Strong, driven women
Forty-nine years ago, women blazed a trail into the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. As Virginia Tech marks its 100th anniversary of female students, those trailblazers from L Squadron can celebrate, as the era of restricting women to one company in the corps has long passed.
Lt. Col. Don Russell, deputy commandant for 2nd Battalion, said, “I have selected 20 battalion commanders over the years. Roughly half of those commanders happen to be women. Strong, driven women of character have been integral to the fabric of this corps for decades.”
The spring semester’s cadet leadership roster reinforced that sentiment. While women make up 17 percent of the active U.S. military, female cadets comprised 20 percent of the corps’ Class of 2022 and were selected for half of the top leadership positions. Most notably, all three battalions within the regiment were commanded by women.
That did not come as a surprise to them, though.
Skyler Powell, the spring semester’s 3rd Battalion commander, said, "We’ve been given these jobs all along, so it was not a surprise when we were selected for battalion command [or any other position]. You notice it, and then you move on.” Powell graduated with a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics in May.
Eleanor Verburg, who commanded 1st Battalion this spring, agrees. “My goal was to succeed in whatever position I was in. I never felt there was a job in the corps that I wasn’t qualified to fill,” said Verburg, who will earn a degree in civil engineering in December.
Second Battalion’s spring semester commander, Claudia McCarthy, who is finishing her degree in building construction, had interest in attending the U.S. Naval Academy but fell in love with the people at Virginia Tech. “I never really thought about being labeled as a woman in the corps or took it into account.”
Capt. Jamie McGrath, director of the corps’ Rice Center for Leader Development, said it’s important to have people of varied backgrounds in command positions. “We need diversity in leadership for diversity in thought,” McGrath said. “Each of these leaders brings a unique perspective that makes the whole organization better.”
Russell said, “They are great cadets who happen to be women. It is about selecting the best leader for the right opportunity based on merits of past performance.”
The corps will welcome an equally diverse leadership team for the fall semester, which includes its 10th female regimental commander. Denise Shuster ’88 became the first in 1987.