To dominate the sky, they must first command their minds: U.S. Air Force commissioned officers pursue graduate education at CSU

Jeremy Daily is a white man with short hair wearing glasses and a formal suit. Behind him is a crest on the wall that reads “US Air Force Academy Systems Engineering.” Maj. Trae Span is a white man with a short haircut and a mustache wearing his uniform. To the right of Span is 2nd Lt. Gabe Salinger, a young white man with brown hair also wearing his uniform. They are smiling at the camera.
U.S. Air Force veteran Jeremy Daily (left), associate professor, Colorado State University Department of Systems Engineering, visits with Maj. Martin “Trae” Span, PhD student, CSU Systems, and 2nd Lt. Gabe Salinger, master’s student, CSU Systems, following a guest lecture Daily gave at the U.S. Air Force Academy. (Courtesy photo)

In large scale combat operations, the U.S. military must coordinate the joint forces to control all domains of warfare. To fulfill its role, the U.S. Air Force must be the most technologically advanced it’s ever been, according to Maj. Martin “Trae” Span. That is why it’s critical to have the most well-developed service members in its history.

Span is one of two active-duty Air Force service members earning a graduate degree from the Colorado State University Department of Systems Engineering on the Fort Collins campus. The armed forces sponsor many uniformed members to gain a graduate education so they can become educators at the nation’s military schools. About half of the faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy are uniformed members of the armed services. CSU Systems provided Span and 2nd Lt. Gabe Salinger the flexibility and practical curriculum they needed to justify their time studying.

“Officers with a diverse education and connections to key industries are better prepared for what we need today,” Span said. “We need people who can coordinate complex systems, and people who are qualified to teach these necessary skills.”

Span, who has his master’s degree from the Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio, is working on his PhD, studying how to create security requirements for cyber-physical systems.

Salinger also studies cybersecurity in a systems engineering context. His focus is on learning to create technical computer models to demonstrate processes and identify needs. He recently graduated from the Air Force Academy and was specially selected by faculty to attend graduate school before going to flight training.

Salinger said he didn’t expect to be in graduate school so soon after finishing his undergraduate degree. Instead, he expected to be in flight school, but took the opportunity to earn a master’s degree when it was presented. The Air Force will allow him 18 months to complete his degree, six months faster than the average master’s student.

“I’m not here just because I wanted a graduate degree, but because this is a good way for me to serve the Air Force,” Salinger said. “I’m grateful for this opportunity, but I need to be efficient so I can get back on my original career track.”

Span and Salinger are members of the Systems Cyber Research Group, which partners with industry, governments, and trade organizations to enhance the cybersecurity of in-vehicle networks. This group is headed by Air Force veteran Jeremy Daily, associate professor, CSU Systems.

“Welcoming servicemembers into our program is important to me personally, and exciting from an education standpoint,” Daily said. “When you have a graduate student body that’s as grounded, knowledgeable, and connected to different industries as ours, impressive things happen.”

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Gabe Salinger, a young white man with brown hair, holds up a wire connected to the internal components of a semi truck's cap that was removed and placed in a garage for testing. Behind him is the Colorado State University logo. He has on an Air Force Academy branded sweater.
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Gabe Salinger, a master’s student in CSU’s Department of Systems Engineering, explains how his research in heavy truck cybersecurity teaches him how to model other cyber-physical systems, March 6.

Salinger said his short-term goal is to become an expert in using principles of model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and learning systems coding language (SysML). One of the tools he uses is the Dassault Systèmes CATIA Magic lineup. CSU Systems acquired new education licenses to use the CATIA programs earlier this year.

“Systems modeling is great for helping us take a step back to see how it all works together,” Salinger said. “We can look at mechanical flight systems, cyber systems, or even biological systems, which can all be very complicated. Modeling can help bridge the understanding gap between funders and engineers.”

Span said he appreciates the flexibility and practical orientation of his program. All CSU Systems courses are offered in hybrid, in-person and online formats. Classes are also recorded and taught after normal work hours to accommodate working students.

“The program is flexible in a way that makes it better for nontraditional students,” Span said. “It’s nice to have so many peers and professors who are directly tied to industry and who work on practical problems.”

Span said he’s likely to soon return to the Air Force Academy on assignment to be a uniformed faculty member teaching systems engineering. Salinger might also return one day to educate, but first he has a longer career ahead.

“We keep saying Gabe is going to be a wing commander,” Span said about Salinger. “But one day we’ll get him to teach.”