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AFCLC’s LEAP Scholars Develop Skills Through eMentor Conversations

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  • By Mikala McCurry and Lori Quiller, AFCLC Outreach Team

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than 10 years mere study of books.” 

One of the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s educational tools is based on this same premise – conversation. As charged by Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown in his modified Action Orders, AFCLC develops cross-culturally competent Airmen and Guardians for utilization in critical missions anytime, anywhere through a program called eMentor. 

eMentor courses provide Language Enabled Airman Program Scholars with live, synchronous, online conversations with native-level instructors to help LEAP Scholars prepare for discussions with partner-military and host-nation populations. Bi-weekly two-hour sessions are scheduled as part of a three-week course for advanced speakers and a 10-week course for developmental speakers. LEAP Scholars volunteer for courses that match their availability based on their personal and professional obligations.  Foreign Area Officers and other service members whose positions require language investment may also be approved for courses.

For Korean and Spanish language LEAP Scholar Col. Sarah Russ, the eMentor program helped put her front and center on the world stage. In 2018, Russ was the assigned attaché to then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis for a trilateral meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts. Her ability to use eMentor to brush up on her conversational skills allowed her to jump in during what could have been a sticky and public situation.

“We were relying on Korean and Japanese interpreters, but I was able to jump in when the Korean interpretation wasn’t accurate,” Russ said. “At the same venue, I interpreted for Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer when he met with the Korean Defense Minister and Chilean Assistant Secretary of Defense. I also used my Korean language skills during the 2018 U.S.-North Korean Summit in Singapore and when I was acting air attaché in Canberra that same year. Maintaining proficiency in foreign languages can be perishable if they aren’t used often. AFCLC provided just-in-time maintenance training for Korean and continuous training for Spanish. It also boosted my confidence to the point I could brief air chiefs from Latin America in Spanish. For example, I just had a video teleconference with a senior Ecuadorian military leader last month. Although my Spanish isn’t perfect, I could have a strategic conversation with Maj. Gen. Geovanny Espinel Puga, Commander of the Ecuadorian Air Force.”

Developed in-house by experienced curriculum developers, AFCLC’s eMentor courses focus on the “Twelve Domains of Culture” model. Instructors have native-level proficiency, regional experience, academic background in the social sciences, and years of teaching adult learners. Courses are available in 95 languages and dialects, specified on the Air Force Strategic Language List. Each course targets growth in the four modalities of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. At the end of the course, students are scored 1 to 20 for each modality … a comprehensive assessment like none other.

Thousands of LEAP Scholars and Foreign Area Officers have taken advantage of this instrumental training resource. Since 2017, 4,765 LEAP Scholars and FAOs have taken eMentor courses, totaling 153,214 eMentor course hours with a 90% completion rate. Student end-of-course surveys have also consistently reflected a 97% or above satisfaction rate. 

“The eMentor program prepares LEAP Scholars for utilization at a moment’s notice if they are called to the fight to fulfill that unique position in missions around the world,” AFCLC Language Sustainment Program Manager Gloria Milner said. “Even if they are not using their language skills daily in their current duties, LEAP Scholars are ready and willing to support the mission when the Air Force demands that skillset.”

Typically courses are set on a standard schedule where classes take place on the same days and times each week. However, in some cases, LEAP Scholars with irregular work hours, such as flying schedules, may take a course on a flex schedule. 

Chinese Mandarin LEAP Scholar Capt. Brayden Hill, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot, has taken three eMentor courses and utilized flex scheduling to fit around his unpredictable flying schedule.

“Being a pilot, it’s hard to have a set, consistent schedule for the week. Having that flexibility to take a class when availability pops up and having instructors who are accommodating, caring, and willing to work with me has been great. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to complete the courses in the time given,” he said. “Learning Chinese is a passion of mine and a unique skill; I appreciate how the Air Force has made such an effort to make it an option to pursue outside of our daily jobs. Language training is a perishable skill if you are not staying diligent with it, so having eMentor continues to keep my motivation up to stay consistent with language training.”

There are three course levels in the eMentor program: Developmental, Advanced Assessment, and the Special Project Course. 

Special Project Courses are designed to facilitate the development of target language skills through research on a topic of potential interest to peers, the larger Air Force community, and senior leaders. Students are invited to showcase their SPC research project presentation to a larger audience of their LEAP peers, instructors, and AFCLC leadership in the closed LEAP Facebook group through AFCLC’s new Facebook Live event known as LEAP Live. 

For French LEAP Scholar Capt. Jeremy Jacobellis, taking two Advanced Assessment courses and an SPC helped him immensely as a public affairs officer.

“All three courses have had a profound impact on my language proficiency development. The aspect I appreciate the most, especially about the Advanced Assessment courses, is that they test the outer limits of your knowledge by including topics from a range of disciplines. The most striking aspect of the course is the quality, dedication, and enthusiasm of the instructors,” Jacobellis said. “As a public affairs officer stationed overseas, language and cultural understanding inform and shape almost all of the products and communication strategies my team develops and delivers to our senior leaders on base. If we don’t understand the language and culture of the region, we’re not able to effectively communicate to our host-nation audiences and achieve strategic communication objectives.”

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