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Outstanding Virginia Tech Women

   

A photo of Pat Merryman and Virginia Tech alumna Hoda Kotb of Dateline NBC. Pat Merryman and Virginia Tech alumna Hoda Kotb of Dateline NBC

Ella Graham Agnew


In 1910, she became the first woman appointed for field service to the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the first female home demonstration agent. She began working for the college in 1914 when home and farm demonstration work was placed under the Extension Division of land-grant universities. She developed a handbook for the use of county home demonstration agents, the first publication of its kind. She founded an organization -- initially called Tomato Clubs -- that, by her retirement in 1919, had spread to 88 counties and four cities in Virginia and reached 321,000 women and girls. In 1926, Tech presented her with its Certificate of Merit, the first time it had been given to a woman, in recognition of her service to rural sections of Virginia.


Lucy Hawk Banks ('80)


In 1993 this track star became the first woman ever inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.


Marian Spearman Bengel ('49)


She was the first woman in Tennessee to become a licensed Professional Engineer.


Bridget Ryan Berman ('82)


She was the president and chief operating officer of Polo Ralph Lauren Retail Group. Based at company headquarters on Madison Avenue in New York City, Berman oversaw 34 stores, 115 factory outlets, 5,000 employees, and around $1 billion in sales.


Annette C. Brown ('73)


She is the 27th woman to ascend to the rank of rear admiral, lower half, in the U. S. Navy. At the time of her promotion in 1998, she was only one of five female rear admirals in her specialty, shore station expert.


Cheryl A. Butler ('76)


In 1973, she and Deborah J. Noss became the first women to sign up to become cadets in the corps. Along with 25 other women who joined the corps that year, they were the first full-fledged female members of a corps of cadets in the entire nation.


Jackie Butler ('70)


In 1966, she was one of the first six black women to enroll. As students, she and Marguerite Harper challenged such vestiges of the past as flying the Confederate flag and playing Dixie at sporting events.


Renee Dennis ('89)


In 1988, this basketball standout became the first female athlete at Tech to have her jersey retired, and in 1997 she became the first -- and currently the only -- black woman inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.


Linda DeVito ('82)


In 1980 she became the first female General Manager of WUVT AM/FM. DeVito was elected by the Publications Board and served for two consecutive years, only one of a handful of general managers to do so in WUVT's nearly 40 year history at the time. Many young women have followed as leaders of this student-run radio station. DeVito graduated in 1982 with a degree in Communications.


Regina Dugan (‘84, ‘85)


In 2009, she was selected to head up the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). She is the sole inventor of a patent for refueling satellites in orbit, and has several additional provisional patents filed.


Linda Edmonds ('70, '76, '79)


In 1966, she was one of first six black women to enroll at Virginia Tech. She earned three degrees -- a bachelor's in clothing, textiles, and related art in 1970; an MBA in 1976; and a doctorate in general business in 1979 -- at the university.


Peggy Fox ('86)


She has been the morning anchor and reporter for the Washington, DC CBS affiliate WUSA-TV. For a news story "Stranger Among Us," she carried a hidden camera and literally stalked 25 public elementary schools, trying to find out how safe children are in school. No one stopped her from approaching the children. After her show aired, she won a special merit award from the National Association of School Law Enforcement officers. Fox has racked up an impressive array of awards for her work, including an Emmy for her feature "Playing with Lead," which pointed to the toxic lead paint coating some playground equipment. Following her broadcast, the equipment was dismantled and the crumbling lead paint removed.


Laura Jane Harper


In 1960, she was appointed dean of the two-campus School of Home Economics. She organized the school in conjunction with Radford, which was the "Women's Division of VPI." The school later became a college within VPI, and she was the first woman academic dean in Tech history. During 31 years at the university, she became a nationally and internationally noted nutritionist, educator, and equal rights advocate. She initiated doctoral programs, recruited minority students, and spearheaded the drive to build Wallace Hall. She was a mentor and motivator and pushed for equal education and equal treatment for all people. Harper Hall is named for her.


Marguerite Harper ('70)


In 1966, she was one of the first six black women to enroll. As students, she and Jackie Butler challenged such vestiges of the past as flying the Confederate flag and playing Dixie at sporting events.


Jean Harshbarger ('74)


She was elected president of the class of 1974, the first female class president at Virginia Tech.


Kylene Barker Hibbard ('78)


In 1979, she was named Miss America.


Pat Hyer ('83)


This Tech alumna has served as an associate provost and has spent her career working on behalf of women and minorities at the university.


Dorothy Buckton James


In 1974, she became the first woman appointed to head an academic department (Political Science) in an area other than home economics.


Hoda Kotb ('86)


Kotb is a 1986 communications graduate. She began working for WUVT, the student-run radio station, as soon as she came to campus. Later, she and a friend would create the station's news department. This work prepared her for her future work as a journalist. Kotb currently works for NBC news, where she can be seen on Dateline NBC and The Today Show. She has covered stories all over the world, including Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.


Lucy Lee Lancaster ('25)


In 1921, she was one of the first five women to enroll at Virginia Tech. She spent her employment years at the library, beginning during her college days and retiring in 1975.


Sharyn E. McCrumb ('85)


She has written over 15 novels and has won numerous awards for her books, including a Kentucky Colonel honorary title. Several of her novels have made the New York Times best seller list, and she is the only three-time winner of the Agatha Award. Her books are required reading at over 25 universities and high schools nationwide.


Peggy S. Meszaros


With her appointment as senior vice president and provost in 1995, she became the first woman provost and the highest-ranking woman in Virginia Tech history.


Patricia Ann Miller ('59)


In 1959, she was the first woman commissioned during ceremonies at Tech. Although she pre-registered nearly every quarter for military subjects, she was told that the corps was not for women. During the winter quarter of her senior year, she applied for a commission in the Medical Specialists Corps and received it during the year-end school ceremony. She was the last one to march onto the field and was the last one to receive her commission.


Elsa Murano ('87, '90)


She succeeded Tech alumna Catherine O. Woteki as the top food safety official in the U. S. Department of Agriculture -- the undersecretary for food safety -- early in the George W. Bush administration.


Deborah J. Noss ('75)


In 1973, she and Cheryl Butler became the first women to sign up to become cadets in the corps. Along with 25 other women who joined the corps that year, they were the first full-fledged female members of a corps of cadets in the entire nation.


Linda Patterson ('76)


In 1992, she was named chief of the International Space Station Mechanisms and Maintenance Group, where she supervises about 30 engineers who make sure that the thousands of space station parts fit together. Before that, she was the guidance and control officer of Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center.


Barbara Pendergrass ('87)


This Tech alumna has served as dean of students. In that position, she has worked diligently to create welcoming environments on campus for all people and to make the university community more accepting of everyone.


Dr. Sue Ellen Rocovich ('76)


This alumna with a Ph.D. in genetics later became a member of the Board of Visitors.


Ella Russell ('26, '28)


She was probably the first alumna to join the faculty. After graduation, she went to work for the chemistry department, teaching until her death in 1949.


Beverly H. Sgro ('73)


In 1990, this Tech alumna became the first woman to hold the title of dean of students. While she was dean of students, she was tapped to be the Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia. In addition, she served on the board of visitors.


Sue Ann "Susie" Shertzer ('68)


In 1967, she became the first female student elected president of the YMCA, making her the only woman in the country to head a chapter of the organization.


Stacey Smith ('99)


She used her Marshall Scholarship to prepare for a career researching ways to preserve endangered plants and habitats. She started examining the way native people interact with their ecosystems while doing summer research in Costa Rica.


Sandra Sullivan ('66)


In 1982, she became the first woman vice president and the first woman to hold a university-wide executive position on campus. She was vice president for student affairs until 1988, when she resigned.


Ruth Louise Terrett ('25)


In 1921, she was one of the first five women to enroll at Virginia Tech. She started the first women's basketball team. She also donned a cadet uniform and climbed to the top of the college's water tank, usurping a traditional cadet test of manhood. In 1925, she was the first woman to graduate in engineering, with a degree in civil engineering.


Jo Ann Smith Trail ('56)


She received the Millennium International Volunteer Award for her work on behalf of international visitors and immigrants to the United States. She founded the International Friendship Association at the University of Idaho and organized a "Walk through the Islamic World" cultural education project, a bike-loan program for international students, home-stay programs, and numerous cultural galas in Moscow, Idaho.


Angi Ma Wong ('68)


She is an intercultural consultant, corporate trainer, and founder of Pacific Heritage Books. She earned international recognition as an expert on the U. S.-Asian business market, and her work touches on a wide range of subjects, from the conventional to the non-traditional. Wong, who helps her clients practice feng shui, a Chinese environmental system of placement and energy alignment, was featured in Time magazine.


Catherine O. Woteki ('71, '72)


She served as undersecretary for food safety in the U. S. Department of Agriculture during the Clinton Administration.


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Women's History at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech President Julian Ashby Burruss convinced the board of visitors to accept women as full-time students way back in 1921. And Virginia Tech's female students have never looked back. Learn more about the history of women at Virginia Tech.