UNC-IDB Strategic Studies Fellows Program

During this graduate-level course, you are immersed back into a college learning atmosphere for four weeks at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

Learn about and discuss the foundations of national security. Examine key strategic national security issues, current and future transnational threats, and decision making at a strategic level from a non-military lens.

Dive deep into key high-level issues influencing policy and strategic thinking. You will learn strategies to navigate the complex geopolitical environment and benefit from an introduction to a variety of perspectives from the private sector, government agencies, non-governmental, and international organizations on managing these challenges.


  • Broaden critical thinking and decision-making skills to prepare for leadership responsibilities
  • Enhance current understanding of regional hot spots: Russia, North Korea, China, Iran, and Violent Extremist Organizations
  • Learn from strategic national security leaders and practitioners across government, military, private sector, and academia
  • Establish and grow a diverse professional network


National Security Decision Making: Theory and Practice

As the senior leaders of tomorrow, the Fellows will need a firm grasp on the past, present, and future of important issues impacting the defense sector. Future leaders must understand the impetus behind the decisions of the past and what leaders now are considering for issues of the future. The national security courses will put these considerations and issues into context as well as oblige the students to think strategically and critically about these issues.

Sample Topics: From Articles of Confederation to the Constitution; U.S. National Security Apparatus; Ethics in the U.S. Armed Forces

Strategic Communication

Leaders must be able to effectively communicate their thoughts, ideas, and directives not only to peers, bosses, and employees within their organization, but to those audiences external to their organization (including the media, collaborating organizations, and other unrelated, but interested, audiences). Throughout the SSFP, our faculty will provide the tools and practices necessary to communicate effectively within each of those environments.

Sample Topics: Media Relations & Crisis Communications; Negotiations; Storytelling

Innovation and Strategy

As the environment continually shifts and changes, leaders need to be able to adapt and alter their organizations to face new challenges, whether these challenges are a new type of enemy, budgetary fluctuation, or technological advance. The SSFP business faculty, drawn mostly from UNC’s Kenan-Flager Business School will challenge students to think critically, creatively, and innovatively about their organizations and management processes.

Sample Topics: Anticipating Scenarios; Critical Decision Making; Strategic Innovation

Strategic View of the US Government (non-DoD)

As the U.S. military and defense sector continue to expand beyond traditional roles to nation building and disaster response, an understanding of the organizations that will be working with the military and defense sector on these tasks is imperative. SSFP courses explain the roles, overlaps, and intricacies of many of these organizations.

Sample Topics: The Art of Diplomacy; Intelligence Reform; Civil-Military Relations

Strategic Global Outlook

As long as the United States continues to have a global presence, it will be vital for leaders in the military and defense sector to have a current and clear comprehension of international affairs. Crucially, an understanding of the global environment will allow future leaders to better predict where the next conflict, disaster, or problem state will emerge and allow them to better prepare the nation’s defense for these potential conflicts and missions.

Sample Topics: U.S. Foreign Policy; Global Finance and International Security

Capstone Team Project

In addition to graduate-level course work, the Fellows will engage in a capstone-applied learning project with their classmates. The goal of this team project is to allow the students to collaborate and work through a difficult issue currently affecting the U.S. defense sector and will continue to affect this realm long term. The final papers and presentations will be briefed to a panel that will include several of these senior leaders.

Participant Profile:

UNC-IDB SSFP is designed for students with the following qualifications and qualities:

  • A Bachelor’s degree
  • O-3 to O-4 Officers, W-3 to W-4 Warrant Officers, and E-7 to E-9 Non-Commissioned Officers from all military services (across branches); GS-10 to GS-14 Government Civilians; and Private Sector Managers with equivalent experience
  • An intense desire to advance to greater levels of responsibility
  • The propensity to learn and have a desire to expand his or her perspective as a young professional
  • A candidate with high-potential and a strong desire to make an impact

If you fit this profile and are interested in attending a future offering of the UNC-IDB Strategic Studies Fellows Program, please contact Zebrina Warner or Jaclyn Young.


The faculty members and speakers for this program are pulled from universities across the University of North Carolina system, Duke University, the private sector, and the U.S. Military and Government.

The two core National Security instructors, Professor David Schanzer and Professor Tim Nichols, are esteemed professors in the academic realm of National Security. Schanzer and Nichols have been a part of the UNC-IDB SSFP since its inception in 2012 and they build the core national security curriculum. Their national security sessions are heavily discussion-based and interactive with theoretical application exercises.

The Lead Team Project Advisor, Dr. Hugh O’Neill, administers and oversees the Fellows’ course-long team projects. O’Neill provides the strategic tools and lessons the Fellows use to shape their approach to their team projects. Dr. Navin Bapat will serve at the faculty mentor to the projects.

Outside of the core faculty, the IDB utilizes its vast academic network and partnerships to identify the appropriate faculty members to complement the SSFP course themes. The faculty draw upon their academic and professional career experiences during their sessions. The exposure and insight presented to the Fellows from academic and professional leaders that have written the National Security Strategy to chairing innovation projects in Silicon Valley to serving as a U.S. Ambassador in the Middle East on how to think strategically and operate in a senior-level environment all within a four-week program is a one-of-a-kind.

Program Staff:

Jaclyn L. Young

Program Manager


The UNC-IDB SSFP curriculum targets development of strategic, agile thinkers preparing to lead us into the future as the nation faces complex geopolitical challenges in an austere budget environment.

IDB collaborates with three nationally recognized universities and three centers to develop and deliver the UNC-IDB SSFP:

  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) Peace, War, and Defense Department
  • Duke University
  • IDB’s Center for Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction (CSER)
  • Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security (TCTHS)
  • Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS)

Tuition & Credits:

Tuition (Includes lodging, breakfast and lunch during weekdays with the exception of July 4th): Call IDB for pricing at 919-969-8008.

Graduates receive a joint certificate from IDB and UNC’s Peace War and Defense curriculum, along with 2.0 credit hours from UNC-Chapel Hill.


Government Sponsored Students

Government sponsored students are either centrally funded or funded by their units. The sponsoring entity normally selects the students and submits an application package to be approved by the IDB.

Private Sector or Self-Selected Students

If you are interested in sponsoring yourself, please contact the program office for more information.

Mike Bogdahn (For enrollment information)
Senior Account Manager
Institute for Defense & Business
(760) 577-8324

Zebrina Warner (For program questions)
Program Director
Institute for Defense & Business
(919) 969-8008

What to Expect:

Taking place on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, SSFP is an academic intensive, four-week in-residence program. The program operates in a fast-paced environment, where classes and activities are held five to six days a week. You will take on the full embodiment of a student as the IDB’s SSFPs operate in a “no rank in the classroom” atmosphere. You will have the opportunity to challenge the thoughts of your fellow peers, the world-renowned academics, the speakers that are experienced professionals, but most importantly, you will have the opportunity to challenge yourself. From having discussions at the 30,000-foot level on current U.S. relations with Russia to reading the U.S. Constitution and understanding its interpretation in today’s decision-making processes, you will experience a program like no other.

Complementing the core national security curriculum is the strong emphasis on building each Fellow’s executive skill set. Learning how to tell a story to influence or support your position to negotiating with people who have different interests than you, your executive skill set will hold a solid foundation for you to build upon throughout your career.

In the Classroom

Over the four weeks, you will attend a variety of classes focused on national security, business, and executive skill sets. Some of these classes will be joint interactive sessions, meaning you will be in a classroom with all program attendees and be broken out into smaller groups of two to five individuals for exercises. For the other classes, you will be divided into two discussion groups of 25-30 students each to allow for dialogue and debate.

On average, classes are three to four hours per day. Certain classes may last up to six hours long, based on the topic and the speaker.

All of our faculty and speakers utilize various learning tools and styles. Professors may lecture on topics to provide the big picture theories to only follow with a hands-on learning activity or they may provide a discussion-based atmosphere for students to discuss among themselves and with the professor. Classroom sessions may also feature breakout exercises to examine specific issues more in-depth and then return to present to the entire class.

Outside of the Classroom

When you are not in the classroom, you are connecting the dots through various platforms. You are posting entries on the blog questions posed by the professors. You are working on your team project with your fellow group members. You are in the library reading for the next day’s classes or you are researching components of your team project. You are meeting with the professors to discuss current events or the class topic from an earlier session.

Endless Networking Opportunities

With Your Classmates

During the four-week program, you will attend class for three to seven hours a day with your fellow classmates, who are from all over the U.S. Army and other participating organizations. Whether it’s working in small groups, both inside and outside the classroom, having a discussion over dinner on Franklin Street, or researching in the library, you will learn from one another through your experiences.

With Academics and Speakers

The SSFP academics and speakers understand the value of this program and the impact it will have on you and your organization as you progress through your career. They are always open to grabbing a cup of coffee with a student to discuss a current event or to meet a group in the library to talk about their team project. Even after graduation, many Fellows stay in touch with the faculty and speakers through the SSFP LinkedIn Group and email.

With VIPs

Each year, the IDB invites current senior leaders in their relative fields to speak to the Fellows on how they lead their organizations, how they make critical decisions, and how they manage the risks. In the past offerings of SSFP, the Fellows have had in-depth discussions with the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, a Fortune-500 Company’s Chief Risk Officer, an NFL Team’s President, and others.