The USAFA Endowment’s second five years — 2012-17

Punctuating the skyline above the Air Force Academy’s Center for Character and Leadership Development (CCLD), the imposing Polaris tower serves as a symbol of integrity. Canted at a 39-degree angle to align the 150-foot-tall tower with the North Star, it represents the moral compass that all Air Force officers are expected to follow in service to the nation.

In terms of private philanthropy, the tower also represents one of the largest private fund-raising campaigns in the institution’s history. By the time of the official ribbon cutting for the center in 2016, the United States Air Force Academy Endowment had raised more than $22 million in private funds toward the $46 million center.

“I am thrilled to see Polaris Hall’s doors open as it marks where people gather and share lessons learned from the public and private sectors, from other institutions of higher learning, from across our country and around the world,” said former Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson ’81 at the 2016 dedication. “We could not have done this alone, so we want to make sure taxpayers and those who so generously donated to this effort realize how much the new building they have supported will inspire cadets every day.”

The CCLD coordinates an integrated leadership development program through four divisions: Cadet Development; Research, Integration and Assessment; Operations and Outreach; and Honor. The center also has become a busy hub for cadet training and events that expand the reach of the Academy by bringing dynamic leaders from throughout the nation to participate in the leadership training experience.


Searching the stars

Working hand-in-hand with priorities set by the Air Force Academy, the Endowment stepped in to help expand the excellence of two other iconic campus structures: the planetarium and Falcon Stadium.

The planetarium, which was built in 1959, was shuttered in 2004 when the interior equipment reached the end of its useful lifespan and funds needed for a complete renovation were tied up in Washington, D.C. The Academy and the Endowment pulled together to secure government funds and private donations to accelerate the $5 million Planetarium Renovation Project.

 Planetarium under reconstruction


In addition to serving the expected disciplines of astronomy and astrophysics, the renovated planetarium will enhance learning experiences for cadets studying biology, chemistry, history and geology.

Cadets and visiting students from the community will be impacted by the planetarium’s focus on valuable science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programming.


On the gridiron

For 55 years, Falcon Stadium has provided the grand stage for countless regional events, Academy athletic competitions, community concerts and events, and the all-important USAFA graduation ceremony, where seven sitting U.S. presidents have delivered commencement addresses.

After more than five decades of continuous use, Falcon Stadium is showing its age. Public amenities have not kept pace with the increasing expectations of today’s sports fans, and supporting structures suffer from deteriorating infrastructure.

When the Academy elevated the priority for a much-needed stadium renovation, the Endowment initiated a four-phase, $30 million Falcon Stadium Renovation campaign. Alumni and friends responded quickly, contributing more than $11 million to the campaign. By early 2017, phase one was completed, with phase two construction scheduled to begin at the end of the fall football season.


Satellites, drones and cyber command

The impact of private philanthropy on the Academy extends far beyond impressive buildings to fulfill the primary purpose of transforming the lives of thousands of cadets who are training to become Air Force officers. During the Endowment’s first decade, private companies contributed more than $32.6 million to Academy projects and programs.

Fortune 500 companies including Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Intel and others are tapping into the research and problem-solving capabilities of the Air Force Academy, giving cadets hands-on experience in tackling the fast-paced challenges in space, cyberspace and on the battlefields of modern warfare.

For example, Boeing’s investments in the Academy’s Small Satellite Design and FalconSAT programs are giving cadets an opportunity to design, analyze, build and operate small satellites for Department 
of Defense space missions. FalconSAT research is conducted within the Academy’s Space Systems Research Center.

FalconSAT Launch 


Intel is partnering with the Academy’s CyberWorx program to counter cyber threats with innovative research and design that often enters the arena of highly classified projects.

Aerospace giant Pratt & Whitney is funding the Frank Gillette Propulsion Researcher position at the Academy, bolstering cadet-centered propulsion research in the Department of Aeronautics. Cadets are working on a variety of projects, including new engine and propeller designs and hybrid gas-electric propulsion systems.



Private support from charitable foundations also has played a significant role in funding the Academy’s priority projects and programs. Over the last decade, the Endowment worked with foundations to direct more than $15 million to key Academy programs.

The James S. McDonnell Family Foundation and the extended McDonnell family contributed $3.1 million to the Center for Character and Leadership Development and $280,000 to the USAFA Endowment Fund.

The Perot Foundation contributed $3.5 million to sponsor the Gen. James Robinson Risner Senior Military Scholar Chair within the Center for Character and Leadership Development.

The Anschutz Foundation committed $500,000 to the annual Character and Leadership Award.

More foundations are recognizing the unique funding opportunities that are available at the Academy as an institution of higher learning, leading-edge academic research center, and training ground for leaders in national defense.


The big picture

During its first decade of activity, the Endowment has raised more than $127 million in private gifts and commitments to enhance Air Force Academy programs and priorities, significantly impacting the following areas:


Academics - $9.78 million

The effects of private funding on Academy programs have been felt all across the campus, touching every academic department and 19 research centers. Private funding is enhancing cadet training in military strategic studies, behavioral sciences and leadership development, physics, political science, English and fine arts, cultural immersion, law, STEM programs, computer science, aeronautics, foreign language studies, biology and more.


Athletics - $25.43 million

Falcon Stadium symbolizes USAFA sports, but football is only part of the game. The USAFA Athletics Department sponsors 29 sports including boxing, basketball, diving, fencing, lacrosse, rugby, water polo, volleyball, wrestling, tennis and gymnastics. Both men and women compete in Division I of the NCAA. Most sports teams are members of the Mountain West Conference. Boxing competes in the National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA).


Character & Leadership – $38.09 million

The mission of the Academy to train leaders of character is channeled through the Center for Character and Leadership Development, supporting course studies, seminars and events, including the National Character and Leadership Symposium and the Falcon Heritage Forum.


Heritage - $4.63 million

Alumni and friends provide support for a variety of efforts to preserve the rich heritage and traditions of the Academy and honor those who have become part of the Long Blue Line. Supported projects include the Heritage Trail, the Southeast Asia Memorial Pavilion, USAFA War Memorial, Academy Heritage Projects and supporting programs.


Institutional & Operational Support - $28.30 million

Designated gifts are received for numerous projects and programs throughout the Academy. From the restoration of the Air Garden to support for the Small Satellite Design Program, the Endowment accounts for each gift and directs it to its intended purpose. Minimal funding also is received to assist the Endowment in its fundraising and stewardship responsibilities.


Unrestricted Support - $18.38 million

Gifts to the Air Force Academy Fund and other unrestricted funds give the superintendent and Academy senior leadership the flexibility to meet immediate strategic needs quickly.


The United States Air Force Academy Endowment is poised to launch into its second decade of engendering unprecedented support for the Academy and enhancing its mission to train officers of character for the 21st century profession of arms. The way forward will be explored in the fourth and final installment of “Milestones” in the December 2017 edition of Checkpoints magazine.



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