Take These Wings

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Arguing with him became exhausting, so Andrea tried ignoring him. But if she didn't answer her door when he knocked, he'd call her; if he couldn't find her in the dorm, he'd send a friend to look for her. When she was able to slip into her room unnoticed, she'd put a towel at the bottom of the door so he wouldn't see her light on. She even had to turn off her cell phone because he continually called. "It got to the point where I couldn't stand being around him," Andrea says. "I tried to distance myself from him, but he wouldn't let me."

It just got worse when she volunteered to be the "CEO" for one of their courses. But Matt wasn't pleased. "He said he'd do it for me because he thought I was too busy," she says. "He really resented me after that, and things started to go downhill. After I'd tell the class what to do, he'd tell them not to listen to me. He totally undermined me." Toward the end of the semester, Andrea spent five hours one Saturday working on a project for that class. When she was done, Matt came into her room, sat down at her computer and deleted all of her work, saying it wasn't good enough. Andrea called her mother in tears that night. "She had called and complained about his behavior before, but I didn't get it. Your kids complain about everything under the sun, and it isn't always as big a deal as they make it," Carol says. "My advice was to try to ignore him. She was going to move into another dorm the next semester, and I just kept telling her to hang in there until then."

But things didn't improve. During the second semester of their senior year, Andrea and Matt were both in AeroEngr 483, an aircraft-engine design class. Once again, Andrea was CEO, and once again, Matt campaigned against her. Only this time, Andrea says, he enlisted a friend, Worachat "Aek" Sattayalekha, in making her life miserable.

"Now Andrea was calling me all the time crying, saying they were constantly calling her, e-mailing her and stopping by her room," Carol says. "All she wanted was for them to leave her alone and stop undermining her work."

Reached on his cell phone, Matt, who graduated from the academy in May 2002, politely declined to comment for this story. But Andrea's version of events is well-documented in hundreds of pages of e-mails, memos and transcripts. In a formal statement to the academy, cadet Thomas Nix detailed the things he witnessed in AeroEngr 483. "[Cadet First Class] Rabe is very critical in all work C1C Prasse does. While he says that he thinks she can and does quality work, he still attacks her work when she finishes. He does this with everyone but goes to an extreme with C1C Prasse," wrote Nix, who described himself and Matt as being "pretty good friends" in another official memo. "Consistently through the semester, C1C Rabe and Sattayalekha badgered C1C Prasse and slowed her down by continually asking for her progress."

Andrea grew so frustrated with their behavior that she stepped down as the class CEO in January 2002. But Matt and Aek, she says, didn't relent. In March, just before spring break, the AeroEngr 483 class was wrapping up its project. The cadets were supposed to design jet-engine parts to present to Honeywell in April, and Matt had suggested drawing the inlet, fan, compressor, turbine, diffuser and nozzle in the context of a completed engine to show how the parts fit together. Since no one else offered to draw the engine, Andrea volunteered.

As soon as she returned from spring break, Andrea showed her engine drawing to the members of her group. Matt asked how she came up with the engine liner -- an extraneous part she used to illustrate how the rest of the components fit together -- and Andrea told him she'd modified it after cutting and pasting it from another group's drawing, which had been turned in prior to break. That was perfectly acceptable for the class, and actually encouraged by the syllabus. "For this assignment, you may work with the following persons, in addition to an instructor in this course: anyone. For this assignment, you may use the following materials produced by other cadets: anything."

But after the two groups presented their engine parts at Honeywell's Arizona office on April 4, Matt became upset because the drawing so closely resembled that of their classmates, Andrea says. And on April 10, Aek told Andrea that he and Matt wanted to talk to her about how she'd copied the other group's engine. Andrea told her professor, Aaron Byerley, that they were implying that she'd cheated, so Byerley spoke with both Aek and the leader of the other group. He then sent Andrea an e-mail: "I am satisfied that there are no honor implications to the engine drawing matter."

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon