Massachusetts Maritime Academy's two-week freshman orientation is about grueling exercise, military bearing and, for female students, moving into a male-dominated world.
This year, the school marks the 30th anniversary of when it began allowing women to enroll, dean of enrollment Elizabeth Stevenson said.
In 1981, only 42 students, or around 7 percent, of the total 550 were women, she said.
In 2011, there are 44 women in the freshman class alone, or around 12 percent, and they are making a bigger impact on the state military school every year.
Women now hold 19 percent of leadership roles at the school, and for the first time the student trustee — junior Jordan Megee — is a woman, Stevenson said.
Stevenson herself is the school's first female vice president.
In orientation and every day at the school, women wear the same uniforms and are treated the same as male students — including being yelled at.
"I wasn't expecting this to be so intense," said Laura Marin, 18, of Yarmouth, who is the first member of her family to attend college. "But you have to learn to carry yourself well."
Like Marin, several other female students, including senior Kerri Conway, 21, of West Springfield spoke of the special complications of being a woman on a mostly male campus, from making friends to having to work harder to prove yourself.
"The biggest challenge you face is getting that equal standing. You want to be better than the guys," she said.
Conway did it by running faster during freshman physical training, she said, and winning her current position as regimental executive officer, which puts her second-in-command of the entire student body.
Fellow senior Nicole Newell, 21, of Plymouth, was a self-described "crier" in high school who learned to put her emotions aside.
She is now an executive officer tasked with whipping into shape a group of 50-plus freshmen.
At the end of the day, the female cadets said, being on campus with hundreds of male cadets is like being surrounded by dozens of brothers. There is no pressure to impress them with anything but your skill.
"I don't have to look good to impress them," Marin said.
"Yeah," Newell quipped. "You just have to beat them at water polo."
By Heather Wysocki
August 28, 2011