When Citadel alumna Lisa Lugo started her freshman year at the military college in 1998, she was new to the state of South Carolina and to the world of military education. She was also part of the school's third class of female cadets.
The first week, known as "hell week" of physical training was tough.
"We didn't know of any support groups," Lugo recalled. "It was hard to try and get through this week and make a connection."
Now in her role as assistant director of admissions at The Citadel, Lugo is pushing to make sure female freshman cadets, referred to as 'knobs' for their short hair cuts, are connected from the very beginning of their time on campus. On Friday more than 30 female knobs from the class of 2018 gathered at the Holiday Alumni Center for the college's fourth Women's Welcome Reception. At the event, female knobs are able to get to know each other before challenge week as well as connect with faculty, staff, alumnus and older female cadets.
"They are such a small population not only in the core of cadets but in the world of military style education," Lugo said. "I want them to know we do care what happens to them in the end."
Female cadets annually make up less than 10 percent of the college's freshman class. This year the college is estimating a total freshman class of around 725, which includes only 56 women. The college's largest female class ever, Lugo said, was 63.
Lugo said the pool of women nationwide who choose to attend a military style college is small. On average only between 200 to 500 women choose a school like The Citadel, she said.
During the event, Lugo applauded the women's decision to enroll at the college and urged them to be strong in the weeks ahead.
"It will be a hard road," she said. "I want you to fight like a girl. Get to know each other because these are your sisters for life."
The female knobs on Friday were grateful for the support but nervous about what lies ahead. The Citadel does not allow knobs to release their names to the media as part of the college's protocol for freshman cadets.
"I'm nervous really about when it just starts," said a female knob from Seattle, Wash.
She said she'd never heard of The Citadel until she came across a YouTube video of cadets. After learning more about the college, she liked the idea of having a different college experience. She added that she thrives in a structured environment.
"I've always done really well in school when I had a lot of structure," she said. "So having a lot of structure I think will help with my academics."
Another freshman who's relocating from Germany where her father was stationed in the U.S. Air Force, survived a big haircut on Thursday where she lost more than 18 inches of hair to meet the college's required hair length for women of three inches on the top and two inches on the sides.
"I've always had long hair so it was very hard to do," she said.
Despite the haircut, the woman said she thinks The Citadel is "one of the best schools in South Carolina" and is ready to tackle the challenge with her fellow female knobs.
"I think we can show that we can do it," she said.
Alumnae Caitlyn Lees and Andrea Muniz, who attended the event, both agree that The Citadel isn't for everyone and it isn't for all women, but it was a valuable experience for them.
"After going through this, you can go through anything," Muniz said. "I wouldn't have chosen differently."
Both women agreed that the male dominated environment is tough but it prepares women for how to stand up in a male-dominated corporate world.
"I think if I had chosen differently I would be a totally different person than I am today," Lees said. "As a woman here you have to learn to speak up."
"I would tell parents if you raised a strong willed, independent woman then you should consider it," Lees said.
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