No Seismic Shifts: An Interview with BG Tim Trainor ‘83
By J. M. Olejniczak ‘61
BG Timothy E. Trainor, Ph.D., an Engineer officer and former Professor and Head of the Department of Systems Engineering, is the 13th Dean of the Academic Board in the history of the United States Military Academy. He is married to a classmate, COL Donna Brazil, director of Psychology studies in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, who has worked on teams establishing the National Military Academy of Afghanistan. They are the proud parents of daughter Cory, Class of 2013, and two sons in high school, Danny and Zach. Cory’s Dad pinned airborne wings on her at Ft. Benning this past summer. In addition to his duties as Dean, BG Trainor will teach Systems Modeling and Design in the fall semester. Currently, COL Brazil plans to continue on active duty until 2013 and provide an example of a successful military (and graduate) couple that remained on active duty until retirement. At the moment, the 13th Dean is soliciting suggestions for his trademark, since he is “not a moped guy” and “distinctive running shoes” already have been exploited by his predecessor.
For openers, in your opinion, what exactly does the Dean do?
The first thing that this Dean will do is ensure that the academic curriculum is right for developing the skills and attributes our young grads need in battle today and 15 years in the future. They must become critical thinkers and creative problem solvers who are prepared to face the inherently complex and uncertain situations that await them upon graduation.
To do that, we must attract and sustain a world class faculty, despite resource constraints, and ensure that they develop cadets into leaders—academically, physically, ethically and militarily.
How will your systems engineering background help you as the Dean?
Systems engineering is inherently multi-disciplinary and about how we integrate many components into a whole so I am comfortable with the diversity of curriculum and experiences across the breadth of our disciplines. Systems engineers take a holistic perspective in defining problems, designing and analyzing alternative solutions, making and implementing solutions that create value for stakeholders so these thought processes are consistent with our need to develop critical thinkers and creative problem solverswho can deal with uncertainty. While there is constant pressure for specialization, like foreign languages and cultural competency, and an increased demand now for Engineers in the Army, the strength of West Point is the broad-based liberal arts and engineering education that we provide to all of our cadets in the core curriculum. That must be maintained. We must continue to provide this world-class education in order to meet the needs of our cadets and the Army.
Where do you see the future of the curriculum?
I see a greater need for integration and coordination across the disciplines, another instance where being a systems engineer can be helpful. We might be able to allow for some additional specialization to meet the demands of the Army but we must still provide that strong, broad-based liberal-arts and engineering education. I see the future of our curriculum as being more inter-disciplinary, with ever-increasing integration across all of the departments.
Would you comment about outreach initiatives to the Army?
West Point does a terrific job in that area, especially with the National Military Academy of Afghanistan. We’ve been doing that for a number of years now and the fruits of our labor were recognized last year as the NMAA graduated their first class. The Head of our Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering, COL Ed Naessensis currently the senior mentor for their superintendent and dean. The Naval Academy recently joined the effort this summer, and along with the Air Force Academy they contribute faculty as mentors to this important mission. We will continue to support the Afghan academy and also continue to get others involved.
COL Mike Meese, Professor and Head of the Department of Social Sciences, recently went on a year-long sabbatical to support GEN Petraeus in Afghanistan as a deputy chief of staff and strategic planner. We have other faculty members spending a shorter amount of time filling key staff positions to accomplish tasks such as strategic assessment.
What do you see as the future of the Centers for Excellence?
We will entertain proposals for new centers of excellence. In the Systems Engineering Department, we were working on a Center for Nation Reconstruction and Stability Operations when I moved to this position and that proposal is being staffed now. However there also may be a consolidation of centers due to resource constraints and evolving priorities. Our centers must be self sufficient and enhance our ability to accomplish the primary teaching mission. Centers can and should be an enabler of our teaching mission by providing cadets educational experiences outside of the classroom and helping faculty maintain the relevancy of our curriculum.
Would you comment about the recent increase in civilian faculty?
Our civilian faculty members are a tremendous asset, and we are blessed to have them. Right now they represent about 27% of our faculty population.They are invaluable in that they provide the cadets a richer, more robust academic program and are the stability and continuity for the program. Our senior military faculty also provides stability, but I like to think of our civilian faculty as providing balance and perspective. When we think about developing curriculum and programs for cadets, our civilian faculty members can provide a different and diverse perspective . In Systems Engineering, our civilian faculty members provided problem sets and domains that our military faculty typically could not. Civilian faculty also do wonderful outreach work with the Army and are able to seamlessly integrate this work into cadet education. Our senior civilian faculty members also provide great insight into the governance of the university. West Point, after all, more closely resembles a university than it does a typical military installation, and our senior civilian faculty provides a unique perspective on how to govern and manage a university. They also provide a diverse range of experiences and thought processes that are much needed and appreciated by our cadets.
What about the recent emphasis upon cultural immersion experiences for cadets?
I think this has been an outstanding program for our cadets. What I see as the future of cultural immersion is continuing to reap the benefits of such programs for as long as resources permit. Cultural immersion provides a wide variety of experience and thought processes to cadets so as to shape them and make them more adaptable to the complex and uncertain operating environment that we discussed before. What I would like to see are more cadets involved, even if for shorter periods of time, especially in the semester abroad program. Right now they are a bit limited—mainly to language majors, although we do get some engineers and other majors involved. We would like to have these programs available to all of our cadets, so that they can experience intellectual diversity and develop a broader perspective, which is essential to their success as Army leaders.
Systems Engineering has been likened to an attempt to repeal, or at least greatly diminish, the effect of the Law of Unintended Consequences. What are your thoughts on that characterization?
As systems engineers, we are supposed to integrate all of the components, all of the disciplines, appropriate to developing or revising a system or to solve a problem. As integrators, we are supposed to think through the effects of bringing together various disciplines and components to solve a particular problem or to build a new system. We think through the “what ifs,” the second and third order effects of bringing together certain components of a system in order to develop a functioning whole. We are concerned about what will happen when we bring these components together, what will be the second and third order effects, or “unintended consequences,” so we can plan for and better design the system and prevent having such negative unintended consequences.
What are some changes, revolutionary or evolutionary, that you would like to see in the West Point curriculum over the next five years?
Our core curriculum is very strong, and I want to ensure that it remains the centerpiece of preparing our cadets for their role as Army leaders who are critical and innovative thinkers prepared for their future complex operating environment. We may have to make some changes in order to continue producing these thinkers and leaders for our Army. One change will be better integration across the core curriculum to attain synergies and improve our efficiency in developing the skill sets that cadets require. In addition to better integration across the academic program, we will also see better integration of the military program and the physical program in terms of goals and outcomes. West Point does a terrific job with the Cadet Leader Development System (CLDS). This system works well in all of our programs: military, physical, ethical and academic. I think we will evolve towards increased integration across all programs under the framework of CLDS. We will continue with the current academic majors program, and I do not foresee any significant growth in the number of majors offered in the near future. Instead, we will refine the program to ensure that we are offering the right majors to develop commissioned leaders of character for the Army.