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Chief learning officer brings different perspective to AETC position

  • Published
  • By Ava Leone
  • AETC Public Affairs

When Dr. Wendy Walsh received a LinkedIn message in 2021, asking her to apply for the chief learning officer position at Air Education and Training Command, she thought the message was sent to her by mistake.

In response, she recommended a few people that she had worked with during her 30-year government service career.  These were all possible candidates she thought would be a better fit the job, and Walsh had never worked for the Air Force before. However, the recruiter kept insisting Walsh had all the skills for the job.

“The Air Force really wanted somebody who saw things differently,” Walsh said. “And they wanted a person who wasn’t already steeped in the culture of how they’d always done things.”

Despite some hesitation, Walsh applied for the job.

“The chief learning officer’s role at AETC is to look out across the learning community — industry, academia, and other services — to make sure that the Air Force stays on the cutting-edge of learning,” Walsh said. “By gathering this knowledge, AETC gives Airmen the most up-to-date and innovative instruction to fulfill their job roles and to build mission ready Airmen.”

Walsh went on to explain how the Department of the Air Force continuum of learning starts when one first enters the Air Force, whether a civilian, enlisted, officer, reservist or guardsman.  The significant difference for all Airmen is that there are different paths for each person’s career. Walsh hopes to integrate the foundational competencies into the career path of each Airman, ensuring there are equal opportunities across the force to excel, until separation or retirement.

Walsh cherishes her duty to uplift the Air Force through education and training.

“I’m working for the people,” she said. “I always keep that in my mind and in my heart.”

“Sometimes we need the assistance of other people to bring our gifts out, but we all have something to contribute to this world,” Walsh continued. “Whether it’s artistic, detail-oriented, scientific, building community, or whatever your gift is. We have to give people an opportunity to discover, practice and refine those gifts within themselves.”

Walsh applies this mindset to her work. Previously, she worked six years with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where she focused on community building, eventually serving as the acting chief learning officer in 2021.

Specifically, Walsh collaborated with Native American tribal members in the Pacific region of the United States — Hawaii, California, Arizona, Nevada and the Pacific territories — to bring emergency management curriculum to tribal schools and to build a culture of preparedness.

“What I learned is it’s so important to be authentic and present with people. That’s taken me a long way — show up, listen and serve,” she said.

Walsh quickly learned that much of her job is connecting the Air Force network to foster force development. She has traveled across the world meeting with Airmen from different specialties and learning about Air Force programs and organizations.

Her goal is to create a shared understanding across the Air Force, building a framework where Airmen can share information with each other.

Over the past year, Walsh has investigated learning engineering, a human-centered approach to force development that centers on the learner, collaborates across mission threads, and collects data and information to empirically guide the learner to develop competencies to succeed in their field.

Walsh is dedicated to developing faculty and curriculum to inspire meaningful and measurable learning and experimenting with innovative teaching techniques and technology to advance learning.

With over 200 career fields in the Air Force, Walsh’s aim is to bridge the gap between career fields in order to work together to get the Air Force mission done, while ensuring each Airman’s learning journey is personalized.

Walsh hopes to enact change that will outlive her tenure with the Air Force. Changing a vast institution like the Air Force will take time, dedication and a plan to improve the continuum of learning for future generations.

What keeps her motivated and inspired is simple.

“It's the people. It's the Airmen. They're amazing, all of them,” Walsh said. “I have met incredible leaders everywhere I’ve gone during my time in this position. The people are incredible.”