The Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership Begins 25th Anniversary Year

This fall marks 25 years since the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) at Mary Baldwin welcomed its first class of students. Still the nation’s only all-female corps of cadets, VWIL has forged a legacy of empowering young women to become leaders, both in the military and in civilian careers. 

VWIL cadets during Cadre Week 2020, when first-year cadets, or nULLs, meet their upper class cadre for the first time and participate in drills, exercises, and class bonding.

The corps prides itself on upholding its core values of truth, duty, and honor, and gives each cadet the opportunity to develop skills, discipline, and character through co-curricular experiences, physical training, and military training through ROTC. 

To date, more than 1,200 Mary Baldwin students have matriculated through the corps of cadets and the university receives approximately 900 applications to the program and 60 deposits every year.

After completing the VWIL program, cadets earn a minor in leadership studies in addition to a bachelor’s degree in their chosen major.

Of 460 graduates, 54% represent minority groups and 55% join the military and United States government (reaching the grade of O-6 thus far). Graduates who chose the civilian track are equally successful in public service fields such as intelligence, foreign service, teaching, social services, law enforcement, medicine, and law. 

Mary Baldwin began development of VWIL in 1993, at the request of the Commonwealth of Virginia, when the single-sex status of nearby Virginia Military Institute faced legal challenge. VWIL welcomed its first class of students in August 1995, with the late Brenda Bryant serving as program director and the late Brig. Gen. Michael Bissell as the first commandant. Brig. Gen. Terry Djuric (USAF, Ret.) assumed command of the corps of cadets as its second commandant in 2013. Additionally, Command Sergeant Major Gerald Johnson joined in 2018 as its second senior enlisted advisor.

“Twenty-five years later, we are proud of this corps of cadets who blend themselves across this university. The cadets enhance life and leadership at Mary Baldwin in numerous ways. Cadets bring diverse experiences and perspectives as they dedicate time for community service, MBU clubs, special events and parades,” said Djuric. “It is a great honor for Command Sergeant Major Johnson and me to lead and work with our VWIL students, and to see them flourish as outstanding citizens and leaders.”

The cadet corps also includes a marching band unit made up of VWIL and non-VWIL students, and together they have participated in inaugural parades for six Virginia governors. The VWIL color guard has also presented the colors at many significant events, including last year’s dedication of the new Virginia Women’s Monument in Richmond. 

This fall the corps of cadets has scheduled events including:

  • 10 a.m. on August 23: Induction Parade
  • 12:15 p.m. on September 11: 9-11 Memorial Ceremony with local fire fighters and police officers
  • Time and date TBD: Junior Honor Ceremony
  • Time TBD on November 7: Staunton Veterans Day Parade

VWIL at 25: A Look Back in Photos

*Please note: the photos in the gallery below are historical, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders of VWIL, past and present: (bottom row, l-r) The late Brig. Gen. Michael Bissell served as the first commandant of VWIL, and the late Brenda Bryant served as the first program director. (top row, l-r) Brig. Gen. Terry Djuric is the current commandant of cadets, and Command Sergeant Major Gerald Johnson is the current second senior enlisted advisor.

VWIL marches in the 2014 Inaugural Parade for Governor Terry McAuliffe.

VWIL Change of Command parade in 2015, the final and most significant parade of the year, which takes place the day before graduation.

During Change of Command, it is tradition for the senior class to pass their sabers to the rising seniors and depart the field “hats in the air.”

VWIL marches in the 2011 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City.

The early years of VWIL

First-year cadets start their VWIL experience with the wilderness adventure.