Jul 24, 2024  
2019-2020 Academic Catalogue 
2019-2020 Academic Catalogue [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

The Institute


An Education for Leadership in the 21st Century

Even in a world of change, some things never change. Society will always need educated and honorable men and women. And men and women will always need to lead lives of meaning and usefulness to others.

Established in 1839, VMI has shaped leaders, and individuals whose daily lives reflect the integrity, fairness, and appreciation for the value of work that is instilled here. The sense of mission at VMI is at the foundation of the Institute’s tradition, teaching, and administration. It is alive in each cadet from the youngest Rat to the First Captain. Their pursuits, and now your pursuits, marked by words such as Honor, Character, and Wisdom, may seem romantic, even archaic, but they are, in fact, timeless and never needed more than now.

For the individual who wants an undergraduate experience more complete and transformative than an ordinary college or university can provide and more versatile in its applications than a military service academy affords, VMI offers a superb education. Its efficacy is well demonstrated by generations of VMI graduates. Among the alumni of VMI are: a Nobel Prize winner, eleven Rhodes Scholars, seven Medal of Honor recipients, a Pulitzer Prize winner, college presidents and generals and flag officers.

No other college in America is so attentive to and so proud of its product: citizen-soldiers prepared both for civilian leadership in their professions and for military leadership in times of national need. VMI graduates have made distinguished contributions both in the military and in fields as diverse as business, engineering, international affairs, medicine, and public policy, often at remarkably young ages.

VMI’s multi-faceted program is designed to instill in each cadet the lifelong values of integrity, devotion to duty, self-discipline, and self-reliance. Because cadets live and work in close association with fellow cadets, respect for the rights of others becomes their way of life and leads to a strong bond of loyalty.


Cadet Development Goals

Graduates of the Virginia Military Institute will:


  • The responsibilities of the Citizen-Soldier and the application of a broad liberal education in the arts, sciences and engineering to those responsibilities.
  • The ideals of the American Constitution and the responsibilities of service to the Nation and its defense.
  • The values and ethical standards of commissioned service to the Nation.
  • The ability to anticipate and respond effectively to the uncertainties of a complex and changing world.
  • Intellectual curiosity, imagination, and creativity.
  • The ability to recognize moral issues and apply ethical considerations in decision making.
  • The ability to act rationally and decisively under pressure.
  • Mastery of the basic military skills required for entry into commissioned service.
  • A commitment to physical fitness and wellness, including the physical skills required for entry into commissioned service.
  • The ability to understand and apply the art and science of leadership to inspire, motivate, and develop subordinates, accomplish organization goals, and lead in a complex and changing world.

Historical Development

Before its formation as an institution of higher education in 1839, VMI’s site was occupied by an arsenal, one of three in the State of Virginia.

In 1834, several of Lexington’s leading citizens, including attorney John Thomas Lewis Preston, proposed that the arsenal be transformed into a military college so the cadets could pursue educational courses while protecting the stand of arms. The plan led to legislation establishing the Virginia Military Institute.

It was Preston, generally credited for conceiving the idea of VMI, and later one of the original members of the faculty, who gave the new institution its name: “Virginia—a State institution, neither sectional nor denominational. Military—its characteristic feature. Institute—something different from either college or university. The three elements thus indicated are the basis of a triangular pyramid, of which the sides will preserve their mutual relation to whatever height the structure may rise.” The first president of the Board of Visitors was Colonel Claudius Crozet, a graduate of Ecole Polytechnique and former faculty member at West Point, who was the state engineer of Virginia at the time of his election to the board.

On November 11, 1839, 23 young Virginians were mustered into the service of the State and, in a falling snow the first cadet sentry, John B. Strange, relieved the old arsenal guard. To this day cadets perform guard duty and serve the state as a military corps, as the first Corps of Cadets did.

Professor (later Major General) Francis H. Smith, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, was named the first Superintendent of VMI and presided over the affairs of the Institute for its first half-century. During his tenure, the Corps increased in size, the curriculum broadened, and the faculty grew. Among them was a moody, eccentric professor of “natural philosophy”—”physics,” it is called today—named Thomas Jonathan Jackson, who joined the faculty in 1851 and served until April, 1861, when he joined the Confederate forces and earned the name “Stonewall.” He is considered one of the greatest commanders in military history.

During the Civil War, cadets helped train troops, were called into active service a number of times, and on May 15, 1864, fought in a pitched battle as a unit. That battle, at the small Shenandoah town of New Market, claimed the lives of 10 cadets.  Six of the dead are buried on the VMI grounds. The Corps of Cadets pays tribute to the courage and valor of the New Market Cadets in formal ceremonies held at the Institute yearly on May 15. Union forces shelled and burned on June 12, 1864. The efforts of General Smith and dedicated members of the faculty allowed the Institute to reopen on October 17, 1865.

The devoted service of the thirteen Superintendents who have followed General Smith has enabled the Institute to strengthen its position as a uniquely valuable source of honorable and dedicated citizen-soldiers for the commonwealth and the nation. Today’s superintendent, Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ‘62, brings to the Institute the valuable skills and perspectives he developed during a long military career, including service as vice chief of staff for the U.S. Army and as commander-in-chief of United States Central Command.

Among VMI graduates are General of the Army George C. Marshall, Class of 1901, the World War II Army Chief of Staff, architect of the Marshall Plan and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Jonathan M. Daniels, Class of 1961, murdered during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s and named a martyr of the Episcopal Church for his sacrifice.

Early in VMI history, Colonel Preston declared that the Institute’s unique program would produce “fair specimens of citizen-soldiers,” and this observation has been substantiated by the service of VMI graduates in peace and war. Since the Institute was founded, VMI alumni have fought in every war involving the United States, starting with the Mexican War just four years after VMI graduated its first class.

VMI alumni continue to serve their nation with 266 having achieved the rank of General or Flag officer in the Armed Forces of the United States and several foreign countries, most notably Thailand and the Republic of China. During World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than 300 alumni made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

VMI is proud of its uniquely rigorous and constantly evolving system of education, and its earned reputation as one of America’s premier institutions of higher education. Our mission of producing leaders — educated men and women of unimpeachable character and absolute integrity — remains our clear focus today and for the future.