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Ambassadors, leaders: Cadets chosen to work with international businesses in new Academy program
Eleven cadets, shown in this group photo taken April 24, 2012, were recently selected for the Air Force Academy's inaugural Ambassadors of Inclusion program, which will give the cadets experience working for private companies around the world. The program aims to provide cadets with cultural adaptation and self-awareness skills as well as fundamental leadership competencies. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
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Ambassadors, leaders: 11 cadets chosen for new diversity initiative

Posted 4/27/2012   Updated 4/27/2012 Email story   Print story


by Amber Baillie
Academy Spirit staff writer

4/27/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Academy cadets will experience national and organizational diversity in an authentic way this summer.

Eleven cadets will travel to six different countries with the new Ambassadors of Inclusion program and work for top organizations, to learn cultural adaptation, self-awareness and fundamental competencies to prepare them for their careers in the Air Force.

Students will travel to Spain, China, France, India, Guam and Chile and work for IBM, Chindex, Sodexo, Ingersoll Rand and Wal-Mart for four weeks.

"We've negotiated each opportunity for the cadet based on the cadet's major and interest," said Dr. Adis Vila, chief diversity officer and AoI creator.

The AoI is a new program that allows cadets to work abroad, outside of the military, and understand how management philosophies are deeply rooted in culture.

Cadets will depart May 23 and spend time with a mentor to learn demographic, cognitive, organizational and structural managing concepts of diversity.

"They're going to have a direct relationship with someone from a different national culture who can help them understand how work gets done in that environment," Vila said.

Cadets interested in the program were asked to write an essay on cross-cultural competence and had to be in good military, academic and athletic standing.

"The essays chosen by our panel were very compelling," Vila said. "We purposely didn't base the selection on grades. I had one of the cadet wing commanders tell me how happy he was to see that this program wasn't based on GPA, because many programs here are."

The cadets are diverse. The group consists of males and females, sophomores and juniors, with different majors and ethnicities, including African-American, Native American and Asian-American. Some of the cadets have never traveled abroad and are first-generation students.

"I'm one of the few Native Americans at the Academy," said Cadet 3rd Class Heather Drephal, who will travel to Spain and work for IBM. "I want to represent that as part of myself and also as a woman because both are minorities at the Academy."

Vila came up with the idea for the program from her own personal experiences. Vila speaks five languages and has worked in five different sectors as a practicing lawyer, an executive with multi-nationals, an academic administrator, a professor and federal government official.

"In experiencing both different organizational cultures, as well as traveling abroad, getting my education in France, Switzerland, Mexico and Holland and working at the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce on foreign policy, international economic policy and subsequently throughout the world for two multinationals, I wanted our cadets to experience something similar," Vila said.

Corporate representatives from each company attended lunch, class and dinner with cadets on Tuesday to interact one-on-one, with cadets, friends and firms who hosted the event, and translate the culture of their organization.

"We came here to provide this great opportunity for cadets and I'm really looking forward to hearing from them and about their experiences," said Sandra Hall from IBM. "To have an opportunity where they can truly focus on learning and immersion opposed to I have this military job to do, or, I'm in battle. I think it'll be a different experience and they'll have a better opportunity to embrace the culture, learn more about themselves and make better leaders."

Kenneth Nilsson from Chindex said his company supported the program because it's important for those who defend the country to have a deep international and intercultural understanding.

"The men and women who are charged with our security, having that background of diversity is as important as new weapons development," Nilsson said.

Company representatives attended a seminar on cultural competencies by Dr. Richard Griffith, director of the Institute for Cross Cultural Management at the Florida Institute of Technology, and both cadets and representatives attended a seminar on cultural adaptability by Dr. Nayantara Ghosh, management consultant, lecturer and founder of Ghosh International.

"There's one brand of leadership at the Academy, but that's not the way it works in the entire world," Griffith said. "Cadets are going to see people that they won't perceive as leaders but in fact, is exactly what the person in that culture should be doing. If the lessons stick, they're going to realize that there isn't one right way to do things and when you're in different cultures, you can adapt your behavior to be more effective."

If the pilot program goes well, it will expand to allow more cadets and companies to become involved. The hope is for cadets to become ambassadors for their squadrons and help develop an organizational culture that is inclusive and values all cadets, faculty and staff.

"The Cadet Wing constantly has a drive to improve but we're only here for four years and we spend most of our time at the Academy, so we don't see anything else to base that improvement on," said Cadet 3rd Class Christian Brechbuhl, who will travel to Guam and work for Sodexo. "The biggest benefit for the Academy will be that we can bring back what we've learned to our peers. We will benefit the Air Force by being a lieutenant with international, cultural exposure and insight on how to be a corporate leader."

The ability to measure progress on the non-cultural competencies is important to the design of the program.

"We are lucky to be partnering with the Management Institute," Vila said.

"We will do some measurement before the cadets leave the country, while they're there and when they return so we can start to track some of their attitudes, behaviors and general attitudes about diversity and see if the program has the effect that we want," Griffith added.

Vila said her goal is to double the amount of companies and cadets for next year.

"It's a broadly thought out program, and I'm hoping to create more interest so we can do more," Vila said. "It's very important for us to measure cadets' experience, because although it's only four weeks, I believe the experience will prove transformational."

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