioning after Stefaniuk revised the winning concept “like a thousand times.” Students who came to Norwich University wanted the best and then some; they wanted more for their life, their dreams, and their fellow citizens. They chose Norwich University because they are not afraid of challenges. If they had not realized their inner potential prior to coming to Northfield, Norwich would soon push them past their limits and open their eyes to the greatness within themselves through grit, self-discipline, and teamwork.

“Norwich is the place students come to be challenged so they can build courage, resilience, and strength to prepare them as humans and as leaders. In other words, when Norwich is at its best and doing what it does best, it is providing an incomparable, unique transformational experience that many high schoolers are craving,” said Stefaniuk. 

“How many colleges do that? This is what makes Norwich extraordinary and special. This is what the world needs to know.” With a possible positioning in their back pocket, the team took their work to University officials. “It was important for us to get this right, especially for the cadets,” said Stefaniuk. She described the meetings on the way to approval as fiery and passionate, though not hostile. “There might have been raised voices and some pounding on tables, but no one was upset with anybody,” she said. “We didn’t see any anger, just passion for the school and its story.”

By now there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The ever-expanding team had spent the last third of their year fleshing out the University’s rejuvenation, but Stefaniuk said that this is when the project’s “rubber hit the road.” Stefaniuk dove into the creation of the official brand strategy as the reins were passed to Beardwood & Co. to work up the new logo, which she described as “outstanding.” A powerful logo communicates key messages about an organization – not that everyone knows them – but those ideas are there for people who want to figure them out and interpret what the logo means.

Berkery said that between the new logo and positioning, they made a concerted effort to balance the tradition and history of the institution. “We had a student take us through a tour of the Sullivan Museum and that was chock full of history,” she said. “On the logo, we have the maroon harkening back to Norwich’s history, but we’ve done away with parts like the Bicentennial Stairs and Partridge’s likeness.” Additionally, they added the iconic sabers and founding year. “Commandant McCollough was even sending us pictures of the sabers in his office so we could get that curvature right. We developed hundreds of different cavalry sabers to get the right look.”

The light at the end of the tunnel was rapidly growing brighter as they reached the final phase. “This includes the creative look and feel for all marketing materials and the rollout,” said Stefaniuk, highlighting the importance of conveying both the message and spirit of Alden Partridge to today’s driven students. “I always thought Partridge was a brand marketer before it was a thing,” she said. “He identified an unmet need, found "his customers,” and marketed by marching his students through towns in their uniforms.” As usual, Capt. Partridge’s spirit permeated the very fabric of Norwich University, down to the threads that formed a marketing plan.

The entire campaign is a distillation of the “secret sauce’s” ingredients. 

“We want to be true to the history where folks know all of the details, but we want outsiders to feel what the Norwich community feels when they look at this for the first time,” said Berkery. “We loved the grit in the Norwich motto ‘I Will Try.’ We want that to be immediately felt and understood by someone who is new to the brand.”

Alongside the new logo and positioning, Norwich University’s new brand promise states that the University will be: “A transformational, educational journey that motivates you to achieve your goals and pushes you to reach even further – to Go Beyond what you thought possible – and prepares you for your career and leadership ambitions that set you apart from the rest.”

Norwich University is prepared to ensure the success of the institution and its students for its next two hundred years. University leadership wants incoming students to know that while it may be uncomfortable at times, you will come out better than you started. “You’ll go beyond what you thought was possible based on your previous life experiences,” said Pelczarski. “We will make you physically fit and mentally sharp, arming you with a lifetime of skills to maintain yourself.”

“The value of Norwich is not only academic,” said Desjardins. “It’s about life skills, being able to be self-reliant in your life moving forward. It’s very difficult to create an environment that is guaranteed to foster that, but Norwich does it.”

Pelczarski asks prospective students, “What are you looking for?” when she meets them for the first time. “We can talk about academic programs, about the Corps, student life and experiences, but at the end of the day I want them to know if there’s one thing Norwich does, it gives you opportunity to grow in leadership,” she said. “Leadership is kind of a buzzword, but having opportunities uniquely available at Norwich gives you a chance to develop a portfolio of leadership qualifications.”

“We have something special happening here,” said Lasky of the unique opportunities compared to other institutions. “We are founded on the basis of personhood, in the belief of the citizen-soldier and leading the leaders. Whether you’re in the Corps of Cadets or you’re a civilian, it becomes part of your fabric over your years at Norwich.” Again, Lasky highlighted how not just the Corps has the opportunities, saying that “Just living here and being a part of the campus that has its backbone based in military disciplines instills principles across Norwich University. It’s not about going to war or being in the Army. It's about leadership.”

“We will give you the tools to go beyond your imagined limits and instill you with skills to last a lifetime,” said Pelczarski. “Norwich University is the original senior military college, and we birthed the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. When you come to Vermont and set foot on The Hill, you choose leadership, excellence, and Alden Partridge’s vision of the citizen-soldier. You choose Norwich University.”

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