Alumni: "The backbone of the corps"
Participants in the Caldwell March wear pins from their sponsors as part of a program that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
Walter Medding didn’t walk with first-year members of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets in the spring 2009 leg of the Caldwell March. In fact, it's been more than six decades since he was a cadet.
But even after all that time Medding hasn't forgotten what the corps meant to him -- so when he learned he could help today's cadets with $500 to sponsor a marcher, he agreed.
"I just have a lot of faith in Virginia Tech," says Medding,
of Fredricksburg, Va. "I think it's a great university. It helped me in my life, and I'm sure it helps almost everybody that goes in."
Caldwell March sponsors donated $116,000 in fall 2008 and spring 2009 combined. Because of their support, and the generosity of other donors, the corps does a lot more for its cadets than it otherwise could.
Because of donations, last year the corps could afford to send all first-year cadets to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. Cadets like Julie Deisher, an English major from Gainesville, Va., say it was a valuable experience.
"I was very moved," she says. "It was something that I think all cadets should go and see [because] that's part of what we do, our service. We need to be in contact with our military history."
Deisher, who plans to become a lawyer in the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps, says today's cadets appreciate the strong alumni support their organization receives.
"Alumni," she says, "are the backbone of the corps."
Sponsoring cadets is just one way alumni help the corps. Many former cadets have contributed to the Emerging Leader Scholarship program, which is expected to provide $1.4 million to cadets for the 2009-2010 school year.
Cadets also benefit from named scholarships that have been endowed by graduates of the corps or the university at large.
Pat and Nancy Artis founded a successful information technology company in 1986 and are among the university's most generous donors. Pat Artis graduated from Virginia Tech's engineering mechanics program, but was not in the corps of cadets. Nonetheless, he and Nancy helped create the VTCC Barqawi '09/Artis '71 Scholarship.
The scholarship is named for both Pat Artis and Adnan Barqawi, who was named the university's Undergraduate Student Leader of the Year for 2009.
Pat and Nancy Artis have helped cadets in other ways as well. A gift they made to the College of Engineering allows promising students to take courses at the National Test Pilot School in Mojave, Calif. Cadets Adam Smith of Ashburn, Va., and Ryan Meritt of Avon, N.Y., took advantage of that opportunity in 2008.
Meritt and Smith, who plan to serve in the Air Force, say the course was an excellent supplement to their engineering education.
"It can sometimes take a whole semester to comprehend such fields as [aircraft] stability and control, but once you get up in the aircraft and actually apply it, it all comes together," says Meritt, who expects to complete his master's in aerospace engineering in 2010.
Ryan Meritt, Pat Artis, and
Adam Smith (left to right)
"It was extremely revealing," agrees Smith, who expects to complete his bachelor's in mechanical engineering in 2010. "Most engineers know about the calculations and the theory but none of them actually get the hands on experience to fly the test flight."
Pat Artis said that was exactly why he wanted to help engineering students get a more firsthand experience with airplanes.
"With a set of equations you can solve any variable," he says. "The question is, "What does the variable mean? Why is it important for an airplane?"
Nancy Artis says she enjoys meeting students like Meritt and Smith and learning more about their experiences. She appreciates that Meritt and Smith sent her a copy of a paper they wrote for the flight-testing course.
"We derive a lot of pleasure and reward from interacting with the students," Nancy Artis says.
She and her husband also sponsored a student for the fall 2008 leg of the Caldwell March. Like all donors to that initiative they received a photograph and letter of thanks from the cadet.
For most Caldwell March sponsors, that correspondence is a nice reminder that gifts to the corps make a difference for young individuals.
But some sponsors interact with the marchers to greater degree, by actually walking alongside them. Sandy Siegrist, of Pilot Mountain, N.C., said she enjoyed seeing today's cadets helping each other during especially challenging portions of the fall 2008 march.
"At one point on the march," she recalls, "there was a very steep climb, absolutely no trail, and they were scratching at the dirt with their hands, dragging one another up there, carrying a few people, because you are only as fast as the slowest man."
Siegrist continued: "The upperclassmen who were there in a role to lead, were cheering those kids on like real leaders. ... That's the kind of thing I experienced as a cadet, and I know how valuable that is."
Siegrist has been an executive at Bank of America, has worked in mergers and acquisitions for Microsoft, and now works for Expedia. She says she still draws on lessons in how to lead that she learned in the corps of cadets "everyday in my work and my personal life."
Through their support, alumni like Siegrist are helping today's cadets to learn those valuable lessons as well.