Prep school students up for challenge: Enrichment program prepares cadet candidates for USAFA academics

U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School cadet candidates exit the Prep School parade field here after a memorial commemorating National POW/MIA Recognition Day Sept. 19, 2014. The third Friday in September was set aside annually beginning in 1998 for this commemoration. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Rachel Hammes)

U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School cadet candidates exit the Prep School parade field here after a memorial commemorating National POW/MIA Recognition Day Sept. 19, 2014. In spring 2015, many cadet candidates participated in the Academic Enrichment Program, which allows them to take several advanced classes with the possibility of college credit. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Rachel Hammes)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Every spring, the best students at the Academy Preparatory School during the fall semester are selected to take advanced courses here to test their limits and give them an idea of what they'll face at the Academy.

This year, through the Academic Enrichment Program, 20 Prep School cadet candidates are taking Calculus 141 at the Academy and six are taking English 111 at the Academy. Also, 43 are taking physics at the Prep School with the opportunity to fulfill their Physics 110 requirement.

"The enrichment program motivates our cadet candidates to push themselves academically so they can be as prepared as possible for the rigors of the Academy's academics," said Lt. Col. Alicia Matteson, the Prep School's dean of academics.

Some cadet candidates need more time on certain subjects, while others are ready for advanced topics at an accelerated pace, Matteson said.

"The program allows us to provide advanced courses for cadet candidates who are ready to be challenged in mathematics, science or English," she said.

Students in the program are selected based on baseline testing, courses they took prior to being admitted to the Prep School, and their academic performance during the fall term.

"We only send our strongest students," Matteson said. "We have a successful selection track record. Last year, we sent 22 cadet candidates to take Calculus 141 at the Academy. The cadet candidates' average was 89 percent, 20 points higher than the average of cadets who took the class the same semester."

The Prep School's collaborative enrichment programs have existed in various forms for at least 15 years and were greatly expanded in 2008 when the Academy's Mathematical Sciences and English and Fine Arts departments accepted more cadet candidates into their classes. The Prep School began teaching physics 10 years ago.

"What I enjoy most about going to the Academy for classes is the exposure to cadet life," said Cadet Candidate Abigail Costea. "Each time I go to the Academy, I picture myself as a cadet next year and am eager to be a part of something that has so much honor, tradition and excellence behind it."

The program provides cadet candidates the opportunity to fulfill exactly what the Prep School mission states: Prepare for next year, said Cadet Candidate Jared Kreuzer.

"While the enrichment program isn't the only means of attaining mission success, it definitely serves as yet another tool in the myriad preparations for our future careers," he said. "The most rewarding aspect of taking these enrichment classes is getting a taste of what to expect next year, both in terms of the lifestyle and academics."

Kruezer, who hopes to study systems engineering at the Academy, said the most challenging aspect of the program has been adjusting to the new style of teaching from more college-level instructors.

"The Prep School does a good job about introducing preppies to this teaching style, but the enrichment programs provides us with these very same professors we'll have next year," he said.

Costea, who hopes to major in legal studies at the Academy, said the program has pushed her to step outside of her comfort zone.

"This program has been beneficial to me for multiple reasons," she said. "The biggest challenge I have faced is learning the traditions, rituals and everyday life that being a cadet fourth class entails. I would definitely recommend this enrichment program to all future preppies."