“nULLs” Test Their Mettle in Unique College Orientation

August 19, 2002

Tomorrow (Tuesday, August 20) 41 young women will arrive in Staunton to begin as freshmen, or “nULLs” as they are called, in Mary Baldwin University’s Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL). VWIL enrollment this year is projected to be at an all-time high of 133 or more.

The nULLs will move belongings into residence hall rooms but will not have a chance to settle in. Wednesday morning they embark on their four-day “wilderness orientation.” After their return on Saturday, they will learn to march in step during military drill and participate in other orientation activities unique to VWIL. A week and a half after their arrival at Mary Baldwin, they will join the rest of the freshman class for traditional orientation activities. Classes begin September 2.

“Wilderness” plays a vital role in getting students off to a good start for what will be an exceptionally demanding four years of college. The activities require teamwork and are both physically as well as emotionally challenging. Upper class students will lead the new crop of nULLs as they camp, backpack, learn rock climbing and rappelling, step off a mountain and whiz down a zip line, and complete ropes courses. Most students think it is fun but grueling.

This unusually rigorous orientation to college helps the young women to bond, and coalesce into a unified class. Class unity, in turn, helps students get the most out of the program. Mutual support helps the students get through the more difficult aspects of the program and college life, and also helps them accomplish more.

Inaugurated in 1995, VWIL is a rigorous leadership development program at the baccalaureate level that incorporates military components through ROTC. Its students comprise the only all-female corps of cadets in the world. VWIL students live and attend classes along with “traditional” students at the women’s college in Staunton. VWIL students must complete all the regular Mary Baldwin graduation requirements, including an academic major, with additional academic, physical, and extra-curricular requirements. About 37% of the graduates to date have commissioned in the U.S. military; the others have begun impressive careers in business, non-profit organizations, and government service.