The United States military service academies are among the country’s finest institutions of higher learning and its best investments in assuring the country remains in the global forefront, both technologically and militarily. No fields of endeavor have benefited more from the discipline, curiosity, natural intelligence and determination embodied in the academies’ graduates than the aerospace and defense industries.

In recognition of the foregoing, Aviation Week has long sponsored the Tomorrow’s Leaders Awards, including them within the Laureates program. These awards recognize members of the academies who have demonstrated overall excellence as well as a keen interest in pursuing various careers in aerospace.

Quite appropriately, presenting the awards this year was NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Bolden exemplifies the heights to which Tomorrow’s Leaders can rise and the contributions they can make.

After being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, Bolden earned his wings of gold, flew 100 combat sorties in Southeast Asia, served as a military test pilot and later as a NASA astronaut with four missions into space, twice as the shuttle mission commander. Subsequently, he was deputy commandant at Annapolis, and then commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, rising to the rank of major general by the time President Barack Obama asked him to take over NASA in 2009.

 “I am proud to be a product of the U.S. Naval Academy and am still amazed by the opportunities that came my way as a result,” he told the Laureate attendees. “And throughout my career it’s been a distinct honor to serve with graduates of the other academies whose contributions to this community and the nation have been monumental.”

He then called to the stage this year’s award recipients:

Cadet Jacquelyn Susanne Kubicko, a junior at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, where her 4.0 GPA put her first in her class. A member of the Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society, she achieved the highest academic standing in advanced chemistry and advanced physics, and won the Class of 2009 writing award for her powerful and effective prose. And she holds a place on the Board of Trustees list for her academic, military and athletic excellence. 

Cadet Lt. Andrew Nicholas Ford: The son of a career Air Force officer, he was born in Shaw AFB in South Carolina and spent the first 13 years of his life on bases ranging from Italy to Okinawa and many stateside postings in between. After his father retired from the service, Ford accepted a nomination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he is a mechanical engineering major, with a focus in aerospace studies. After graduation, he will be assigned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to serve as an infantry officer.

Cadet First Class Rebecca Esselstein is studying astronautical engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where she is helping design FalconSAT-8, the academy’s next ESPA-class satellite. In addition, she conducted research on exoplanets, and participated in a five-week internship at MIT Lincoln Labs last summer. A member of the track team, she holds the Academy’s sixth-fastest indoor mark and ninth-fastest outdoor mark in the 800-meter run. She has been selected as a 2015 Rhodes Scholar, and hopes to study astrophysics at Oxford after graduating in May. After that, she is aiming for Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training at Sheppard AFB in Texas. 

Midshipman Lt. Samuel Lacinski is an Aerospace Engineering major at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and holds a 3.98 average. He is one of only 13 seniors given the opportunity to engage in independent research. His is entitled “Multiple Sensor Discrimination of Closely Spaced Objects on a Ballistic Trajectory.” Lacinski has participated in the local chapters of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Golden Key National Honor Society. He is also a member of the Naval Academy Flying Squadron. After graduating in May, he will report to NAS Pensacola, Florida, to begin pilot training.