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National Security Research Team Learns from Kenny Thompson Jr.  

Kenny D. Thompson Jr.On Monday February 7th, the graduate student National Security Fellowship research team met with Kenny D. Thompson, Jr. Mr. Thompson shared lessons from his great wealth of experience as current Vice President of External Affairs for PepsiCo and formerly Director of Message Events for then-Vice President Joseph R. Biden, the Senior Advisor and Executive Secretary to the US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and the Special Assistant & Advance Lead for President Barack Obama.

Mr. Thompson offered a unique perspective for the students of the fellowship, stemming from his time working in both the public and private sectors. The students asked Mr. Thompson several questions about strategic messaging, public/private partnerships, methods for engaging local communities, and differences between the public and private sectors. The students' research project focuses on making policy recommendations for the U.S. federal government's activities abroad, some of which include establishing new programs for outreach to local populations. One impactful point that Mr. Thompson emphasized is that effectively engaging local communities requires a bottom-up approach and that any community-engagement program must be consistent and authentic.

Having experience working for PepsiCo and working in the White House, Mr. Thompson made sure to tell the students about little-known facts about how private corporations work internationally and interact with the court of public opinion. In addition, Mr. Thompson made sure to advocate for the positives of the private and public sectors. For example, the private sector has strong tools for local engagement and financial investment, while the governments' bureaucratic systems ensure measured and fair policies for the governed. Speaking with Mr. Thompson afforded students the opportunity to rethink their recommendations, especially those involving public-private partnerships and community engagement.

For the 2021-2022 year, the NSF is working with the State Department to foster better relations between the U.S., Pakistan, India, and the Indo-Pacific region. Students worked to identify areas of influence including public diplomacy, defense opportunities, and bi-lateral relationship building. Establishing connections between these topics requires a more nuanced understanding of the region and international security concerns. To assist the students in their learning, Mr. Mirghahari lined up a diverse list of speakers with operational and political experience to provide insight into topics ranging from counterterrorism and space security to culture and religion.

The NSF began its fifth year with the largest cohort of first- and second-year graduate fellows. NSF applies the academic knowledge from the classes at the School of Diplomacy with practical research and analytical projects for key governmental agencies. Under the guidance of alumnus and Department of Defense consultant Mohamad Mirghahari, students work together to analyze the provided problem set and provide policy recommendations to address areas of influence. The NSF is working to finalize its report, and gearing up for presentations to the State Department and other agencies later this year.

Categories: Nation and World

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  • Elizabeth Halpin
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