UNC-IDB Strategic Studies Fellows Program

Have you ever wanted to dive deep into key-high level issues influencing policy and strategic thinking while learning about the foundations of national security? The Strategic Studies Fellows Program (SSFP) allows you to do that. For four weeks, O-3 to O-4 Officers, Chief Warrant Officers, Senior Non-Commissioned Officers, and National security professionals learn strategies to navigate the complex geopolitical environment in this graduate-style course at the nation’s oldest public university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill).



  • Broaden critical thinking and decision-making skills to prepare for leadership responsibilities
  • Enhance current understanding of regional hot spots: Russia, North Korea, China, Iran, Violent Extremist Organizations, and the Western Hemisphere
  • 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.


SSFP faculty members and speakers are affiliated with some of the nation’s top universities such as the University of North Carolina system and Duke University, along with the private sector, U.S. Military and Government. The two core National Security instructors, Professor David Schanzer and Professor Tim Nichols, are renowned experts in the field of National Security who built a robust curriculum when the SSFP began in 2012.

The Lead Team Project Advisors, Dr. Hugh O’Neill of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and Dr. Navin Bapat of the UNC Department of Political Science, serve as the Fellows’ advisor and mentor as they develop their course-long Capstone team projects. O’Neill and Bapat provide critical strategic tools and lessons for the Fellows to apply to their research methods and overall project.

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. These faculty members are esteemed academic and professional leaders who wrote parts of the National Security Strategy, chaired innovation projects in Silicon Valley, and served as a U.S. Ambassador in the UAE. They draw upon their experiences during their sessions and present their insights to the Fellows.

Program Staff:

Zebrina L. Warner

Program Director


IDB collaborates with two 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 Curriculum
  • Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy
  • 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.


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 operates in a fast-paced environment, where classes and activities are held five to six days a week. Fellows take on the full embodiment of a graduate student as the IDB’s SSFPs operate in a “no rank in the classroom” atmosphere.

In the Classroom

On average, classes last for three to four hours a day, however certain classes can be up to six hours long, based on topic and speaker. Typically, there are about 25-30 Fellows in a class.

Fellows attend classes focused on national security, business, and executive skill sets. Classes allow for dialogue and debate along with occasional break outs for classroom interactive sessions.

Fellows have the opportunity to challenge the thoughts of their peers, the world-renowned academics, and the experienced professionals on hot topics such as current U.S. relations with Russia to reading the U.S. Constitution and understanding its interpretation in today’s decision-making processes. Along with delving into the national security curriculum, there is a strong emphasis on building each Fellow’s executive skill set. Learning the art of influential storytelling, effective negotiating, and media relations are just a few of the executive skills that Fellows will be able to apply to their professional careers.

All of our faculty and speakers utilize various learning tools and styles from lecture or a hands-on learning activity.

Outside of the Classroom

When not in the classroom, Fellows constantly remain engaged in the program. A blog posting may be assigned for an upcoming class or a project team schedules frequent strategy meetings, sometimes over dinner or coffee. Fellows sometimes need to prepare for the next day’s class by reading an article or meeting with a professor to discuss current events. These are just a few examples of necessary outside work in order for the Fellows to apply their curriculum.

Endless Networking Opportunities

With Your Classmates

Fellows hail from all over the U.S. military and government. Whether it’s working in small groups, both inside and outside the classroom, having a discussion over dinner on Franklin Street, or attending a Durham Bulls baseball game, SSFP Fellows have countless opportunities to network and and learn from each other.

With Academics and Speakers

The SSFP academics and speakers understand the value of this program and the impact it will have on a Fellow and his or her organization as they progress through their careers. They are always open to grabbing a cup of coffee with a student or meeting with a group to discuss their team project.  Even after graduation, many Fellows stay in touch with the faculty and speakers through the IDB Alumni LinkedIn group and email.

With VIPs

Each year, the IDB invites current senior leaders in their relative fields to speak to the Fellows on their experiences in leading their organizations, making critical decisions, and managing risks. Previous SSFP classes 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, UNC Basketball Coach Roy Williams, an NFL Team’s President, and many others.

Alumni Testimonials:


“The Strategic Broadening Seminars Prepare Leaders for the Complexities of Tomorrow” written by CPT Kwansah Ackah, UNC-SSFP Class of 2016, for Army Sustainment, July-August 2017 issue.





“Since my time at SSFP, I have stood out among my peers with my ability to push to the strategic level. On my most recent deployment, I was selected to help build partner capacity through multinational exercises with Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, requiring Operational and Strategic planning. The Strategic Studies Fellows Program gave me valuable tools to be successful in this assignment. I appreciate everything you guys did for this program.”–CPT Steven McGouldrick, USA, Theater Security Cooperation Exercise Planner, SSFP Class of 2017


“The course did not specifically teach me how to be a strategist; the strategist skills were by-products of the IDB environment. In the real world, I will be required to work with others that do not think like me. For example, some may place emphasis on military tactics versus diplomatic means to a resolution. No one-solution methodology exists for the complex foreign policy situations, idiosyncratic approaches are necessary. The IDB environment was an example of the macro level ideological differences I will face in the real world when conducting strategy in future endeavors. Strategist training was not an objective of the course however it consequently placed me in situations that tested my interpersonal strategic caliber.”-Ms. Kelly Martinez, U.S. Army Africa USARAF, Vicenza, IT Strategic Planner SSFP Class of 2018  *UNC-SSFP Overview, written by Ms. Kelly Martinez 


“My SSFP experience gave me the opportunity to learn how to think critically and develop solutions fostering strategic innovation when facing national security issues. My personal, academic, and military experiences have provided a foundation to work with diverse groups of people, build teams, understand priorities and follow through on the most challenging tasks. Opportunities provided to me, such as the Institute for Defense & Business Fellowship I attended, have given me insight to understand direct relationships between the National Security Council, the Legislative branch, and the military itself. I believe my SSFP experience was a valuable tool for being selected for the 2020 Army Congressional Fellowship.”-CPT Christopher Matthai, USA, Plans Officer, 38th Regional Support Group, SSFP Class of 2017 


“The University of North Carolina-Strategic Studies Fellows Program (UNC-SSFP) allowed me to understand how the US protects its interests globally and designs its strategy in order to protect and promote the homeland, the American people, and the American way of life. In our classes, we learned the purpose of the National Security Council, National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and the National Military Strategy–all of which are used as guidance for planning purposes. Prior to attending SSFP, I was not familiar with these topics in depth. After completion of the program, I was assigned to a combatant command in the Strategic Intel Plans, J2. Upon arriving at my current assignment, I already had a great understanding of the strategic problem set without having to learn from scratch.  This in turn, has set me up for success at my current assignment.”

-CPT Liz N. Pham, USA, J2 Strategic Plans USSOUTHCOM, SSFP Class of 2018