Kayle Stevens ’99 was doing the traditional Boston college tour as a high school student when her father mentioned Wellesley and suggested, “Why don’t we go check it out?”
Kayle grew up in a military family, mostly in and around Washington, D.C., and on bases in Germany. Her father, William Stevens, who died in 2003, had a 28-year career in the Air Force, retiring in 1998 as assistant deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs with the rank of Brigadier General. Both of her grandfathers and two of her uncles also served in the military.
When she was in high school, Kayle assumed she would go to one of the military academies. But walking up the well-worn steps to Tower Court that day, “I just thought about all the really smart and intelligent women who had gone there. And I was like, ‘Hey, this is where I need to be,’” she says.
Kayle’s Wellesley experience was eye-opening, she says. “For the four years that you’re at Wellesley, you’re encouraged to use your voice to speak your mind and to learn to defend your thoughts and opinions with data and facts. That has benefited me in the Air Force because, you know, there can be times when you’re the junior person in the room, or you’re the only person who looks like you in the room.”
She adds that Wellesley taught her confidence, emotional intelligence, and “when to use my voice, when not to use my voice, but also … that my voice matters.”
Twenty-four years ago, Stevens graduated from Wellesley and received her commission to the Air Force through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at MIT. Much of her service as a career intelligence officer has been “influenced and shaped” by the Global War on Terrorism, she says. She completed her first assignment in Korea, leading a group of about 50 American and Korean Airmen in a mission to support ground intelligence on Sept. 9, 2001, and was at home in Washington, D.C., when the 9/11 attacks occurred. She has since served tours in the United Kingdom, Afghanistan, and across the United States.
Today, she serves as the senior military advisor to the 26th Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon, and she has been nominated for the rank of Brigadier General. In addition, this summer Stevens is moving to San Antonio, Texas, to be the deputy commander for the Sixteenth Air (AF Cyber). Sixteenth Air is responsible for information warfare, including intelligence gathering and analysis, surveillance, reconnaissance, cyber warfare, and electronic warfare operations.
Should the U.S. Senate confirm Kayle’s nomination later this year, she would not only become the first Wellesley woman to be a Brigadier General in the Air Force, but she and her father would be the first Black father-daughter duo to hold that ranking, and she would be only the fifth Black woman in the role.
“It’s very humbling to have the honor to be potentially … part of that group,” Stevens says. “I think it’s important to have representation to be able to see yourself in a role. And to be in that group, to be someone that somebody can look at and say, ‘Hey, I can aspire to be that and do that,’ it’s not something that’s lost on me.”