USAFA Assembly Review


Original photo by Robert Corl

Jonathan Flat and Robert Corl

The fate of 2.7 billion people was in my hands—and the hands of the six other students in our round table groups at the 59th Academy Assembly. Hosted by the United States Air Force Academy’s Department of Political Science, this assembly brought together nearly 100 qualified undergraduates from top universities across the nation to discuss the future of American defense policy. For the first time ever, the Academy extended an invitation to four selected high school students, only from Air Academy High School (Jonathan Flat, Robert Corl, Sasha Brunton, and Jacob Beineke). We were two of the only four high school students ever selected to attend this prestigious event. 

From left to right, Robert Corl, Alessandra Brunton, Jonathan Flat and Jacob Beineke. Original photo by Robert Corl.

Overall, the USAFA Assembly was an absolutely incredible experience. Firstly, we would highly recommend trying to make this an annual experience for selected AP US Government and Politics students. As a learning opportunity, the assembly was second to none. We learned more about defense policy and US relations in the 4 days of the assembly than we have in our entire career as students. We had never seen more PhDs in a single place; the number of prominent speakers and academics was incredible. Not only did their speeches allow us to learn about high-level defense policy and strategy, but the experts were also available for one-on-one or group questions and discussion later on. The chance to speak to top level generals and Pentagon advisers as a high school student was remarkable to say the least. 

“Wanting to major in computer science in college, I was unsure of how well I would fit into the conference, where the majority of undergraduates’ majors were political science or international relations. However, these concerns were relieved by the diversity of topics encompassed at the conference. I felt right at home when they discussed the role of technology (in the form of autonomous machines and cyber security) in defense policy in panel 3 of the conference.”

– Jonathan Flat

“As a future international relations major, with a focus in security and human rights, the assembly could not have been more applicable. The content was fascinating and helped me to further narrow down my interests of such a broad major. Despite being a high school student and lacking some of the background knowledge that many college students had, I felt as though I could easily compete at the same level. My input was valued and the overall experience could not have been better.”

– Robert Corl

Besides the amazing speakers and resources, the ultimate focus of the conference was the set of discussions in our round table groups regarding various scenarios occurring in a fictional world of conflict. These tabletop exercises allowed undergraduates from top universities across the nation to use what we learned from the experts to solve conflict and direct US strategy. With the three fictional countries on the brink of nuclear war and with the US having significant anti-terrorist, democratic, and economic interests in all three countries, we were tasked with providing a solution for the escalating conflict. These solutions, written in the form of a one-page paper, were reviewed by cadets leading the assembly, and the round tables determined to have the top 5 solutions were given the opportunity to present in front of a panel of experts. The solution deemed #1 by the panel of three judges was to be published in the academy’s peer review journal.

Three of the five groups selected to present their solutions to the panel of three esteemed judges (Dr. Henry Nau, Dr. Thomas Ehrhard, and Ambassador Roger G. Harrison) included one of the four of us. A four-star general was also in attendance. While none of the groups that included one of us did not achieve the #1 spot, it was still a great experience.

Attending the assembly would be an amazing experience for any high schooler. We hope that Air Academy’s relation with USAFA continues to allow students to take full advantage of the academic opportunities that USAFA offers. This year was an excellent test run, and we hope that future high school students will be able to attend as well.