High school students wake up to Academy experience

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
About 350 high-school students found out the morning of June 7, about a half hour before sunrise, what distinguishes the Air Force Academy from other four-year colleges.

A half-second blast from an air horn signaled cadets to spring into action at 5:10 a.m. They pounded on doors, yelling, "Wake up! Open this door right now! Hurry up!" Young men and women dressed in gray shorts and blue T-shirts shuffled -- some more quickly than others -- into the tight hallways of Vandenberg Hall. Cadets led them through push-ups and four-count leg lifts and had them recite the phonetic alphabet or sing the Air Force Song.

Cadets 2nd Class Bryant Mateus from Cadet Squadron 17 and Allison Swaney from CS 19 were among the element leaders giving attendees a small taste of life as a freshman, or Doolie, during Basic Cadet Training.

"Get louder! You're not loud enough!" Cadet Mateus shouted. "Why was my element last week a lot louder than you are?"

"If you can't sing the Air Force Song with pride, then don't sing it at all. That's an insult to the Air Force Song," Cadet Swaney said as she told her element to start over.

That wake-up call is exactly what 17-year-old Dallas native Jared Johnson said he was looking forward to.

"I want to see if I can stand it," he said the afternoon of June 6, shortly after arriving here for the three-day seminar.

The Summer Seminar seeks to immerse high school juniors and seniors in cadet life to help them decide whether they want to apply for the Academy, said Lt. Col. Lee Taylor, the Academy Admissions office's regional director for much of the southwestern United States.

While the "Doolie for a Day" segment may be most memorable for attendees, it's only one facet of the overall program.

"This is our premier recruiting program," Colonel Taylor said. "We have the students live a representative sample (of Academy life) for three days so they can make an informed decision about whether they want to be here. Our goal is to motivate them to complete the process and get an appointment."

The Dean of Faculty staff worked with Admissions to create an academic information fair, a new addition to this year's seminar. The event gives students information on the Academy's core curriculum and helps them see where academics fit into the scope of cadets' professional military education.

"The students get about 90 minutes to mingle with faculty representatives from our 20 departments," said Maj. Conrad Preedom, an instructor with the Department of Management and the Dean of Faculty's project officer for this year's seminar. "The students can ask or discuss anything, but they generally want to know about how their expertise and goals align with the Academy curriculum."

More than 50 instructors offer workshops that illustrate building and flying gliders, setting up a forward base, discussing ethics and philosophy and more, Major Preedom said.

In addition, a series of "way forward" briefings informs students on how to navigate the application process and what they can expect from military life after the Academy, Colonel Taylor explained. Cadet element leaders hold question-and-answer sessions with the attendees each evening to answer miscellaneous questions about cadet life.

Those aren't the only recent changes to the Summer Seminar program. In 2009, the seminar schedule was compressed from five days to three so that the Admissions office could set up a third session, Colonel Taylor said. Based on student feedback from previous years' sessions, presenters hold their sessions in the morning and early afternoon, with physical activities scheduled toward the late afternoon and evening.

Other Summer Seminar highlights this year include an element-based scavenger hunt called the "This Amazing Place" race, modeled after the TV show, "The Amazing Race," and practice sessions for the candidate fitness assessment, which includes a one-handed basketball throw, pull-ups, push-ups, crunches and a one-mile run.

Roughly 40 percent of students lean toward applying to attend the Air Force Academy even before they arrive, Colonel Taylor said. Another 20 percent are considering either the Air Force Academy or one of the other military service academies. More than 90 percent of those who attend leave more motivated to complete the application process.

Students' families pay $350 for the experience, which includes lodging, meals, travel to and from the Colorado Springs Airport, Air Force Academy clothing and backpacks and three 17-hour days of physical and academic activity. The price does not include transportation costs to or from Colorado Springs. Colonel Taylor said the Admissions office can waive the cost of attending Summer Seminar on a case-by-case basis.