AFIT faculty and staff win 2021 AETC iChallenge awards

Posted Thursday, June 24, 2021


Col James Fee, AFIT Deputy Director & Director of Staff, presents the AETC iChallenge Award to Dr. Scott Nykl (first place winner) during a virtual meeting with Lt Gen Hecker, Air University Commander and President.

 By Stacy Burns, Graduate School of Engineering and Management

The Air Force Institute of Technology is proud to recognize its 2021 Air Education and Training Command (AETC) iChallenge Award winners. Dr. Scott L. Nykl, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the Graduate School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, took first place in the Accelerate Change Award category for the 3D virtual training application “Cyber Space Odyssey.” 1st Lt Kasey Stout, Civilian Institution Programs Academic Program Manager and Executive Officer, and Dr. Alice Grimes, Graduate School of Engineering and Management Director of Faculty Development, were awarded second place in the ADAPT Award category for the “Facilitator Cadre Program.”

The 2021 Innovative Challenge (iChallenge) was launched last November by Lt Gen Brad Webb, AETC Commander, with the intent to capture and fund innovative ideas that directly align with the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Brown’s “accelerate change or lose” action orders and AETC Strategic Plan priorities. All of AETC was challenged to take part and those who submitted the most innovative ideas were selected as finalists to present their virtual pitch on April 19 to Lt Gen Webb and the AETC Selection Committee.

On May 6, Webb announced two winners from each of the three AETC iChallenge categories and awarded a combined $300,000 during the annual Gathering of the Torch event. The winners will work with their wing leadership to use the funds to further advance their innovative ideas.

Cyber Space Odyssey
Dr. Scott Nykl 2021 iChallenge Accelerate Change Award 1st Place Winner ($75,000) In this challenge category, winners developed innovations in direct support of CSAF Brown’s priority to “accelerate change or lose.”

Cyber Space Odyssey (CSO) is a novel, 3D virtual training application that gamifies cyber security in a live, team-oriented scenario while incorporating the most ubiquitous cyber tools in today’s arsenal. The elements create an effective and motivating training environment to increase cyber training efficacy and tempo. Specifically, it facilitates hands-on network analysis involving the capture and crafting of simple UDP network traffic to manipulate the state of a real-time 3D virtual world.

Trainees leverage state-of-the-art network analysis tools (e.g. Wireshark) and perform network packet crafting (e.g. UDP datagram construction). The acts of successfully capturing network traffic, decoding it, and crafting syntactically and semantically correct packets receive immediate positive reinforcement through visible changes within the 3D virtual world set in earth’s orbit. Teams compete against each other and the clock to collect intel and solve the game’s mystery. This “capture, analyze, craft, visualize” paradigm provides a powerful and responsive pedagogical mechanism for learning enhancement.

Cyber Space Odyssey can help develop the next generation of cyber-security leaders through effective training tools and has been used at AFIT’s Advanced Cyber Education (ACE) summer ROTC training program for the past five years with excellent success.

“Our current goal is to bring Cyber Space Odyssey to the larger USAF, USSF, and greater DoD. To do this, we plan to move Cyber Space Odyssey into the cloud, making it accessible to a vast pool of future cyber defenders. We have already created a proof-of-concept implementation within Amazon’s AWS Gov Cloud showing the technology is feasible, but we require more software development resources to fully achieve this undertaking. Winning the iChallenge and receiving support funding is a step in the right direction,” Nykl explained.

“Competitions like this show how seriously the Air Force seeks innovative solutions to challenging problems. With Cyber Space Odyssey, being able to pitch such a ‘moonshot’ idea to the highest levels was an excellent opportunity to advance the digital prototype and help our fellow Airmen receive the best cyber training possible. I look forward to our continued engagement with USAF/USSF leaders and delivering the best cyber education the Air Force has to offer,” Nykl said.

Col James Fee, AFIT Deputy Director & Director of Staff, presents the AETC iChallenge Award to 1st Lt Kasey Stout and Dr. Alice Grimes (second place winners) during a virtual meeting with Lt Gen Hecker, AU Commander and President.

Facilitator Cadre Program
1st Lt Kasey Stout and Dr. Alice Grimes 2021 iChallenge ADAPT Award 2nd place winner ($25,000) The ADAPT Award category recognizes projects that were previously attempted but did not meet the desired results. By adapting and combining lessons learned with potential award funding, the managers.

AFIT’s Facilitator Cadre Program leverages small group discussions as an effective way for getting Airmen’s inputs, cultivating a sense of belonging and being heard. The program was developed in response to a 2020 Secretary of Defense call for the “development of a program of instruction containing techniques and procedures which enable commanders to have relevant, candid, and effective discussions” with their Airmen.

Dr. Alice Grimes has served as a member of the leadership team of AFIT’s Facilitator Cadre Program since its inception in the fall of 2020. “The USAF has recognized and acted upon the growing need for awareness and responsiveness to the interpersonal and intrapersonal needs of all Airmen. These efforts include small group discussion and training opportunities that address social change, equity and inclusion and also concerns for mental health, violence prevention, and suicide prevention. These efforts require guidance from trained facilitators to insure the benefits of these opportunities are realized,” Grimes explained.

The Facilitator Cadre Program’s mission is to recruit and equip facilitators to confidently and effectively lead trainings and small group discussions by creating a psychologically safe environment for interaction in order to foster a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion where the input of all members of AFIT is valued and recognized.

The Facilitator Cadre Program has made great strides under Program Manager 1st Lt Kasey Stout’s leadership. Stout guided the program as it recruited and trained a team of volunteer facilitators, organized a leadership committee to guide the program, and developed a set of training goals and materials in less than a year since the program inception. These steps have been taken to ensure that facilitators are well-equipped to conduct small group discussions in the workplace. The Facilitator Cadre achieved a new milestone when it successfully conducted its first small group discussion with all members of the AFIT community on the topic of extremism during the Air Force mandated stand down on April 1.

“We really threw our facilitators in the deep end right off the bat, and they handled it wonderfully. We learned a lot as a program for the future, but this was a significant step in our development as we now have relevant and practical experience under our belt,” Stout said.

The Facilitator Cadre Program committee is now focused on creating an online process for training, certification, and management of volunteer facilitators to address the needs of AFIT. Stout and Grimes believe AFIT’s program has the potential to be developed into a USAF-wide training center to train and equip military members and civilian employees alike with a foundation of facilitation skills at a minimal cost and in a relatively short period of time.


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