Brig. Gen. Andy Armacost sees the world as a giant math word problem.
The new dean of faculty at the Air Force Academy, Armacost focuses on operations research, using math to solve organizational problems.
“Effectively, it’s trying to solve the world’s largest word problem,” he says.
It’s an approach he put to good use as head of the AFA management department, and while forging deep roots in the Colorado Springs business community. He hopes to use his new position to further strengthen the service academy’s role in business development and tech transfer.
As dean, Armacost will inherit his share of challenges: tighter budgets, immediate faculty furloughs and a new superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, with her own goals and demands. But he plans to continue encouraging cadets to get more involved in the community through internships and research programs, as well as transferring technology from the research lab to the private sector.
Armacost has been personally involved in that effort himself, as a professor in the business department.
“I was one of three professors who created FalconWorks, a nonprofit that takes ideas from the Academy and transfers them into products for the developmentally disabled,” he said.”We’ve had one major success – PointScribe – and we’ll have others, I’m sure.”
Duncan Stewart, CEO of Grant Dental Works and former CEO of the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, was a partner in creating FalconWorks, and both men still are involved in the nonprofit. Stewart says he expects the business community will see a lot more of Armacost in the coming months.
“Not only will he continue urging tech transfer, I believe he’ll accelerate the process,” Stewart said. “He’s one of those people who are seriously committed to increasing the economic development impact of the Academy while encouraging small businesses to grow by transferring technology from the Academy to the private sector.”
It’s just one of the responsibilities Armacost is tackling. A long-time AFA faculty member, he’s been head of the management department while working with groups like Ignite Colorado Springs to encourage high-tech companies and entrepreneurs.
He started at the Academy in 1995 as an instructor, and left to obtain a doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He returned to head the management department and now oversees the faculty, a staff of 750 and the education of 4,000 cadets.
“There will be changes to the institution,” he said. “We’re going to be looking at how it operates, how it will operate with the current budget issues and looking for ways to improve its operation.”
Part of that will be examining ways to take research projects currently developed at the Academy beyond mere academic research.
“Someone has to step out with corporations and develop it so it can be used commercially,” he said. “It’s a challenge. We do a lot of research here, but projects stop at level three; you have to go all the way to level nine before it is commercially viable.”
PointScribe is one project that Armacost helped develop beyond the research labs. A software program that teaches handwriting, PointScribe is now available on the commercial market.
But his AFA job isn’t all about business and tech-transfer. He has some tough issues to face as fall semester classes start this month.
“First of all, the budgets are reduced,” he said. “We’re going to operate more efficiently. And civilian furloughs are having a dramatic effect on individual workers here; it’s 20 percent of pay for 11 weeks. It’s having a tremendous effect on our mission.”
The AFA travel budget has been cut, he said, and cuts go even deeper.
“Library hours have been cut,” he said. “We’ve reduced subscriptions to publications. And we’re really taking a hard look at smaller course offerings – things where we only have a single section offered. Does it make sense to keep them?”
Class sizes will be larger, changing the professor-student ratio that’s been a source of AFA pride.
“We have 17 or 18 in a class,” Armacost said. “We’ll be bumping that up to 20 or 21.”
Those are things he has to do as dean. But he says his job is really about helping create the next generation of Air Force leaders.
“We are 100 percent focused on getting them ready for service,” he said. “And that can be tough; these kids have a lot of constraints on their time. That’s why professors and staff members – every single one of them – are focused on that one job. Students can reach their professors at home, during office hours, whenever they have a free minute. They drop what they’re doing to help the cadets.”
Armacost says he has a good start already, thanks to groundwork set by his predecessor, Brig. Gen. Dana Born.
“The strategic direction of the institution is solid,” he said. “Gen. Born laid out a fantastic foundation for the school. At the end of the day, these cadets will have a great start because of what she did.”
And Armacost will have his own seal on the job, says Stewart.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” he said. “He’ll focus on the business community, on creating more research opportunities for students, finding new projects in the local community for them. He’s the right man for this job.” n CSBJ