A Knowledge Outcome: Principles of engineering, application of technology
By Col. Thomas Yoder, Engineering and Technology Outcome Team Lead
/ Published May 19, 2009
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
"The academic discipline of engineering (or, perhaps, more broadly, technology) should be included in the liberal arts canon undergirding a 21st-century undergraduate education for all students." -- The Millennium Project
The 1950 Stearns-Eisenhower Report, a founding document for the formation of the Air Force Academy, considered it "essential that a graduate of a Service Academy have a background of knowledge comparable to that possessed by graduates of our leading universities."
The report also stated that the graduates' "field of knowledge should include the arts and sciences in addition to professional military subjects."
Going on to say that "more attention be devoted at all Service Academies to science and engineering courses to continue the development of the student's ability to formulate physical problems," the U.S. Air Force Academy boasts 50 years of doing just that. We are teaching our cadets to apply basic knowledge of our physical world toward building capability and technology for our Air Force, one officer at a time.
The U.S. Air Force has prided itself as the nation's premier service in terms of leveraging high-tech and leading-edge engineering to accomplish its mission with remarkable effect. On the heels of graduation, our young officers will fully recognize the technical challenges of their service's mission and the physical capabilities and limits within their assigned career fields and weapon systems.
The nation's trust is in these officers to not be only "operators," but to become experts in the technology and the principles that are at work and devise enhanced capability that is essential to the actual survival of the nation. In essence, we ask all officers to be architects of operational art and capability; that skill is founded in part on the application of scientific and technological principles.
Our officers will need to solve challenges such as prematurely failing aircraft, the implications of biosynthetic fuel use, increased demand on limited satellite communications capability, oversight of vendor-designed software that doesn't deliver the desired value added, new opponent capability that trumps stealth, and cyber threats that attempt to disconnect us from our networks.
Those challenges demand a broad educational experience in both the underlying sciences and the application of those principles against challenges in a number of separate domains (air, space and cyber). We are creating decision-makers that leverage such understanding and skill toward enhancing the capabilities of complex systems; a foundation for "Excellence in all we do."
Understanding the Principles of Engineering and the Application of Technology means to exhibit knowledge of the following:
-- The engineering disciplines as a foundation for leadership, problem-solving and decision making in our technology-rich Air Force,
-- How engineering principles are applied to air, space and cyberspace operations,
-- The systems approach as a basis for framing and resolving complex problems in operational environments,
-- Ethical implications and unintended effects associated with the application and methods of science and technology, and the
-- Techniques and processes that cultivate innovation and the solving of ill-defined problems.
While the curricula at the U.S. Air Force Academy addresses each of the listed attributes, the largest number of courses and programs exist within accredited majors programs, allowing a cadet to tailor the USAFA educational experience to a personal emphasis on an air, space or cyberspace orientation.
However, every cadet experiences an intention sequence of instruction that addresses individual engineering disciplines as a foundation for leadership, problem-solving and decision making in our technology-rich Air Force, and the systems approach as a basis for framing and resolving complex problems in operational environments.
Over four years, cadets grow, practice and hone their Engineering and Technology understanding. During their first year at the Academy, cadets are introduced to their Air Force's technological demands with introductory Computer Science and Engineering courses. Common problem-solving tools are introduced early, directed toward problems growing more ill-defined over the cadets' four-year experience.
Additionally, components of an engineering or technology problem are introduced to four- and three-degree cadets at a subsystem level while increasing levels of system complexity with interfaces and connectivity issues are introduced in later years.
Development of this "systems understanding" is deliberately accomplished through a 4-year progression of courses and projects that provide appreciation of algorithm and component knowledge through subsystem-level understanding and then to a system-of-systems perspective.
This provides each cadet the knowledge and skill to comprehend the capacity and limitations of complex systems by understanding the same at each level of the system and those inherent with the system's interfaces and interactions.
The content of each course and project intentionally parallels the ODS PITO model. Fourth- and third-classmen are provided content that emphasizes the personal and interpersonal levels of content and application; individual algorithm development and fundamental systems such as rockets, gliders and basic networks with assessments of individual homework, lab write-ups and simple group projects.
Second- and first-class cadets apply engineering principles to more advanced systems through experiences that place more emphasis on the team and organization; UAS systems are analyzed and designed in the role of air base defense, electronic component knowledge is applied to USAF electronic systems, and space fundamentals are applied to the ideation, design and analysis of a global system-of-systems capability with assessments of larger scale team design projects, final group reports and briefings and an extensive analysis and design of the capabilities and limitations inherent within a global, space-based system-of-systems.
Charles M. Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering, recently said, "Engineering is critical to meeting the fundamental challenges facing the U.S. economy, environment, health, security, and way of life in the 21st century."
For graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy, they will certainly experience these challenges during their time serving both Air Force and country. Our grads will enter their Air Force immersed in knowledge and application of science, technology and engineering principles, ready to answer the call to meet the challenge.