Update 2/4/09, new pictures:Two visits early in the semester continue the national and international exposure of Mary Baldwin University and the Virginia Women’s Institute of Leadership.Band of Sistersauthor Kirsten Holmstedt spoke to Mary Baldwin students, faculty, staff, and community members January 25. On February 3, a group from the Chinese Military Academy will fly to Staunton from Taiwan, where they are part of a 60-year tradition of training cadets for service in the Army of the Republic of China.
The Chinese Military Academy visit will be its second in as many years at Mary Baldwin University, further solidifying a plan for an exchange program between the two schools. The visitors will be students — including a few female cadets — accompanied by faculty and staff members and an embassy official. They will experience a VWIL corps briefing, take a tour of campus, and be special guests at an honor ceremony and parade.
Bissell began talking several years ago with a cadet he met when he was commandant at Virginia Military Institute about an exchange with the Chinese Military Academy. That cadet is now a high-ranking officer in the Chinese Army. He helped create an official plan for VWIL to host female students from the co-ed Chinese Military Academy beginning in 2009 or 2010. Instead of VWIL cadets attending the Academy — as in a traditional educational exchange — VWIL alumnae will be given the opportunity to work as full-time English teachers at the Academy.
“These opportunities to increase the number of people who recognize the VWIL name are so important. There are young women out there looking for a program like this who don’t yet know that we exist,” said Jael Cooper ’11, a VWIL platoon corporal who will be involved in the briefing for visitors from the Chinese Military Academy.
VWIL’s international presence took a leap forward in fall 2008, when cadet Gretchen Domaleski ’11 spent several months as a member of the corps of cadets at Lady Doak College in Madurai, India. Lady Doak has a form of leadership training that includes marching, wearing uniforms, and training with the Indian Army during summers. Unlike VWIL, the program at Lady Doak functions more like a student run club. That exchange started its second phase when two Lady Doak students arrived on campus this month to spend the spring semester at Mary Baldwin. The college and VWIL staff continue to explore international learning opportunities for cadets and ways to introduce the Mary Baldwin community to leadership preparation programs around the globe.
Holmstedt spoke to the U.S. Congress about the war in Iraq while working on her first book,Band of Sisters(www.bandofsistersbook.com), and she traveled the nation to talk about the roles of women in the military even before the book’s release in August 2008. Holmstedt was in graduate school near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejune when the Iraq war began, initiating her interest in the lives of women in the military.
Readers who are familiar with VWIL might recognize similarities between the women she profiles and VWIL alumnae. Band of Sisters includes the stories of women such as 29-year-old Marine Captain Vernice Armour, the first black female combat pilot in Department of Defense history, and Army Specialist Rachelle Spors, 23, a medic with a National Guard unit from Lincoln, Nebraska.
Brig. Gen. Michael Bissell, VWIL commandant of cadets, has no doubt that her January 25 visit to Mary Baldwin will be mutually beneficial. During a public leadership seminar — one of a few scheduled each semester — Holmstedt will share her experiences and answer questions from cadets and others in the audience. After a brief stay here, Holmstedt — who is working on another book,When the Girls Come Marching Home— will likely carry information about VWIL to other places she will visit as an invited speaker, Bissell said.
*Originally published in the January issue ofThe Cupola, the monthly newspaper of Mary Baldwin University.