Harris Student Honored at the Pentagon

Second-year MPP student Helena Bentley had the extraordinary opportunity to meet at the Pentagon with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on April 29. Bentley was selected from a group of Chicago Harris students who submitted policy memos suggesting ideas to address the Department of Defense’s changing landscape. The Pentagon's "Force of the Future" event represented the culmination of a broader initiative intended to give defense policymakers an outside academic perspective on the direction of America’s military practices at home and abroad. 

The policy memo competition asked graduate students to critically analyze the nature of technical innovation in the business of national defense, and asked them to predict important technology developments that will matter most in the next several decades. Bentley’s memo spoke to an ongoing question in defense circles revolving around the next frontier in warfighting—cyber-warfare and network vulnerabilities at the intersection of public- and private-sector enterprise. She examined the prevalence of a “bring your own device” (BYOD) culture in business and the security vulnerabilities presented by unauthorized software and devices. Bentley predicts that the most devastating cyber-attacks of the future will not focus on military installations or top-secret data centers, but on low-priority targets like refrigerators and smart TVs with unsophisticated network security connections. She proposed greater funding for collaborations with the professional “ethical hacking” community, research and development toward standardized mobile device security and a public campaign to raise awareness of the insecurity of our daily devices.

Under Secretary Carter’s leadership, the Defense Department has made the Force of the Future initiative a priority to institute reforms that ensure the defense force of tomorrow remains as great as the force of today. This event sought to directly engage with millennials on how the Department of Defense can attract and retain top talent to work toward this goal. During her trip to the Pentagon, Bentley participated in briefings with senior defense leaders, meet-and-greet events with other senior defense leaders, a special session with Secretary Carter and a tour of the Pentagon. A panel of defense strategists and policymakers read the memos and gave the delegations the opportunity to pitch their ideas “Shark Tank-style” to key stakeholders and potential decisionmakers. Bentley was given the opportunity to engage with leaders representing the Defense Digital Service, the Under Secretary of Defense Policy, the Directorate of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and the Defense Tactical Warfare System.

Harris’ participation was organized by Professor Felicity Vabulas and partially sponsored by the Chicago Harris Writing Program. MPP students Erik Blome and Christine Nappo also received honorable mention for their memo submissions. 

For more information on the Force of the Future event, see Secretary Carter’s Facebook writeup and event photography here.