School of Diplomacy and International Relations

National Security Fellowship Receives an Official Commendation

nsf team

National Security Fellowship (NSF) graduate student research team

In April 2023, the 2022-2022 National Security Fellowship (NSF) graduate student research team briefed leaders at several high-ranking institutions in person at the Pentagon and online. As part of a project for a first-time client for the team, Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), the NSF team delivered an operational paper and informational presentation to SOCCENT and the Department of Defense's Director of Intelligence and Security Operations Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff. Several weeks after the presentation, students were notified that SOCCENT adapted their efforts to reflect some of the recommendations the NSF team presented. In May, the students also received an Official Commendation from Major General Kevin Leahy.

Working under the guidance of Sharkey Scholar and alumnus Mohamad Mirghahari (B.A. '02/ M.A. '04), the paper and presentation identified several recommendations on how Special Operations units can address Russia and China's cultural and economic influence in Central Asia. Throughout the fall of 2022, the students researched the different facets of Russian and Chinese influence in the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Following two conversations with the client, the team narrowed their focus and honed in on strategic messaging, defense, culture, and economics, as the key areas that Special Operations units should focus on. Using connections from professors at the School of Diplomacy and guest lectures to provide greater insight into the potential ramifications of their proposed recommendations, the students spent the early months of the spring semester drafting their operational paper titled, "How Can Operational SOF Units Address Russian/Chinese Influence in Central Asia."

The students briefed several SOCCENT Strategic Competitors Research Team members. The presentation emphasized the importance of countering Russia and China while working with and addressing the current limitations of the United State's policy in Central Asia. Recommendations identified strategic narratives the U.S. and SOCCENT could implement and ways to address regional grievances caused by both Russia and China. Defensive recommendations looked at enhancing border security and addressing tuberculous through expanded military partnerships. Our cultural recommendations sought to build networks of unity based on the region's shared Turkic culture and help address water insecurity within the region. Economics recommended expanding conflict prevention programs and investing in education for military officers to compete with China's outreach. The brief was well received with SOCCENT members asking students to elaborate on their research.

The team deepened the impact of their recommendations by working with the deep technology firm FNA. FNA specializes in advanced network analytics and simulations, and its clients include financial and national security institutions worldwide. Students met with FNA experts and learned some of the nuances of statistical modeling, including choosing data, running statistical models, and interpreting results. The question was to discover who were the influencers in social media within the Central Asian states across specified topics (positive or negative Chinese, Russian, or US sentiment) and to determine overall sentiment global power competition sentiment associated with each respective Central Asian State. The results showed that of 20,000 international social media participants and 34,000 engagements, only 283 members in 67 audiences are influential.

The fellowship provides "outside the classroom" opportunities for networking and learning. Mr. Mirghahari included a diverse range of guest speakers with experience covering various disciplines. The guests listened to the students' recommendations, provided constructive criticism, and offered innovative ideas to help strengthen their overall presentation. Speakers throughout the year included: Lieutenant General Michael Nagata, retired Three-Star General, Mr. Darrell Blocker, former CIA Intelligence Officer; Mr. John Flynn, Vice President of Administration, MGM Resorts International; Ms. Ferial Govashiri, Chief of Staff and Co-CEO at Netflix; and Mr. Bryan Bonner, Former Investigative Counsel - January 6th Select Committee.

At the end of each discussion, Mr. Mirghahari asked each guest lecturer for one piece of career advice to give the current graduate fellows. Their advice emphasized the importance of kindness, the power of mental health in avoiding burnout, and the necessity of building relationships in networking.

Looking back at the last year in the fellowship, second-year graduate student Matt Enterline expressed his appreciation for the program: "NSF has undoubtedly been the highlight of my graduate program at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. I'm extremely grateful for my teammates, our mentoring fellow Professor Mirghahari, and the school for offering such an incredible experience."

The National Security Fellowship builds the skill set of the School of Diplomacy’s graduate students by providing them with networking opportunities and practical skills. Allison Risewick, co-team leader, remarked, "NSF has been the highlight of my graduate school journey, and because of it, I've gotten the unique opportunity to brief both the State Department and the Department of Defense throughout the 2 years I've been at the School of Diplomacy. I'm incredibly grateful for this program existing to offer students this chance to get real, hands-on experience in providing policy recommendations to the government."

This year's research team comprised ten graduate students from the School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Team leaders Christina Grossen and Allison Risewick lead Zane Cawthon, Matthew Enterline, Brent Findon, Jassiel Forde, Anneliese Preske, Peter Roberto, Del Sanders, and Josh Smith on their yearlong project.

Categories: Law, Nation and World

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