Awards ceremony recognizes revolutionary research of cadets, faculty

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

Analyzing Nigerian refugee camps to create long-term sustainable solutions, and timely famine response while working in Silicon Valley, was one of three projects earning Cadet 1st Class Saylor Gilbert the top cadet summer research program award, Jan. 26.


Gilbert’s work was among cadet and faculty research projects recognized Jan. 26 at the 21st Annual Air Force Academy Research Awards ceremony.


Cadets competed for the Thomas. D. Moore Award for outstanding cadet summer research, with four finalists from each academic division of engineering: basic sciences, humanities and social sciences. Gilbert, an economics major from Castle Pines, is the overall winner.


Gilbert interned for more than six weeks at a Silicon Valley firm, working on three projects to address business and humanitarian challenges, and analyzing Nigerian refugee camp growth to create long term sustainable solutions for support, applied by US AID throughout the world.


Due to cooperative research and development agreements between the Air Force and the research partner, information on some projects Gilbert and the firm worked on is not releasable. These agreements with an outside partner have provisions to prevent disclosure and protect proprietary information.


Gilbert’s research on rapid famine response led international organizations to reroute food supplies to thousands of African villagers fleeing the terrorist organization, Boko Haram.


“Cadet Gilbert received an unofficial job offer from the head of intern hires for her outstanding work across all three projects,” said Management Department head Col. Troy Harting in Saylor’s award nomination. “They were so impressed by her efforts they are demanding more cadets for future years.”


This opens opportunities for cadets to work with industry partners, as part of the Academy’s Cadet Summer Research Program. Last summer, approximately 180 cadets worked individual research projects with military, government and commercial research partners, including the three award finalists, Cadets 1st Class Ryan Tetla, Nathan Buxton and Jonathan Earp-Pitkins.

Cadet finalists

Tetla won the basic sciences division. His research at Louisiana State University identified the first biological market for post-traumatic stress disorder in rats, advancing countless research projects to find synthetic means to replicate behavioral changes, and create an effective treatment for PTSD.

Buxton won the engineering division. He worked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to create an aerodynamic design for a glider Unmanned Ariel Vehicle. His research was cited in his awards nomination for its innovative design, confidence and engineering.  


Jonathan Earp-Pitkins won the humanities division. He interned at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, China, using his Mandarin language skills while studying Chinese moves in the South China Sea. The Carnegie Center leadership requested more Academy cadets for future internships after he delivered his research paper and briefings.

Dean of Faculty Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost was among the award presenters.


“These accomplishments are something that should inspire in all of us this tremendous sense of curiosity,” he said. “This is what research is about. It’s about exploring new areas of discovery. It’s about finding out how hypotheses test out. It’s about creating new things, new knowledge and new ideas.”

Faculty awards

The faculty side of research was recognized at the ceremony, with a new award recognizing technology transfer, and a host of awards recognizing individual excellence.


Dr, Craig Foster, Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, won the McDermott Award for Research Excellence in Social Sciences. A social psychology professor who joined the Academy faculty in 1999, his research focuses on scientific reasoning and the development of pseudo-scientific beliefs.


“I have learned that people often promote information that is inconsistent with science and reason,” he said. “I have also learned that people can be remarkably stubborn and defensive when their beliefs are confronted by evidence. These lessons have profoundly influenced the way I teach cadets.”


Professor Greg Laski, Department of English and Fine Arts, won the McDermott Award for Research Excellence in Humanities. He wrote about race, democracy and citizenship in America. His courses intentionally exchange ideas between professor and cadets, encouraging cadets to conduct mature conversations about the influence that race relations have on modern politics, according to his awards nomination.


Lt. Col. Cory Cooper, Department of Engineering Mechanics, won the Research Excellence in Technology Transfer award. He led a team of Systems and Mechanical Engineering cadets in a capstone engineering project to replace the Fast Rope Insertion and Extraction System. Sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, the team developed three new inventions with the potential to revolutionize vertical personnel descent. 


Dr. Kellie Kuhn, Department of Biology, won the award for Immediate Impact in Research. She studies the ecological and evolutionary consequences of global-climate change on plant-animal interactions. Kuhn combines field and laboratory experiments with demography, genetics, biochemistry, and animal behavior to understand patterns of species diversity and how organisms adapt to changing environments.


Lt. Col. John McGee, Department of Biology, won the Frank J. Seiler Award for Basic Sciences. McGee was noted for involving cadets in research and the scientific process which has led cadets to the successful presenting and publishing of their work. His research findings and expertise in warfighter neuromuscular injuries led to his appointment as the only Air Force representative to the Joint Program Committee for neuromuscular research. 


Dr. George York, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, won the Frank J. Seiler Award for Engineering. The 1986 Academy graduate is the director of the Academy Center for Unmanned Ariel Systems research. York and his center produced two journal articles and eight conference papers, and worked on six UAS projects totaling $965,000. They developed methods for an autonomous swarm of UAVs to navigate without using GPS and implemented sense and avoid algorithms on multiple UAVs to avoid collisions with other aircraft and then continue on their missions.


Dr. Nathan Wozny, Department of Economics and Geosciences, won the Martinson Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Research Award, given for outstanding educational research performed by a member of the Academy faculty who focuses on cadet learning. Wozny examined the flipped classroom, a popular method of promoting active learning by using video lectures as homework and class time for student-centered, interactive exercises. His study found positive, statistically significant impacts of a flipped classroom relative to a traditional lecture on cadet performance on test scores.


Along with Armacost, the event’s guest speaker Gen. Lori Robinson, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command; Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers; and Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, presented the awards to the Academy cadets and faculty.