Professor’s Passion for Flying Lands Air Force Technology into BGSU Business Classrooms


Dr. Earl McKinney took his faculty improvement leave (FIL) to new heights...literally. Dr. McKinney, professor of Management Information Systems (MIS), spent last year as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at his alma mater - the U.S. Air Force Academy.  During his FIL, he studied how the Air Force uses drones and semi-autonomous robots and how it uses Big Data to make decisions and enhance coordination efforts. He is a former aircraft commander and instructor pilot in the military.

As a teacher at the Air Force Academy this past year, the BGSU professor taught MIS classes and a class that combined elements of Organizational Behavior and Organizational Theory to juniors and seniors.  He adds, “Other activities included helping to initiate a plan to create a new MIS major, focusing attention on how to improve the management of the school’s network and infrastructure and mentoring junior faculty.  I also had the chance to begin research projects on Big Data with Academy faculty.”

What Dr. McKinney hopes to bring back to the BGSU classroom from what he learned at the Air Force Academy is the application of drones and semi-autonomous robots to more common business applications “to see how robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the workplace.”

According to Dr. McKinney, “The military is a leading global adopter of drones and semi-autonomous robots. IT security is also a very essential element of their network, and I am able to apply what the Academy has learned about securing a campus network to our IT Security classes.”

Besides the knowledge he brings to the classroom, the BGSU professor also is interested in the application of Big Data to decision making. “The military is using Big Data to make decisions and improve coordination in a number of ways similar to businesses.  I am now a part of several research initiatives that are investigating how Big Data is used in accounting for decision making and how to educate the next generation of business students to avoid simply accepting the results of Big Data analysis and to learn to ask good questions about Big Data analysis.”

So you might wonder how an MIS professor can combine his scholarly expertise with his passion for aviation. Dr. McKinney responds, “One combination of flying and IT is drone technology.  Having expertise in both technology and aviation, I am able to challenge students to think more completely about the advantages and disadvantages of employing drones for military uses, and the ethical implications of using drones against human targets.”

He adds, “Military drones range from small hand launched reconnaissance systems to jet sized airplanes that have intercontinental range.  Opportunities for drone use are expected to take off rapidly in the business domain with recent legislative action clarifying the roles and responsibilities of drone operators.”

While at the Air Force Academy, Dr. McKinney is most proud of his work that helped improve the Academy’s network and security infrastructure. “The Academy is one of the most secure university networks in the world.  However, that security is expensive and consumes considerable bandwidth. The Academy manages its network and security infrastructure like a common military base, but with several colleagues, we were able to help the leadership move in a direction of a more open university network while still maintaining security on particular applications where security is needed.”

Dr. McKinney began his career at the U.S. Air Force Academy as a pilot and earning an economics degree. He received a master’s in engineering in operations research from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in MIS from the University of Texas. Dr. McKinney joined the BGSU faculty in 2000, after serving nine years as a faculty member at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was recently named interim chair of BGSU’s Accounting and MIS department.

The MIS professor, who also holds a commercial pilot’s license, sees three “next big things” in his field of study, one of them being robots and AI. “The second is the Internet of Things—everything big enough to have a chip on it will have a chip and communicate with a network, and, third, Virtual Reality.  It’s a fascinating time to be in the field.”

One of Leonardo da Vinci’s quotes about flying can be applicable to Dr. McKinney. “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” That is certainly the case for Dr. McKinney who continues to nurture a passion for flying which lands the technology from the skies into the business classrooms at BGSU.

Updated: 12/01/2017 10:59PM