U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Ever met a Falcon scholar?
You probably have if you’ve spend time with Air Force officers, but you might not have known it.
Since the 1960s, the Falcon Foundation here has helped more than 4,500 cadet-candidates enter the Air Force Academy with its Falcon Scholars Program.
Two Falcon scholars are Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and his predecessor, retired Gen. Mark Welsh III. Another is Cadet 1st Class Sara Fishbein, the former spring semester Cadet Wing commander. The Cadet Wing’s vice commander, Cadet 1st Class Howlett Cohick, is also a Falcon scholar.
Most cadets are directly appointed to the Academy after graduating high school but Goldfein, Welsh, Fishbein and Cohick were not among them. They needed an extra boost.
“The Falcon Foundation made a huge difference in my preparation for the academy,” Fishbein said. “It gave me a chance to focus on my academic weaknesses, develop more effective study habits, and surround myself with a group of like-minded people with similar goals.”
Falcon Foundation president, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Kelley, said the foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports but is independent of the Academy. The foundation awards scholarships to 60-to-100 young men and women each year to widen the pool of potential cadet-candidates, he said. Those potential cadets attend one of six prep schools in the U.S.
“The prep school pays one-fourth, the family of the cadet pays one-fourth and the foundation pays 50-percent,” Kelley said.
The foundation will, on a case-by-case basis, consider paying the family’s 25-percent.
“The Admissions Office at the Air Force Academy makes a point to understand the applicant’s socioeconomic situation,” Kelley said.
Col. Jacqueline Breeden, the Academy Prep School’s commander, said the Prep School and Falcon Foundation serve as vehicles through which some aspiring youth can achieve a service academy appointment.
“Likewise, both also afford the service academies a means by which talented youth can be groomed for appointment [to the Academy], and diverse candidates in all categories can become competitive for selection, she said.
“The Falcon Foundation scholarships benefits the Academy by further engaging talent from across the country in a manner that orients them to the profession of arms,” Breeden said.
Kelley said Falcon scholarships cost the Academy nothing and the foundation does not influence the Academy’s selection process.
“The Falcon Foundation doesn’t select the cadet-candidates to be offered a Falcon scholarship,” he said. “The Academy’s Admissions Office does that. Once the Admissions Office identifies young men and women to be offered a Falcon scholarship, the scholarship recipient selects one of the six schools to provide the preparatory experience.”
Those six prep school are: Greystone at Schriener, in Kerrville, Texas; Kent School in Kent, Connecticut; Marion Institute in Marion, Alabama; New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico; Northwestern Preparatory School in Crestline, California; or Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal, Virginia.
Fishbein attended Northwestern Prep. Cohick attended Greystone Prep.
“The Falcon Scholars Program provides select applicants not directly appointed to the Academy the chance to attend a prep school and become qualified, or more competitive, for appointment to the Academy,” said Larry Jones, the deputy director of the Academy’s Admissions Directorate
Prospective cadet-candidates first apply for appointment to the Academy to be considered for a Falcon Foundation scholarship.
“The Academy’s admissions process determines which applicants would be good candidates for the Falcon Scholars Program,” Jones said. “Admissions Office staff notifies the applicant and the Falcon Foundation of those selected for scholarship opportunities.”
Jones said the needs of the Air Force determine how the Academy’s admissions programs are applied.
“Providing opportunities for applicants who will not be appointed directly to the Academy, but who meet specific and future Air Force needs, is what the Falcon scholarship program is about,” he said.
Kelley said a cadet-candidate’s athletic or technical potential alone do not help them become a Falcon scholar.
“In fact, from the time the foundation began until a few years ago, Falcon scholarship earners were required by the Academy had to possess the potential to eventually become pilots,” he said. “While that requirement no longer exists, most of the Falcon scholars are qualified to fly.”
Jones said the role of the Falcon Scholars Program changes to meet the service’s needs.
“Pilot requirements, along with many other Air Force requirements, are considered by Admissions when selecting applicants for the Falcon Scholars Program,” he said. “The prevalent future needs of the Air Force now dictate once again that Falcon scholars are pilot qualified.”
Cadet-candidates admitted to the Academy Prep School do not receive assistance from the Falcon Foundation. All applicants for appointment to the Academy are screened by the Academy’s Admissions Directorate.
“The applicants are either appointed to the Academy, offered admission to the Academy Prep School, offered a Falcon Foundation scholarship [to attend one of the six prep school’s not affiliated with the Academy], or denied admission and encouraged to improve their records to reapply the following year,” Breeden said.
Breeden said the Air Force Academy Prep School and Falcon Foundation remain unofficial but beneficial partners.
“Lt. Gen. Kelley and I have developed a good rapport and have discussed the similarities of our individual programs,” Breeden said. “Despite this independence, our relationship is linked through the common factor of preparing our students for the rigors of the Academy and we each contribute significantly to diversity recruitment and retention efforts.”
The Academy Prep School does not interact with the Falcon Foundation in any official capacity but Breeden said she’s glad the organizations are good neighbors.
“We support their mission and similarly strive to align our developmental initiatives with the Academy’s Officer Development System, and collaborate when appropriate during events such as the Academy-hosted Falcon Foundation Prep School Workshop,” she said.
Kelley said along with providing scholarships, the Falcon Foundation is involved in other forms of support to the Academy.
“We work with the Academy Endowment to provide funds for a variety of programs and projects at the Academy, to include the Arnold statue and others, support the aeronautical engineering programs, and enable young people who cannot afford to visit the Academy a chance to come and take a look,” he said.
Fishbein said the support from the Falcon Foundation played a large role in preparing her for cadet life.
“I might have ended up at Academy without the Falcon Foundation, but I definitely would not have been as successful,” she said. “I remember wondering if taking an extra year to get to the Academy instead of pursuing other options would be worth it, but in hindsight, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Fishbein is scheduled to graduate with the Class of 2017 May 24 at Falcon Stadium.
Visit www.falconfoundation.org and www.academyadmissions.com for more information.
Editor’s note: The Falcon Foundation was created in 1958. Its mission is to “further the ability of exceptional young men and women to attend the United States Air Force Academy and pursue Air, Space, Cyber careers in the U.S Air Force through awarding junior college and preparatory school Falcon Foundation scholarships, providing ongoing support to US Air Force Academy programs, and mentoring our Falcon scholars,” according to the organization’s website.