Michaela Mesiti ‘22 (biomedical engineering), Eryn Dolan ‘22 (mechanical engineering), Ryan Ress ‘22 (game design and development), Grant Bierly ‘22 (MS), Will Sasson ‘22 (industrial and systems engineering ME - engineering management), Anthony Brennan ‘22 (management), and Roberts Weslyan's Hannah Olver are students and members of RIT’s Andrew J, Dougherty Silver Wings Chapter Silver Wings National Staff this year, hosted by RIT's Air Force ROTC detachment. Silver Wings is a national, co-ed, professional organization dedicated to creating proactive, knowledgeable, and effective civic leaders through community service and education about national defense.

In September, they went to Washington D.C. and attended the Executive Board, where they created a roadmap critical to supporting nationwide service priorities. The group attended major keynote addresses by General Charles Q. Brown Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force; General John W. Raymond, Chief of Staff of the Space Force; Frank Kendall III, Secretary of the Air Force; Barbra Barrett, Former Secretary of the Air Force; Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines; Ms. Kelli Seybolt, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force International Affairs; Ms. Heidi Grant, Defense Security Cooperation Agency; and other high-level civilian and military leaders. They reflected on their experiences at the conference and at RIT.

Q: What was the purpose of your trip to Washington D.C.?

Mesiti: The purpose of our trip to Washington D.C. was to attend and conduct our annual Executive Board meeting. As National Headquarters, the RIT National Staff was responsible for the planning and execution of the Executive Board meeting for Silver Wings. This meeting is held annually in conjunction with the Air Force Association's Air, Space, and Cyber Conference, which we were also able to attend.

Q: What is the Executive Board, and what is its significance?

Mesiti: The Executive Board of Silver Wings is made up of our seven National Headquarters Staff members from RIT, as well as seven Extended National Staff members and 11 SW Region Presidents from across the nation. These are the leaders that are responsible for mentoring our 40 Chapter Presidents across the nation.

The purpose of the Executive Board meeting is for the Executive Board to meet each other, learn valuable skills, and plan for the year for Silver Wings. It is significant because it allows for our leaders to build upon their experiences in ways that will spread down to each individual member of Silver Wings and directly impacts the Silver Wings experience.

Q: Who did you and your group conference with, and what did you discuss?

Brennan: The most important part of the boards are the briefings we held with our region presidents and our sister organization Arnold Air Society. We have to ensure everyone has the tools needed to be successful for the rest of the term. We took special care to tailor our presentations around “resilience,” how to rebuild and thrive after hardship.

Q: Has your trip made an impact on how you will carry out any of your operations at RIT?

Brennan: At the end of executive boards, I really put a lot of thought into how communication can really make or break an organization. I reflected on how I was leading my group in AFROTC and how it would benefit from resetting expectations for collaboration and communication. 

Communication is also networking, and I made connections with a lot of outstanding people that I can call on in the future.

Mesiti: By having this meeting in Washington D.C., we are now able to bring back extended leadership experiences to our chapter as well as our knowledge of other opportunities available to our members. Our leadership and participation in local chapter activities is so vital to our chapter's growth and sustainment and having this meeting and trip as a time to grow as leaders and reflect will certainly have a positive impact on our operations at RIT.

Sasson: Yes. I definitely learned a lot about leadership and groups. This will assist in my engineering management degree since I felt like some of my takeaways were how to inspire a group, how to make them feel important to the group, and now considering working for a Defense Contractor or a Civilian in the air force upon graduation.

Q: What led you to join Silver Wings?

Mesiti: I joined the RIT chapter of Silver Wings my first semester at RIT. Upon arriving at my first meeting, I discovered a group of welcoming members that were interested in me being there. Silver Wings at RIT was a family that I immediately felt attached to for the people and because of the successful way that they actively served the community. 

Sasson: I joined Silver Wings since I have had an interest in Aviation throughout college. I mentioned my interest in Aviation and how it would be cool to get a Private Pilot's License one day for fun, but the only issue was the price.  My friend who was already in Silver Wings mentioned that the organization gave Flight Hour Scholarships (as well as academic and sky diving scholarships). I learned more about the organization and joined my next semester at school.

Q: Why did you choose to study at RIT?

Brennan: While in high school, I visited the campus several times. One was an overnight stay where we took seminars on different courses RIT offered (one of them was AFROTC). I also came back for an AFROTC shadow day. The co-op program was [also] something that separated RIT from other schools I looked at.

Mesiti: I chose to study at RIT because of its tremendous reputation for job placement and environment of fostering creativity and innovation through active learning.

Sasson: I decided to come to RIT due to the high-tech labs, co-op program, and the Engineering Exploration program. The engineering exploration program was important to me since I was not sure what discipline of engineering I wanted to pursue.

Q: Is there anything else you would like people to know about Silver Wings, the Executive Board, or The US Air Force?

Brennan: I’m a new member to Silver Wings. Despite this, membership has allowed me to witness a historical event and meet with the top of the Air Force’s chain of command. I had the opportunity to casually talk to experienced leaders and meet with my peers from across the country. While being hosted at RIT, students from other colleges can join our organization. Silver Wings is not just for AFROTC cadets, we actively seek out new members who are not a part of the program but have a desire to help their local community, develop leadership, and learn about national defense. If a member was interested in working in the defense industry, this year's Executive Boards offered many outlets to make connections for future careers. Students can reach out to Joe MacDonough with any questions. 

Mesiti: Silver Wings has truly changed my life. I joined as a first year student because I wanted to continue the community service work that I did in high school. Since then, I have had the opportunity to complete hundreds of service hours, traveled to five states, participated in 6+ conclaves, completed an internship with the United States Air Force as a civilian that is leading to a full-time placement after graduation, grown as a leader, served on National Staff three times, had amazing mentors and served as a mentor to others, and met my best friends. 

I wouldn't change a thing about my time in Silver Wings... only that I had taken advantage of more of the opportunities that were offered to me. My college experience would not have been nearly the same without being in Silver Wings and being on the Executive Board. I encourage anyone with an interest in service, government, aerospace, leadership or networking to get involved.

Sasson: I never would have thought that attending the Air Force Association's Air, Space, and Cyber Convention would have been a possibility when joining Silver Wings. It was such a great learning experience. It was an amazing experience getting to see the technology that the country's defence contractors (like Boeing, L3 Harris, Collins Aerospace, Lockheed Martin) are advancing to help our country protect us.

Air Force ROTC  offers the broadest path for young men and women seeking to serve the nation as Air Force or Space Force Officers to achieve their goals. Graduates comprise the majority of newly commissioned Lieutenants entering the Active Duty Air Force each year. RIT students are always onto something great, and this is just one example of the countless ways students can explore opportunities on and off-campus, personally or professionally. Explore degree options at Saunders today.