Fresno State AFROTC wins teaching innovation award, other detachments fighting through COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Phil Berube
  • Air University Public Affairs

A university in The Golden State formally recognized its Air Force ROTC detachment recently for finding innovative ways to teach cadets despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

California State University, Fresno selected AFROTC Detachment 035 as the recipient of its fall 2020 Provost’s Award for Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times in the category of Innovative Teaching. The university announced the award on Dec. 22, 2020.

Among several innovative initiatives that led to the recognition, the detachment collaborated with Fresno State’s kinesiology department to develop personalized hybrid in-person and virtual physical training plans and designed indoor workout spaces that adhered to university and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions.

To address the cadets’ scholastic success, the detachment partnered with the university’s student counseling center to develop an academic mentoring initiative. The partnership helped drive the cadets’ cumulative GPA of 3.183 in fall 2019 to 3.445 in fall 2020, moving the detachment from an academic ranking of 106th to 20th amongst all 145 AFROTC detachments.

Additionally, the detachment started an initiative with a local flight school to allow small groups of cadets to safely experience hands-on aircraft training, introducing them to aviation fundamentals and airfield operations.

"It makes me feel proud to be a part of such a great team of cadet learners and cadre instructors,” said Lt. Col. James Ladd, detachment commander. “It was a team effort with the cadets taking charge of mentoring each other and focusing on their number one priority of academic excellence and the cadre's incredible efforts and diligence to create multiple, creative educational environments. However, through it all, the biggest success is the change in culture. The cadets are now intrinsically motivated to succeed academically, and we are holding each other accountable to a higher standard of achievement."  

While the Fresno State detachment was formally recognized for its teaching innovations, numerous other detachments have also found ways to take on the pandemic challenge.

“Congratulations to Lieutenant Colonel Ladd and his detachment for winning Fresno State’s teaching innovation award,” said Col. Christopher Bennett, Headquarters AFROTC commander. “They and all the other 144 detachments have done a remarkable job to accelerate change and lead through COVID-19 with innovative teaching and training methodologies. The pandemic has proved challenging, but it’s because of everyone’s hard work and determination, from headquarters’ and regions’ staffs to the detachments’ cadre, that enables Air Force ROTC to continue producing tomorrow’s Air and Space Force leaders.”

Following is a sampling of how other detachments are being innovative:

  • AFROTC Detachment 330, University of Maryland: One of many things cadets learn first is basic military discipline, often best taught through drill procedures. So how do you teach drill virtually? Turns out, with an online drill simulator. Detachment 330’s Cadet Nicholas Brooks created an online drill simulator that allows the user to call out commands and see how many steps are needed for the maneuver, what foot the command is called on and what the move should look like from overhead. Multiple detachments have adopted this simulator to help teach their cadets as well.
  • AFROTC Detachment 592, University of North Carolina: The detachment’s annual tradition is to host a Junior ROTC drill competition, but due to COVID-19, the competition had to go virtual. However, this allowed the competition to open up worldwide to a possible 3,218 JROTC units representing all military services. Detachment cadets learned to be creative with how they would accept submissions, judge the competition and announce the winner. The competition had submissions from as far away as Texas, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
  • AFROTC Detachment 415, University of Minnesota: A group leadership project is a way to assess a cadet’s ability to lead a team. With a closed campus because of the pandemic, the cadets needed to get creative and this enabled Cadet Kyle Wipf and Cadet Nicole Krueger to use online software to create a virtual sandbox of group leadership projects. One project utilized a popular video game, where underclassman needed to work together to solve various puzzles to crack the final code.
  • AFROTC Detachment 550, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (N.Y.):  The detachment came up with an innovative solution to help cadets meet their fitness requirements. By creating a three-piece toe bar, cadets are able to complete the sit-up component of their physical training test without violating social distancing rules due to cadets being able to stand on the two ends of the bar, allowing the third cadet to complete the sit-ups.
  • AFROTC Detachment 600, East Carolina University (N.C.): There are numerous benefits to ROTC and this includes creating a social output for cadets. Learning in a virtual environment could potentially hinder social growth but the detachment found a way around the social crutch by utilizing a social networking platform. Cadet Daniel Lamp set up the platform for leadership laboratories and for social gatherings outside of instruction. Detachment cadre also used it for cadet mentoring and counseling.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg on our detachments’ innovation,” said Brig. Gen. Leslie Maher, commander of the Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development, the parent organization for AFROTC as well as Air Force Junior ROTC and Officer Training School. “In talking with the company grade officers of ROTC during a virtual brown bag lunch, I was struck by the scope of what our detachments are innovating to mitigate the setbacks of the pandemic. Not only are they working through how to improve the academic and physical fitness situation, but are seeking and implementing ways to improve connections between and with our cadets to fortify resiliency through strengthened social bonds.”