MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Lt. Col. James Rutledge, Ph.D., P.E. is AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management’s first permanent senior military faculty member. In this role, he can remain in the position as an active duty lieutenant colonel until he separates, retires, or makes full colonel.
“This is the best job in the Air Force. I love what I do here,” said Rutledge. “We have really smart and motived students here and I love doing research with them and helping them think through data.”
“Having a permanent military professor position at AFIT is a demonstration of our commitment to advancing our mission of STEM graduate education throughout the U.S. Air Force. Consistency of excellence and sustainability are cornerstones of our activities. This can only be achieved through a permanent professorial appointment. In this regard, Lt. Col. Rutledge has demonstrated his superior stance in the education and research realms of what AFIT does. He is the right person to be selected as the first in this specialized category of AFIT faculty,” said Dr. Adedeji Badiru, dean of the Graduate School of Engineering and Management.
As a military faculty member, Rutledge brings different experiences and perspectives to the classroom that align with the mission of AFIT to provide defense-focused graduate education. Deployments and assignments within operational organizations provide the foundation for his understanding of Air Force requirements. The ability to take periodic sabbaticals, such as an upcoming assignment to the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aerospace Systems Directorate, will keep his skills and knowledge relevant to the needs of the military.
Rutledge’s research interests include experimental and computational investigations of gas turbine heat transfer, unsteady fluid mechanics, inverse heat transfer, and aerothermodynamics. In 2016 he was issued a patent for an experimental technique he developed in support of his work on gas turbine heat transfer.
“I have a lot of research goals, but it is all about bringing the students along and developing their critical thinking skills, understanding of the technical work, and ability to lead technical organizations,” said Rutledge.
Research is an integral part of making a good AFIT instructor according to Rutledge.
“A faculty member that conducts research in the field that they are teaching is ideal. When the topic of the classroom is informed by their research that means that they have an understanding of the topic at a level higher than what is needed to teach, they can answer the tough questions, and they have the ability to challenge the students to think critically. They also understand that the textbooks aren’t going to teach everything that is needed. We don’t know what the Air Force problems will be in the next 10 to 20 years,” he said.
Through research, Rutledge teaches his students to be able to identify and solve the problems that will eventually appear.
“My students help me do that with their data and ideas for experiments, he said.”
Rutledge stresses the need for his students to find a unique research topic they find interesting and to publish their work.
“Publishing articles may not be the most important thing for the Air Force, but it forces the student to communicate complex ideas outside the Air Force and that is an important part of the educational experience at AFIT,” said Rutledge.
In addition to their academic studies, students at AFIT learn how the Air Force and the government operate as well as how to be good military officers.
“I like to show the students that they can be successful in the military while on a technical track. It’s part of the mentorship that AFIT provides for its students,” said Rutledge. “I think it’s one of the things that makes AFIT great. We have lots of military faculty from a variety of backgrounds that provide mentorship and teach our students how to be great military officers. That is something they wouldn’t get at a traditional university.”
Rutledge earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a doctoral degree in aeronautical engineering from AFIT in 2009.
“Getting a PhD from AFIT was a really good experience, especially the opportunity it provided to work with AFRL. Several researchers served on my dissertation committee and also became influential mentors,” said Rutledge.
A second generation AFIT alum and faculty member, Rutledge was born in Dayton while his father was a military faculty member in the Graduate School’s electrical engineering department. His father, James P. Rutledge, earned his master’s degree from AFIT in 1970 and joined the faculty in the late 1970s.
“I remember coming here as a toddler to visit my father in his office. I always wanted to be in the military and be an engineer like my dad. The desire hasn’t changed,” shared Rutledge.