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VMI Leadership Roles A-Plenty with Madeleine Barrett '20


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  • Our Mission: This podcast aims to share leadership stories from our VMI Corps of Cadets and high-profile leaders who visit the Center for Leadership and Ethics (CLE) and VMI.
  • Your Hosts: Derek Pinkham, Conference Project Manager and Emily Coleman, Assistant Conference Planner
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In this remote episode of our podcast prior to 2020's graduation, we got to know Madeleine Barrett,VMI ring designer for her class. Her leadership journey was an exercise in learning how to pick the right leadership roles, but admits she tried several ranging from ethics debate team to club Cadet-in-Charge. Her desire to get involved with so many gave her the chance to figure out who she is. 'Good & Plenty' is the name of a candy one typically sees at a movie theater candy counter. Said Barrett, VMI had so many leadership opportunities, she was like a 'kid in a candy store' so that's where we got the title for this episode. Hear more about the roles she had, including how she became the lead for her class ring design team, its symbology, and how it's been a source of inspiration through the closure of her senior year, and her favorite role of all - a dyke.
Our Center's mission is to enhance the VMI citizen-soldier journey with programming that educates, engages, and inspires critical thinking, ethical decision-making, and leader development. The VMI Leader Journey podcast is an outreach program where our guests can share insights from their own leader's journey, and where VMI may have contributed to their personal growth. In this episode, we touched on the following leadership competencies taught in the mandatory course on leadership in organizations and addressed in the publications Leader Journey Booklet: goal-setting, prioritization, positivity, duty, and responsibility.


MADELEINE BARRETT '20 (Episode Teaser): No question the best leadership position I’ve had at VMI was as a dyke. The Dyke Line is, I think, a crucial part of what makes VMI different. You are imbued with this responsibility for a rat, responsibility to mentor them, to take care of them, make sure that the system is working within its boundaries, and then to [hope] to befriend them and to have a relationship with them for life… on the flip side, you know, rats are there  - they’re there for these kinds of menial tasks at face-level, but that’s not really the contribution that they give to us. They give us our first opportunity to really lead...

DEREK PINKHAM: Welcome to the VMI Center for leadership and Ethics Leadership Journey podcast.  

EMILY COLEMAN: This podcast aims to share leadership stories from our VMI Corps of Cadets and high-profile leaders who visit the Center for Leadership and Ethics and VMI Post. We’re on this journey with you. Hey, I’m Emily Coleman.

PINKHAM: And I’m Derek Pinkham. We’re your hosts of the podcast.

COLEMAN: Madeline Barrett is a first-class cadet, double-major studying international studies and modern language she is originally from Brooklyn, New York but now resides in Virginia. She plans to commission in the Army upon graduation. She has been involved in leadership positions in many facets of cadet life, including our Center for Leadership and Ethics (CLE) programs and designing the class ring.  

PINKHAM: We discussed her leadership philosophy, the VMI Dyke system of mentoring, and disruption of her final semester as a cadet. We touched on goal setting and prioritization positivity and duty, and responsibility.

COLEMAN: And without further delay, we give you graduating First Class Cadet Madeline Barrett. 

PINKHAM: Welcome Madeline Barrett to the Leadership Journey podcast. 

BARRETT:  Thank you for thinking of me. I’m excited to be here. 

COLEMAN: So, it’s good to virtually meet you. I keep saying that to everybody because I don’t know what else to say. I’m sitting here virtually, and we don’t get to meet you in person, but actually, we have met in person.   

BARRETT: We have met once, yes. 

COLEMAN: So, it’s good to see you again. So, why don’t you go ahead and give us your background, where you’re from, and what led you to VMI?

BARRETT: So, I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York; but I moved around because my dad works for the government.  He works for the Department of Homeland Security. What initially drew me to VMI was, honestly, I’d caught on to the service academies, and I thought okay that looks neat. It’s a great opportunity. I’ve got four younger siblings, and I was like I’m gonna pay for college myself; otherwise, they’re not going to college. In my search, I stumbled across VMI. I saw the motivating recruitment video and I, gosh, I remember thinking, oh, that’s so neat. Still, I could never probably do that, so I ought to get my head out of the clouds. You know, I was visiting Virginia Tech and I asked my parents on the way back. I said, hey, can we stop at that school called VMI? And we got there, and it was totally quiet. Still, something about it just really stood out to me; nobody was there. So, I signed up for an open house. I said, hey, at a minimum, I get to see how these crazy people live. Flash-forward after a presentation about the honor system and Jonathan Daniels, I thought to myself this is this is where I’m going to graduate from.

COLEMAN: Looking back, do you know what it was that you were so drawn to at VMI?

BARRETT:  Yes. So, and at the time, I was actually interested in the Air Force Academy. I’m an Army Cadet now by nature of the Army giving me a very generous scholarship. I’m glad it turned out that way because I do love the Army at the end of the day, if not the beginning. Yeah, it was the people. You know, on paper, the principles of VMI in hindsight are very much me, and I’m unsurprised that that’s the route I ended up taking; but the vessel of that - a young, immature 17-year-old at the time, it was the people. Every person I met at VMI, whether they were officially representing the Institute or not, you know, through the nature of the overnight stay, I said, wow, I want to be like that person. That just didn’t happen for me, personally, through any other school, service academies, or the other schools that I was looking at that are civilian colleges. I heard that call from VMI…


BARRETT: I was that was done. That was it. 

COLEMAN: That’s interesting that you found people that you sort of look up to and you’re like that’s what I want to be.

BARRETT: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

COLEMAN: So, what kind of leadership positions are you involved with at VMI?

BARRETT: So, I’ve had quite the diverse set of leadership roles at VMI. I’ve really dabbled in everything I could get my hands on. I’m very familiar with the work of the CLE.

COLEMAN: Yeah, what, specifically, have you been involved in?

BARRETT: Oh, gosh tons. So, when I was a rat after I broke out, one of my favorite corporals actually, said, hey, we’ve got this ethics debate team that I think you would just be a shoe-in for. I think you’d just love it. So, I started showing up, if only to make him happy at first. It turned out to be so great, and then through that, I got to know Colonel Looney and so once I was in, I was hooked. I was going to conferences for you guys and for me too, and competitions with ethics debate, and really enjoyed all the programs that you guys put on. I have a lot of admiration and respect for Colonel Gray. He taught me the pilot leadership course as well, which I loved. So, I’ve got a lot of connections with you guys. A lot of… a lot of memories with the CLE, and you know the CLE’s done a lot for me, and it’s given me the opportunity to learn how to give, too, you know. So, through nature of these debates, and that sort of thing, it was a good time. 

PINKHAM: Did you participate in the leadership course?  I mean the Leadership Conference as a Facilitator?

BARRETT: Oh, yes. That’s right. I think maybe two years…  maybe one… I’m trying to remember. That was a great time. I actually met a lot of BRs [brother rats] doing that who I didn’t know. A lot of my good friends came from that. They were in my table discussion and then, of course, meeting other folks from other schools.   

COLEMAN:   So, that’s super cool that you’ve been involved in a lot of things at the CLE, and sometimes we hear that people don’t even know that we exist over there. 

BARRETT: That surprises me with the efforts that especially that… Colonel Looney stands out in my mind as, kind of, the flock-bringer. I guess that benefited me in my cadetship because more opportunities were available for me to snag, and I had a policy early on… I had to adjust that as I, um, you know, matured too, my cadetship because I had to have responsibilities but it… I took every opportunity that was offered.

COLEMAN: Awesome. Well, we are so glad that you have gotten involved with our programs and that you’ve been so involved with it because that’s really what we want. 

PINKHAM: Yeah, exactly, and honestly, this podcast is part of that outreach as well. 

BARRETT: You guys have given me a lot, too.

COLEMAN: So, go ahead and tell us some other things even involved in around the VMI Post.

BARRETT: Oh, gee, there’s been a lot of different things, you know. So, I’ve gone for depth in some of my opportunities, but I’ve really wanted to taste a wide variety while I had the chance at VMI and, kind of, use that to decide who I am, and what kind of opportunities in the future I’d want to take. So, you know I’ve had rank at two different staffs, done a lot of club leadership stuff, in cadet in charge, assistant cadet in charge for a few different clubs, all various things, Model UN, I’m in the pre-law society, I’m… 

PINKHAM: That’s awesome. 

BARRETT: Lots of, lots of different things it’s just fun, really, and it’s just a way to push yourself and to get to know different people.  VMI gives you so many opportunities, and I was just staring at them all like a kid in the candy shop. No question the best leadership position that I’ve had at VMI is as a dyke.

PINKHAM: Interesting.

BARRETT: No question.

PINKHAM: So, can you explain that?


PINKHAM: What a dyke is?

BARRETT: You usually just call it, like, a senior mentor or something a little more dry, but Dyke line is, I think, a crucial part of what makes VMI different. You are imbued with this responsibility for a rat, responsibility to mentor them, to take care of them, make sure that the system is working within its boundaries, and then to hopefully to befriend them and to have a relationship with them throughout your life, whether it’s personal professional. And then on the flip side, you know, rats are there they’re there for these kinds of menial tasks at face-level, you know, so, they take care of our bedding in the morning, and they do chores in the room, but that’s not really the contribution that they give to us. They give us our first opportunity to really lead, and, um, it’s a system that has a lot of trust in rats and dykes.  So, it’s a lot of responsibility

PINKHAM: I really like the aspect that it lasts after you all graduate. I mean, it’s really an incredible system that gets set up and lasting.

BARRETT: No kidding. Actually, that’s the perfect opportunity to give a little shout out to my dyke Because, I ugh… my dyke is Rachel Jankelo, Class of 2017. I went to her wedding as a third-classman, which really, I mean, it really tells you something. Most rats go to their dykes’ weddings one day if it happens and it goes to show, you know, that’s that important. And she, I just got in the mail the other day for her from her oh gosh a 70-page booklet on how to be an army officer like the things you didn’t learn at VMI that I learned and, you know, she’s the best dyke ever! So, she goes beyond anything you could ask for. It’s just… it just blows me away.

PINKHAM: She’s still taking care of you.

BARRETT: No kidding. My first day as a First Classman, she… I got a letter from her in the mail saying how to be a dyke, you know, a little guidance. So, and whenever I have a question about life or the Army or really anything, I go to her.

PINKHAM: Awesome.

COLEMAN: That is awesome. Now I want to talk about you being your class historian and not to mention the ring designer. I mean, that is so cool. So, let’s talk about the class historian first. How did you acquire that position, and what does that entail?

BARRETT: So, it’s totally an informal position. I’m not the class historian in a GC context…

PINKHAM: What’s that? What’s GC?

BARRETT: General Committee. So, that’s basically our class leadership. Uh-huh. And so I just got that role by nature of I’m a total nerd, and you know when I learned something cool, especially about VMI, I really want to share it and who better to share it within your BRs? So, it actually… that did start with the ring and then in quarantine, I got to thinking [that] we can’t be the only class who’s had a delayed or alternate graduation. So, I love to reach out to Colonel Gibson at the VMI Museum. He is just awesome and very passionate about what he does.  In the program, I’m the official designer, but Madeline Hassler, also named, go figure - same name, for the most part, and she had an equally important role in that. It was a group effort. There were a lot of people who contributed to the design, but that’s one of my proudest moments. I’m wearing it now — one of my proudest moments.

PINKHAM: Haha. Awesome. So, can I ask you what was the process like in designing?

BARRETT: The moment I saw a VMI ring, when I was in the system, so, you know, it didn’t really stand out to me when I had come to visit, for example, I  was like oh that’s cool it’s a big ring or whatever, but when I saw my cadre wearing it, or things like it started to have meaning to me, right, then I started thinking okay what’s 20’s going to be like? It actually turned out to be quite a happy accident that I was chosen for this. I had just a reputation for doodling, and apparently, that’s not, you know, terribly common. We’re not much creative types here at VMI, or you’d be surprised they’re there, and Madeline Hassler my friend there who helped help me out enormously, she’s the real artistic talent.

PINKHAM: What are some of the elements that are on the ring that speaks to you and your class?

BARRETT: So, that actually speaks a lot into the process. I had designed some t-shirts for a couple of events for my company, hotel company, Hollywood, and I… everyone really enjoyed those. So, when things came around Sam Trepp who you’ve spoken to, he reached out to me knowing that, you know, I like to do that kind of thing and hopefully, at least, he thinks I have an eye for it, so he approached me I think as a fourth classman and said hey do you want to be the ring designer? I was like, well cool, that’s a lot of trusts right off the bat! But the second he said that I was all-in I said hey when the year comes around I want to give them a document that’s going to have everything that’s going to be on this ring and why it should be on this ring and all the works going to be for the most part done and I’m just going to have to sell my case. So, I that was the first time I got with Colonel Gibson. I wrote out every single class in our dyke line. I’ve found out that we’re actually part of the New Market dyke line, so the firsts and the rats who fought in New Market. I found out a whole bunch of cool stuff. So, essentially, what I wanted to do was I wanted to bring in the tradition of past rings. Still, kind of put a twist on that, and my big thing was the power and simplicity. Colonel Gibson, one of his big points to me, he said if he could give any advice, it would be, you know, these rings, as the technology has become more capable, have become cluttered. They’ve become kind of full of things and people just throw things on there just to be’… you know, because they can. So, I kind of wanted to encourage our class to bring in the more classic designs at the beginning. That all started with the first ring which had nothing on it. It was a signet ring. Just little thing on the pinky and it just said mitzvot and mitzvot is a Hebrew term, a biblical term meaning, essentially, it stands for covenant. So, it needs or it’s taken to mean ‘may God watch over us while we’re apart from one another.’ And Colonel Gibson made another great point that really stood with me which is, you know, your ring, when you design it, you’ve had barely a year at the Institute. So, you’ve got to think beyond your Rat Line. You’ve got to think what are you looking back at in 40 years, God willing, and remembering about that ring? So, you have to take the mature stance and think about your future, as well as you know what you have with your BRs, but, you know, what do you want it to stand for? What are the values of your class? So, the most important aspect for me was mitzvot and it’s right in the center. And, you know, what would you know? Here we are finishing our cadetship apart from one another, and you just look at your ring, and you think about mitzvah and, hey, it’s our word.

PINKHAM: That’s amazing, right.

BARRETT: So, it worked out. It worked out.

PINKHAM: Yeah, wow.

BARRETT: It’s got to be probably the best point of pride for me, besides my rats and my roommates, is looking at my BRs wearing the ring, or when they got their rings and really thinking, you know, that’s my contribution. 

PINKHAM: It’s a good, really good story. I love it.

BARRETT: Thank you. Yeah, the neatest part of just being able to be in that position [is] you’re kind of just… you craft the values of your class, you know. So, that was really special and that the whole team did that, but it was neat to have a part of that.

PINKHAM: Right, and you certainly had talked about values and personal values in your class with Col. Gray, I’m pretty sure.

BARRETT: That’s right,

PINKHAM: Yeah, as a leadership trait.

BARRETT: That’s right.

PINKHAM: Yeah. Excellent.

COLEMAN: How are you doing managing your work through VMI virtually? I mean, we’ve asked everyone this question because it’s such a prominent issue… 

PINKHAM: Disruption. Yeah.

COLEMAN: that everyone’s had to overcome. So, how have you been with your coursework? And how are you staying motivated to continue to uphold VMI standards being at home?

BARRETT: I’m fortunate enough where my course load was very light this semester. My main concern was finishing my honors thesis which has been, like, a monster of a project I’ve been tackling for two and a half years now. Despite the double major and minor stuff and the Honors Program honestly, I’ve had quite the retirement. 

COLEMAN: what advice would you give to other cadets working from home virtually having to uphold VMI standards, having to stay motivated, who might have more coursework, who aren’t graduating yet, who still a long way to go, what would be some advice that you would give them?

BARRETT: I would say in terms of practical advice, I think that it’s an exercise in self-discipline. This must especially be hard for the Fourths who just got out of their homes, and now they feel like they’re back. I mean, I feel like I’m reliving my high school days right now, and it’s not a comfortable feeling. So, a disciplined schedule that includes exercise, and eating well, and, you know, just, you know, those cliché things like just drink a lot of water, or meditate. Honestly, I think any of that helps. VMI teaches you discipline. I tell this to rats who are becoming Fourths every year that I’ve seen it. VMI teaches you discipline, but it’s up to you to get the self-discipline. It’s just it’s not given to you. Discipline’s easy to give. So, that’s the key and just staying focused on what’s your goal, you know? What do you hoping to get out of it? You know, I’ve really taken the, for me, personally, I’ve really taken the stance of [wanting] to use this time, and there are a lot of blessings in it that I, you know, might not be so natural to realize at first you know especially, this is it such for me going off now this is my last time I get with my family ever like this again probably. Just keeping that in perspective.

COLEMAN: So, what does VMI taught you so far in regards to your leadership experience, and how is your definition of leadership kind of molded throughout your years of VMI?

BARRETT: It’s a gradual process, but when you look back you can see the watermarks of every stage. There are things that we hear throughout our four years that you know you just hear them ad nauseam and so you don’t really think about them anymore, but leadership by example I think is key. I think in leading yourself, you have the best chance to inspire other people because at the end of the day, and, you know, VMI is all about peer leadership, and at the end of the day, that’s a very difficult form of leadership. It’s really hard to kind of, to cultivate the kind of leadership where people just want to follow, you know. They don’t question what you’re about because you demonstrate it so well. So, I think by keeping your head down and just um showing what you expect of others by how you comport yourself, I think that that’s critical.  

COLEMAN: I want to touch on what your core values are and if they’ve changed throughout your time at VMI and if they help to mold you into the kind of leader that you want to be?

BARRETT: Absolutely. I’ve got them written right here for you. I was very individualistic when I came to VMI. You know a lot of people you hear, oh, they came to VMI for the Brotherhood and all that. No, I definitely came initially to improve myself and I wasn’t really you know concerned with anybody else and that quickly, quickly changed. And I define honor in kind of the classical honor sense. So, having a reputation worthy of admiration of respect. I don’t think that I prioritized family as much or people, in general, I think I cared more about accomplishment and outward signs of success. VMI’s just really helped me refocus myself and realize when you get to the end of your life, you could have slaved away for a job for however long and tt’s really not going to matter and the grand scheme of things, generally, you know it’s different you needed, you know to take fulfillment out of your work, but at the end of the day the family that you were born into and the family that you build I think are critical.

PINKHAM: That’s good

COLEMAN: Absolutely. That’s awesome, Madeline. I really like that you have those. I like that you reflect on them, and you use them for yourself and in your feature and in your leadership.

BARRETT: Thank you. I think I’m naturally a self-reflective person, but VMI’s also given me tools to - just write it down. 

COLEMAN: We want to end with what does leadership mean to you? 

BARRETT: Leadership, to me, is primarily about having your house in order first. Knowing what you’re about what you stand for and demonstrating your values through your actions. And I think that that’s a very natural starting point for people to want to follow you because, you know, what is that textbook definition of leadership? It’s about influencing others to accomplish a mission. But, you know, you can have this influence in all sorts of ways, even if your values are different than somebody else’s, you can look at someone who is different than you, for the most part, and still respect them for it and want to follow them. 

PINKHAM: One of our tag lines is we’re on this journey with you, and I don’t want to speak for Emily, but I get a lot out of talking to cadets about this.

COLEMAN: Oh, absolutely, because we have totally new perspectives. Derek and I did not go to military schools.

PINKHAM: No, I went to the exact opposite school of VMI, which is Bennington College in southwestern Vermont.

COLEMAN: And I… I’m from here. I am from Rockbridge County.

BARRETT Oh, really?

COLEMAN: I was born and raised here, and I am yes, so my view on VMI growing up was much different than when I started working here, which is also molding into talking to cadets and even faculty just learning so much more than I knew that VMI had in store. It’s definitely been a journey and Derek, and I are still on this journey, and we want to share it with everyone else..

PINKHAM: Yeah, no doubt.

COLEMAN: so, you know it’s very inspiring talking to people like you

BARRETT:  Thank you.

COLEMAN: I feel like you are super admirable; you seem very motivated you are very driven and you’re really optimistic, so it’s been really nice hearing your responses.

PINKHAM So, you have to have some reflective practice to see how you’re doing, right?

COLEMAN: Right. It’s mindfulness.

PINKHAM: Yeah, it’s mindfulness in it, you know, in maybe a way that one might not expect. I think,

BARRETT: Right, like where you don’t… how are you gonna get to where you want to be if you don’t know where that is you want to be…

PINKHAM: or where you’ve been?

BARRETT: Right. Right. Right. And they change. They change all throughout your life, you know. I love that Eisenhower matrix of urgent versus important. I’ve got an I’ve got a stack of empty ones on my desk, like little printouts, and I mean every couple of months you just slap it out again, and it’s you know it’s different than the time before.

PINKHAM: You know, Col. Gray will be happy to hear ’cause he loves that.

COLEMAN: Yes. I know. I was… I was gonna say this is gonna be Colonel Gray’s favorite interview.

BARRETT: Oh well, I love Col. Gray. So, there you go. I, see, he’s had a significant part in that mentorship and my cadetship, so it’s unsurprising.

COLEMAN: All right, Madeline, thank you so much. We really appreciate it. 

PINKHAM: Again, thanks a lot, Madeline. Good luck.

COLEMAN: The Center for Leadership and Ethics would like to thank the following Cadet Caleb Minus class of '20 for the intro and backing music find more of his musical stylings on his Instagram page @mynusofficial that's at m-y-n-u-s official Colonel David Gray United States Army retired director of the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics and of course as always our podcast guests.
PINKHAM: Find this podcast and other CLE programming information on the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics website and try our YouTube channel. Follow the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics on FacebookTwitterYouTubeLinkedIn, and Instagram accounts. See you next episode of the journey. Thanks for tuning in.

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