Norris Hall today: A Center for Peace Studies

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

BLACKSBURG, VA (WWBT) - After April 16th, 2007, Virginia Tech University professor Jerzy Nowak devoted his life to building peace.

Astonishing in itself, but Nowak has more courage than most. He lives out this life goal every day in the shadow of his greatest personal tragedy.

Notorious for the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the deadly classrooms in Norris Hall now houses Virginia Tech's Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.

Jerzy Nowak is the director. Jocelyne Couture-Nowak was Jerzy's wife.

To her students, she was simply "Madame." Her classroom suffered the most casualties on April 16 in the Virginia Tech massacre. She and 11 students were systematically shot to death, six others were wounded.

Rachel: "Do you feel like you're closer to wife sometimes, being here?"

Jerzy Nowak: "Yes. On the weekends usually. It's still so empty space... Your mind starts wandering."

Jerzy says it was difficult adjusting, but he has so much to look forward to.

"It's full of life when students come over here," said Jerzy.

He hosts a student club for non-violence, and he's developing a curriculum. Students will one day be able to graduate from Tech with a minor in peace studies. He's lined up speakers from around the world and will work with at risk youths in area schools.

The center even has video conferencing giving it the capability to reach out to universities around the world to help foster new ideas.

He's developing a Hokie Spirit Trail to wind around the campus. It will end at Norris Hall with a memorial to the lives lost here. And he's developing a smart garden for Norris. It will feature sensors and small cameras, giving an up close look to plants and flowers. A tribute to the engineering students who died here.

Jerzy says this is exactly what his beloved wife would have wanted.

"I feel like this is my role and obligation, moral obligation to foster the utilization of this space," he said.

This will be Jerzy's first full semester running the center in Norris Hall. His ideas are fascinating and contagious. His courage heartbreaking and inspiring.

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