Challenge faced, lessons learned: USAFA prepares for unique year ahead

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U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Monday marks the first full week of school for cadets, as they adjust to coronavirus guidelines.

For the United States Air Force Academy, bringing 4,000 cadets back on campus was just another challenge made into a lesson.  

“On lesson one, we spoke exactly about that. You know, here’s a problem, how would you have tackled this problem if you were given it by your commander?” said Col. Douglas Wickert, Permanent Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy. 

It’s a mix of 50/50 between in-person and online classes. 

Face masks are required for both cadets and faculty. 

“We love to tell our students that, and in particular, our engineering class, that engineering is problem-solving. And we will never anticipate when they are second lieutenants and officers in the Air Force and the space force, what problems they’re going to encounter. So, we’re not going to teach them you know, ‘Here’s what you do when you encounter this,’ because we don’t know what they’re going to encounter. We teach them problem-solving in the broader scope of how to learn,” Wickert said. 

According to the academy, all cadets were placed in a 14-day quarantine and were tested four times before classes started, ensuring a healthy start to the school year. 

“We are not a walled fortress, you know there is interaction coming and going. So, we do expect the virus to somehow get inside the gates, and we expect to find it,” Wickert said. 

Now, the academy is doing random surveillance testing on 15 to 16-percent of their population.

“That 15-percent was actually a solution of the equation. So, we have a set of differential equations that show us the dynamics of what the disease would do at the academy, and we have a computer model based on those. So, we were able to run a bunch of different scenarios,” Wickert said. 

The academy says they’ve tested hundreds of thousands of different scenarios.. running nearly a million computer simulations of the next academic year. 

It’s all to help them plan and adapt. 

“Every May, the Air Force, and the space force expect us to deliver a thousand new second lieutenants into the ranks. So, it was not so much a question of if we bring everybody back, but how do we do it safely?” Wickert said. 

Any cadet or faculty or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 will be quarantined. 

 Quarantined cadets will be able to remote into classes. 

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