Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
On Jan. 9, the Command and General Staff College announced its 2019 Military and Civilian Educators of the Year, after a five-member selection panel considered each candidate’s service to the college, instruction in the classroom and an in-person interview with each educator.
Air Force Lt. Col. Samuel “Sally” Robino, Air Force Element and Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations instructor, was named the Military Educator of the Year, and Nils Erickson, Department of Logistics and Resource Operations instructor, was named the Civilian Educator of the Year.
Military Educator of the Year
Robino, who has a background in special operations aviation and completed the Kansas State University adult education and leadership program, has taught at CGSC since 2018 after he graduated from the Command and General Staff Officer Course.
“Being able to have a student perspective is certainly helpful, but then what I really lack is deep experiences that other instructors have,” Robino said. “It is exciting though. I think being able to stay connected to my students having recently gone through the program and learned the curriculum is certainly a strength. I do lean pretty hard on other instructors, especially other instructors within my department and on my team, to make sure that I can get to the right standard of instruction these guys deserve.”
Robino, who mainly teaches strategy, operational art and design, international theory and systems perspective, said he has learned a lot about teaching over the last year.
“Last year was more learning for me than I think for my students. There were a lot of things that I did that I took at face value. I took the lesson plans that were provided to us, and I taught the lesson plan very prescriptively, and I don’t think that was super effective last year,” Robino said. “This year, instead of trying to force myself into a prescriptive way of teaching, I took the styles that I’m a little more comfortable with, and I think it was a lot more successful.”
Robino said this change has led to a three-fold way of teaching. First is setting an environment.
“It is setting an environment where individual students, their individual perspectives are respected, appreciated and students are actively listening to one another. That’s first and foremost,” Robino said. “I want to have a democratic learning environment where students are listening to each other, where they’re valued and where I can set and steer the conditions for the class without basically just lecturing and preaching to the students. … I’ve told these guys many times, they are going to learn more from each other than they ever will from me, and I still believe that is true.”
Second is preparation.
“A lot of times, I’ll basically have a script for a lesson, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that script verbatim, but what I’ll do is I’ll use that to basically steer the conversation to get to our desired learning objectives,” Robino said.
Third is high-energy positive engagement with students.
“What that means is I will not allow students to not be responsible for their own learning,” Robino said. “We’ll do a lot of meeting students head on to not allow them to sit idly by and not be responsible for their own actions and that drives students to encourage that of themselves as well.
“For me, when it comes to teaching, it really is in my opinion the culmination of leadership, which is how can I connect with people who may potentially not be motivated, and how can I inspire students to have a vision and bring purpose into why the curriculum that I’m teaching is important and why they want to be here?” he said. “That is the same kind of challenges that you would have if you were a squadron commander, or battalion commander, a brigade commander. … That’s why I like teaching. It is really, really hard to do well, and then, the deep personal satisfaction that I feel when students actually derive an understanding. When that lightbulb goes off that is really self-satisfying to me, and inspiring and self-satisfying to them.”
Capt. Josh Haseltine, CGSOC student, said Robino does well at talking from an Army perspective though he is a member of the Air Force.
“He actually talks as if he was Army or just a general joint officer overall. If you took the uniform away, he could do just as well speaking for any service,” Haseltine said. “His knowledge of doctrine, whether it be Army doctrine, joint doctrine or national policy is really, really good. … I think that would be very difficult for me to do the same talking Air Force doctrine.”
U.S. Air Force Maj. Natasha Peeples, CGSOC student, said Robino was deserving of the award.
“He has been a phenomenal mentor, instructor and support just leading the staff group to not just understand the concepts, but to step up in our interactions and understand the different perspectives of each other, of our experiences, of our careers and then bringing all of that together to be able to apply that within our military levels of operations,” Peeples said. “He brings in his personality, his experiences and his ultimate goal is to help us to succeed and not just cramming the material down our throats.
“He puts his heart into everything that he’s doing, and he truly cares about every single one of us,” she said. “Even when he won, he was just so humble. He turned that around and said ‘that’s actually our win.’ He is the full package.”
Civilian Educator of the Year
Erickson has taught at CGSC for 14 years both as an officer and a civilian. He has a master’s degree in human resource management from Central Michigan University and said he had two things he always wanted to do growing up.
“One was be a soldier and one was be a teacher, so my first career allowed me to go ahead and serve 25 years as an officer in the Army,” Erickson said. “Then, I kind of retired out of (CGSC), so I was already teaching, and it opened up the opportunity for me to go ahead and continue contributing to the Army without still being in by teaching. …I can continue to contribute to the Army and help develop the young officers for the future of the Army.”
Erickson said he doesn’t consider himself to have a unique style of teaching, but that he actively tries to connect with students.
“I use the same techniques, same lesson plans most of the other instructors do,” Erickson said. “I just have very high passion for what I’m doing, do a lot of preparation for classes, and then just kind of get a sense for the students and how they are feeling and responding that day.”
Capt. Chris Salisbury, CGSOC student, said Erickson does well at making complicated material relatable to the students.
“What he really excels at is drawing out that experience,” Salisbury said. “There is a lot of experience in a classroom, and he’s able to take complicated concepts, use the experience of the classroom students and really tease out those experiences into something that is relatable to everybody in the room, and it translates well into an academic environment.”
Capt. Josh Pugh, CGSOC student, said Erickson does well at bringing enthusiasm to what can be a “boring” and “complicated” subject.
“He brings an enthusiasm and knowledge base to the teaching process that gets everybody engaged. It is actually interesting to learn about,” Pugh said. “There are not many instructors that can teach a subject like his and don’t have to explain the importance of it. It just comes across through his teaching style and method.
“In every lesson, he can relate how what we’re doing, no matter how far removed from the battlefield it is, relates to the battlefield by going through the whole process of how each thing is interconnected to eventually winning the nation’s wars and fighting on the battlefield,” he said. “His background as an infantry officer has given him the understanding of how the guns and bullets and tanks get to the battlefield.”