Alumnae of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets (VTCC) return to campus to serve, to remember, and to share.
Initially, the corps created the Women of the VTCC program in 2010 to help cadets see what their futures could hold. Alumnae return to share their stories, to mentor, and to be a resource for female cadets whose day-to-day life in the corps can be male dominated.
Seeing those who succeeded on the same path could help the corps retain women and keep those women motivated to stay the course. Retention of female cadets during their freshman year has improved each year since and by almost 10 percent between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years.
"It really helped me to hear from women who did the same things that I am going through right now and to see them as my role models," said Cadet Wendy Zehner of Sykesville, Md., a junior majoring in meteorology and a member of Naval ROTC.
In addition to attending an annual breakfast with alumnae, current female cadets attend training courses, awareness programs, and networking events throughout the year. These events include a Rape Aggression Defense program led by the Virginia Tech Police Department and the Mentors in Violence Prevention programs coordinated by the Virginia Tech Women's Center.
The event grew into something more. Alumnae said they get the chance to reconnect with friends, and roommates and classmates often return together for the weekend. They also see what the Corps of Cadets is like today.
Women entered the Corps of Cadets in fall 1973, making Virginia Tech the first cadet corps in the nation to provide leadership training to women in a college military environment. The corps welcomed women three years before the federal service academies ended their exclusions. The first class included 25 women, 18 of whom were freshmen, assigned to the all-female L Squadron.
It didn’t take long for women to excel as L Squadron earned the Kohler Cup, given to the outstanding marching unit. L Squadron won the cup for three consecutive years during the six years the unit existed. In 1978 the unit earned the Beverly S. Parish Award, also known as the Gold Cord, as the top unit in the corps.
Denise Greenfield, who earned her degree in international studies in 1988, served as the first female regimental commander, the cadet responsible for leading the entire corps.
Debbie Cheslow, who earned her degree in aerospace and ocean engineering in 1987, was the first Virginia Tech woman to become an Air Force pilot.
Lori Keck-Beach, who earned her degree in liberal arts and sciences in 1992, became the Highty-Tighties’ first female drum major.
These women showed early in the history of women in the Corps of Cadets how female cadets could and would experience success both inside the corps and after graduation.
Today, women hold any and all ranks in the corps and 13 to 15 percent of key leadership roles.
U.S. Navy Lt. Vanessa Rigoroso, who earned her degree in international studies and a minor in leadership studies from the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Rice Center for Leader Development in 2006, attended the 2013 Women of the VTCC as a way to give back. She said she also benefitted from the experience.
"I thought this was such a great idea in terms of bonding [with] the women of the VTCC, both past and present, and bringing about such a sense of belonging. As an alumna, I also learned a lot from the experience. As much as I thought it was going to be only a monologue, the dialogue between the [women] on the panel and the cadets both during and after the event continues to be eye-opening and refreshing."
In 1973, Virginia Tech officially admitted women into the Corps of Cadets. As part of its archives, the corps has the university's two-page original letter announcing the change and the requirements for women.
In fall 2013, the Corps of Cadets reactivated Lima Company to handle growth. That year, 423 new cadets pushed the corps' overall enrollment to 1,066, the largest since 1968.
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