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Kathy Fullhart enhances the Virginia Tech experience for cadets and their families

September 21, 2017

Kathy Fullhart passes s'mores packages to smiling cadets.
Kathy Fullhart chats with cadets while gathering s'mores kits she prepared during New Cadet Week.

You won’t hear her voice on a megaphone or see her face on a big-screen. But in the sentiments of 1,100 cadets and their families, you’ll feel her impact.

Kathy Fullhart, wife of Commandant of Cadets Maj. Gen. Randy Fullhart, quietly volunteers her time and talents to support the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. Stuffing envelopes, cooking breakfast during finals week, taking photographs, and sewing Growley II’s mascot wardrobe are among her many contributions to the corps.

“As a military spouse for 32 years, I learned the multiplying effect volunteers can have in a community,” said Kathy. “It was a natural transition to volunteer where my husband worked when we arrived at Virginia Tech in 2011.”

Kathy knows first-hand what it’s like to send a child to college. The Fullharts were residing in Europe when their son, Steve, enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

“Sending a child to college is complicated,” said Kathy. “I understand the concern about having a child far away from home. For some, especially the parents who do not have a military familiarity, the corps adds an additional layer of complication and anxiety.”

In volunteering, Kathy seeks to mitigate the fears that come with transitioning to the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech. “By answering questions, listening, reassuring, and occasionally offering a gentle reality check, I hope I help the parents transition from parents of children to parents of capable, young adults,” she said.

While she empathizes with parents, she advocates for cadets and their independence. “Mobile phones and social media make instantaneous communication easy, but I am not sure that communication is in the best interest of the maturing young adults,” she said. In an age of increasing accessibility and mobility, the role of community remains invaluable in human development.

“Humans need a support system in times of trouble and champions to celebrate with in times of joy,” said Kathy. For cadets, the corps offers just that. “One only has to be a fly on the wall at a corps reunion to know that community continues beyond the four years cadets are on campus. Cadets and alumni form an extended, multigenerational family.”

Navigating college life can be like maneuvering an obstacle course — literally. It’s challenges such as obstacle courses during New Cadet Week that, according to Kathy, probably appear intimidating to someone who’s new to the pack. The interactions Kathy observes between upperclass and new cadets is evidence of the familial bond forged among the corps.

“The patience and encouragement the upperclass cadets demonstrate, just two to three years after they were in the new cadets’ shoes, is a testament to the maturity they quickly learn from their participation in the corps,” said Kathy. “The determination, relief, and smiles that show on the faces of the new cadets as they realize they can navigate some, if not all, of the obstacles is one of the first glimpses that they are gaining the courage to push out of their comfort zone.”

Embracing discomfort may be a staple of life in the corps, but cadets have no trouble making themselves comfortable at the Fullharts' home.

“We entertain about 200 cadets in our home each year, and seeing them relax, consume large quantities of food, and sometimes fall asleep in a comfortable chair does my maternal heart good,” said Kathy.   

Cadet Mairead Novak, of Lynchburg, Virginia serves as regimental commander of the Corps of Cadets. The senior majoring in Russian and political science, both in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, admires Kathy for her service and dedication to the cadets.

“She shows a genuine interest in us, to the extent that she opens up her home to cadets to eat delicious home-cooked meals, play pool, and even watch football games,” said Novak. “You can tell that she goes out of her way to involve herself in our lives, which is not something she has to spend her time doing, and I admire her for that.”

Whether communicating with parents, capturing memories through photography, or hosting cadets in her home, Kathy’s contribution to the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech enriches the cadet student experience.

“What you learn outside the classroom has a lot to do with who shows up inside the classroom,” said Kathy. “Learning to challenge one’s own current beliefs, learning to respect individuals with different beliefs, and learning to cooperate with people who are new in one’s life are critical to future success. To graduate a well-rounded, responsible, productive adult requires just as much time and attention of the institution outside the classroom as is put into the study of specific subjects inside the classroom.”

Written by Tiffany Woodall.

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