Seven William & Mary students will spend the summer in Honolulu, Hawaii, where they will analyze and support the implementation of United States defense policy.
Junwon Park ‘25, William Rieck ‘24, Brennen Micheal ‘24, Thomas Mahnken ‘24, Alison Gray ‘20, Katherine Hughes ‘24 and Lilly Doninger ‘24 were recently named as interns for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) — the Department of Defense combatant command for the Indo-Pacific region, which extends from California to the India-Pakistan border and covers nearly 50% of the world’s surface.
They are among a larger group of William & Mary students who will be engaging in internship opportunities this summer with military organizations, including European Command and the U.S. Army War College. This year’s EUCOM interns will be Aliia Woodworth ’23, Bennett Hawley ’23 and Pierre Noah ’25. Providing students with internships and other experiential learning opportunities is one of the main thrusts of the careers initiative in William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan. Another initiative of the plan focuses on practicing and promoting democratic ideals.
The Whole of Government Center of Excellence, with its partners, oversees the university’s internships with INDOPACOM, EUCOM, the U.S. Army War College and other national security opportunities, and supports the students accepted into these programs.
“As part of W&M VET and a national security hub for the university, the Whole of Government Center of Excellence works tirelessly to create these pathways to career-changing experiences for all students,” said Kathryn H. Floyd, director of the Whole of Government Center of Excellence.
“By teaching the students how to enter this world, we help them to be competitive from the initial application through their security clearances and even throw in enough financial support to make this possible for anyone accepted. We especially thank the academic departments and the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement for their role in making these dreams come true.”
Based on need, these internships are supported by funds from the Whole of Government Center of Excellence, Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement, Government Department, International Relations Program, Public Policy Program, the Global Research Institute and others.
Last year’s INDOPACOM intern cohort featured seven William & Mary students, including five former fellows from GRI’s Project on International Peace and Security. Lucas Hauser ‘23, Matthew Hauser ‘23, Nitya Labh ‘22, Del Manson ‘22, Christina Durham ‘21, and former AidData Research Assistants Noa Zielinski ‘23 and Will Nelson ‘17 strategized maritime security, formulated humanitarian disaster plans and analyzed war games. This year, the interns include two members of the Global Scholars Program: Micheal and Park.
“I can’t tell you how valuable it was to be taken seriously and to have representatives from all across the Indo-Pacific Command trust me to do important work, and then to see my contributions valued at the end of the day,” Hauser said.
Learning strategy and planning
Labh said the internship gave her exposure to different tenets of strategy and planning, with responsibilities that evolved over time. She initially worked specifically with the J56 division, which focused on “the idea behind that we help with U.S. posture across the Indo-Pacific defensively,” before moving to the J58 division, which centered around the United States’ domain in South Asia.
“I was part of the action, and I want to go back because I really enjoyed that kind of work,” Labh said. “I don’t think students of international relations or foreign policy would really understand what the government does or how it works until we actually get an inside look. I think this internship was designed to give students that inside look to better place themselves in their academic studies and their careers.”
Shortly before the interns took their roles, China had signed a bilateral security cooperation agreement with the Solomon Islands, Hauser said.
“Suddenly, international interests in the Oceania region magnified by 100 times,” he said. “I was tasked with putting together an interagency meeting to come up with a unified INDOPACOM strategy for the Oceania region.”
As the state of global affairs is constantly changing and new challenges come up, INDOPACOM interns must balance shifting dynamics and new responsibilities, Matthew said.
“They threw you into the deep end, but we started to float, and we started to swim,” Matthew said. “I can’t tell you how valuable it was to be taken seriously and to have them trust you to do important work and then to see your contributions valued.”
Conducting research as PIPS Fellows not only offered critical contextual understanding for the interns, but also familiarized them with the process of addressing pressing security issues, Labh said. PIPS Fellows spend one year researching an emerging threat and developing novel policy recommendations in response; this research and writing culminates in white papers, which the Fellows present in an on-campus symposium and to members of the policy community in Washington, DC.
“International relations can be so theoretical and broad, especially at a university,” Labh said. “You’re doing a lot of theory, and research is all about practice, so whenever you have the opportunity to experience being on the ground and in the field you really want to take it. This internship was putting you in an office of the Department of Defense in Honolulu.”
Preparing students to excel in real-world exploration is a key goal of the PIPS Process, and is rewarding to see demonstrated in examples like this, the lab’s Co-Director Amy Oakes said.
“The PIPS approach to policy analysis is … valued by the policy community,” Oakes said. “Many senior government analysts have told us that they view the training students receive in PIPS as the finest they have seen and exactly what they want for their own analytical teams.”
Engaging in PIPS gave Labh important subject-matter understanding for the INDOPACOM internship, as she authored her white paper on Chinese ambitions and the environmental impact in the Southwest Pacific last year, she said.
“China has land reclamation capabilities and dredging capabilities that allow it to build artificial islands,” she said. “It’s already done so in its near seas, and it seems like China could extend those to the far seas — in particular to the Pacific islands because they are facing rising sea levels and extreme vulnerability due to climate change.”
Beyond equipping students with subject matter expertise, the structure of PIPS encourages feedback and revision — necessary skills for success in roles like INDOPACOM, Co-Director Dennis Alcides Velazco Smith said.
“When students join PIPS, we tell them to leave their egos behind,” he said. “Rigorous creative analysis comes from intense collaboration and an openness to frank and respectful critiques. Critiques and suggestions from colleagues should be welcomed and viewed as signs of respect. Thinking about and learning from others’ projects — their insights, struggles, mistakes, and successes — makes you and your project better.”
Matthew said the internship allowed him to see research in action, and to take the knowledge he gained from PIPS even further.
“I got to talk about not only my ideas, but listen to the issues I’ve thought about for a year,” Matthew said. “This was a perfect continuation and extension of what we were working on with PIPS.”
William & Mary students can offer fresh perspectives and original insights, even to long-standing issues and conversations, Hauser said.
“Not only were we good listeners in meetings, but we could provide substantive feedback in ways that any individual actor who’s already set in their ways might not be able to because of the rigid structure of the government, military and the bureaucracy,” Hauser said. “We got to talk to the top wargamers and strategic planners for China contingencies.”
Labh said students can see the dynamics they study at play through opportunities like this. Working alone or with team members, William & Mary students have consistently shown their ability to go above and beyond, and to make an imprint on the global stage, Oakes said.
“Analysis is an individual endeavor, but ideally it is a team sport,” Oakes said. “Collaboration pushes individuals to do better, which then makes the team stronger. It is a positive feedback loop. This approach fuels creativity and leads to rapid progress on one’s work.”