Corps of Cadets develops leaders for New Cadet Week and beyond
They are the first students on campus for the fall semester, the earliest arriving three weeks before classes start. They quickly move into their rooms, retrieve their uniforms from summer storage, and greet their new teammates.
They are the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets cadre: trainer cadets who will be charged with welcoming the first-year cadets. However, before they are permitted to interact with the Class of 2026, these students are required to complete their own training. This year, that training began before their early return to campus.
To address increasingly important topics more thoroughly, including mental health and sexual assault, Corps of Cadets staff members collaborated to create a required Canvas course covering topics ranging from bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and personally identifiable information policy compliance. Commanders, the highest ranking of the cadre, were also required to complete Mental Health First Aid, a daylong course that teaches participants how to identify and support someone advancing toward a mental health or substance abuse crisis.
All participated in discussion boards that were active with article reviews on hazing prevention and how to create positive cultural shifts. In their required sexual assault prevention Canvas training, which was adapted from U.S. Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office guidance, cadets learned how to discuss sexual assault prevention with those under their command and debated ways to apply those principles as cadet leaders.
"The intent of the Canvas course was to get our cadet leaders into the source documents as much as possible. The course was also a method for corps staff to know where there are holes in the training or identify areas where we need to exert more time and energy,” said 2nd Battalion’s senior enlisted advisor, retired U.S. Navy Command Master Chief Richard Curtis Jr.
With the required course underway, cadets were able to move back to campus for the second part of their training: Cadre Week.
While portions of Cadre Week are used to polish marching skills and cadence calling, the same hard-hitting topics from the mandatory summer Canvas course continued once cadets reached campus. Partners from University Legal and Student Conduct visited Upper Quad to further the conversation on hazing prevention. Hokie Wellness, in collaboration with Women's Center staff and corps community members, conducted an additional sexual violence prevention training that was fine-tuned for a military audience, complete with breakout sessions and guided discussions.
“The programming that Hokie Wellness created for the cadre was a combination of best practices in sexual violence prevention, bystander intervention, and our stakeholder model. Our goal was to create programming that was tailored specifically to the needs of our cadre and corps students,” said Chelsea Cleary, Hokie Wellness’ sexual violence prevention specialist.
To tailor that training, Hokie Wellness used its stakeholder model to reach out to former and current cadre members for feedback on their training material and engage those students in delivering that content to their colleagues.
“Part of the sexual violence prevention work we do in Hokie Wellness is not only creating impactful programming, but also building leadership and confidence within our campus community to lead discussions around prevention measures with their peers,” said Cleary.
According to exit surveys from the training, 94 percent of cadre members reported that they felt better equipped to talk about sexual violence prevention in their units after the presentation.
“The training was very successful thanks to our former and current cadre members’ assistance in facilitating the training with their colleagues. As a trainer, seeing how current cadre members were able to connect with the material because someone from their community was involved in sharing that material with them was so inspiring,” Cleary said.
She added, “The cadre facilitators shared how impactful giving the training was for them. That solidified for me how pivotal it is to include stakeholders in the process of sexual violence prevention training and I was grateful for the opportunity to work with our Corps of Cadets community.”
Hokie Wellness also brings to Cadre Week its Helping Friends in Distress workshop that will teach cadre to identify escalating levels of stress, from homesickness experienced by new cadets to suicidal ideation crises. Cadre are urged to make themselves approachable to those struggling with training, and throughout New Cadet Week, they will be challenged to know when to toe the line on strict discipline or take a concerned approach with a new cadet in distress.
Corps staff and cadets will round out the on-campus week of training with small group discussions on gender equality amongst cadre, review of the Corps of Cadets regulations manual, basic first aid, and the cadet honor code.
The training schedule intentionally takes a broad approach to societal issues while focusing on cadre leadership development with a heavy nod to team building. The skills the cadre take from training to share with new cadets are not just military in nature, they will also guide the newest members of the corps to focus on teamwork and service to others.
Mental health discussions encourage cadets to tune into others around them and provide support in the hope of erasing mental health stigma. Sexual violence prevention and bystander intervention teach cadets to look out for one another and enforce the importance of setting an appropriate climate so all can succeed. Even military drill — the most visible cadet training on campus — has a purpose in leadership instruction: It teaches discipline and followership as the first steps toward being a successful leader.
As the Cadre Week program molds the leaders that teach the newest cadets, those new cadets will become accustomed to what good leadership looks and sounds like. They, in turn, will grow into that expectation, creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of positive leadership development.
Though New Cadet Week is their busiest time, the cadre will maintain their trainer role for the first six weeks of the semester. Cadet commanders will serve in their role for the whole semester while also serving as student leaders in residential well-being, formerly known as residental advisors. The dual role doubles the training – cadet commanders are required to complete residential well-being student leader training as well as Cadre Week. For Cadet Michael Stanley, a senior majoring in building construction and the corps' Golf Company commander, Cadre Week has prepared him for the challenge ahead.
“The training during Cadre Week has made me more comfortable going into New Cadet Week in my role of company commander. I have more confidence in myself, and I am more confident in my team knowing that they’ve completed this training. I know that we can address whatever may come up during cadet training and the semester. We are ready,” said Stanley.
New Cadet Week starts Aug. 11 and concludes with the New Cadet Parade on Aug. 18. All local community members are welcome.