Jocelyne Couture-Nowak

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Jocelyne Couture-Nowak
Jocelyne Couture-Nowak
Jocelyne M. Couture

(1958-02-17)February 17, 1958
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
DiedApril 16, 2007(2007-04-16) (aged 49)
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.
Alma materNova Scotia Teachers College (Truro), Saint Mary's University (Halifax)
Scientific career
FieldsFrench language
InstitutionsNova Scotia Agricultural College, Virginia Tech

Jocelyne M. Couture-Nowak (February 17, 1958[1] – April 16, 2007) was an instructor of French in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia and was the only Canadian victim of the Virginia Tech shooting. She was a native of Canada, and while residing in Truro, Nova Scotia, she co-founded the first Francophone school in the region.[2][3]

Life and career[edit]

Born in Montreal, she was raised in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the eldest of five children. She graduated from Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School in 1981.

Couture initially worked at a newly opened daycare operated by the Yarmouth Boys and Girls Club. She began to pursue her teaching career at the Nova Scotia Teachers College in Truro. She graduated in 1989 then obtained a degree from St. Mary's University in Halifax in the early 1990s. While living in Truro, Couture worked as a French instructor in the Humanities Department at Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC). She married Jerzy Nowak, an instructor in the Horticulture Department at NSAC. Couture-Nowak had two daughters, Sylvie and Francine.[4][5]

With two other local Francophone parents, Couture-Nowak established the École acadienne de Truro, the first French language public school for central Nova Scotia in September, 1997.[2][3] Operated by the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, the École acadienne de Truro has grown from 36 students in 1997 to 118 students in grades Primary through 10. The school's first class of seniors graduated in 2006.[2]

In 2001, Couture-Nowak and her husband moved their family to Blacksburg, Virginia, where her husband had accepted a position as Professor and Head of the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech. Couture-Nowak accepted a position as an Instructor of French in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature.[6] Throughout her life Couture-Nowak described herself as being a proud French-Canadian.[7]


Nowak's memorial stone on the Virginia Tech campus

Couture-Nowak was teaching an Intermediate French class in Room 211 at Norris Hall on the morning of April 16, 2007 when she was killed by Seung-Hui Cho as one of the 32 victims in the Virginia Tech shooting. Couture-Nowak, one of the first to be shot in Norris 211, was 49 years old when she died.

Upon hearing gunfire nearby, just before Cho arrived at Norris 211, Couture-Nowak attempted to barricade the classroom door with the help of a student and ushered her students to the back of the class for their safety while 911 was called. The attempt at barricading the door proved unsuccessful.[8] Couture-Nowak and 11 of the 22 registered students[9] died. Couture-Nowak died in front of the door[9] and next to the teacher's desk.[9]

Posthumous recognition[edit]

The Senate of Canada observed one minute of silence in tribute to Ms. Jocelyne Couture-Nowak.[10] In Nova Scotia, more than 400 people attended a commemorative service for her.[11]

In speeches given in the Canadian parliament shortly after the shooting, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Opposition leader Stéphane Dion made special mention of Couture-Nowak. Nova Scotian Premier Rodney MacDonald also made special mention of Couture-Nowak, and in particular spoke of her contribution to the francophone community with her key role in the development of École acadienne in Truro.[12]

Couture-Nowak was discussed, along with Liviu Librescu, as potentially becoming the "iconic image that will forever recall the massacre at Virginia Tech" by CBC News Editor-in-Chief Tony Burman.[13]

Virginia Tech named her an Honorary Distinguished Instructor[14][15] and the Virginia Tech Foundation established the Jocelyne Couture-Nowak Scholarship, awarded to French majors annually.[16] Nova Scotia Agricultural College also established a bursary in her name.[17]

Students at Virginia Tech have also organized a new foreign language program named Teach for Madame in honor of Couture-Nowak, wherein members teach French to elementary school students.[18][19]

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak was remembered by her former French students that she taught at the all girls boarding school, Chatham Hall located in Chatham, Virginia by a candlelight vigil.[20]

In May 2008, Virginia Tech named Couture-Nowak's widower, Jerzy Nowak, as the founding director of its newly created Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.[21] He served as its director for three years, until his retirement from the university.[22]


  1. ^ "RootsWeb: Database Index". Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  2. ^ a b c "Jocelyne Couture-Nowak". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-04-19.
  3. ^ a b Chaisson, Monique (August 11, 2007). "Remembering Jocelyne". Truro Daily News.
  4. ^ Johnston, Beth (2007-04-21). "Couture-Nowak had zest for life". The Daily News (Halifax). Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-05.
  5. ^ "Joecelyne Couture Nowak" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-16. Retrieved 2007-08-05.
  6. ^ "Jocelyne Couture-Nowak" (PDF). Nova Scotia Agricultural College. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-16. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  7. ^ "Victim from Quebec was 'proud Canadian, dedicated to French'". CBC News. April 17, 2007. Archived from the original on April 19, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  8. ^ Harper, Tim (April 19, 2007). "Canadian's class hardest hit". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2007-04-19.
  9. ^ a b c Hayasaki, Erika (April 25, 2007). "A deadly hush in Room 211 -- then the killer returned". Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ "The Late Jocelyne Couture-Nowak - Silent Tribute". Debates of the Senate (Hansard), 1st Session, 39th Parliament, Volume 143, Issue 85. Senate of Canada. April 17, 2007. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
  11. ^ "Amis et ex-collègues de Jocelyne Couture-Nowak lui rendent hommage". La Presse Canadienne. April 20, 2007.(French)
  12. ^ "Province Offers Condolences to Families of Virginia Tech Shooting Victims". Government of Nova Scotia. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
  13. ^ Burman, Tony (April 18, 2007). "A story of victims and issues, not only the killer". CBC News. Retrieved July 24, 2007.
  14. ^ "Virginia Tech graduation: Tears mix with joy as victims are honored". Richmond Times-Dispatch. May 13, 2007.
  15. ^ Hincker, Larry (June 5, 2007). "2007-08 budget, new academic and student affairs building among the resolutions approved by Virginia Tech Board of Visitors". Virginia Tech.
  16. ^ [1] Archived 2008-05-09 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech website, Retrieved on Feb. 19, 2008.
  17. ^ "Virginia Tech teacher remembered as loving, passionate". CBC News. April 20, 2007. Archived from the original on April 22, 2007.
  18. ^ Roberts, Ashley (February 13, 2008). "Teaching for "Madame"". WSLS-TV. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
  19. ^ Mallory, Anna L. (February 22, 2008). "Virginia Tech students remember a teacher's 'natural gift'". The Roanoke Times. Archived from the original on 2013-02-01. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-08-11. Retrieved 2013-05-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ Miroff, Nick (May 29, 2008). "Professor Who Lost His Wife In Killings to Lead Peace Center". Washington Post.
  22. ^ "Nowak to retire from VT Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention". WDBJ. May 18, 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-07-23. Retrieved 2013-08-12.

Further reading[edit]