Twenty-one graduate students are participating in a new “Hacking for Defense” course this semester to find solutions to the country’s national security problems using hands-on approaches.
The course, which is the first of its kind at Georgetown, allows groups of three-to-five students to tackle projects such as adapting facial recognition software to identify terrorists in crowds. It is sponsored by MD5, a public-private partnership between the Department of Defense and research universities launched October 2016 to facilitate defense education.
“Hacking for Defense” is modeled after programs at other universities, including Stanford University and the University of Pittsburgh. It uses Lean Launchpad Method, an interdisciplinary approach merging business, entrepreneurship and security concepts to address current issues within the U.S. military, government and private organizations.
School of Foreign Service Center for Security Studies Director Bruce Hoffman praised the course as cutting-edge and innovative.
“It completely embodies the theory and practice ethos that is at the heart of the School of Foreign Service’s mission and perfectly encapsulates the Security Studies Program’s mission of producing a new generation of analysts, policymakers and scholars fully knowledgeable about the range of international and national security problems and foreign policy issues of the 21st century,” Hoffman wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Two-time defense industry CEO Chris Taylor and the U.S. Army Cyber Command Deputy Director of Strategic Initiatives Matt Zais serve as co-instructors of “Hacking for Defense.” Also contributing to the teaching team are military liaisons, mentors, advisers and research assistants.
Paige Tsiumis (GRD ’17), a master’s candidate in the SFS Security Studies Program and a research assistant for the course, said students are responsible for watching lectures online before attending classes on Monday nights. The classes are also live streamed on Facebook for the public.
Students present on their weekly accomplishments, including the results of their minimum 10 weekly interviews conducted to contribute to their projects.
“The class is structured in a way to provide students with a simulated experience of working within the chaos of the startup culture, but gearing entrepreneurship skills towards finding solutions for problems facing the U.S. Government,” Tsiumis said. “The class is set up in a flipped style, where much of the student learning is done outside of the classroom.”
Donna Artusy (GRD ’17), a graduate student in the Security Studies Program and another research assistant for the course, said students play a large role in how the class is designed.
“Students have a great deal of input into the course. Their weekly presentations bring up constructive feedback from the professors, Christopher Taylor and Matt Zais, who are able to lend both insight and suggestions into what students may or may not need to work on in order to improve their presentations to outside sponsors and mentors,” Artusy said.
The course requires an application process, in which applicants indicate what projects they are interested in working on. Alexander Kravets (GRD ’18), a student in the Security Studies Program, is working on a project on neutralizing Group 1 Unmanned Aerial Systems.
Kravets said he decided to take H4D to get a crash course in defense innovation.
“The experience has been extremely positive,” Kravetz wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The most compelling aspect of the course has been getting to meet and work with people throughout DoD, at all levels, who are dedicated to solving critical problems in pursuit of making America stronger and safer.”
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