Report from the Research Field: The Alumni Scholarship Experience
By John Quinn, 2021 Alumni Scholar
I first came across the George C. Marshal European Center for Security Studies, or The Marshall Center, webpage after Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and tanks seized much of the Eastern Regions of Ukraine in 2014. I was on assignment conducting a comprehensive health needs assessment for the war-torn region which turned into a tactical combat casualty care (TCCC) training expansion to Defense Forces and irregular Ukrainian troops. Ukraine prepared for peace while Russia and Russian proxy forces prepared to go deeper.
The Marshall Center stands out as a marquee research, policy and decision-maker impact center nestled in the German Alps in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Security events unfolded throughout 2014 and thereafter, the Marshall Center played a significant role in the analysis and promotion of best practices for U.S. foreign policy interests and the Atlantic Alliance. Little did I know I would be providing my Alumni Scholarship capstone briefing only a short 7 years later relating to Global Health Engagement activities. My journey with the alumni scholarship at the Marshall Center began in 2019 when I was fortunate enough to be awarded the opportunity to participate in the course entitled European Security Seminar - East.
The course series European Security Seminars (ESS) are designed to examine the current security environment in Europe and Eurasia and to develop appropriate strategic level responses to regional security challenges from a common perspective. As security threats and risks evolve, these courses evolve. My course focused on Russia and the Black Sea region, with an emphasis on Russian activities, and NATO and NATO partner nations; with Ukraine as a focus. As expert lectures and detailed seminar questions were unpacked, I couldn’t help but focus how health security and Global Health Engagement play a role in traditional conventional security threats.
My ESS-E served as an excellent introduction to not only the Marshall Center, but also as an introduction to security colleagues across the spectrum. Spending time with expert analysts, bureaucrats, administrators and practitioners runs the gambit in order to provide alternate conclusions and create an environment to truly understand risk and threats. Being a practicing Emergency Medicine Clinician and policy researcher, it was great to challenge my own paradigm and groupthink with insight from a broad array of country representatives and viewpoints. It was a pleasure to spend time with those subject matter experts focused on analysis, best practices, and comprehensive and prescient security assessments. Colleagues from multiple USG agencies, NATO and NATO Partner, and nonaligned states from mid- to senior level governmental organizations offered high level insight and alternate views. Upon conclusion of the course, access to the Marshall Center’s online GlobalNET resource endures, where alumni have access to incredible library resources, colleagues, and faculty.
In addition to the GlobalNET access for alumni, the Alumni Scholars Program is a competitive scholarship for those wishing to conduct research. These scholarships give Marshall Center alumni the opportunity to conduct in-depth research on a security topic at the Marshall Center with the support of a faculty mentor. I was extremely eager to learn more and stay engaged with the Marshall Center upon conclusion of my course, and made sure to network with additional alumni and faculty. When I applied for the scholarship in 2019, I was extremely pleased to have a favorable response. However, as COVID-19 avalanched with epidemiological considerations and significant closures and reduction of in-person meetings from winter of 2020 onwards, the Alumni Scholars Program was put on hold. I was still able to conduct some background reading and research, however the core functions of the scholarship and in-depth qualitative research would have to wait for the in-person opportunity in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for autumn 2021.
The alumni scholarship is an excellent opportunity, and the program offers a five-week, in-residence research program in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, with transportation, lodging, and meals provided. Upon my arrival to the Marshall Center, I was able to sit in on many lectures and discussions of the Program for Applied Security Studies (PASS) course. The course was offered in a hybrid fashion, some participants and students were online in their respective countries while others were in the main plenary and resident at the Marshall Center. This was yet another opportunity to engage and network with Marshall Center students and participants, alumni and security experts.
While conducting the alumni scholarship research, interviews, and background reading, and sitting in on PASS lectures, I was able to polish my research questions and topic of "Global Health Engagement in War: data-driven decisions and evidence-based policy.” The COVID-19 pandemic crisis, other emerging security threats posed by Russia’s hybrid war, future potential global economic downturns, and the peer threat of China’s growth, all have health security implications requiring Global Health Engagement as a tool.
The alumni scholarship is an excellent opportunity to sequester as a researcher and really focus on an entirely new and interesting topic, and I took full advantage. Scholars have opportunity to publish their research findings, contribute to resident courses and outreach events, and give a presentation to the faculty. In normal times, the Alumni Scholars Program runs from January – September of a calendar year, with applications solicited in the summer. Due to COVID-19 and all the logistical challenges that come with it, there may be more hybrid options available in the future.
The only eligibility requirements for this prestigious scholarship program is to be a Marshall Center graduate of a qualifying resident course and applicants do not need to be a current government employee to apply; however, this is a very competitive program. Scholarships are awarded based on review from the faculty and are prioritized based on relevance to the Marshall Center’s U.S. and German strategic guidance. The alumni scholarship is an excellent opportunity for workers and researchers to dig deeper in new and emerging security risks and threats across a dynamic platform.
I was able to find an excellent faculty advisor and subject matter expert, Dr. Suzanne Loftus. Although there were delays with my deployment to the Marshall Center, I was able to have regular communication and updates about the application proposal, updates to the Global Health Engagement infrastructure, and get expert guidance on background reading and preparation for the research.
I highly recommend all graduates of a qualifying Marshall Center course to consider the alumni scholarship. It is very difficult to get five weeks away from work, family and professional obligations. However, this type of research at such a prestigious research center is worth it. My recommendations for anyone considering applying is to focus not only on their subject matter expertise, but also to expand and look at security threats and risks that are evolving or otherwise not heavily focused on. I think engaging with faculty and really exploring some specific research questions before application is mandatory. Aligning security priorities should be considered with any alumni scholarship application, as well as a manageable study that can be conducted over a five-week time period. Qualitative and quantitative methods should be considered and exploiting the resources of the Marshall Center is a must. And all work and no play does indeed make a researcher rather dull, so a short research break and some hikes in the mountains that surround the Marshall Center are a great opportunity to relax. A visit to the Zugspitze, the highest mountain peak in Germany, should definitely be considered.
One Marshall Center resource that mustn’t be overlooked is the library. The Marshall Center has excellent and expensive online and digital resources, and if they do not have the resource you need, the expert librarians can get you just about any digital content related to the research. Alumni should know they have access to the online resources even if they’re not a scholar, and should consider this when drafting research questions and carrying out their normal work and research activities.
Not all research requires interviews and subject matter expert video teleconferences (VTCs), however, any such meetings relating to the research should be considered prior to arrival and scheduling can be considered. As an alumni scholar, you have more opportunities to engage with other SME’s and can gain access into critical and insight for your research question(s). I certainly encourage all potential alumni scholars to not only think about the qualitative and quantitative research methods they may employ, but also targeting specific emerging risks in a constant evolving threat environment.
The alumni scholarship capstone project is a high-level briefing to faculty, colleagues and alumni online in the form of a comprehensive presentation. This is the opportunity to not only discuss the methodology and research with key findings, but also to place the research questions in context against strategic priorities to a wider audience. For my specific research, I plan to publish in the Marshall Center’s marquee security publication per Concodiam. Additionally, I’ll provide a comprehensive report for European Command and a second peer reviewed publication with detailed analysis and presentation of data conducted during the research scholarship. The presentation is an excellent opportunity to combine the research, findings, and policy implications for a wide audience. The opportunity to publish some specific data sets and key findings is an excellent way to share key findings of the scholarship with a wider readership.
In conclusion, I highly encourage all alumni of the Marshall Center to consider the Alumni Scholars Program. Research and academic scholarship within the international security environment is dynamic, evolving with growing challenges. The Marshall Center offers best practices with research and analysis providing decision-makers with tools and promotion of U.S. foreign policy interests. The alumni scholarship is excellent tool to help bring data-driven decision making into policymakers’ hands.
John Quinn, EMT-P, MD, MPH, PhD
2021 George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies Alumni Scholar
Prague Center for Global Health Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology
First Faculty of Medicine Charles University
Views or opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the GCMC, its faculty, nor the U.S. or German Government.