A group of 11 graduate students recently presented their research findings to the National Security Council under the guidance and advisement of Professor Mohamad Mirghahari, a Tom and Ruth Sharkey Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the School of Diplomacy. Professor Mirghahari is a former Presidential Appointee under the Obama Administration who served as a senior advisor to the chief of staff for the Transportation Security Administration. Prior to that, he spent 14 years working at the Department of Defense and is a recipient of the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Award for Excellence.
Formerly known as the Abd-el-Kader Fellowship, the National Security Graduate Fellowship Program is an experimental learning experience at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, where students present their research to U.S. government officials in the requesting agencies. The information is then circulated among the department, the intelligence community, and other government agencies. Mirghahari has been leading a team of diplomacy students to work on projects for the State Department for the past three years.
As part of the fellowship, the students have the opportunity to participate in one-on-one interviews with past and present U.S. government officials in areas of their career interests. Chimdi Chukwukere, a fellow of the program, had the opportunity to interview Liberata Mulamula, the current Tanzanian foreign minister and former Tanzanian ambassador to the United States. Chukwukere found that the experience exceeded his expectations in many ways. “The fellowship equipped us with tangible policy writing and statecraft designing skills that will definitely help me achieve success throughout my career in international affairs,” he said.
The program also serves as one of the ways in which the School of Diplomacy makes a difference in the global community, while serving a vital function to U.S. officials on foreign policy. The program has enhanced the school’s reputation in the public sector, allowing Seton Hall University to compete with the Washington D.C. area’s most elite universities.
When asked why she decided to get involved in the program, Caroline Hall, a student leader in the fellowship, replied, “the program will allow us to become more adaptable and take these skills and knowledge into any future career.”
Becca Blaser, another student leader, hopes to use the skills gained in the program to “analyze government policies and programs in areas that we may not have extensive knowledge of” following her graduation.
This year’s assigned research topic from the Director of Intelligence was on great power competition (GPC) and counterterrorism. The result of the research was a paper titled, “Reimagining Counterterrorism in the Age of Great Power Competition: Optimizing U.S. Programs and Strategic Partnerships.”
Hall and Blaser both highlighted that, “we focused our research specifically on the Middle East, Africa, and South America, providing recommendations for the [Department of Defense] to optimize and expand its current resources, partnerships, and programs within these regions to address its counterterrorism and GPC goals.”
Some of the participating students’ specialization is based on the project’s theme. Chukwukere’s research focus is on the recommendations for how the United States can counter Russian and Chinese influence in Africa and boost its counterterrorism efforts, specifically on non-kinetic means of engagement, such as terrorism preventative measures among African youth. The students presented their findings to senior officials in the National Security Council at the White House and to the senior analyst at the Pentagon who assigned their research topic.
According to Hall and Blaser, some of the key takeaways from the program are that “the fellowship provides an amazing opportunity for students to conduct research and present their findings to high-level officials, gaining professional experience that extends far beyond the classroom.” Furthermore, “the fellowship allowed us to form close relationships with other students as well as to hear from experts in the field, both invaluable experiences during graduate school.”
For Blaser, an important motivation for participating in the fellowship program was that “it was an opportunity to apply the things I have learned through classes and work with real-life problems sets to solve complex issues that the government is grappling with.” Hall concluded that “It is definitely a lot of work but worth it and when you are able to come up with a solution that has not been thought of yet.”