Known as the Bluetails, Cardone’s squadron consists of 150 pilots, ground crew and other personnel who support four E-2C Hawkeye aircraft. These top-heavy planes carry enormous radar and communication systems on their backs, and serve a critical role in modern military engagements: Each plane acts as a flying command and communications hub, responsible for detecting other planes, ships and ground vehicles from the sky, and coordinating military strikes.
A quick scan of Cardone’s achievements shows that he has no shortage of ambition or talent: He’s a graduate of the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School (popularly known as TOPGUN) and the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School; he’s logged more than 2,800 flight hours and 120 combat missions; and he has a long list of impressive assignments and honors to his name.
Like all naval aviators, Cardone has acquired an engineering-level understanding of the planes he flies — he had to study complex concepts like lift, drag and thrust in detail during flight school. “The engineering part of flight school wasn’t always easy for me,” he admits. “I was a music major in college, and that meant I had to work a lot harder than some of my peers in those aeronautics courses.”
Cardone considered his undergraduate music major a handicap, as he recently considered trying to establish academic eligibility for the Navy’s prestigious Aviation Nuclear Power Program. “I had always known about the prerequisites in calculus and physics to be eligible for the Aviation Nuclear Power Program. The leap felt too big between where I was and where I needed to be,” he says.
Finding MIT’s OpenCourseWare
Then, Cardone heard about MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW). “I’m a lifelong learner — I’m always looking for ways to expand my range of knowledge and explore new opportunities,” he says. “Several people that I admire and follow had mentioned OCW — I heard Thomas Friedman discuss OpenCourseWare and then a few weeks later Bill Gates talked about how much he enjoyed re-learning physics through OCW — so I was immediately interested.”
MIT’s OCW website shares core educational materials — including syllabi, lecture notes, assignments and exams — from more than 2,180 courses across all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate programs. Since its 2003 launch, an estimated 170 million individuals worldwide have accessed OCW material.
He mentioned OCW to a few shipmates from MIT, asking if they had ever taken freshman physics, called course 8.01 (Classical Mechanics), from an “amazing physics professor” who taught at MIT. “Of course they knew immediately who I was talking about,” Cardone describes. “‘You mean Walter Lewin?’ they all said at once. We made an immediate connection.”
Cardone decided to review Lewin’s lectures himself, and immediately began to see his surroundings in a whole new light. “Walter Lewin opened my eyes to a world I’d already been living in for fifteen years aboard an aircraft carrier,” he says. “A nuclear powered carrier is like a living laboratory for classical mechanics. You can’t walk ten feet without running into a concept from 8.01.”
He quickly realized that he could use OCW in a very practical way. By independently reviewing several OCW calculus and physics classes, Cardone could accelerate his path towards eligibility for the Aviation Nuclear Power Program. “To get where I really wanted to be meant getting through a year of calculus in a very short period of time, which felt very intimidating,” he explains. “It struck me that I could be using OCW to help me fulfill all these prerequisites. It gave me the leverage to cover all that ground in a very short period of time.”
Over the next few months, during breaks in the deployment, Cardone was reviewing Calculus Revisited: Complex Variables, Differential Equations, and Linear Algebra; 18.01 Single Variable Calculus; and 8.01 Physics I: Classical Mechanics. The results have been extremely positive—he’s already completed two prerequisite courses.
“What I appreciated the most was the confidence I gained from listening to an MIT quality lecture,” Cardone says. “Professors who are the best in their field at helping students truly understand difficult material. It was especially helpful to be able to watch and rewatch the explanations and examples until I understood. That was priceless.”
Based on his own experiences, Cardone has mentioned OCW to several of his colleagues, who have begun using OCW for the exact same purpose. “What you guys are doing is truly revolutionary,” Cardone says, “and I can’t tell you how much it has helped me personally. Three years ago I would never have thought that the options I’m looking at were even possible. At the end of the day, I may not be recommended or chosen for this program — very few people are — but the fact that I am on a path to eligibility is largely due to OCW.”