Axon - The Argument for Enlisted Faculty in Officer Military Education - Ep 4 Published Feb. 17, 2023 Axon Podcast with MSgt Bonnie Rushing The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied in this podcast are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the views of Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. government agency. Dr. Megan Hennessey Welcome to Axon, the Air University Teaching and Learning Center podcast. I am your host, Director of the TLC, Dr. Megan Hennessey and I am very excited to be here today with Master Sergeant Bonnie Rushing. Hey Bonnie. MSgt Bonnie Rushing Hi, good morning. Dr. Megan Hennessey So, Master Sergeant Rushing is course director and academic faculty at the US Air Force Academy in the Military and Strategic Studies Department. She joined the Air Force in 2009 as an airborne linguist and earned her master's degree in strategic intelligence from the National Intelligence University. She is a certified professional innovator, we need to hear more about that, a language analyst, and an experienced special operations aviator. So, tell us Bonnie. What is a certified professional innovator? MSgt Bonnie Rushing I'm glad you asked about that. So, there's something called Project Mercury, that has been, basically, a program throughout the Air Force and including some civilians as well, that teaches us how to problem solve in creative ways. It teaches us how to work in diverse groups. How to come up with unique and wild solutions and how to pitch, and a lot of the ideas and innovations that come from this program have actually been implemented and funded within the DoD. So, basically, we're teaching everyday Airmen that they can and should be innovators. Dr. Megan Hennessey I love that and I love that you use the word wild, as well. So what, if I can ask, what are some of the wildest innovations that you've seen around military education through your work as a certified professional innovator? MSgt Bonnie Rushing Yeah, so wow and wild and extreme solutions are really what's needed. We have all heard General CQ Brown tell us that we have to accelerate change or lose. And so, we have to really think outside of the box in the most creative ways. And so, for our military education one of the main things that we've been using and focusing on is the experiential learning, the hands-on learning in our immersive learning environment. So, we have something called the multi domain lab. It's a $9.5 million facility. One-of-a-kind. It has everything from remotely piloted aircraft rooms to ops centers and immersive learning devices, also known as our flight simulators, where we can put cadets in a realistic fictional war game scenario set five years into the future and we can configure this equipment to be any type of aircraft vehicle, with any type of armament, put them anywhere in the world, day, night, weather, et cetera and let them experiment with military operations and using the lesson objectives and class concepts in this laboratory environment, so that they can really play out in a safe space all of these ideas and operations. Dr. Megan Hennessey This sounds like exactly the sort of thing that you would want your Air Force Academy cadets to do. Have you seen it be fairly successful there? MSgt Bonnie Rushing Yes, absolutely, and it's come a long way. So we did the ribbon cutting on the multi domain lab or you'll hear MDL. This was back in fall of 2021 and ever since then as Course Director, I and my team of instructors, who are the best team in the world, have continued to update and develop and evolve the way that this lab is used within coursework. And we've also been collaborating across departments with computer science, with law, with political science, with behavioral sites. So many different ways that this lab can be used for immersive education, and we're only going to continue to grow from there. Dr. Megan Hennessey Thank you and I have seen the lab in person. I got the chance to take a TDY to the Academy earlier this year and that's where I met you, Bonnie, so I'm excited that we've come full circle and you're willing to talk with us today. When I visited with you earlier in the year, I really wanted to get more information about the 9H enlisted academic faculty program, and that's really what I'd love to talk to you more about today. Can you share what exactly that is? MSgt Bonnie Rushing Yeah, absolutely. So, we are trying to spread the word, so I'm so glad that you wanted to ask about it. We just created a Facebook page and it's in this special developmental duties' documents, but we really need to spread the word that this program not only exists, but it's growing. They're up to 10 enlisted, they’re faculty who teach full time at the Air Force Academy, and now, starting this academic year, at the prep school as well. Now the enlisted faculty, they have to have the same credentials as our officer faculty, and you know, civilian professor counterparts. That means at least a master’s degree from an accredited university that matches one of the departments and, you know they have this teaching experience. This background. This passion for education. And we do the same jobs as our counterparts. I'm in the classroom full time. We have access to all of the opportunities, which include the Dean's Teaching certificate, the Master of Teaching Community certificate. They have all of these opportunities to grow. As a professional teacher you can be course director like I am currently, as well. And then from there, you have even further opportunities. You can promote to Senior Instructor and now, for the first time ever, targeted at the 9 HAFSC, I'll be the first Ph.D. candidate on the enlisted side, fully funded by the Air Force. Dr. Megan Hennessey Yes, I am applauding you from my desk here at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. I'm so excited about that. Why did the program decide to go that route? MSgt Bonnie Rushing I think that this program went that route and its initial start was because our enlisted Airmen, man, they're just getting so educated. Everyone's getting their undergrad, their master’s degree. And they want to have more pathways and to use this education. And the Air Force and the greater DoD can benefit from putting these individuals in the classroom who are highly motivated most of the time, they've earned this education in their free time, some of them paying out of pocket and they're just, you know, incredibly, incredibly talented, incredibly intelligent, and so I feel like we do get a lot of really good use out of those degrees that we have in the enlisted corps, like never before. Dr. Megan Hennessey And without student loans, good for you. Not my experience, but good for you! So, what are you going to study? MSgt Bonnie Rushing So, as faculty in the Military and Strategic Studies Department, the pathways for my Doctorate are usually, they tend to be somewhere within the international relations, security studies, public administration policy, these types of things. So, I am currently searching; I'm researching different programs that I would be, you know, obviously challenged and successful; able to complete it within the three-year timeline that I can add real valuable research to my field. I love writing and researching and publishing and this would give me an opportunity to do it on a huge scale, so I'm looking stateside. I would say either here in Colorado or somewhere on the East Coast, but I'm pretty open. Dr. Megan Hennessey That's so exciting and I can think of no better person than you to be the first person to go through this program. Based on what I know about you, having met you, and also what I see you doing on LinkedIn, you are always up to something and really are the face of this 9H program. Can you tell us a little bit more? What exactly do enlisted faculty bring to the fight? Why is it important to have them there at the Academy and in other military education settings? MSgt Bonnie Rushing So that's a really awesome question. I'm glad you asked. It’s really important to bring that diversity of perspective into the classroom. I am able to share stories from, you know, the enlisted standpoint. Jobs that only enlisted people have worked. Like for me, I was a linguist for over a decade. I mean those types of stories. What's happening in, you know, in the back of your aircraft? A lot of the cadets want to be pilots, but what about the rest of your crew? A lot of them are enlisted and so I can add to that perspective and I think a lot of the times cadets, they go through here at the Air Force Academy with very minimal contact with their enlisted counterparts. It's a little backwards here, so it's a lot of officers and not a lot of envy. And so, it brings extra contact time with the enlisted force and it helps them see, wow, they are talented. They are educated. I can lean on them as mentors when I'm a young Lieutenant. Maybe I should, you know, see my NCOs and senior NCOs as true mentors and feel comfortable talking to them and working with them. Dr. Megan Hennessey That has definitely been my own experience. I'm a direct commission officer in the Navy, and I would not have survived my first tour of duty without my chief there in the unit and absolutely depended on him for so many things. Shout out to Chief Henry from US Fleet Forces Command. What have you seen in terms of the reactions of the cadets and how they speak with you and the other enlisted faculty? Can you share anything about those experiences? MSgt Bonnie Rushing Yes, absolutely. So, I teach and direct the largest core course here, which is called Air Power and Joint Operation Strategy, and by core course, I mean it's required of all cadets regardless of their major, and so I have, you know, contact with all of the cadets that go through. They have to go through my course. And it gives everybody kind of a fair opportunity to, you know, have me as a teacher or interact with me in some way. And what I'm hearing from a lot of the cadets, is that well, first kind of funny there. “I looked at my schedule and it said Master Sergeant Rushing. I thought this must be an error.” A lot of them can sometimes get through the entire Academy experience without ever having an enlisted faculty member, which is unfortunate, but the cadets that I do get to see, they expressed to me that they feel this sense of comfort talking to me and they know it's all right. But they really love my perspective. A lot of them want to talk to me. I'm an academic advisor as well. About academics, about life, advice, and things like that. Because they say, oh, you don't have a bias like an officer might about which career fields I should consider. And so, it gives them an extra outlet and an extra type of person to teach them and to mentor them. And I really do feel like they appreciate it. I mean, in my end of course feedback, I averaged a 4.9 out of five, so I think I'm doing pretty well. Dr. Megan Hennessey Can we steal you away to Air University? MSgt Bonnie Rushing You're not the first one to ask that. Dr. Megan Hennessey That's great, and I think that's something that we're talking a lot about here at Air University. What are some components of teaming with the enlisted personnel that we can bring into the degree-granting officer professional military education programs? Do you, thinking hypothetically, do you see any future where there's true integration of the enlisted in officer sides, in a degree-granting program, for instance? MSgt Bonnie Rushing I think that that's absolutely possible. When I went through National Intelligence University, I was a young Staff Sergeant, E5, and I had officers of different ranks and civilians from throughout the intelligence community in my class. And everyone treated me and continues to treat me with respect even if I am the most junior ranking person in the room or in a program or in the department. And I feel like that's becoming the norm, at least in the Air Force. Dr. Megan Hennessey I think it definitely should be. We're talking a lot about methods by which to enhance that collaboration in an educational setting, like educational wargaming. I mean, helping to increase that affective response from every student, no matter what their background is. Is that anything that you guys have tried at the Academy? MSgt Bonnie Rushing Well, I think as far as that is concerned, the wargaming that we do in the course that I’m teaching direct. You know, I'm in front of the classroom. I actually play one of the characters in the fictional media and then the scenario, and so I feel like at least my cadets that are in, you know, in my sections, they get exposure to that. But at this time, there's no other enlisted teaching the courses that include wargaming. Dr. Megan Hennessey Well, hopefully that 10 personnel that you mentioned earlier that are part of the program, will continue to increase and we’ll get a better look into how much value that program really provides, not only to the Academy, but the entire Air Force and Department of Defense. What's next? For the program? Besides the Ph.D. route for you and maybe trying to get more people in. MSgt Bonnie Rushing Right now, we are, we're always trying to expand. We're always trying to see what we can do as far as, you know, billets and budgets are concerned. But yeah, it's a 3-year tour. So, I think maybe the next time that we'll be looking for some fresh blood into the program, would be my replacement next winter. So, if you know any, you know, hard charging Tech Sergeants, Master Sergeants, who have military or strategic or political science backgrounds, tell them get those applications ready because that opportunity will pop up again next winter. Dr. Megan Hennessey Is there anything that you haven't liked about your experience in that program, or things that you might do differently if you were starting those three years over again? MSgt Bonnie Rushing This has been the best assignment of my career. I think the one downside is that we are so outnumbered by our officer counterparts that it's sometimes hard to find other enlisted even on a daily basis. And so, this is the first time in years that I don't actually have subordinate troops. I have no Airmen or, you know, even NCOs that work in my department. And so, I think that that is one thing that's missing, but that does happen to a lot of folks who are in special duties, so we try to make the best of it. And you know, I work. I try to go to the top three meetings. I tried to find and mentor Airmen wherever I can, especially with the professional innovator certificate. I can coach Airmen and go TDY and do things like that. But it's a very different environment. It did take me a little bit of time to get used to, but other than that there's really no negatives here that I have experienced. Dr. Megan Hennessey I think we need to change your job role to public affairs officer, because you're doing a great job of making me want to do this program. Thank you for sharing so much about it. Is there anything else you want to share with us today in terms of military education and your experience at the Academy? MSgt Bonnie Rushing I think the main thing left is I have some work in progress with the SOTL team with the master teaching certificate community. So, for the scholarship of teaching and learning here, and I think you know you met me when I had just started that project. My project does focus on the wargame aspect and how advancing education in the classroom will help decision making in the wargames or in the immersive environment and potentially real world as well. So hopefully I'll have some more data and research to share with you on that topic soon. Dr. Megan Hennessey Yes, well, now that you've said it, we have to dive in. What's your research design look like? Or what are you leaning towards? MSgt Bonnie Rushing So, it is going to be a human subject, so I'm going to go through the IRB process and everything, but I basically want to gather data from, you know, the baseline course. What we typically offer in the class, and then look at a special data set from classes that have received extra education on things like, information operations, propaganda, disinformation, things like that. And then see how they react and make decisions based on those fictional media injects, based on that environmental input in the wargame scenario, because there's something called the CNN effect that I've been researching lately and it basically shows that the media can help or can kind of nudge decision makers, even presidents into making really, really important choices, and so that's something that I want to see. Can this be isolated and taught in the classroom and working environment? And so, I'm really excited to see how it turns out. Dr. Megan Hennessey So, it sounds like this is an intervention study with exposure to media influence? MSgt Bonnie Rushing Yes, so the group that is going to be the test group I'm going to teach extra, you know, news literacy, and how to check sources and things like that and so maybe they'll have extra, you know, considerations for how they're making decisions based on media. So yes, I’m very excited. Dr. Megan Hennessey Oh, that's so great, and I bet you're wishing that you could use that research for your doctoral dissertation. Maybe you should put it on pause just for a little while and then you can use it for both settings. Count me in. I want to hear those findings and see if there's some way we can replicate that design here at Air University, just to see if that influence is felt across different demographics. That would be fascinating. I'm standing by for your research update! Thanks, Bonnie. MSgt Bonnie Rushing Thank you, yeah, we'll definitely see how it goes and see if there's some, you know, some way to build on it to grow it either with Air University or later in my dissertation, as well. Dr. Megan Hennessey Well, thank you so much for spending some time with us. I really appreciate it. Master Sergeant Bonnie Rushing, the first ever enlisted faculty member to be funded by the Air Force for her PhD and you met her here on the Axon podcast. Thank you so much Bonnie, I really appreciate it. MSgt Bonnie Rushing Thank you, I hope you have a good day. Dr. Megan Hennessey You, too, thank you.