AU's cultural education efforts on track, growing

12/16/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Air University's top leaders were briefed this fall on the progress and future of AU's Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, a five-year plan focused on increasing Airmen's cross-cultural competence.

The QEP is a carefully designed course of action to address a university's educational needs, and it's a requirement for accreditation into the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, the regional accrediting body for AU. The recent Educational Program Review Board meeting offered insights on the QEP.

SACS has more than 800 member institutions across 11 southeastern states, including Auburn, The University of Alabama, Troy, Duke, Vanderbilt and LSU. Each of these schools must also demonstrate excellence with QEP, so the Air University is in good academic company, according to Dr. Bruce Murphy, vice president for academic affairs.

"The QEP is a big deal in terms of accreditation," said Lt. Gen. David Fadok, AU's commander and president. "We conduct these educational program reviews as periodic checks of how we're doing."

AU is two years into its plan, and indicators are that efforts are "in place and on track," according to Dr. Brian Selmeski, the QEP director.

According to SACS, a QEP must address one topic to improve student learning and then must establish measurable objectives of that learning. At AU, the topic is cross-cultural competence, Selmeski said.

The Air Force defines cross-cultural competence as the ability to quickly and accurately comprehend, then appropriately and effectively act, in a culturally-complex environment to achieve the desired effect. AU's enhancement plan aims to create and implement a scientifically sound and institutionally sustainable plan to develop and assess cross-cultural competence across the entire Air Force continuum of education.

"It's an ambitious goal, to reach all Airmen with some level of cross-cultural education or training," Selmeski said. "When SACS reviewed our plan in March 2009, they commented how far-reaching our QEP is. That's one of the reasons why we have these periodic checks of how we're doing," he added.

The QEP plan mandates the inclusion of significant new culture learning across the continuum of Air Force education. It is a phased plan, with different Air University schools implementing their portions in a sequenced order. The schools included are Officer Training School, Squadron Officer College, Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.

The plan also includes courses developed by the Air Force Culture and Language Center that provide Community College of the Air Force credit. All the schools represented have made progress toward the goals of the QEP, Selmeski said. In particular, he cited the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy for their enthusiasm. "The leadership at the Senior NCO Academy have been really great about including the material, and giving us access to their students for feedback," Selmeski said.

Feedback and review is essential to the QEP process, Selmeski said. "It's a living document, and we make adjustments," he explained. "Most recently, General Fadok approved the addition of two new programs to the QEP. The first is the addition of the AFCLC's Cross Cultural Communication course, a distance learning course available free to service members enrolled in the CCAF program. The second is a seminar offered during the orientation program for Air Force Fellows."

The unique nature of AU's plan, and the scope of the plan itself, are significant, said Air Force Culture and Language Center Director Dr. Dan Henk. The recent briefing was proof of how the Air Force is making steady, measurable progress in infusing and embedding cross-cultural competence content across the continuum of learning, he said. "No other service in the U.S., or the world, to our knowledge, has a program of this sophistication for developing cross-cultural competence across an entire service," Dr. Henk said.

Courtesy of Air Force Culture and Language Center