Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) cadets left a lasting impression on several of the top-ranking women officers in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard during the Officer Women Leadership Symposium (OWLS), held recently in Arlington.
“The distinguished guests were particularly impressed with the dedication it takes for a VWIL cadet to stick with the program,” said Deputy Commandant Melissa Patrick ’78. “In addition, they noted how well-prepared our cadets are for pursuing civilian careers, and many complimented our students’ demeanor and professionalism, which is a positive reflection on the VWIL experience.”
The theme of the 10th annual symposium, “Called to Serve: Leading Boldly into the Next Decade,” was designed to empower women military officers to lead confidently and to enable positive change in military culture.
Mary Baldwin juniors Kishina Beckett, Jade Baker, Erica Johnson, Jasnique Rolle, and Tye Fulton, and sophomores Danielle Hunt and Moniefia Maitland joined cadets from West Point, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Virginia Military Institute, and The Citadel. Each VWIL cadet was designated to escort a distinguished visitor to the symposium and had the opportunity to talk with flag officers (generals and admirals) as well as senior non-commissioned officers and junior officers, Patrick said.
Jade Baker ’15 called the experience “motivating and energizing,” noting that she spoke with several Air Force officers as well as Vice Admiral Michelle J. Howard, the U.S. Navy’s highest-ranking African-American woman.
“Meeting and talking with professional women leaders helped me see all the possibilities for my future,” Baker said. “I was encouraged that they took the time to share with me their experiences and thoughts.”
The breadth of topics impressed Ericka Johnson ’15, who was interested in sessions geared toward women building successful careers in the military as well as those that explored more sensitive issues such as sexual assault and tactics on establishing successful relationships with male counterparts.
Lunch was an ideal opportunity for VWIL students to mingle with other cadets and to engage in meaningful exchanges with some of the top-ranking women in the U.S. Armed Forces. Along with cadets from The Citadel, Johnson and Tye Fulton ’15 talked with Marine Corps Captain Mabel Annunziata about Officer Candidate School and the steps to becoming Judge Advocate General officers in the Navy.
Kishina Beckett ’15 enjoyed an “incredible conversation” with Major General Marcia Anderson — the highest ranking African-American woman in the Army — and several other officers. “General Anderson talked extensively about her efforts to make the transition between active duty and reserve duty smoother for soldiers. I was greatly inspired by all of the women that I spoke with, and I definitely want to attend again next year,” Beckett said.
Lieutenant General Mary A. Legere, Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, inspired junior Jasnique Rolle during their lunch discussion.
“She talked about how important it is to be confident with anything and everything you’re doing and not to be afraid of doing it right,” Rolle said.
OWLS was held at the Women in Military Service for America memorial and was hosted by AcademyWomen, a nonprofit founded in 2003 as a leadership and professional development organization that supports former, current, and future women military officers.