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Virtually There: Barnes Center graduates first virtual class

Barnes Center for Enlisted Education shield

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MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - Air University’s Barnes Center will graduate Class 20E, the first virtual in residence class of the Enlisted Professional Military Enlisted Instructor Course, May13th.

The virtual graduation will include a guest speaker and having every student's name called. This will be the first class  within the center to attend and graduate virtually.

“It’s a historical event because the Air Force adapted to a worldwide pandemic in a way that has never been done before,” said Master Sgt. Dolores Fisher, EPMEIC instructor. “Air Force (professional military education) has never been conducted in this way and EPMEIC adds another layer, due to the nature of our curriculum versus the PME curriculum, because we teach students how to become instructors and we created a virtual in-resident environment.”

Keeping the future instructors safe while still maintaining readiness and the EPMEIC standards was a challenge that the team had to face.

“The difference between a physical in-res(ident) experience and virtual in-res(ident) experiences is the amount of time the student spends with each other outside of class hours,” said Senior Master Sgt. Demetrius Booth, Center for Faculty and Staff Development and Enrichment commandant. “We worked the process to ensure the knowledge offered was the same. We even built breakout rooms for small group projects along the way and put in intentional-student engagement across both virtual flight rooms. Even with all of that, we are not blind to the fact that there is an intangible loss of interpersonal interaction. But, it was good to see the students lean in after class hours to help each other with performance evaluation and connect with each other on social-media platforms.”

The staff at Barnes Center had to adapt and overcome challenges with the onset of the pandemic all while trying to continue teaching future professional military instructors. 

“We were able to showcase the innovative nature and can-do attitude of America’s Airmen when given the opportunity to run,” Booth said. “The world is experiencing a pandemic unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime. To stand still is to literally be moving backwards. We recognized that we were the answers we were waiting on ... so the faculty went to work to design a course that would mimic the physical in-resident experience. In this “now normal,” we have created another tool the Air Force can call upon to continue providing its Airmen education and training. At the end of the day, our true competitive advantage is our people. We owe them the opportunity to remain sharp.”

While adapting to the “now normal” way of business, the instructor team have changed the future of EPMEIC.

“This could help to revolutionize the way we conduct EPMEIC and PME in the future,” Fisher said. “Even if we still require in-person instruction, we can still tailor the overall experience to include video-conference, which would save the Air Force money in per-diem while still being just as effective. Further, this experience will give us a foundation for adapting to extreme circumstances in the future.”