by Rehna Sheth

The Security Leadership Program transformed my undergraduate career. One fall day of my sophomore year, our Model United Nations Head Delegate, Meredith Van De Velde, sent a message to the team about applying for the Richard B. Russell Security Leadership Program (SLP). After doing a little more research on the program, I decided on a whim to apply – completing the entire application the night before and turning it in to Josh Darnell, the SLP Coordinator, just 30 minutes before the deadline. With luck, I was able to pull off my interview, and thus kick started my growth as a SPIA major and my undergraduate career.

The program is one year long, where the first semester is spent learning about national security and nuclear nonproliferation, and the second semester is spent conducting independent research on a topic of your choice relating to security. My cohort experienced not only a change in program leaders from Josh Darnell to Dr. Maryann Gallagher, but we were also faced with having to move everything online due to the pandemic. Regardless, through this program I gained enormous insight into US security policy and nuclear weapons. I chose to focus on the intersect of conflict and human security for my research, studying how different types of international conflict affect children’s education.

The SLP program is known across the country and its alumni stretch far. When talking to an admissions representative from Georgetown’s master’s program in Security Studies, he immediately recognized the prestige of the SLP program, after knowing many students who came from this program. The SLP alumni network is strong, especially in Washington, D.C., and has allowed me to better connect with professionals and find internships in DC. In addition, each year, the SLP cohort takes a trip to Washington D.C., where we tour think tanks and government organizations like the State Department, the Pentagon, and the CIA. This was probably one of the most fun parts of the program, not only because I got much closer to the people in my cohort, but because I truly got to imagine my future life in D.C.

Because of this program, I was able to continue my research project under CURO, expanding my study to look at how terrorism affects education. I also gained valuable research skills and knowledge on national security and nuclear nonproliferation. My decision to apply to the Security Leadership Program transformed my undergraduate career and provided me with the opportunities I needed to grow my skillset before setting out into the real world.