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Randolph-Macon Academy: Empowering young women through positions of leadership

Image courtesy of Randolph-Macon Academy

“Women are leaders everywhere you look, from a CEO to a housewife that holds together a home. Our country was built by women who stand alone.” – Denise Clark

Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) is a co-ed, college-prep Day and Boarding School set at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley. Its breath-taking 135-acre campus in the quaint town of Front Royal, Virginia, overlooks stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Massanutten Mountain Range and, when the skies are crystal blue and you gaze from just the right spot, even the Allegheny Mountains – the westernmost limit of the Alleghenies.

If this phenomenal backdrop doesn’t do enough to impress, R-MA’s sterling reputation and dogged commitment to providing a world-class values-based education experience will definitely do the trick.

As the institution notes: “Our mentoring programs and long association with the United Methodist Church help students become young men and women of strong, positive character. The Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) also provides a foundation in this area, as the students learn the Air Force values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all we do.”

In keeping with the School’s mission, R-MA provides accessible and equal opportunities – from personal and academic, to leadership, and beyond – directly targeting both male and female students. Through honor societies, the Residential Life Committees, the Honor Council, student government, sports, clubs, and last but not least, the AFJROTC program, young women enrolled in the Randolph-Macon program are granted as many chances to thrive as their male student counterparts. This is incredibly unique, since R-MA represents one of very few private schools based on the military tradition that includes females in both its residential student body and its JROTC program. R-MA’s approach is all-inclusive, and that’s what makes it stand above others of its kind.

Image courtesy of Randolph-Macon Academy

Fact is, most major U.S. military academies will only accept girls as day students, or otherwise choose not to enrol them at all. One renowned institution even hosts a separate program for female applicants so they simply aren’t allowed to participate in the school’s military program. When you consider that it was only just over a year ago, in December 2015, that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the historic decision to break down the discriminatory barrier that prevented women from full military service, finally opening combat roles to people of both genders, R-MA’s firm pillars of equal accessibility, equal opportunity and equal obligation are not just ground-breaking, but also inspiring.

In the traditional Boarding School set-up, situations in which mixed groups of students can take lead often seem forced and restricted. Dorm positions are generally awarded entirely based on gender, as are Captain positions in sports, on top of honor council roles, student government, and other student-centered clubs. But at the R-MA, the AFJROTC provides heaps of exciting opportunities for both the male and female sex, with a total of six flight groups, each hosting around 30-40 students, that are entirely co-ed. Through this program, both male and female cadets learn the value of citizenship, as well as desirable attributes like responsibility, character, and self-discipline which are instilled deeply within.

The School also hosts a world-renowned flight program, seeking to meet industry demand since the aerospace business consistently seeks highly-trained female pilots. Here, students learn the heritage and origin of flight, the principles of flight and navigation, and gain a comprehensive grasp of the aerospace industry in general. Again, this provision is open to all R-MA students, but a large number of female applicants continue to reap its benefits, with many progressing to aeronautical universities before gaining employment in the competitive aviation field.

Image courtesy of Randolph-Macon Academy

As a testament to R-MA’s success in upholding gender equality, in 2010, the Academy selected its first female Corps Commander and Vice Corps Commander duo, Allyson Doran and Kalie Plasier, respectively. Since then, the Corps staff (the central group of cadet officers) has included a wealth of female leaders. In fact, in 2014, another female, Emma Bunker, rose to the respected rank of Corps Commander, while the following year the role fell on the shoulders of Dongeun “Amy” Go, who is the first Asian student to hold this esteemed position.

“The important thing to note is that these are not female leadership opportunities,” explains MSgt Stephen Pederson, a retired member of the U.S. Air Force, now serving as an AFJROTC instructor at the R-MA. “These opportunities are open to everyone who wants to take advantage of them. Our females are stepping up and shining,” he says, estimating that approximately 50 percent of the School’s leadership positions went to females last year, despite the female gender making up only 32 percent of the total population in R-MA’s Upper School of 269 students.

Back in 2009, research from Elda Pema and Stephen Mehay found that females enrolled in JROTC tend to display higher levels of self-esteem than both female non-participants and male enrolees. At R-MA, these results speak for themselves, with most female graduates feeling so enthused and confident about what they’ve achieved in the R-MA experience that they go on to forge success at some of the nation’s leading universities – including Harvard, Princeton, NYU, the Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, and other eminent institutions.

image courtesy of Randolph-Macon Academy

While the R-MA’s student leadership roles continue to be open to everyone, the dream of the School’s top-class administration is to ultimately be 45-50 percent female, so the Academy has fostered a number of programs specifically-geared towards the recruitment of additional female students – like the Female Leadership Weekend, and the School’s popular Girl Scout Day. There are several other programs spread throughout the year that are generally more attractive to the female population, like the Self-Defense Class and the Female History Seminar.

“We do more than prepare our students for College,” the R-MA concludes, “we give them a solid foundation in Knowledge, Leadership and Character…In the Air Force Junior ROTC program, students learn to be good citizens and great leaders,” it adds. “[Our] school provides structure to the students’ daily lives; it also helps them develop confidence and self-discipline.”

R-MA stands as so much more than a military-based learning environment; it is also a world-class tool of empowerment, allowing male and female students to unleash their full potential in equal and positive measure.

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