LEXINGTON, Va., July 14, 2022—Twenty-five promising, male, minority high-school students are experiencing transformation this summer at Virginia Military Institute, through a program called the College Orientation Workshop, Inc. (COW). This year marks the 36th year of the COW program at VMI. Covid-19 prevented the 2020 and 2021 in-person sessions.
COW is a four-week program that offers education, leadership and character building, and physical training at no cost to the students. This year, the participants came from seven states, and the District of Columbia. Nine are rising high school seniors, nine are rising juniors, and seven are rising sophomores.
A Cadet’s Dream COW is the dream child of Eugene Williams ’74, who is the founder and executive director. Williams was in the third class of African American cadets at VMI. Early in his VMI experience, Williams realized that many high school aged males could benefit from the VMI style of training, even if they could not meet the requirements to become a VMI cadet. He did not have a name for his vision, nor did he know what form it would take until years later. “I was blessed to be able to come to VMI, not just for the excellent academic education, but to experience the leadership and character building, as well as the discipline and camaraderie that comes with the physical training. I knew guys in my hometown who could have benefitted from the training I was getting. If only for a short time, this type of teaching and guidance would have made a huge difference in the direction their lives were headed,” said Williams.
Four years after graduating from VMI, Williams became the first African American appointed by the governor to the VMI Board of Visitors. He was in a better position to make his dream become a reality.
“So many people at VMI helped bring COW to fruition. The first year, in 1987, we only had 12 kids, which was a manageable number,” said Williams. “Now we have family legacies. In 2019, we had the son of a COW grad, and we had brothers from another COW grad from Alabama.”
Make Them Mad, Make Them Scared, Make Them Tired Williams stressed that COW is not a summer camp, but a transformational experience. “We take these kids who have promise and potential, but have failed to achieve their potential, and push them out of their comfort zone,” explained Williams. “We make them mad, scared, and tired. Why? Because the world is going to make them mad, scared, and tired, and they will still need to get the job done. They need to know how to react appropriately to any given circumstance.” He continued, “We all need to be coached, encouraged, and supported to reach our max. This is a safe environment, and they are protected here, but they are being challenged. They must be pushed to go beyond what they think is their limit. We don’t expect perfection, but we do expect perfect effort.”
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