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Ryan Griffith (’23): Counter-WMD Analyst

“This is the core of why I got into public service and national security work in the first place: it’s all about creating a better life for ourselves and others.”
-Ryan Griffith (’23)

Ryan Griffith at IWP Commencement
Ryan Griffith at IWP Commencement. Photo by Aesthetic Images Photography.

Ryan Griffith (’23) has studied national security throughout his higher education experience – first at Utah Valley University (UVU), and then at IWP, where he earned an M.A. in Strategic Intelligence Studies. Ryan now works as a Red Cell Analyst at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

Here, he discusses his experience at both UVU and IWP, reflects on his work/school balance during his graduate studies, and describes how his studies have prepared him for his professional life.

“I never looked back.”

During his junior year of high school, Ryan heard Condoleezza Rice speak at Brigham Young University, and it changed the trajectory of his life. “It was the first time I heard someone talk about their career and life that seemed really appealing,” remembered Ryan. “That was the type of life I wanted to have – the type of work I wanted to do. It sounded meaningful and challenging, with the opportunity to meet incredible people.”

Beforehand, Ryan didn’t have a particular professional interest he wanted to pursue. After this speech, he said, “I never looked back. It was the first time I heard about a career I was excited about.”

Deterring Weapons of Mass Destruction

Fast forward a few years, and Ryan is working with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which has a mission of countering and deterring weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Ryan has been working there for a year and a half, and he is now an analyst on a Red Cell that does mission assurance and vulnerability assessment work. The topics are typically related to WMD issue sets and involve open-source intelligence (OSINT) research.

A Red Cell is a team of analysts who look at issues from an adversary’s perspective. “The purpose is to have a group of people who are given the space to think outside the box,” said Ryan. Red Cells allow for novel approaches to address threats or strategically plan.

Ryan has been enjoying his work there: “It’s challenging. It’s fun to have the autonomy to think about these issues. We have a pretty diverse group of people in my office, and it’s fun to learn from my colleagues.”

The products that Ryan produces inform decision-makers at high levels within the Department of Defense and help them prioritize. “It’s pretty rewarding,” he said.

Preparation at UVU and IWP

Ryan found that his classes at both UVU and IWP helped prepare him for his current work. The schools were similar in that both have a scholar-practitioner faculty – faculty who have done what they teach.

Ryan said, “At UVU – not dissimilar to IWP – most of my professors had worked in national security fields. The assignments and how we talked about issues were practical and less theoretical. Whether it was wrapping your head around an issue set, writing, or briefing, every one of my national security classes at UVU involved preparing a memo or brief. This prepared me more for my current work more than I realized it would.”

Of his time at IWP, Ryan said, “IWP helped me gain a broader strategic understanding, which especially came in handy for my last role at DTRA. I was already a little aware of issues in Eastern Europe related to WMDs. IWP filled in the gaps. The practical exercises – writing, briefings in class – were pretty similar to what I had to do at DTRA.”

Choosing IWP for graduate school

Following his undergraduate studies at UVU and an internship at the counter-WMD office at the Pentagon, Ryan knew he wanted to return to D.C. He applied for a few jobs and looked at some graduate programs.

“I liked the community feel to IWP, and I knew there would be a pretty diverse student body around me,” said Ryan.

And, as with UVU, he was interested in learning from scholar-practitioners. “It was an easy transition and a great choice,” said Ryan, “I figured I would get to meet more incredible professors and students. It would work well with getting a job.”

Working during graduate school

One of Ryan’s goals was to work during graduate school. While at IWP, he interned on Capitol Hill, worked for a think tank, and took on two contracting jobs.

It was a hectic schedule, and Ryan said, “some semesters were tougher than others.” He soon was able to figure out the ideal number of credits to take per semester without burning out.

“All my professors were easy to work with,” Ryan said. “Several went out of their way to let us know that they understood we are working and also have a family life. They had good advice and flexibility on how to structure the semester.”

Jim Robbins and Ryan Griffith at Commencement
Dr. James S. Robbins, IWP Dean of Academics, with Ryan at IWP Commencement in 2023. Photo by Aesthetic Images Photography.

The IWP experience

When Ryan first came to IWP, he enrolled in the M.A. in Statecraft and National Security Affairs. He later switched his degree to focus on Strategic Intelligence Studies to delve into the intelligence world and minimize overlap with his UVU degree.

“There was a little bit of repeat in the core classes, but it wasn’t a whole lot,” said Ryan. “I was always gaining new knowledge and experience because I was interacting with different people with different careers. IWP helped solidify a lot of the good skills that I learned at UVU.”

Ryan particularly enjoyed studying with Prof. John Sano and Prof. John Quattrocki: “I appreciated their no-nonsense approach, while also giving students the room to dream and think about different things. There were always multiple discussions with them during their lecture for the day – sideboard discussions. They would share stories and give career advice.”

Thoughts for UVU students considering IWP

When asked to share advice for any UVU students coming to IWP, Ryan said that it would be good to take advantage of the IWP community. Due to his own situation, Ryan wasn’t able to engage as actively as he would have liked with his fellow students, but, he said, “I have classmates who helped me get jobs and that I still keep in touch with regularly.”

Ryan also said that he appreciated how IWP exposes students to a variety of career options: “Although the national security community is small, you can do anything, and it can be national security-related.”

Finally, Ryan advised that students develop relationships with professors who give you time to talk about your career, think through your projects or assignments, and brainstorm about what you might be interested in. “These conversations were some of my favorite things about IWP,” said Ryan.

Making an impact

At IWP Commencement, Ryan said, “Between what the President said, and the keynote speaker – the whole day seemed to bring everything full circle, and to come back to why I was interested in national security to begin with – in a way that wasn’t cheesy or superficial. We do this because life can be an exciting, beautiful thing, and we can spread a lot of goodness. That is the core of why I got into public service and national security work in the first place. It’s all about creating a better life for ourselves and others.

“My classmates and I are here because we are working to create a better world for as many people as we can. Even if you help just one person, it is work that is worth doing and needs doing.”

IWP Chairman John Lovewell, Chancellor Dr. John Lenczowski, Ryan Griffith, and President Amb. Aldona Woś
IWP Chairman John Lovewell, Chancellor Dr. John Lenczowski, Ryan Griffith, and President Amb. Aldona Woś. Photo by Aesthetic Images Photography.