WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – With support from the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Academy expanded its summer research program for undergraduate cadets and is provided virtual research opportunities to the largest group ever in the school’s history.
“Thanks to AFRL, many more of our future Air Force and Space Force leaders will be exposed to research during their undergraduate studies,” said Col. Chris McClernon, the Academy's associate dean of research.
Seventy-four scientists and engineers from the AFRL advised 165 cadets and worked with them remotely to complete various research projects. In one effort, students supported an experimental flight test program.
“We are grateful that AFRL provided incredibly meaningful opportunities for so many cadets,” said Maj. Jeremiah Betz, assistant professor and the director of the Academy's Cadet Summer Research Program.
During this three to seven-week internship program, senior cadets usually work in labs at universities across the country. However, the Defense Department's stop-movement order halted travel, and two-thirds of the original sponsoring organizations declined to participate due to COVID-19. Faculty and staff reached out to the Academy’s network of industry, academic, government and military sponsors for help in developing alternate assignments.
Upon learning of the request, AFRL’s chief technology officer, Dr. Tim Bunning, compiled a list of 100 research topics by working with the various AFRL technology directorates and their chief scientists.
“Specifically, the Academy asked if we would be interested in enabling research internships on topics of interest to us where cadets and AFRL [subject matter experts] could jointly participate in a virtual, collaborative, multi-week research experience,” Bunning said.
Once Bunning provided AFRL’s list to McClernon, individual academic department representatives at the Academy matched the topics with cadets to maximize participation.
“The impressive growth of [this program] amid a global pandemic speaks to the innovative spirit and determination of the faculty and staff, the eagerness of cadets to participate in new experiences, and our external partners like AFRL that value cadet participation in their research,” McClernon said.
The Academy's dean of faculty, Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre, described this year’s program as “a remarkable opportunity for cadets to immerse themselves in current research confronting the Air Force and Space Forces.
"I can’t thank the AFRL enough for their creativity and willingness to engage our cadets on a full range of technical challenges,” she said.
The Academy’s summer research program teaches problem-solving techniques through real world application of classroom principles. The experience helps students develop key leadership skills and build lasting partnerships.
By working these research projects, the cadets gain experience in “formulating answers to complex technical questions that don’t come with canned answers from a textbook,” Bunning said.
The AFRL has supported this research program in the past, although on a smaller scale. In 2019, AFRL employees mentored 26 cadets.
(See the Academy's last two news reports on cadet research at https://www.usafa.af.mil/News/News-Display/Article/2269018/cadet-research-at-af-academy-in-full-swing-despite-coronavirus/ and https://www.usafa.af.mil/News/News-Display/Article/2191282/dod-super-computer-aids-cadets-aero-research-at-academy/ )