Stepping onto the world stage

Stamps Leadership Scholars tackle real-world problems on a global scale

(This article appears in the December 2018 edition of Checkpoints magazine: https://www.usafa.org/Checkpoints)

The Air Force Academy has produced exceptional leaders through the years, includ­ing Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson ’82 and five chiefs of staff of the Air Force.

Air Force officers must be prepared to assume command with insights into global issues that affect the modern pro­fession of arms.

Today, through the Stamps Leadership Scholars program, cadets with demonstrat­ed leadership abilities and proven academic performance have opportunities to pursue summer research, internships and cultural immersion experiences in locations around the world.

The Stamps Family Charitable Foun­dation and the United States Air Force Academy Endowment have partnered to fund the merit-based Stamps Leadership Scholars program for Academy cadets, beginning in their junior year. The founda­tion and the Endowment each provide half of the $22,000 grant allotted to each cadet for research and travel. Endowment supporters have contributed more than $185,000 to the program.

In November 2018, two Stamps Leadership Scholars, C1C Madison Tung and C1C James Brahm, were selected to receive prestigious Rhodes Scholarships to pursue graduate studies at the University of Oxford in England.

Taking the lead

Leaders like Cadet 1st Class Samantha Potter don’t shy away from a challenge. Her summer research began at the Pen­tagon in the Air Force General Counsel's Office for International, Military and Intelligence Affairs, researching complex legal issues, including classified cases in international law. 

Among her many assignments, Potter was tasked with conducting research on the history, ethics and tradition of the Just War theory and creating a primer to sup­port a speech by Secretary Wilson.

“This primer included the histori­cal foundations, evolution and current understanding of the Just War tradition,” Potter says. The research was especially important as it related to the rapid devel­opment of artificial intelligence, drones and cyber warfare.

“Her speech directly influenced the U.S. Air Force’s position on cyber law and cyber­ warfare, as this was her first authoritative interpretation of the Air Force’s position on these issues,” Potter says.

Following her stint at the Pentagon, Potter put boots on the ground, traveling to Ukraine to conduct research on the relationship between refugee populations and the military.

“With the help of a translator, I worked with filmmakers, protesters, aid work­ers, soldiers, pro-Russian supporters and pro-Ukrainians,” Potter says. “After my research in Ukraine, I learned that the Russian justification of discrimination against ethnic Russians was unsupported, given the actual situation in eastern Ukraine. I am currently working on a paper that I aim to publish in the spring after peer review.”

With Ukraine and the Pentagon behind her, Potter plans to attend several confer­ences related to refugee rights and migra­tion, and gain more firsthand experience.

“I intend to travel to South Africa to volunteer in a refugee camp for two weeks in December,” she says.

Criminal minds

Cadet 1st Class Madison Tung dove into the complex world of anti-terrorism, spending six weeks at Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington, working in the Applied Statistics and Computational Modeling Group of the National Security Directorate.

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Tung was assigned to the red team, creating hypothetical terrorist disruptions designed to test and train the good guys’ abilities to thwart adversarial attacks.

Tung had already developed a set of skills majoring in mathematics and humanities, with a minor in Chinese. She put her knowledge to work trying to find a correlation between statistical analysis and predicting terrorist activities.

“Developing metrics to validate the model is difficult because the metrics must be mathematical, but the character­istics to be validated are not,” Tung says. “This experience showed me that, while difficult, it is still possible.”

As a Stamps Leadership Scholar, Tung traveled to Kosovo to conduct on-site research on post-conflict devel­opment and reconstruction. She also went to China for language study and cultural immersion and to explore the role of technology in society. Her trip included a tour of the 816 Nuclear Military Plant, site of the old Chinese nuclear program.

As a recipient of a 2019 Rhodes Scholarship, Tung plans to pursue a master’s degree in computer science and global governance and diplomacy at Oxford University.

Tackling global concerns

As the world’s population accelerates to­ward 8 billion, the challenges of providing people with clean water and meeting grow­ing energy needs are becoming critical.

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Stepping up to the challenge, Cadet 1st Class Kyle Haak traveled to Israel, Spain and Iceland to study water desalination, wastewater treatment, and geothermal and nuclear energy applications. He ended the summer at the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee working with the Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Group on data analysis.

“The Stamps Leadership Scholars program allowed me to pursue academic-broadening experiences beyond the classroom,” Haak says. “These experiences have shown me that technology is only a piece of the puzzle of delivering fresh water and electricity to people around the world. There are intricate political, social and eco­nomic pressures that hinder the delivery of technology to people who need it.”

Haak’s experiences on the world stage led to new understanding about the complexity of clean water and energy chal­lenges. They also influenced him to reset his plans for the future.

“This trip broadened my perspective to see just how large and diverse the world truly is, and how solutions to fresh water and energy will take significant time, un­derstanding and compromise,” Haak says. “This program has changed my graduate school pursuits from physics to water security and international development and war studies.”

Using technology for good

Air Force officers must be prepared to meet the challenges posed by modern cyber war­fare. Cadet 1st Class James Brahm used his Stamps scholarship to expand his knowledge of advanced computing, serving as an intern at QC Ware Corporation in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley.

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“I wore a lot of hats during my intern­ship,” Brahm says. “I researched graph similarity search and contacted authors for details on papers published on the subject. I also researched various algorithms for minor graph embedding for quantum proces­sors and modified a national lab-developed quantum embedder to improve performance and usability. I wrote a patent for the use of caching to improve graph-embedding perfor­mance and used various graphic design tools to design a quantum-themed cake.”

In addition to doing research and writing a software patent, Brahm also found time to produce a video featured on Google AI Blog.

“One of the surprising things that I took away was an idea of what it takes to run a business,” Brahm adds. “I was often in the room when the CEO dealt with business administration matters, such as personnel decisions, raising money via investors and many other tasks.”

Brahm, a 2019 Rhodes Scholar, will pursue a master’s degree in computer sci­ence at Oxford University.

Up and coming

A new group of Stamps scholars from the Class of 2020 also has stepped onto the scene, coordinating plans for a variety of compelling research opportunities.

• Jordan Armstrong is tackling glob­al energy issues by conducting research on modular nuclear reactors that are smaller, safer and less expensive to operate.

• Sequoia Chun has an eye on Russia. “I will be traveling to Russia to conduct re­search on security and environmental policy with Russian peers through the Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum,” Chun says.

• Graham Kennis is traveling to Kenya in 2019 to explore the impact social media may have had on violence in recent elections.

• Zachary Bailey is tackling the new frontier of neural prosthetics. “I am currently planning to do research in the field of bio­medical engineering with a focus on neural prosthetics,” he says. “I intend to go to medi­cal school after the U.S. Air Force Academy.”

• Katie Scheibner wants to combine her passion for science and technology to find ways to relieve suffering among refu­gees and provide educational opportunities for displaced children.

• Eric Hembling is focusing on ad­vanced aerospace technology. “Through use of the Stamps scholarship, I am exploring the growing field of hypersonic technology,” he says. “Hypersonic flight involves travel­ing faster than five times the speed of sound and all of the technologies needed to sustain such travel.”

With continued support, the Stamps Leadership Scholars program will provide opportunities for more cadets to advance academically and hone their leadership skills on the world stage. Gifts can be given on­line at www2.usafa.org/give/stamps.

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