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Senior grabs first-place prizes at capstone competitions

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Academy cadets relied on their capstone projects to take first-place prizes in three competitions earlier this month and in April.

Cadet 1st Class Chelsie Lehmann competed in an elevator pitch competition at the University of North Dakota, April 13. She was given 60 seconds to explain a business plan her team created to support a texting prototype developed to aid scuba divers and Navy SEALS communicate underwater, said Lt. Col. Tim Pettit, management department director of research and associate professor at the Academy.

The team, which included Cadets 1st Class Ethan Vokes, Gordon Broadbent, Mike Legaspi and Cadet 2nd Class Anthony Canino, took second place overall at the University of North Dakota's Giant's Entrepreneurship Challenge, an international competition comprised of teams from various universities.

"This competition was the most challenging and rewarding academic experience in my life," Vokes said. "I'm ready to take this idea to the next level and hope to benefit Air Force special forces and Navy SEALS with our technology."

On April 26, four cadet teams travelled to Suffolk, Va., to compete against cadets from the U.S. Military Academy in the Inaugural Flight line of the Future competition, sponsored by Lockheed Martin Corporation and hosted at their Center for Innovation.

"The Flightline of the Future was a true capstone," Pettit said. "Cadets were given a broad topic, then forced to refine their problem statement based on the sponsor's needs. They were able to travel to Nellis Air Force Base (Nev.) and Creech AFB (Nev.) to see the current processes in action and discuss their innovations with Air Force and Lockheed Martin experts."

The Academy team of Cadets 1st Class Foster Meier, Kyle Lenz, Eric Millen, Christopher Ruiz, and Jack Taute was given the task of envisioning the future of aircraft maintenance technical manuals, Pettit said.

According to the first place team, augmented reality will replace printed repair manuals or laptop-based instructions by not only putting the text on the worker's glasses, but also identifying the necessary items and linking the mechanic in a video conference with engineers, all while they are still working on the aircraft.

Cadets from the Operations Research capstone also took first place in their category, using their mathematical and programming skills to create a tool to optimally place buildings during an Air Force bare-base beddown, or a location with little to no facilities, said Pettit.

Cadets 1st Class Zach Matthews, Ethan Senn, Beth Coleman and Loren VanRassen used a deploying unit's manpower plans to create a three-dimensional map which could save a deployed unit an estimated $100,000 in labor costs over a four month deployment, he said.

"I had fun hearing the cadets' innovative ideas of the future," said Jim Miller, one of this year's judges and the technical director of the Air Force Sustainment Center's Engineering Directorate, Tinker AFB. "I already have my staff looking at how we can take their idea and move them forward into reality."

At Capstone Day on May 2, Cadets 1st Class Adam Carr, Ryan Kunce, Mike Leland, and Connor McKown earned another first place in their track for their capstone with Walmart to improve how their distribution centers arrange pallets of dry groceries to reduce the labor required to stock those items in store aisles.

Findings from this project will provide savings from the restocking process in each of Walmart's more than 4,000 stores, Pettit said.

"It was great to see all of the students come together and present the results of their year-long projects in the collaborative and competitive environment of Capstone Day," said Capt. Brian Lemay, assistant professor and course director for the Operations Research Capstone course. "I'm very proud of each and every team. They all represented the Academy extremely well."