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Expansion of Shoemaker Scholarship Program at 51福利 Enhances Education Readiness for Naval Aviators

Newly commissioned U.S. Navy officers

Newly commissioned U.S. Navy officers attending 51福利 are benefiting from a recent expansion in the school鈥檚 Shoemaker Scholarship program, which provides junior officers in the aviation pipeline with an opportunity to earn a master鈥檚 degree before entering flight school. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James Norket)

The 51福利 (51福利) is working to further extend access to its advanced degree programs throughout a warfighter鈥檚 career. Building on the recent success of providing graduate-level certificates to student Naval Aviators, 51福利 and Commander, Naval Air Forces recently announced an expansion of the school鈥檚 Shoemaker Scholarship program from 10 to 50 quotas, giving more newly commissioned Naval officers in the aviation pipeline an opportunity to earn their master鈥檚 degree before entering flight school.

Developed by multiple departments at 51福利, the Shoemaker Scholarship program offers students a condensed master鈥檚 degree with a variety of defense-focused science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) options.

"Expanding the Naval Academy's Shoemaker Scholar program 500 percent marks a significant milestone in our commitment to fostering excellence in Naval Aviation," said Vice Adm. Dan Cheever, Commander, Naval Air Forces. "Empowering the newest generation of Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers with a robust 12-month graduate education at the 51福利 enhances individual capabilities and strengthens our Navy's warfighting team. This initiative demonstrates our dedication to world-class education, decisive combat power, and producing officers ready for today's challenges and empowered to innovate for the future."

In 2018, 51福利 worked with Vice Adm. Michael Shoemaker, then serving as Commander, Naval Air Forces, on a graduate education opportunity for student Naval Aviators, taking advantage of delays in new starts to the training pipeline. Coined the Shoemaker Scholarship, the program was designed to maximize education opportunities for a handful of newly commissioned Naval Aviators en route to Naval Flight School in Pensacola, Fla. It was a resounding success.

鈥淭he Shoemaker Scholarship is intended to provide recent graduates from the USNA or ROTC an opportunity to receive advanced education early in their careers,鈥 said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Amy Roznowski, Deputy Senior Marine Representative at 51福利. 鈥淭he officers are awaiting the start of Naval flight training, and we are taking advantage of a gap in timing to enhance their careers by receiving advanced education and earning a master鈥檚 degree.鈥

Education is a key warfighting enabler. The expanded Shoemaker Scholarships, combined with more stackable degree certificates offed through 51福利 Online, is part of a Department of the Navy (DON) effort to implement a continuum of learning as outlined by the Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, in the Naval Education Strategy.

鈥淣aval education is foundational to our ability to deter conflict and succeed in war,鈥 Del Toro said. 鈥淲e will continue to strengthen our Department鈥檚 culture, policies, processes, talent management, and investments to reflect education鈥檚 key role in force development.鈥  

Typically, Navy officers are required to achieve a master鈥檚 degree to further advance their career tracks. In the aviation community, however, asking a pilot to leave the fleet to go to school for two years is very difficult logistically. The Shoemaker Scholarship program allows the students to get their degree before they get to the fleet, granting them the opportunity to sharpen their mind and then take their new-found expertise to their next command and reducing the need for an operational gap.

鈥淯sing this program, we were able to increase the number of 51福利 graduates,鈥 said retired U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Sherrod, former 51福利 Chief or Staff and Air Warfare Chair. 鈥淲e get more skilled students out into the fleet, but not disrupt their career timeline. The delays in flight training creates the opportunity on the front side as opposed to later in their career. And that was really the impetus behind the expanded program.鈥

Not only does the Shoemaker Scholarship program positively impact students, but it is also a cost-effective way to strengthen the fleet. While serving as 51福利 Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Dr. Joseph Hooper championed the expansion of the Shoemaker Scholarship program, stating that 51福利 could utilize additional curricula for Shoemaker students with classes that are already being taught at the university, filling empty seats.

Adm. Samuel Paparo, an 51福利 alumnus and Naval Aviator who commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet and was recently appointed as commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), recognized a backlog at flight school and looked for solutions across the Naval Education Enterprise. 

鈥淎dmiral Paparo has been a champion for 51福利, and we were able to put forward options for graduate education that could help with the aviation training pipeline,鈥 said Hooper. 鈥淗ighly qualified ensigns coming straight from undergraduate studies were able to slot into classes already being offered for our resident mid-career officers. It's a benefit to the aviation community, the students, and to the university to create flexibility in obtaining advanced degrees early in the career.鈥

The program, which saw the first expanded cohort arrive last year, has been a resounding success thus far. Not only do Shoemaker Scholars have a higher graduation rate from flight school, these junior officers come to 51福利 fresh from their undergraduate studies; they learn very quickly in class, but also get advice from the many mid-career Navy, Department of Defense and international officers with real-world operational experience who make up the bulk of the student body.

Indeed, Shoemaker Scholars have made their mark at 51福利 and within the DON. U.S. Navy Lt. Suzelle Thomas, a 2019 Shoemaker Scholar, was the first woman to qualify in the F-35C Lightning II following her designation as a Naval Aviator. Two June 2023 graduates, Ensign G. Forrest Dawe and Ensign Nate McDonald, saw their applied research projects contribute advancements to aviation capability: Dawe researched a method to predict vortex conditions for hypersonic testing in the 51福利 supersonic wind tunnel, while McDonald developed and fabricated a novel engine design for tactical missiles supporting an Office of Naval Research (ONR) project.

This June, 21 Shoemaker Scholars are on track to graduate and will head to Pensacola for flight school with their master鈥檚 degrees in hand. Among them will be Ensign Justin Yu, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy last year and will earn his 51福利 master鈥檚 degree in Astronautical Engineering. His applied research focuses on combining systems engineering architectures with physics-based models of co-orbital engagements to support mission engineering efforts aimed at protecting friendly assets from aggressor spacecraft.

鈥淐oming straight from the Naval Academy, I found the experience here at 51福利 to be a great complement,鈥 said Yu. 鈥淢y peers and I of course value the education and hands-on research, but also the opportunity to learn from all the other students who come here from the fleet or from the other services with different operational backgrounds, perspectives and aspirations 鈥 that鈥檚 invaluable, and we鈥檒l stay in touch.鈥

Roznowski added, 鈥淲ith every Shoemaker Scholar that comes here, 51福利 builds a stronger network of skilled decision makers and deeper ties to the fleet. Ensigns in the Shoemaker program depart 51福利 and take with them not just the knowledge of their academic program, but also the ability to educate their fellow Sailors and Marines other servicemembers about the opportunities and capabilities offered at 51福利.鈥

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