While working at a small Middlefield grocery store in the late 1960s, Durham native Norman Hicks had no idea how it would lead him to a successful career in education.
As a senior at Durham High School, Norm wasn’t sure where he could apply to go to college. He claimed he didn’t have good grades and struggled with financial support. But one day at the store, a customer told him about a start-up school in Middletown that was offering open enrollment. He thought this might be his last chance to be accepted at a college.
In the fall of 1967, this start-up school was known as a branch of Manchester Community College. Norm enrolled, took classes and walked the halls of the early buildings that would later formally become Middlesex Community College. At first, those classes were held in Middletown’s former Woodrow Wilson High School, but only in the afternoons and evenings. He even remembers taking a history class that started at 9 p.m.
By 1968, the school became independently known as Middlesex Community College. “This was a big deal for everyone at the time,” Norm emphasized.
For two years, Norm continued studying science and education during those early years of Middlesex. He got to know faculty members, especially Skip Wiley, professor of chemistry and physics. Skip offered Norm a job in purchasing, something he knew little about but was grateful for the opportunity.
“Middlesex made me what I am today,” declared Norm in his interview.
In 1968, Norm also worked as a lab assistant at the school. He fondly recalled when Middlesex conducted classes in former Connecticut Valley Hospital buildings, particularly Stanley Hall, where some equipment was stored in old prison cells, and the science lab was in the “tin shop.” The school also received discarded lab equipment, sinks and benches from Wesleyan University. Norm’s office was in an old shower stall. In Weeks Hall, the AV department was next to the morgue, which at the time was still being used by the hospital. (These places don’t exist any longer. The Middletown campus was built in 1973 on new property.)
During his time at Middlesex Community College, Norm met his future wife, Charlene Serra, through friends. Charlene also graduated from Middlesex with an associate degree in business and went on to enjoy a highly successful career in marketing beginning at Middletown-based Weekly Reader.
Norm had transferred all his Middlesex course credits to Eastern Connecticut State College (now University) and received his BS in education in 1971, making the dean’s list. He already had a teaching job lined up with East Hampton Public Schools, where he taught for a year after graduation. Norm was then offered another teaching position with the Guilford Public Schools. There he taught science, mathematics, social studies, and reading in the same middle school classroom for 37 years before retiring in 2009.
In 1996, Norm was elected to the Regional School District 13 Board of Education (Durham and Middlefield), eventually serving as its vice chair, developing policy and handling budget issues. Because of this role, he became chairman of the board at Area Cooperative Educational Services based in North Haven (and later chairman emeritus). ACES provides educational resources such as special needs placements and staff development to school districts in New Haven and Middlesex counties.
After Eastern, Norm went on to earn additional advanced degrees—a master’s in biology from Central Connecticut State University in 1978 and a sixth-year diploma of advanced graduate study from Southern Connecticut State University in 1988.
When asked what he would tell prospective students about Middlesex, he exclaimed, “Come to Middlesex and get everything you can out of it. It has so much offer!”
Written by Thea Moritz in 2017