MURFREESBORO - Civil Air Patrol cadets from across the nation converged on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University this summer for two weeklong events that showcased aerospace and other science majors.
This is the third year MTSU hosted the Tennessee Wing Encampment, a leadership and training opportunity for the U.S. Air Force volunteer auxiliary's cadets ranging in age from 12 to 21. About 150 members attended the event, which also drew attendees from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
"MTSU offers a wonderful convergence of activities that make the encampment popular," said Lt. Col. Jeff Clark, the encampment commander. "The aerospace department is world-class and offers instruction and equipment that cadets would not have otherwise.
"It's a win-win situation where the university gets to show off its program to a target-rich audience of future aviators and cadets get access to instruction they normally wouldn't get until college."
This also was the second year MTSU hosted the CAP Engineering Technology Academy, a competitive national cadet special activity that attracted about 40 prospective students to learn about aerospace and engineering technology.
"This was a great move for us," said Lt. Col. Robert Gilbert, the academy's director. "The university has gone above and beyond to make this academy a class act.
"The cadets have learned a lot, and several have remarked to me that (MTSU) will be their next school."
MTSU first inked the partnership with CAP's Tennessee Wing in 2014 in hopes of providing cadets with opportunities to explore the Murfreesboro campus and interact with faculty. They renewed the pact in 2017 for another three years.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee often watched from his office as cadets attending the Tennessee Wing Encampment conducted morning reveille and afternoon retreat ceremonies at the flagpole in front of the Cope Administration Building.
"The energy and enthusiasm brought forth by the cadets this summer was simply wonderful," McPhee said. "I am pleased we were able to host these activities and give youth from across the country an opportunity to learn about our university."
McPhee credited Bud Fischer, dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, for encouraging his aerospace, engineering technology, biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy, and military science departments to engage with the cadets.
"MTSU has the academic programs that many of these outstanding cadets will pursue in college," the president said. "These events give them a sneak peek of what's possible."
Col. Dent Young, commander of CAP's Tennessee Wing, called MTSU "a valuable partner in many ways but specially in our successful and growing cadet program." About 500 of the wing's 1,000 members are cadets.
Young said the university's "unparalleled aviation and technology departments continue to impress and have been a strong influence in a number of our cadets who have chosen related careers as a result of their encampment experience at MTSU."
MTSU lured the Engineering Technology Academy away from Auburn University, a point of pride for MTSU alumnus and Southeast Region commander Col. Barry Melton, who oversees CAP wings in five states, including Tennessee, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Melton said the academy allowed "professors to work one-on-one with the cadets, exposing them to current and emerging vocational fields that include aerospace and expanding into areas such as biology, chemistry, mechanical engineering and the physical sciences."
The Civil Air Patrol, founded in 1941 just before the start of America's involvement in World War II, has more than 60,000 volunteer members. Congress chartered the organization to support the Air Force; it's best known for its aerial search and rescue missions, cadet program and commitment to aerospace education.
MTSU's close ties with CAP stretch back to July 1948, the year CAP's Middle Tennessee State College Squadron was organized; MTSU's Department of Aerospace was six years old at the time. Based at the old College Airport, the squadron comprised pilots trained on campus and was recognized for its search-and-rescue work. It operated on campus until 1953.