This first class of 88 students graduated 42 members on June 29, 2021, representing the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Space Force, and U.S. Army Reserve, with closer of completion. Students received an Associate of Applied Science degree in the Department of Air Force Leadership and Management Studies.
This is a historic event for Air University, culminating years of work to create a new opportunity for civilians to earn accredited associate degrees through the university, adding to its more than 140 programs that range from individual courses to doctoral programs.
The civilian degree program is already proving successful with a graduation rate 37% higher than the national average for associate degree programs, according to communitycollege.com.
The program had 475 applicants and will be able to support up to 120 students in future courses. It is a 60 credit hour program, with 30 credit hours offered by Air University and 30 credit hours transferred from other accredited colleges and universities. The curriculum covers leadership, management, air power, and behavioral studies.
Just like the Air Force Community College Curriculum made for the enlisted corps, the civilian program helps Department of Defense civilians reach their full leadership potential while providing opportunities for career enhancement. The degree is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
It all started with an idea in late 2013 and early 2014 when the then director Force Support Professional Development School at the Eaker Center was told that 24% of civilians in equivalent field officer positions did not have a degree. No more than 40% of civilians in positions equivalent to company grade officers. This gave credence to the exploration of an associate degree program for civilians.
The process of making an idea a reality was no small feat.
“This program would not have happened without key leaders taking a stand for civilian development,” said Barry Waite, director of CLDS. “Leaders like the former Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Resources who presented the initiative to the Civilian Forces Development Panel and got a ‘table slap’ heard from Washington, DC, to Montgomery, Alabama.”
Although a degree-granting program was not new to AU, this program was different from others.
“It was a faculty that started the program from scratch three years ago, and now they’re seeing the benefits of what’s happening,” said Lt. Gen. James Hecker, AU commander and chairman. , during the June 29 virtual launch event. “You must be proud of yourself.”
Gwendolyn DeFilippi, deputy deputy chief of staff for Air Force Manpower, Personnel and Services, and keynote speaker for the opening ceremony, said, “The One of the things I love about the Air Force is our rich tradition of valuing education and professional development. This commitment to developing leaders reflects a realization that building a strong core of fighters was necessary but not sufficient to ensure the Air Force was prepared for future national security challenges.
Colonel Terri Jones, Commanding Officer of the Eaker Center, added that “our adversaries are not slowing down or disappearing, so we must continue to invest and grow our most important asset: people.”
In his remarks, Hecker told the graduates that the 2018 National Defense Strategy underscores the imperative to build a more lethal force, a modern, agile and informative department requiring a motivated, diverse and highly skilled civilian force.
“That’s what you are. You are the foundation of the army,” he said.
As part of the graduation process, some students received program leadership awards and program writing awards, recognizing those who excelled in their assigned sections.
The Program Leadership Award recipients were Becky Minor-Thompson, Belinda Valencia, Trisha Hamilton and Krista Reese. The award is given to students who have achieved overall academic excellence and outstanding class contributions throughout the program.
The Program Writing Award recipients were Minor-Thompson, Lea Johnson, Tosha Graham and Katrina Scott. The award is given to recognize contributions to excellence in writing.
“It’s one of a kind,” Hecker said, speaking of the value of the civilian degree program. “No other service has the ability to do this, to provide quality education that will only make them a better person and a better civilian individual serving in our military.”
PCA 2021 graduates:
Cindy Allen – Air Force Personnel Center, Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph, Texas
Japheth Bennett – Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Tinker AFB, Okla.
April Boring – 92nd Force Support Squadron, Fairchild AFB, Wash.
Codie Davis – 414th Supply Chain Management Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah
Kyle Flatt – 553rd Product Maintenance Squadron, Tinker AFB, Okla.
Sally Gonzalez – 502nd Air Base Wing, Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Tosha Graham – 50th Contracting Squadron, Schriever AFB, Colo.
Tina Gumbs – United States Army Reserve Command, Fort Bragg, NC
Kenneth Hall – 12th Maintenance Group, Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph, Texas
Trisha Hamilton – Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hill AFB, Utah
James Henley – 562nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Robins AFB, Ga.
Dustin Hess – 414th Supply Chain Management Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah
Lea Johnson – 72nd Medical Support Squadron, Tinker AFB, Okla.
Cheryl Kester – 42nd Air Base Wing, Maxwell AFB, Ala.
Keegan King – 673rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska
Steven Krueger – 573rd Product Maintenance Squadron, Robins AFB, Ga.
Spencer Lehr – 809th Maintenance Support Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah
Johna Lewis – 552nd Product Maintenance Squadron, Tinker AFB, Okla.
Pamela Long – Air Force Personnel Center, Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph, Texas
Jamie Loyd – 566th Electronic Maintenance Squadron, Robins AFB, Ga.
Sanchit Masih – Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Kirtland AFB, NM
Bonnie McGee – Air Force Test Center, Edwards AFB, Calif.
Carl Militello – Air Force Research Laboratory, Rome Lab AFB, NY
Becky Minor Thompson – Air Force Materiel Command Headquarters, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
Wendy Nedzweckas – Joint Warfare Analysis Center, Dahlgren, Virginia
Amber Nelms – Air Force Personnel Center, Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph AFB, Texas
Andrew Peters – 21st Civil Engineer Squadron, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Wyo.
Amber Pryor – 421st Supply Chain Management Squadron, Tinker AFB, Okla.
Stella Putt – 81st Training Wing, Keesler AFB, Miss.
Krista Reese – Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
Karon Robinson – Air Force Materiel Command Headquarters, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
Karen Rost – Air Force Materiel Command Headquarters, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
Nereyda Salas-Chacon – 76th Maintenance Support Squadron, Tinker AFB, Okla.
Dorthey Sanders – 82nd Security Forces Squadron, Sheppard AFB, Texas
Katrina Scott – 12th Flying Training Wing, Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph, Texas
Sean Shillato – 6th Civil Engineer Squadron, MacDill AFB, Florida.
Joshua Smith – Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Robins AFB, Ga.
Danny Stewart – Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland AFB, NM
Ted Trolson – 94th Civil Engineer Squadron, Minneapolis-St Paul Air Reserve Station
Belinda Valencia – F-35 Partner Support Complex, Eglin AFB, Florida.
Laurie Webb – 460th Force Support Squadron, Buckley Space Force Base, Colorado.
Jeannette Zalma – Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland AFB, NM
To learn more about the PCA, click on here.