A two week sprint. That is probably the best way to describe the first part of the National Security Institute. From 9 am to 4 or 5 pm we learned about United States national security, debated the gray areas and heard from professionals who work in the field of national security. It was a multifaceted approach that challenged us every step of the way.
Having completed the course, I can honestly say it was one of the most challenging courses I have ever taken. It was also one of the most rewarding. Every day our understanding of United States national security was challenged in a new way. Whether it was by focusing on a topic we did not fully understand or by actually discussing how national security policy is implemented by the people doing it, our understanding was constantly expanding. Completing the course, we were asked to fill out a survey to evaluate it. One of the questions asked how much we learned. The options ranged from nothing to expert. When I first read “expert” on one end of the spectrum I actually laughed. One of the biggest things I have taken away from the class is that you can always learn more about national security. It’s an ever-evolving field that you could study your entire life and still never know everything about it. That may be why it is so interesting.
At the start of this post I described the class like a two week sprint. That sounds awful, but like running a long race, it can be amazing. Along the way you get to see some great things and are motivated by those around you. Our professor was always pushing us to meet our potential, but the people we visited were also helping guide us. Before this program, I never realized how extensive or incredibly helpful our alumni network was. Every class discussion was supplemented with a site visit or a speaker on the same or a corresponding subject. These were almost all facilitated in some way by W&M alumni. That’s amazing! They were all willing to give back to their alma mater because at some point in their career, they had someone help them and they want to do the same for us. I am incredibly grateful for the advice and insight they gave us.
Like in most races, the finish is the best part. We finished our class with a question: what’s next? What’s next in national security? How do we counter new threats? What will the new threats be? Questions that frame the field and answers that are constantly changing. These are the questions that were woven throughout our class discussions, but have no single answer. This was our springboard into the summer and our internships. How’s that for a crash course in U.S. national security?
Somewhere in between classes, readings and writing assignments, I got a chance to start to explore D.C. For anyone who hasn’t been to D.C. before, you should definitely go. The combination of monuments, free museums and great food makes for a great place to be in the summer. The pictures in this post are ones I took during the first few weeks. My favorite ones may be of the monuments at night.