A major new building is coming to West Point, putting several disciplines under one roof

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Cybersecurity teaching will take place right alongside mechanical and many other types of engineering at a planned new facility at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It promises to modernize the academies approach to these important fields. With what’s going on, professor of civil engineering, and the Dean’s executive agent for design and construction, Ledlie Klosky joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mr. Klosky, good to have you on.

Ledlie Klosky: Thanks very much, Tom. I appreciate your having me.

Tom Temin: And from what I’ve been able to tell, it looks like it’s more than just a new building that you are constructing here, but a new approach to engineering. Let’s start with the building itself. What are you building there?

Ledlie Klosky: So the Cyber Engineering Academic Center is the first major new academic teaching facility to go up at West Point since the early 1970s. So I’m sitting in Mohan Hall, which has been the home for civil mechanical engineering and systems engineering for many years. That building is designed very much like a traditional teaching facility you’d see at any university meeting. Say that if you were to convert the building today, into a hospital or sanitarium, that would be an easy thing to do, right? It’s cubbyhole, it’s very separated, we’re across ten separate floors, no ceilings above about eight feet inside the facility. And it was constructed in the days when chalk and talk were, I was the professor. So I was in possession of all the knowledge. So I have all this knowledge, and I’m going to get my chalk and I’m going to put all that knowledge stilled onto the board for my students, my students would dutifully take notes. And this was the state of the art for engineering education for many years, and remains the staple of many universities. And then my students once they mastered what it is that I thought was important, and I put on the board, I would give an exam and they would demonstrate that they had memorized or could repeat those calculations. Unfortunately, or fortunately I suppose, technology is now moving at such a rapid rate that if all my students know is what I know, they’re behind the day they graduate. And so we’ve made an evolution from content towards methods. What I really want is for my students to graduate with the ability to build new knowledge, with the ability to acquire and understand new technologies, and even participate in the development of those new technologies. With that in mind, West Point has been undergoing a revolution in the way that we educate engineers. We now use project based learning, followed by a capstone exercise in the senior year, as an essential part of how we teach. The chalk and talk in the building the fundamentals, those still exist as an important foundational element of student education, but it’s not the end, right. And is that the students are creating themselves, that they’re engaging the material directly, and they’re intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated. And getting them excited about an Army project, or a project with an NGO or a project with another university — these are very important to modern students.

Tom Temin: Alright. Let me go back to my original question, then what’s going up in place of the old would be sanatorium?

Ledlie Klosky: Yeah, well the new building will be much more open in format. It will have highly flexible spaces. And we’re combining this project based learning with laboratory type experiences with traditional classrooms into single multi-purpose spaces so that a student might see many, many learning styles, and many, many different learning modes, all in the same space with the same course. So there’s a hands on portion, there’s a chalk and talk portion. And there’s especially teaming with their fellow cadets inside those highly flexible spaces. There’ll be 136,000 square feet of new engineering pedagogical possibilities for the institution.

Tom Temin: Plus, you can fit fabrication gear and equipment, and I guess, maybe additive printing and all of these things, which take up space.

Ledlie Klosky: Absolutely. And they also require special utilities, more open square footage, the ability to move materials in and out. I’ve got to have the right electrical, I’ve got to have the right ventilation, I’ve got to have the right types of flooring, I’ve got to have the safety in place. So if we want to, for instance, let’s say that we were doing a new mount for a Bradley fighting vehicle as part of one of our mechanical engineering projects, we will have in our new facility a high bay that we could just roll a vehicle into. And we have an overhead crane that we could lift pieces on and off safely. And so it’s a huge improvement for us. Previously, a lot of our projects, bridges, large vehicles, anything taller than eight feet, had to be outdoors. And we’re in upstate New York and Hudson Valley here, and that’s not exactly optimum in February,

Tom Temin: And the word cyber is now part of engineering, or has that always been the case or are you adding it now and what are the implications of that?

Ledlie Klosky: So arguably, cyber has been part of engineering since the first silicon chip was cast. I see personally and I think many would agree that the hardware and software sides of the cyber business, whether that’s cyber defense or cyber capabilities of some kind or another, those are they’re just intertwined. They’re part of the whole package. When you’re evaluating a vulnerability, you have to be looking at both the hardware and the software. And that means in our Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, which combines the cyber and the hardware side with the software, hardware sides of cyber I think is ideally positioned to be part of America’s defense going forward in this area.

Tom Temin: And so the students that go through West Point that major in engineering, what kinds of things do they do in the Army once they graduate and become regular officers?

Ledlie Klosky: So our students take a very broad shared core curriculum. So every student at West Point, engineer, historian, English major, they all take a common core of courses meant to build them intellectually to the point where they’re ready to engage the challenges they’ll see as young officers in the Army. The battlefield is not as straightforward by any means, as it was 50, 60 years ago. And even then it was complex. And I would argue it has become more complex as the years have gone by, especially our security missions. And so our engineering graduates pick up an a bit accredited engineering degree. So that’s the same accreditation as you would see at other universities. But when they graduate, they could branch any of the branches in the Army, they could go into the Army Corps of Engineers, which has the word engineer in it, but many choose to go infantry or armor, air defense, artillery, military intelligence. I mean, there’s just lots and lots of choices for our students upon graduation. And they owe five years back to the American people in exchange for the education that’s provided here at West Point.

Tom Temin: And tell us more about the building. What’s the timeline? And will it have a name? And where in West Point is it located for the people listening that might have gone there, they’ll know?

Ledlie Klosky: When you come into West Point’s historic central post area, which is well known for its military gothic granite. I mean, when you approach that central post area, that idea of permanence and strength and discipline is communicated by everything you see. And the buildings are an important part of that. This building is going where the old central post apartments was at the very south end of the central post area. So it’s definitely in the core of our operation right up against our medical arts building, which is just south of a cadet barracks. So the closest cadet barracks is less than 100 yards away to the north, and the building will be 136,000 square feet. So it’s a beast, it’s a big building. And it will be three floors, including the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and the Department of Systems Engineering, all in one multidisciplinary interactive space that’s designed to support innovation.

Tom Temin: And by the way, are there still blackboards or do they have dry erase boards? Or do they have 108 inch screens that you draw on with virtual chalk?

Ledlie Klosky: Oh, boy, you’ve really stepped into the bear trap now. The idea of the future is combined with the traditions of West Point. And so yeah, blackboards definitely be in the building. That’s one of my great passions. I think blackboards are a wonderful tool, highly reconfigurable, if you will, and the visibility of what you’re putting up there is good. It also slows me down, I can’t flip through slides on a blackboard. And so the students are getting to take notes at the rate that I’m putting stuff up. But there will be of course, there’s going to be big video walls inside of there. There will be laboratories designed for cyber interaction across many nodes scattered across the globe, there will be piles and piles of whiteboards I’m sure inside of our electrical engineering, computer science spaces. And our friends up in systems engineering are always working on new ways of visualizing complex problems. And so I can tell you exactly what the building’s going to look like 10 years from now, I would say that on the design side, we failed. Because what I really want the building to do is to enable the things that I haven’t thought of yet. We haven’t thought of what that presentation of the future is going to be, we can’t tell you what 2030 looks like. And so flexibility and broad utilities underlying those unseen capabilities, that’s the key. For instance, we have a robotics lab, where we have both the high bay test area for robots and drones. And directly adjacent to that is a robotics laboratory, combined with a mechatronics laboratory. And our mechanical engineers or electrical engineers are cyber people working together with systems engineers on these super complex platforms. That’s the battlefield of the future. I don’t know what it’s gonna look like. And I don’t want to limit the imagination of our students and faculty as they try to engage that future battlefield.

Tom Temin: But if you want to analyze say, General Mark Clark’s strategy in Sicily, there’s no better way to do it expressively, though, than with chalk on a chalkboard.

Ledlie Klosky: Well, you know, I’m not going to speak for the junior faculty over in history, they probably have ideas that would amaze us about how that’s going to take place as Should I say, for senior member of the faculty, I try really hard to remain open to the ideas that are coming in from our junior faculty. One of the wonderful things about West Point is we bring in a lot of junior officers, not junior officers, I guess they’re captains and majors, compared to much of the rest of the faculty, I guess they seem Junior, but they’re not. They’re seasoned professionals in the United States Army. And they come in and teach our cadets and the ideas that they bring with them from the active component of the Army, it’s just amazing

Tom Temin: Ledlie Klosky is professor of civil engineering and the deans, executive agent for design and construction at the US Military Academy at West Point. Thanks so much for joining me.

Ledlie Klosky: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here. There’s almost nothing I would rather talk about than the new engineering building. In fact, I’m looking out the window right now of my office at the site. And the cranes are running back and forth, a large excavators trees are coming down. We’re getting ready to rip into the side of the mountain there to create a flat spot. As you probably know, West Point was chosen for the fact that it’s not flat, that it overlooks the Hudson River and was put in this place to print the British from coming up the river in the late parts of the 1700s there. And so when we go to put in a new structure like the suburban engineering academic center, there’s a lot of action required to get that flat spot that we need to put that building in.

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