Academy dean recognizes excellent research at annual awards ceremony

  • Published
  • By Ray Bowden

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Despite challenges the coronavirus created for the Defense Department and the U.S. over the last year, research at the Air Force Academy is still thriving and celebrated.  

Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre, the Academy's dean of the faculty, hosted the institution’s annual Research Awards Ceremony April 6 to highlight the research of cadets and faculty members over the last year. The ceremony took place in Fairchild Hall with an audience of 30 cadets and faculty members, and was livestreamed across the Academy, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Arlington, Virginia and the Air Force Research Lab in Dayton, Ohio.

“I am most proud of this awards ceremony because while COVID-19 affects us all, it did not interrupt our research programs,” she said. “Our 2020 Research Awards Ceremony was the last large in-person event at the Academy before the pandemic upended our nation and our world. 

“The phenomenal research accomplishments of our cadets and faculty continued despite the significant barriers imposed by the pandemic,” Letendre said. “Masks, social distancing and virtual interactions never slowed our research programs.”

The Academy has a history of advancing research for the betterment of U.S. society, said the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Shery Welsh, AFOSR director.

“Think of all the amazing people who came before you,” Welsh told the audience and the hundreds’ watching the livestream. “I have no doubt cadets and faculty who came before you have made the Air Force and the Air Force Academy a better institution. Your education gives you a remarkable starting point.”

Welsh heads a staff of more than 200 scientists, engineers and administrators in five countries. The AFOSR funds nearly $500 million dollars each year in basic science research at 300 academic institutions, including the Academy.

“I’m extremely proud the Air Force Academy is an AFOSR partner, and we are especially grateful for your support during this difficult year,” Letendre said to Welsh.

‘I Was Shocked’
Cadet 1st Class Lauren Peterson is a biology major and the Academy’s top summer researcher.

“When I received word that I was selected not only as the basic sciences division recipient but also as the overall Thomas D. Moore Award recipient, I was shocked,” Peterson said. “The high caliber of my peers and their respective research projects was inspiring, so for me to be selected was a very humbling experience.”

Peterson said her research topic seems an overwhelming complex topic given its subject: “Glucose-6-Phosphate-Dehydrogenase – or “G6PD” – deficiency.

 “Essentially, I investigated clinical and biomarker data from patients who suffered combat-related injuries to better understand connections between G6PD, combat wound healing and respiratory disease,” she said. “My retrospective gene and bioinformatics data analyses laid the foundation for future prospective wound healing and COVID-19 research involving G6PD aimed to help wounded warriors across the DOD.

“At first, I was overwhelmed by this research topic's complexity,” Peterson said. “What I learned from this experience is that the baseline of knowledge you possess going into a research project isn't the determining factor. Rather, what matters is what you learn throughout the process. We are always learning, which is why research is invaluable and humbling. It teaches you to recognize your knowledge gaps, ask questions, and be amazed by the vast expanse of questions and problems that are still waiting to be investigated.”

Luckily, Peterson said, she had an abundance of help while researching.

“I can't express my gratitude for the amazing support system I had,” she said. “The biology department faculty, Dr. Desiree Unselt of the Surgical Critical Care Initiative at the Uniformed Services University and the Academy for supporting cadet research.”

The Surgical Critical Care Initiative, funded by the DOD's Defense Health Program, develops decision-making tools in the management of complex and critically injured patients.

Thomas D. Moore Award for Outstanding Cadet Summer Research
Presented in honor of Maj. Thomas Moore, a former professor of physics and electrical engineering at the Academy killed during the Vietnam War. The award celebrates outstanding summer research in the school’s four academic divisions.

- Cadet 1st Class Lauren Peterson, basic sciences division and overall winner

- Cadet 1st Class Parker Ferguson, social sciences division

- Cadet 1st Class Zachery Flash, humanities division

- Cadet 1st Class Robert Warner, engineering division

Dean of the Faculty Award for Outstanding Cadet Research
The Award for Outstanding Cadet Research recognizes cadets for achievement in furthering Academy research. The award is based on mission impact, solutions provided, how catalytic the work is for further research, and other significant accomplishments including publications.

- Cadets 1st Class Jessica Beyer and Christopher Patterson, team category

- Cadet 1st Class Henry Gilchrist, individual category

Robert F. McDermott Award
Brig. Gen. Robert McDermott was the Academy’s first permanent professor and first permanent dean of the faculty. He laid the groundwork for the school’s astronautical research laboratory and introduced approximately 30 academic majors during his tenure at the Academy. The award recognizes faculty excellence in humanities and the social sciences.

- Dr. Daniel Couch, English professor, research excellence in the humanities

- Dr. Ryan Burke, deputy department head of the military and strategic studies department,    

 research excellence in the social sciences

- Dr. Lynne Chandler-Garcia, political science professor, award for immediate impact

- Dr. Michael Anderson, mechanical engineering professor, award for technology transfer

Frank J. Seiler Award for Faculty Research Excellence
Colonel Frank Seiler was devoted to increasing the prominence of Air Force laboratories and improving career opportunities for young officers who are scientists. Sponsored by the AFOSR, the award recognizes outstanding researchers conducting basic scientific and engineering research.

- Dr. Ryan Cress, a former Academy physics professor, basic sciences division

- Dr. Thomas Yechout, an aeronautics professor, engineering division

Martison Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award
Dr. Kelly Lemmons, a geography professor, received the Martison Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award, which highlights outstanding educational research of faculty members with a focus on cadet learning. Lemmons’ research demonstrates overall excellence and acceptance by other experts in the field.