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Thomas D. DeGraba (’22): Space and Counterspace Analyst

“I walked out of IWP with a very solid foundation of things that would make me successful as an analyst.”
-Thomas DeGraba (’22)

Thomas DeGraba (’22) discovered a passion for space security and counterspace issues while studying at IWP. After researching these topics in depth in many of his classes, and thanks to information from IWP Career Services and a fellow student, he landed a job researching space issues for the U.S. Government.

Thomas DeGraba Headshot

Starting out in public policy

After studying public policy and political science at James Madison University, Thomas wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He had a vague interest in solving regional traffic problems, but instead, he took on an internship with Vice President Mike Pence’s office in 2019. There, he gained some perspective and learned that our country needed good people in the national security realm.

From there, he became a political appointee at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s global health bureau. After two weeks of training, the global Covid pandemic hit. “I was given a computer on Friday, and I didn’t come back in on Monday,” remembered Thomas. Eventually, Thomas and his boss went back to work in person – “We were the only ones there most days.”

Thomas did administrative work and was promoted along the way. At first, he thought he would be assigned to the national security section, which never transpired, but it piqued his interest.

Choosing a graduate school

He began to think about going to graduate school, and a friend of his father’s mentioned IWP. Although it was late in the summer, Thomas applied to IWP.

“I liked that IWP was dedicated to the founding principles of the national and teaching all the tools of statecraft,” said Thomas. “I figured that if I didn’t get in, I could look at other places.”

In a whirlwind few weeks, Thomas was accepted and decided to embark on an M.A. in Statecraft and National Security Affairs at IWP: “I hadn’t met many people at the school, but I just jumped in!”

Thomas took advantage of IWP’s discount for federal employees, which made the degree less expensive and the decision easier.

He remembers: “My boss at USAID knew John Lenczowski. When I told him I was going to evening classes with Dr. Lenczowski, he was very supportive.”

Thomas was pleased with his decision to attend IWP. He said: “My first two semesters were online. I had a course on American Political Thought with Dr. Joseph Wood. He also taught Western Moral and Political Thought. These courses were great. I was excited to be delving deeper into the philosophy and political ideas that shape our nation.”

Dr. James Robbins and Thomas DeGraba at IWP Commencement
Thomas at Commencement with Academic Dean Dr. James Robbins

Studying space issues at IWP

Thomas had always been interested in space as well as public policy, and he soon discovered their convergence at IWP in the national security realm.

During his first year, he took Intelligence and Policy with Dr. David Thomas and National Security Policy Process with Prof. John Tsagronis.

“I felt this is where I wanted to be,” said Thomas. “These courses started steering me towards more specific topics of interest. I wanted to do national security, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. It was a combination of these classes that led me to discover geospatial intelligence (GEOINT). I had always been a space nerd – I loved Star Wars, Star Trek, NASA, and the social good that comes from scientific development. I realized there was an element of all that in intelligence.”

“As I kept going through the courses, I realized that there was a strong interest for me in the counterspace side of things – that is, looking at what is threatening things in space. Our space capabilities – things like GPS, satellite imagery, and weather satellites, that we take for granted – can be damaged, disrupted, jammed, or shot out of the sky.  Other countries have done anti-satellite tests which can destabilize space capabilities.

“This was what I wanted to do. Through my courses and research, the school helped me find this interest and how I could make it into a career.”

Thomas very quickly found that he was able to focus the research for most of his classes on space issues: “I applied the principles of each course to GEOINT, space, and counterspace.” For Contemporary Politics and Diplomacy with Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz, he looked into the UN’s space treaties and examined the international side of space issues. In Dr. Wayne Schroeder’s class on Defense Strategy, Planning and Budgeting, he did a comparative analysis of Air Force budgets to see the capabilities in which we and our adversaries were investing. In Prof. John Tkacik’s course on China, Thomas focused on space opportunities.

Now, within the U.S. Government, Thomas works on space and counterspace issues full-time.

“[Space analysis] was what I wanted to do. Through my courses and research, the school helped me find this interest and how I could make it into a career.”

Thomas DeGraba at IWP Commencement
Thomas at IWP Commencement

Learning about U.S. Government analysis of space issues

While at IWP, Thomas found out more about the work that the U.S. Government does on space issues. “My fellow student Matt Jenkins was one of the people who helped me find a position where I could focus on space issues. He and Derrick Dortch of IWP Career Services are the reason that I ended up applying to my current job.”

Derrick sent out a paper produced by the U.S. Government about challenges in space to IWP students. “It was a phenomenal product that I ended up using in my academic work for the rest of my time at IWP,” said Thomas. “I thought it would be amazing if I could collaborate with the people who wrote that. Now I can!”

Derrick also made Thomas aware of the application process for federal analysts . “I have to give Derrick a lot of credit,” said Thomas. “He pointed me in the right direction.”

The application process went smoothly for Thomas. He felt ready for the writing portion of the interview after writing so much at IWP. He found the interview process fun, and it was easy to talk about the subjects he was so passionate about and had been studying in-depth for the past few years.

Work in analysis

When he first began his space and counterspace analysis work with the U.S. Government, Thomas found that his IWP coursework had prepared him well. He said, “I knew more than the basics of what we were talking about. I was able to get on board and get rolling pretty quickly.”

He noted, “IWP is kind of like training for a real-life job. For instance, Prof. Tsagronis’ class is very practical – you learn how the national security policy process works. If you get involved in this as a career, his coursework is what you might be doing. Prof. Wayne Schroeder’s budgeting class had a huge influence on me. We learned how we measure our capabilities spending, how we assess what we need to do and what it will cost, and the policy that goes into this.”

Thomas has been able to use his IWP knowledge to put together a packet of publicly available information on space and counterspace topics that a new hire in his office would need to know. He included information that he studied at IWP, including information about our military and its capabilities, the capabilities of our adversaries, and more.

“My familiarity with space policy has already helped my office,” said Thomas. “My prior knowledge has allowed me to bring a fresh, yet well-read perspective to our work.”

Thomas finds his work to be very fulfilling. “In terms of subject matter, I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I’m working with a group of people who are the best in what we are doing. There are some days when you do important things. There are more frequent days when you are in the background, and you just have to do your job well so that those around you can do their jobs well and succeed. There is something good about that.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions presented here in no way represent the policies or positions of the U.S. Government and should not be construed as such. 

Thomas at an IWP Christmas Party
Thomas at an IWP Christmas Party

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