By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
With summer vacation a fading memory, it’s time once again to hit the books. The school bell rang for the fall semester Aug. 6 as the Academy continues to prepare future graduates to take their places as Air Force leaders.
Some things are growing, some have been added, and some are changing.
Expanding this year are the Student Academic Support Services and the Unmanned Aerial Systems program.
In order to improve performance and retention, the Academy has hired four new staff in academic support services as part of a new quantitative reasoning/ evening tutoring program for after-hours’ assistance in chemistry, physics, math and engineering mechanics. Five new professional academic advisors will provide assistance for “at risk” cadets, and the Evening Writing Center and Reading Enhancement Program has grown as well.
Dean of the Faculty Brig. Gen. Dana Born said academic services can and do improve cadet performance. One particular program, the one-hour course First Year Experience, begun three years ago, is making a difference in academic success for fourth-degree cadets.
“We have seen a dramatic turn in academic achievement after FYE was offered,” she said. “They are doing much better.”
Building on last year, the Academy’s training in the Unmanned Aerial Systems program is also expected to continue to grow.
“UAVs are becoming increasingly critical on the battlefield,” she said. “That’s the future of our Air Force. We’re on the leading edge for all service academies.”
She added the Air Force is now investing more heavily in unmanned vehicles than manned.
Cadets are being introduced to and learning skills essential to Unmanned Aerial Systems through class work, instruction in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance techniques and flight training.
The program marked its first milestone with the inaugural graduation last week of four instructor pilots and 21 students, who will go on to advanced UAS and instructor training.
General Born likened the first IPs, the program’s “catapult leadership,” to pebbles tossed into a pond, with increasingly large ripples of influence. The program is anticipated to eventually encompass 300 cadets, comparable to numbers in glider programs.
For the first time this year, new basic cadets received a briefing on the UAV program for Airmanship 100, with insight from both UAV cadets and UAV pilots from Creech Air Force Base, Nev., headquarters for Air Force UASs.
In response to senior Department of Defense and Air Force leadership, the Academy continues to focus on language and culture development. Over the last three years, enrollments in foreign language courses have doubled, and 17 new faculty have joined the Foreign Language Department.
Participation in language and cultural immersions has also increased more than 10-fold from school year 2003-2004, with a total of 742 cadets and 124 escort officers in overseas programs this year.
Cadets in the FalconLAUNCH cadet rocket program topped the world university record altitude of 30,000 by venturing to an altitude of 357,724 feet.
FalconSAT cadets are looking for a scheduled April 2010 launch date when cadets with varying majors complete the assembly, test and delivery of their next satellite. If successful, the satellite, FalconSAT-5, will join FalconSAT-3, launched in 2007, in orbit and as with previous launches, cadets will monitor the craft from the Academy Satellite Operations Center.
Research continues to take a front seat in academia.
The Academy has 12 research centers and two research institutes supporting cadet-centered research in cutting-edge activity. All cadets receive participation in some aspect of the $60+ million research projects. General Born said five “budding” centers include energy, the scholarship of teaching and learning, the center for peace, prosperity and security, oral history and decision-making.
As Academy programs continue to grow in nature, size and cadet interest, General Born said graduation of the 51st class represents a good time to reflect on the future.
“That milestone represents a symbolically important opportunity to review not just our academic curriculum, but the entire integrated set of experiences we provide to cadets during their four years here,” she said.
One guiding force will remain-preparing cadets for the future of the Air Force.
“The 21st century is very global, uncertain and technical, and our graduates have to have the skills to operate in the unknown,” General Born said.
She compared cadets when she entered as a cadet in 1979 and now.
“Cadets today are smarter, more qualified, more worldly, and more diverse,” she said.
Applications are up 11 percent from the previous year, and the Class of 2013 had the second highest number of appointments accepted for both minority (23 percent) and female (20 percent) applicants. The class also had the highest SAT score of 1303 in Academy history and the second highest ACT of 30.
Among the ranks of today’s cadets is the possibility one of them may in the future become dean of the faculty.
“It makes me smile,” she said of the idea. “We like to see them aspire to their dreams. My definition of success is by those around me who are successful.”
So, who is going to win the Air Force vs. Navy game this fall?
“That is not the question,” the spouse of an Annapolis grad said emphatically. “The question is by how many touchdowns are the Falcons going to win.”