By Michael Pearson
Military uniforms are a fairly common sight on the Georgia Institute of Technology campus, thanks to scores of Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC students preparing to become officers. But the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs hosts another group of military personnel on campus who bring an entirely different perspective than traditional students: military fellows.
Military fellows are senior commissioned officers in the U.S. Armed Forces assigned by their respective services to spend an academic year at civilian universities, government agencies, think tanks, and other organizations, learning and networking with civilian scholars and students. They’re among the top 10 percent to 15 percent of their peers — top-shelf leaders targeted for high-level roles in the service.
Georgia Tech has previously had fellows from the U.S. Army. As of this fall, the U.S. Air Force is participating. Next year, the U.S. Navy will join the program, making Georgia Tech one of the few civilian institutions in the country to host fellows from each service, according to Margaret E. Kosal, a professor in the Sam Nunn School who heads up the program.
Teaching Tomorrow’s Military Leaders
“Georgia Tech is a member of a very select group of schools; Stanford, Columbia, MIT, Harvard, are other schools that host these fellows,” she said. “The Sam Nunn School, the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, and Georgia Tech are leading institutions in terms of intellectual thought and research, so it makes sense for these officers, some of whom will go on to senior leadership positions in the military, to come here and further their educations. They benefit greatly from the rigorous, interdisciplinary research environment we offer, and the campus community benefits from interacting with and learning from experienced members of the Armed Forces.”
So what does a military fellow do at Georgia Tech? They audit classes, work on research, write, guest-lecture, and network with students, staff, and faculty, Kosal said.
“Previous fellows have worked on a variety of topics all at the intersection of national security and technology, all with a strategic emphasis,” Kosal said. “We’ve looked at the importance of cooperation internationally in terms of counter-WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs and at the U.S. system for generating biodefense countermeasures. We had one fellow examining disruptive technologies for Army aviation, and most recently had a fellow that was working on the cybersecurity challenges of coordinating among allies, partners, and coalitions.”
Meet the 2018 - 2019 Fellows
This year’s fellows are Army Lt. Col. Octavia Coleman and Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Sheffield. Coleman, a Georgia native, specializes in logistics and personnel. Sheffield is a security forces officer most recently based at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.
Sheffield plans to study the strategic policy implications of President Donald Trump’s proposal to create a U.S. Space Force.
Coleman, who plans to write a strategy paper on the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, said she is looking forward to her year on campus.
“These fellowships are broadening assignments for officers that educate us on the importance of strategic relationship in the private sector,” Coleman said. “They develop leaders for service at the strategic level while advancing knowledge globally. Most importantly, I will gain long-lasting relationships with the Institute and set the conditions for me to serve in various strategic capacities,” she said.
Former Fellow: Sam Nunn School a Great Place for Senior Officers to Learn
Lonnie Carlson, a 2015 - 2016 fellow and retired Army colonel, said the experience is crucial in helping officers expected to move into high-level leadership positions broaden their understanding of geopolitics and other factors shaping military readiness and response.
After his stint at Georgia Tech, Carlson went on to become the director for strategy, plans, and policy and senior operations officer in the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
He praised the environment here as an ideal one for educating senior officers.
“The Nunn School is a great home for not only deepening your knowledge on national and international security issues, but also to broaden how you think about solutions to challenging security environments,” said Carlson, who is now a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories.
Academics aside, Sheffield said he has so far found the Georgia Tech community exceptionally welcoming.
“It’s been a very open arms experience,” Sheffield said. “I haven’t talked to anybody yet who has not had time to help with any questions, and I’m talking sometimes the dumb stuff, like, ‘Hey, how do I find the bookstore?’”
The military fellowships are separate from the Sam Nunn Security Program, which seeks to give scientists and engineers a first-hand education in national security issues.