Academy law professor creates lifelong learners
U.S. Air Force Academy Law Professor Douglas McKechnie poses for a photograph Dec. 5, 2023 in his office at the Academy in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rayna Schmidt)
U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – U.S. Air Force Academy Law Professor Douglas McKechnie is a scholar through and through. What his department head, Col. Tara Villena, calls “a true civilian,” McKechnie has never served in the military, but true to his thirst for knowledge, Villena says he “dove headfirst into everything [Academy].” Ten years after first taking his position here, he “now knows more about the military than some of us who are active duty,” the colonel says.
McKechnie was practicing law in Pittsburgh, specializing in constitutional law and civil liberties, when he came to a crossroads in his career where he had to choose between continuing to practice law and becoming an educator. After having the opportunity to guest lecture, he “got the bug.”
“I loved interacting with the students,” he said. “I loved that journey of intellectual exploration, watching the light bulb go off – and sometimes the lightbulb goes off for me as well, which as a lifelong learner is really cool.”
He came to a second crossroads in his career when he saw a job posting for a law professor at the Academy while teaching at the Appalachian School of Law. Interested in teaching driven, goal-oriented students, he applied.
“He offers a diversity of viewpoints,” Villena said. “We tend to become stove-piped in the military way of thinking while he adds a depth and passion for scholarship that is difficult to find.”
Since joining the Academy team, McKechnie’s goal has been to impart that same thirst for learning to the cadets. McKechnie teaches several law courses here, including the colloquially-named Moot Court, where he encourages students to think creatively and form their own opinions.
“I hope to spark a joy of learning and I hope they find real pleasure in learning new things and creating new ideas,” McKechnie said. “That wonderment is what higher education should be.”
While imparting knowledge, McKechnie also feels it is both important and rewarding to offer an empathetic ear to students whose every waking hour is filled with academic, athletic, and military responsibilities, which can often feel overwhelming.
“I am teaching undergraduates; these are the formative years of their lives where they are figuring out who they are,” said McKechnie. “It’s my job to help them learn, but it’s also my job to be a mentor and sometimes a shoulder to cry on.”
“I always say ‘protect Doug at all costs,’” said Villena. “He is very articulate, very professional, very knowledgeable, but in a way that makes him very approachable. Not just for cadets, but for colleagues.”
U.S. Air Force Academy Law Professor Douglas McKechnie poses for a photograph Dec. 5, 2023 in a classroom at the Academy in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rayna Schmidt)