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Alumnus Spotlight: James Steel, first graduate of our online Certificate program

“My leadership has noticed a change: I am more well-rounded and look at problems from an asymmetric approach because of the knowledge I gained at IWP.”
-James Steel (’23)

In this interview, we speak with James Steel, who completed IWP’s online Graduate Certificate in Statecraft in December 2022. Currently a professional in the national security and intelligence field, James found his IWP classes to be so valuable that he hopes to enroll in the Doctor of Statecraft and National Security program this fall to continue his studies.

Please tell us a little bit about your background.

I am a Purple Heart recipient and combat veteran. I spent 16 years in the Army, where I did over ten combat deployments to austere environments. I worked with elite units within the U.S. military on some of the most strategic and highest implication problem sets. I am now working on the civilian side of the house in national security and intelligence.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies?

I wanted to gain an astute, in-depth understanding of how to effectively address some of the most complex challenges in national security. To master that understanding, I needed a foundation based on rigorous study.

What drew you to IWP?

I landed on IWP because of its notoriety within the Intelligence Community (IC) and because the curriculum trains pupils on the fundamentals required to undertake complex national security challenges. It was a dream school for me to attend.

What was your experience like in the online Certificate program?

The program focuses on topics that are not only imperative to the framework of understanding diplomacy and national security, but it was exciting and engaging, involving critical thinking and testing the very limits of a basic understanding of diplomacy and statecraft.

The core function of the program teaches the students to think with a diplomatic mindset while paying credence to the elements of statecraft to achieve a strategic goal. It teaches graduates to be effective members of the U.S. diplomatic apparatus or the U.S. national security conglomerate at large.

What were the faculty members like?

I found that not only were the faculty subject matter experts, but they were teacher practitioners – they were teaching from firsthand experience in relevant agencies within the U.S. government and from relevant academic study. Their teaching provided students with substantive knowledge-based tools to pull from when working in the field.

For instance, Prof. John Quattrocki provided examples of his own experience to show how the methodology taught in the classroom works in real-world applications. He shared many stories in his course on Counterintelligence in a Democratic Society. He was able to explain why you need to study counterintelligence (CI), which countries to focus on especially, how certain countries infiltrated the U.S. government in the past and caused detriment, and how, if it wasn’t for a robust CI apparatus, they could have caused irreparable damage. The information he taught us demonstrated exactly why CI is important in modern-day life in the Intelligence Community. I truly enjoyed working with him.

In addition, in teaching their classes, the professors formed a bonding relationship with the students to ensure that the information was received and digested. They were receptive to duty requirements that sometimes took students away from class – they understand that world because they have lived in that world.

Did you get to know any of the other students in the online program?

I worked with some of the other students on projects for class. Collaborating on these projects provided the students and me with an understanding of one another’s goals so we could benefit from each other.

Some of the students brought a wealth of knowledge from their experience working within the DoD, three-letter government agencies, the military, or in the civilian world, including managing companies. Everyone had their own way of approaching the problem set based on their own professional experience, and collaboration with fellow students helped us get a better idea of how to fix the problem and work toward a solution.

This collaboration provided added value to the professors’ instruction when working on group projects. It was enjoyable!

As an online student, did you ever come to campus?

Yes, I came to meet with professors and attend events. Walking into the institution felt like walking into a high-end U.S. embassy where the tradecraft is paramount and the stakes are high. The location near Embassy Row is helpful because of IWP’s focus on diplomacy.

Is your IWP education useful to what you are doing now professionally?

My IWP education profoundly enhanced my capabilities as an intelligence professional, and in terms of diplomacy, it has been helpful to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of statecraft.

My supervisors and mentors have noticed that I am more well-rounded and look at fixing problems from an asymmetric – instead of conventional – approach because of the knowledge I gained at IWP. I look at some of the most complex problems in the U.S. government through the eyes of someone who has studied the principles of statecraft and national security in depth.

What are your plans for the future?

Because of my experience with the Graduate Certificate program, the professors, and the student body, I hope to enroll in the Doctorate of Statecraft and National Security program this September to enhance my capabilities. Everyone who is a part of the institution has illuminated my desire for higher education in this field of expertise. I have aspirations of one day teaching at the institution that has provided me with so many opportunities.

*Name changed for security purposes.

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