William & Mary

PIPS Military Fellows program kicks off

In a further expansion of their efforts to link student researchers with practitioners across the public and private sectors, the Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) has launched its Military Fellows Program. The program pairs student fellows with active duty military officers, who lend strategic expertise to the students’ annual white paper submissions. 

The idea for the program was proposed by Army Major Nathan Finney, who connected with PIPS Co-Director Dennis Smith through an event at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). As a managing director of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) and founder of the Strategy Development Foundation, Finney is an Army military strategist.Maj. Nathan Finney

His relationship with PIPS began in October 2013 when he participated in a brainstorming session with student fellows, who were in the early stages of their white paper research. The opportunity for personal feedback at the outset of their work was well received by the fellows. At the same time Finney was impressed by “the breadth and intensity of knowledge of the research fellows.”

“I knew after about two minutes that I would learn as much -- if not more -- than the students,” he said.

As a result, he returned in March 2014 with six colleagues from the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum to hold what Smith describes as “the best brainstorming session ever.”

At Finney’s urging, the current Military Fellows Program involves seven active duty officers, vetted through the DEF, who are paired with this year’s student fellows to provide feedback throughout the research process.

Their involvement gives students the opportunity to “reality-test their arguments,” according to PIPS Co-Director Amy Oakes.Amy Oakes

“In the past, the fellows had opportunities to interview policy experts, but often they didn’t get thorough feedback until they presented their projects. This will be a great opportunity to bounce different aspects of their proposals off the experts in the developmental stage.”

Smith said that the best way to describe the relationship is to call the active duty officers “peer mentors. They are there to be big brothers/sisters for the fellows.

“Everyone on the list is a highly-experienced analyst with tons of field experience,” Smith added. “They bring a critical eye and are able to make connections with the students.”

However, as Finney points out, the program provides valuable takeaways for the military fellows as well.

Dennis Smith“Ideas and projects developed by the students allow the Military Fellows to shape nascent ideas based on their knowledge and experiences, employ their networks for research material and tangibly support the next generation of our country's leaders,” he said.

According to Oakes, the establishment of the Military Fellows Program directly advances the central mission of PIPS to facilitate rigorous, policy-relevant research at the undergraduate level. It also lays the foundation for expanded connections with experts across a variety of fields.

“The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum has been a great partner,” she said. “The Military Fellows Program is the natural way to begin this sort of interaction.”