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From left, Cadet 1st Class Megan Holt, U.S. Military Academy, Cadet 1st Class Dayna Grant, Cadet Squadron 26, Cadet 1st Class Brian Solmonson, USMA, and Clay Johnson, a Liberian student and guide. In front is Peter, a security guard who showed the cadets around the Ducor Palace Hotel in Monrovia, Liberia. (Courtesy Photo)
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Research labs stretch minds

Posted 8/4/2011   Updated 8/4/2011 Email story   Print story


by David Edwards
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

8/4/2011 - U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy apparently puts considerable credence in a certain saying that involves idle minds and a workshop.

That might explain why more than 150 of its sharpest minds are anything but idle during the quietest interval in the academic year.

There is no shortage of options for cadets to keep their bodies and brain cells active during the summertime languor. One of the most coveted is limited to rising seniors and is called the Cadet Summer Research Program.

The title is generally reduced to an acronym. To catch the essence of CSRP, pay attention to the letter R.

"When cadets go on CSRP, they see some of the world's experts directly applying the principles from cadet classrooms," Capt. David Ratliff, the current director of the program, said in the Academy's 2010 research report. "This exposure expands cadets' vision and increases their motivation to master academic and leadership principles."

Of course, the research opportunities afforded by the Academy to undergrads are part of its educational appeal. In light of that, CSRP has "become a linchpin in the Academy's learning-focused mission," according to the 2010 research report.

The program contains slots for 180 cadets, and researchers who participate in it also satisfy both their curiosity and the Cadet Wing's summer military training requirement.
At the time of selection of prospects for a research assignment, cadets must sport a minimum GPA of 3.0 and a minimum MPA of 2.8.

However, if a cadet shows exceptional aptitude in an area corresponding with one of the available research assignments, the vice dean may override the requirement.

Program sponsors deliver project descriptions in the fall, and usually there are twice as many projects as there are qualifying cadets.

The selection mechanism proceeds through much of the remainder of the academic year, winnowing down the list of candidates in advance of the "rack and stack" procedure that fills the 180 openings.

Cadets themselves pick their research sponsor. CSRP begins in May and runs into July. Most assignments last five weeks, although there are a couple of longer programs that require a waiver. Cadets who choose CSRP in lieu of leave can take on a three-week assignment.

The list of previous research sponsors is a who's-who of knowhow that ranges from government labs like Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos to Defense Department affiliates to private-sector employers and local governments.

No matter where the cadets work for the summer, though, their activities are mission-critical -- and usually super cool.

"That's not to say they're working with Stephen Hawking," Ratliff said. "But they're doing research with people who are doing important research."

Ratliff said that on returning to the Academy, some cadets have told him they applied for a patent on something produced during their research assignment.

The CSRP experience doesn't end when the research assignment does, though.

Many cadets carry their research over into their senior year by doing an independent study project at the Academy. Also, CSRP participants compete for Thomas D. Moore Outstanding Cadet in Summer Research award.

Besides the opportunity to be on the cutting edge and fulfill a summer requirement, cadets get the added bonus of receiving a per diem and letting the research sponsor pick up the tab for program costs.

In a PowerPoint presentation about CSRP, Ratliff says, "They pay, you play (well ... work ... but what's the difference? You're not here!)"

Sometimes, research assignments are far away from here -- on different continents.

Cadet 1st Class Dayna Grant, a member of Cadet Squadron 26 and a law student, went to Liberia in conjunction with the U.S. Military Academy's Point to Point program.

Her team studied property policy and law in the West African country, whose major claim to fame is that its president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, became Africa's first female head of state.

Grant's research and paper focused on the rights of squatters in Liberian townships, the suitability of NGO recommendations and proposed solutions to improve slums in the country.

"I gained a great deal of respect for how we live here," Grant said. "Though Liberia is a 'free' country like the U.S., they are lacking most amenities which we take for granted.

"I also learned a great deal about blending into a culture when you are clearly an outsider. Simple things like learning the country's handshake, wearing the correct clothing in the right situation, and listening acutely to people as they speak goes a long way when you want respect from another culture."

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