Norma Singleton knows what it means to start from scratch.

In 1979, she began a small business, a gourmet cookware shop and cafe. A few years later, she embarked on a career as a university administrator. And in the last three years, she has moved twice and earned a master's degree in administration.

All of which, she said, brought her to her new job as director of marketing for George Washington University in Northern Virginia. While GWU's main campus in the District of Columbia's Foggy Bottom area is a well-established institution, its new branch in eastern Loudoun County is so young -- four months old -- that construction workers far outnumber students. The campus, part of a huge residential and research and development project, consists of one building in a vast sea of mud.

Talk about starting from scratch.

"What is going on in Northern Virginia is an incredibly exciting opportunity," Singleton said last week after one day on the job. "What a challenge ... to create a campus from the very beginning."

As director of marketing, Singleton, 45, will promote the campus's programs, mainly graduate programs in engineering, business and education, to draw students. The university hopes to enroll 200 students for the fall 1991 semester and is targeting Northern Virginia residents.

"I think it's more than do-able," said Singleton. She said she was heartened by a strong response to the university's first announcement of an upcoming executive master's in business administration program.

But recruiting students may be the easiest part of her job. She will also try to establish partnerships with an array of corporations, such as British Aerospace PLC and Xerox Corp., that have operations just a few miles from the campus.

The campus is under the development of the Charles E. Smith Cos. It will occupy 50 acres of University Center, a 576-acre development at Routes 7 and 28 that was planned during the period of rapid growth Loudoun County experienced in the 1980s. The county is now in a building slowdown, but University Center's first phase is underway. By the time it is completed in 20 years, the development will have 7 million square feet of office space and hundreds of houses and apartments.

As a further link to the corporate world, Irwin Price, associate vice president of external programs for GWU, said he will rely on Singleton to help contact local companies, establish joint research projects, find out what kinds of courses employees want and offer staff help and laboratory space.

"That basically will make the success of our {Northern Virginia} campus," said Price, who is Singleton's supervisor. Price said Singleton was selected after an extensive search in which candidates were interviewed by members of nearly every department at the university.

Another challenge facing Singleton will be to attract students who are not working toward degrees. The university plans to set up a number of adult continuing education courses, with some emphasis on offering management skills workshops to local technical professionals.

That part of the job is what Singleton knows best. She comes to GWU from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she spent 16 months as U-Va.'s director of marketing for the Division of Continuing Education. There, Singleton helped directors of seven continuing education centers around the state find ways to attract students. Before that, she spent seven years in the same type of job at Indiana University at South Bend.

Sandra Hobbs, acting director of U-Va.'s Center for Continuing Education in Northern Virginia, said Singleton helped make it easier for students at her center to register by phone and facsimile machine, necessities for working adults who might not be able to get away from their jobs to register in person at the Merrifield branch.

Singleton also was involved in developing new brochures for the center and helping Hobbs analyze how the center draws students and how it might do better in the future.

Hobbs said she appreciated Singleton's ability to quickly size up a problem.

"When you work with her on a project, she's one of these people who immediately say, 'Oh, we need to do this first and that second,' " Hobbs said. "I really miss her."