Augustana Sophomore to Appear on ‘Jeopardy!’

Hannah Norem

Answer: She’s the Augustana University sophomore selected to be a contestant on the hit TV quiz show “Jeopardy!”

Question: Who is Hannah Norem?

That’s correct!

Norem, a native of Houston, Texas, received word from “Jeopardy!” officials last week that she was selected as one of only 15 contestants from across the nation to participate in the show’s famed college tournament.

She’ll travel to Los Angeles, California, in January to tape the episodes. The 2016 “Jeopardy! College Championship” will air on ABC Feb. 1-12.

“It’s exciting,” Norem said. “It’s very cool. I love that I get to help make ‘Jeopardy!’ cool and it’s awesome that I get to represent Augie.”

‘This Weird Knack for Knowing Weird Bits of Trivia’

A double major in political science/government & international affairs and religion, Norem credits her parents (her dad is Augustana alumnus Dr. Nathan Norem ’79) for instilling in her “a lifelong love of learning.”

When she was five years old, she didn’t wish for toys or a new bike. She wanted a set of encyclopedias.

By six, she had memorized all the U.S. presidents, along with facts about each one.

“I have a great ability to memorize things. So I have this weird knack for knowing weird bits of trivia.”
– Hannah Norem, Class of 2018

She said she’s always been a fan of “Jeopardy!” and decided to try out for the show’s “College Championship” edition after her mom suggested it.

“My mom sent me an email that said, ‘If you want to pay for grad school, this is how to do it,’ along with a link to the online registration.”

The Road to 'Jeopardy!'

To apply for the show, Norem’s first step was to complete a 50-question online test. She was allowed 15 seconds to answer each question.

From there, she received an email from “Jeopardy!” staffers informing her that she’d been selected for an in-person audition in Columbus, Ohio.

Among thousands of applicants, Norem had become one of only 300 college students nationwide selected for in-person auditions.

Norem and two friends left for the audition on Friday, Nov. 20  the same day a major snowstorm socked Sioux Falls with more than a foot of snow. Driving in icy and near-white-out conditions, the trio took 19 hours to reach Columbus.

“We got [to the audition] with 15 minutes to spare,” Norem said. 

At the start of the audition, Norem was required to take another 50-question test. This time, she only had eight seconds to answer each question.

Norem and other passing applicants were then placed into groups of three where they played rounds of “Jeopardy!” before judges and others.

“I did pretty well,” Norem said. “I only missed one question.”

After the audition, Norem and her friends drove back to campus, uncertain of what to expect next.

The Call

As member of The Augustana Band, Norem was playing the French horn during practice on Monday, Nov. 30, when her cell phone began to vibrate. The caller was labeled as “unknown,” but the location showed as California.

Out of respect to her band director, Norem let the call go to voice mail.

“I couldn’t just jump up and take it  that would be so rude!”

After practice, she listened to the message. It delivered the news she’d been hoping for.

“They said they wanted to book me as a contestant. Over J-Term they’ll fly me out to L.A. I’ll be there from Jan. 3-7.”

Between now and then, Norem will be busy  studying for final exams, completing final papers, and preparing for “Jeopardy!”

“I’ll be watching the show as often as I can. I’m practicing buzzing in with a pen. And I’m studying topics that I’m not super-good on,” she said. “I’ll be making lots of flash cards over Christmas.”

At Augustana, and Beyond

When Norem was seven years old, she dressed up as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for Halloween.

It was likely a moment of foreshadowing.

At Augustana, she has chosen a pre-law emphasis. After graduation, she hopes to attend law school at either the University of Texas at Austin or the University of Minnesota.

“I really want to be a judge,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in the ins and outs of the law.”

As a member of Civitas, Augustana’s honor’s program, Norem took a religion class from Dr. Ann Pederson. The experience was so impactful that she decided to double major in religion.

“I was really drawn to the way you have to think critically when studying religion. It’s really interesting the way government and religion work together as majors,” Norem said.

She decided to apply to Augustana “on a whim” after hearing about the University from family members. Her grandparents met at Augustana in the 1940s. Later, four of their five children  including Hannah’s father, Nathan  would go on to attend Augustana.

Norem said the scholarships she received for her academic achievements and musical abilities made the choice to attend AU an easy one.

During her time as a student, she’s made an effort to be involved on campus. In addition to her memberships in the Augustana Band and Civitas, she serves as the marketing governor for the Union Board of Governors, is a senator for the Augustana Student Association, was a Viking Days parade co-chair and a Viking Guide for Welcome Week, and is an Advancement Ambassador. She also works in the Writing Center and as a tutor for the religion department.

She counts Dr. Peter Schotten (Political Science/Government & International Affairs), Dr. Ann Pederson (Religion) and Dr. Jeffrey Miller (English) among her most influential professors so far.

“Dr. Schotten is great. He challenges you as a student. He pushes you to think in ways you never thought before. He makes you work really hard but you feel so satisfied at the end that you’re grateful. And, his puns … they’re incredible, too.”

“Dr. Miller took me out to Bagel Boy after I got the call about being selected for the in-person audition and gave me all these tips,” she said. “He’s great.”

“I love the Midwest friendliness here,” she said. “I went to a huge high school  I had 879 students in my class. Coming here, I feel like I know a lot more people. The professors are so accessible. In my classes, I feel more willing and able to speak up and be part of the discussions. The ‘Augie Advantage’ is a real thing.”