U.S. Air Force Academy strives to attract cadets with growth mindset

The growth mindset and a bus ride.

Pamela Shockley-Zalabak, chancellor for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, recently gave remarks at our Air Force Academy Outstanding Academy Educator Awards Ceremony, a ceremony that recognizes the best educators at the academy.

Shockley-Zalabak spoke about the need to engender a "growth" mindset rather than a "fixed" mindset, to embrace an approach to life that recognizes success and does not come from talent alone, but is rather the combination of talent, hard work, dedication and resilience, sometimes referred to as "grit."

Read any of the entrepreneurial magazines today and you'll see similar concepts espoused among the executive elite. In fact, Time just had a cover story asking readers "How high is your XQ?" This story described a new factor companies are considering in the "age of optimized hiring" - not our IQ, or our EQ - our emotional quotient - but our XQ, our personality and approach to life. In the language made famous by Jim Collins' research, these companies are working to ensure they have "the right people on their bus."

As I read the Time article and thought about the need to have the "right people on the bus" - people with a growth mindset - I was reminded of just how important a certain bus ride is at the academy. Just over a week ago, 1,243 new basic cadets said a teary goodbye to their loved ones. They then took a few minutes to sign in and start their academy journey. A journey that begins with a bus ride from Doolittle Hall to the base of our core values ramp where the famous footprints are.

Much like the business executives, our admission's experts have taken numerous steps to test, interview, score and evaluate these cadets before they get a seat on our bus. They are the lucky few, among the roughly 15 percent of those who apply that are admitted each year; though, over the next six weeks they may not feel lucky as we test their resolve and challenge them during Basic Cadet Training.

As they sit on the bus, we encourage them to think about the commitment they're preparing to make. We remind them of the challenges they will face. The academy will require them to have impeccable character - they take an oath to the Cadet Honor Code to not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate anyone who does. If they break this code, they will be held accountable. If they do not live honorably, they will be dismissed.

The Academy will force them to develop their leadership. Many come to us as team captains, valedictorians and student body presidents at their respective high schools. However, they must learn to lead in an environment in which everyone is a leader - and everyone is a follower.

We will immerse them in the Air Force mission and culture, and help them develop a warrior ethos. As airmen, they will learn the principles of flight in our gliders and planes, and some will test their courage and resolve by jumping out of perfectly good ones. We will challenge their endurance during expeditionary skills training and recognize the excellence the Air Force expects as they interact with operational Air Force bases around the world, as well as our own 10th Air Base Wing. They'll do all of this while earning a bachelor of science degree founded on a core curriculum that equally weights the humanities and social sciences with basic science and engineering, ensuring that these future officers enter our Air Force with a well-rounded and diverse education.

Of course, sitting on our bus, they don't know completely what they will face. They may wonder if this seat on our bus is really right for them. We will spend the next four years ensuring their seat on our bus is right for the Air Force. Roughly one in four won't make it. Those who do will exit our "bus" four years after marching up a ramp emblazoned with our Air Force's core values - Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do. They will graduate as young men and women with the right mindset - a growth mindset. A mindset willing to combine amazing talent with immeasurable grit, to board an even better bus - one shaped like an F-35 fighter, or C-17 cargo plane, a satellite or a cyberterminal. A bus that will take them to serve as leaders in our Air Force.