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Task Force: Ways to view the world and make recommendations to foreign policymakers

March 21, 2022

Task Force 2022

How much progress is the world making in the shift away from fossil fuels and in reducing global emissions? What could a series of actions be to help contribute to the nuclear decolonization of the University of Washington? How can the crisis of the pandemic be an opportunity to change protection of vulnerable refugees seeking asylum in countries of the EU?

Over winter quarter 2022, 117 international studies and global and regional studies seniors used their critical thinking and research skills to recommend how to address some of the most challenging global issues. It’s all part of the Jackson School’s Donald C. Hellmann Task Force Program, an annual, required student-led experiential learning capstone course guided by faculty engages students in research, writing, teamwork, and presentation skills under pressure.

“Because our Task Force started with a different international environment, our evaluation day was after the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” said Yolanda Yang, an international studies and history double-major with a minor in Spanish who completed the Task Force Abandonment or Engagement: Recalibrating US-Turkey Relations. “I was impressed that people continue to engage in researching this topic and consistently modify their policy recommendations as the international situation evolves. It offers a real-world glimpse of the policy-making process with a dynamic international environment.”

“My favorite part about any learning process is to be exposed to new ideas and challenge my perspectives. The Task Force was the best place to do exactly that,” said Yelyzaveta Ismatullayeva, an International Studies major in Task Force Global Trends in Energy and Emissions. “I had an opportunity to deconstruct the myths around subject matter, to analyze the problem from multiple angles and, the most exciting part, put myself in the shoes of a real policymaker.”

During the week of March 7 and on June 2, this year Task Force involved 18 hours of student presentations both on Zoom and in-person to evaluators located from the United Kingdom to Japan to California to New York to Maryland and Washington state.

Task Force 2022 Topics

  • Nervous about a Nuclear Neighbor: Japan’s Policy on North Korea
  • Solving Seattle’s Housing Crisis
  • Global Trends in Energy and Emissions: Key Points for Policy Decision-Making
  • Nuclear Decolonization and the UW
  • Defining Antisemitism in a Global Context
  • The U.S. Response to Changes in Turkey’s Foreign Policy
  • The EU Response to Migration and Asylum in the Time of COVID
  • NATO and Emerging Technology
  • Preventing Disasters in Space: Proposing CODA: Committee on Debris Affairs

Task Force 2022 Evaluators

  • U.S. Ambassador Jess L. Bailey
  • Michael Blumson, Equitable Development Initiative, City of Seattle
  • Frank Chopp, Washington State House of Representatives
  • Jeff Crisp, Research Associate, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, and Associate Fellow, Chatham House
  • Carol Evans, Director, Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) and USAWC Press, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania
  • Andrea Harrington, Dean of Space Education at Air University and Adjunct Professor at Colorado School of Mines
  • Devin Helfrich, Policy Advisor to U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
  • Narushige Michishita, Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo, Japan
  • Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Council Member
  • Trisha Thomson Pritikin, President, Board of Directors of Consequences of Radiation Exposure (CORE) Museum and Archives
  • Kenneth Stern, Director, Bard Center for the Study of Hate

For Sydney Winstead, the Task Force NATO and Emerging Technology topic “opened my eyes to the world of defense and how a lot of it isn’t revolved around war necessarily. A lot of it is things that we take part in everyday online or things we don’t even know about that are being produced.” Winstead plans to focus on the topic in higher education, and eventually a career.

“Task Force helped me build a foundation of necessary skills regarding research and policy writing, including how to be a thoughtful consumer of news and media, methods to efficiently synthesize data, and how to create impactful works,” said Madison Morgan, an international studies, communication, and Asian languages & cultures triple-major who participated in the Task Force Global Trends in Energy and Emissions: Key Points for Policy Decision-Making taught by Jackson School faculty Scott Montgomery.

Emma Johnson, an international studies major in the foreign policy track, shared her key skills takeaways from Task Force: “In my experience, the Task Force program gives you two very important skills. Firstly, the program forces you to challenge your own biases and world views as you work to understand and address contemporary challenges. Secondly, it refines the more practical skill of being able to unearth, comprehend, and analyze research to create viable solutions and recommendations.”

Tech Task Force goes abroad
For Lucas Cox, an international studies senior in the security and diplomacy track, giving the introductory remarks to NATO’s Centre of Excellence Defense Against Terrorism conference, held in Ankara on January 26-27, 2022, in a hybrid format in front of prestigious members of the foreign policy world, including academics and military leaders from eight countries, was a surreal experience.

“I knew that the goal of Task Force was to analyze an issue in the field and provide recommendations to a person in the field, but I had no idea that it would take the form of 15 UW students taking center stage providing important recommendations to the world’s preeminent military alliance,” he said of his role as Chief Liaison for Task Force 2022 on the emerging technologies and threats challenging transatlantic security.

Cox and his fellow 14 Task Force students, under the guidance of Jackson School faculty Sarah Lohmann, also a Visiting Professor at the US Army War College, participated in the two-day event as part of a hands-on Task Force experience: to write the first chapter for a  NATO Center of Excellence in the Defense Against Terrorism (COE-DAT) “Critical Infrastructure and Security & Resilience Handbook.”

The assignment? Analyze the importance of protecting critical infrastructure in an emerging threat environment, and to come up with suggestions to strengthen NATO’s posture on Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and hypersonic and autonomous technologies.

He noted: “A lot of people don’t realize how interconnected things are – our lights – NEST can be torn down easily. People with bad intentions can destroy that – oil pipelines, markets – are all automated, connected to Internet.”

In his role as Chief Liaison, Cox helped communicate the student Task Force findings to Lohmann and the US Army War College Director of Strategic Studies Institute and USAWC Press, Carol Evans, as well as to the NATO Center of Excellence in Ankara. After Cox gave a briefing two weeks into the class, Evans was so impressed, that she and COE-DAT invited Cox and the Task Force to give opening remarks at the Turkey conference.

“This class provided hands-on work experience for the students in a growing professional area: emerging technology. The first couple weeks before the Ankara conference, none of us slept much as we worked as a team to get the material that was needed for government officials in a short amount of time. But it was wonderful to see them rewarded for their intense effort, and for the students to have that personal interaction and positive feedback from senior policy makers,” said Lohmann, who is the editor and contributing author for the Handbook.

The Task Force students’ chapter is expected to be published in the NATO Handbook on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience in cooperation with the NATO Center of Excellence Defense Against Terrorism and the U.S. Army War College later this year. Their contribution will appear alongside other chapters written by foreign policy, critical infrastructure, cyber and defense experts from across NATO member states.

“It’s been really cool. It’s something I never thought I would get to do – speaking with people so high up in the field, and really being trusted with this big deal, which is a whole chapter or two in this published handbook. It’s a credit to our professor she would trust us like that,” Cox said.

Cox will have the opportunity to see the book to its completion, as he has joined the US Army War College internship program.