By Ray Bowden, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published December 20, 2018
The U.S. Senate confirmed (left to right) Col.s Cory Cooper, Brian Neff, Tasha Pravecek, Joel Sloan and Luke Sauter to be permanent professors and department heads at the U.S. Air Force Academy this month. (U.S. Air Force Academy graphic)
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Senate confirmed five officers to be permanent professors at the Air Force Academy this month.
The president nominates permanent professors at the service academies and the Senate confirms the nominations via voice vote.
With the confirmation, Col. Cory Cooper heads the department of engineering mechanics ; Col. Brian Neff heads the department of electrical and computer engineering; Col. Tasha Pravecek heads the department of chemistry; Col. Joel Sloan heads the department of civil and environmental engineering; and Col. Luke Sauter heads the department of astronautics.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment, to be recognized at the highest levels of academia, and when you look at their impressive academic careers and military record, it’s more than apparent that they’re the right permanent professors our nation needs,” said Brig Gen Andrew Armacost, the Academy’s dean. “Congratulations to Colonels Cooper, Neff, Pravecek, Sauter, Sloan and their families. I wish them the best as they start this next chapter in their professional careers.”
Cooper: ‘A Positive Impact’
Cooper is from Randleman, North Carolina, and graduated from the Academy in 2000 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. He also holds a master’s in systems engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a doctorate in systems engineering from Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands.
“I was humbled to be promoted and in this special position,” he said. “I’m trusted to lead my department and shape the long-term direction of the Academy, and I’m honored to serve in this capacity,” he said.
Cooper said he owes any personal success to his parents, his family and the Academy’s faculty and staff.
“My parents supported and expected great things from me,” he said. “My mother is a tireless community leader and my father is a respected engineer. I still aspire to be a combination of both of them.”
Cooper said the Academy’s faculty and cadets inspire him to be better.
“From my cadre and faculty as a cadet, to my early-assignment supervisors — they all pushed me to do excellent work and keep a positive attitude,” he said. “As I moved through my career, I found I could also have that positive impact on others.”
Cooper’s wife, Lt. Col. Sara Cooper, is a 1999 Academy graduate and Reserve officer.
“My wife and family keep me moving in the right direction,” he said. “I’m continually amazed at her depth of knowledge, tireless effort, and devotion to the Air Force and our family. She always inspires me to do more.”
Cooper’s favorite aspect of working at the Academy is simple.
“It’s guiding cadets through academic content and Air Force career topics,” he said.
Today’s cadets remind Cooper of the importance of a commitment to military service.
“My classmates from decades ago fought and led in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and in so many areas for our Air Force and nation,” he said. “When I was a cadet, the ‘Long Blue Line’ was an understandable concept, but the longer I serve, the clearer I see what the cadets are joining. I’m proud to be a part of shaping them on that journey.”
Neff: ‘Lifelong Learning’
Neff, from Butler, Pennsylvania, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh’s ROTC program in 1999 with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. Since then, he’s earned a master’s in electrical engineering from the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering; a master’s in flight test engineering from the Air Force Test Pilot School; a master’s in military arts and science from Air University; and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology.
“It’s an honor to be selected for this opportunity and serve with an incredibly diverse and qualified faculty,” he said. “I’m humbled by the opportunity to influence future generations of Air Force leaders.”
Neff said he owes his success to his family and parents.
“I would not be where I am today if not for their incredible support and sacrifice,” he said.
He also credits his mentors for his achievements.
“I’ve had incredible mentors along the way, which is why I’m so excited about the opportunity to pay it forward,” he said. “I’ve tried to make the most of every opportunity, and when it came time for past supervisors to give me opportunities like deputy group commander or squadron commander, they pushed me forward and set me up for where I am today.”
Like Cooper, Neff said his daily contact with cadets keeps him grounded.
“My favorite aspect of serving at the Academy is easily the interaction with the cadets, and simultaneously guiding the institution’s ability to provide the best educational experience.”
Neff said he plans to continue promoting his belief in the value of education and military service.
“I hope to bring my passion for the electrical and computer engineering discipline, an interest in lifelong learning, and the opportunity to influence the balance of all the demands we place on our cadets,” he said.
Pravecek: ‘Superior Teaching, Research and Service’
Pravecek, from Central Point, Oregon, graduated from the Academy in 1990 with a bachelor’s in biology. She went on to earn a master’s in biological chemistry from Wright State University, Ohio; a master’s in military operational arts from Air University; and a doctorate of environmental science and engineering in from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“I was happy the wait [for confirmation] was over and everything I was doing was now official and permanent,” she said. “Being selected as a permanent professor means I have the opportunity to continue to serve my country past 30 years, and guide and influence our cadets and the amazing professionals in the chemistry department.
Pravecek said she owes her achievements to her coworkers and family.
“My success can be attributed to every mentor and supervisor who helped me along the way,” she said. “My mentors and coworkers here really inspire a love for teaching and lifelong learning that’s carried me through my career.
“My son Zakhar is a constant inspiration, and I couldn’t have done all of this without the constant support and encouragement of my parents, Larry Pravecek of South Dakota and Evelyn Pravecek of Connecticut, who took care of my son during every assignment change, temporary deployment, exercise or unit inspection,” she said.
Pravecek hopes to bring new energy to the Chemistry Department.
“I hope to enable our vision of ‘superior teaching, research and service,’” she said. “We have enthusiastic and dedicated faculty here and I want to make their jobs easier and even more effective by combining the lessons learned from my previous experiences in the Air Force.”
Pravecek said faculty and staff at the Chemistry Department focus on meeting the needs of the Air Force.
“We’re driving to ensure we meet the needs of the Air Force in the best way possible, through growth and development of cadets, supporting our faculty and staff and conducting Air Force-relevant research,” she said. “The Academy is an exciting and invigorating place to be.”
Sloan: ‘A Great Holiday Gift’
Sloan, from Powhatan, Virginia, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1998 with a bachelor’s in civil engineering. He also hold a master’s in civil engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a doctorate in civil engineering from Virginia Tech University.
He said his confirmation as a permanent professor is a great holiday gift.
“My initial thought upon learning I was selected in March was that it was actually very humbling,” he said. “I’m honored the superintendent [Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria], the dean, and other permanent professors selected me to serve the Academy in this role.”
Sloan said his parents, Fred and Grace Sloan, and his experience as a cadet, created the foundation for a successful career.
“My time as a cadet was certainly a formative experience and set me up for success, and my wife Nancy [Sloan] has been a rock over the years,” he said. “I certainly would not be here without her.”
Sloan said former Civil and Engineering Department permanent professors also contributed to his achievements.
“The members of the Air Force’s Civil Engineering Development Team gave me some great assignments over the years, which helped propel my civil engineering career,” he said.
Sloan said he’ll rely on his academic and operational Air Force experience in his new position, which includes his time as a special operations engineer, a civil engineering squadron commander, and three-years’-worth of deployments.
“I’m very glad to be on board for this role,” he said.
Sauter: ‘A Renewed Sense of Purpose and Energy’
Sauter, from Eaton, Colorado, graduated from the Academy in 2002 with a bachelor’s in astronautical engineering. He went on to earn a master’s in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Surrey, England.
“I was excited and relieved that we’d been confirmed and that I would be able to continue to lead such an amazing department and academic major,” he said.
Sauter said setting goals, working to find common ground and working hard led to his success.
“I hope to bring a renewed sense of purpose and energy to the department, the astronautics major and the institution,” he said. “I hope to invigorate cadet awareness and involvement in the Air Force’s space mission.
“I’m truly honored by the trust and confidence bestowed upon me and my fellow permanent professors as we continue to build on the successes of our predecessors in making this a truly world class institution,” he said.
Finally, Sauter said he owes his family a wealth of thanks for their support.
“They’re a huge part of my life and back everything I do,” he said. “I really want to honor them.”