USAFA enlisted faculty members visit AFIT

  • Published
  • By By Katie Scott
  • Air Force Institute of Technology

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The Air Force Institute of Technology hosted three enlisted faculty members from the United States Air Force Academy, Oct. 17, aiming at educating current enlisted master’s students there about opportunities to teach.

USAFA’s Enlisted Academic Faculty Program began in early 2019 with the goal of adding noncommissioned officers to their faculty ranks. It is the first of the service academies to have enlisted service members as official faculty members.

Currently, there are 11 enlisted members on faculty with enlisted faculty members meeting the same criteria and advanced academic degree requirements as all faculty members.

Chief Master Sgts. Michael Deiderich and William Baez and Master Sgt. James Earley participated in the AFIT visit.

“Teaching at the Air Force Academy, first and foremost, is an opportunity for an enlisted member to share their operational experience and leverage their education directly with cadets,” said Deiderich, who joined USAFA in July as the senior enlisted leader to the dean of faculty and instructor in the academy’s Department of Management. “It will allow them, in terms of career progression, to really stand out and grow in ways that virtually none of their peers will be able to.”

Baez is the individual mobilized augmentee to the senior enlisted leader in the academy’s Dean of Faculty Department and an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. In 2018, Baez earned a doctorate in physics from The Ohio State University and the following year was selected as USAFA’s first Air Force Reserve enlisted faculty member.

“It's an opportunity for those of us who have the privilege to teach at the academy to have a direct influence on the future leaders of the Air Force,” Baez said. “It's not every day that you can be in front of these cadets and any one of them could be the future chief of staff. It is the best assignment I have had so far.”

Earley is an instructor in the academy’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. He earned a master’s degree in systems engineering from AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management in 2022 and was the first AFIT enlisted graduate to have a follow-on assignment as faculty at the academy.

“During my time at AFIT, we did a lot of study research and then we would essentially teach that to each other,” Earley said. “That kind of dynamic really helped me stand up in front of a bunch of cadets.”

According to the Air Force Personnel Office, more than 80 percent of the Air and Space Force active-duty population is enlisted and only 14 percent of senior noncommissioned officers have a master’s degree. 

With more than 200 senior NCOs as alumni, AFIT is the most pertinent source to recruit enlisted members with master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. 

“The handful of enlisted members that get an opportunity to study at AFIT stand out amongst their peers and this is a very unique opportunity for them,” Deiderich said. “Teaching at the Air Force Academy is a potential way for them and the Air Force to leverage that investment.”

In addition to technical knowledge of their discipline and the ability to communicate clearly, being empathetic is a key quality to being a successful faculty member there.

“The cadets are not traditional college students taking 12 to 15 credits per semester,” Baez said.  “They are taking 20 credits on top of all the extracurricular activities that they have. They are challenged to excel both academically and physically while also developing their leadership skills. As faculty, we need to be able to empathize with the stress the academy puts on cadets but also hold them to the Air Force standard.”

Deiderich agreed saying enlisted faculty staff members can reach cadets utilizing their operational and warfighter experience. “The cadets are future warriors and academic scholars who are going to lead in the United States Air Force, and we have to prepare them for that,” he said.

Baez described their role as enlisted ambassadors for the future leaders of the Air Force.

“We may be the first enlisted member the cadets have come in contact with,” Baez said. “It gives us a chance to preemptively start building that important relationship between junior officers and senior NCOs. They want to hear what the ‘real’ Air Force is like and what they have to look forward to when they graduate. We share our view of the world and how we operate in the Air Force. It really gives them a leg up once they move on to the operational Air Force.”

The team’s vision is to build a pipeline of AFIT enlisted graduates to teach at the academy.

“The goal is to keep this as an annual visit for us to build that relationship with AFIT from an enlisted perspective and have a touch point with the current enlisted students,” Baez said. “We want to recruit potential applicants but also socialize the faculty program knowing that there is still a large majority of the Air Force that does not know it exists.”