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Today, a statement came from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering on the USC SHIELD ’23.

A Marriage of Engineering and Public Policy: USC’s Global Space and Deterrence Program Returns

Written by Marc Ballon

“To Kenneth Michel, the military threats to the security of the world’s democracies have only intensified in the past five to 10 years, especially from ever-improving ballistic and other missiles.

That’s why Michel, an operations officer who works in the strategy and policy directorate for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Honolulu, recently flew from Hawaii to Southern California to participate in the opening session of the USC SHIELD Executive Program in Global Space and Deterrence.

From Sept. 15 to Sept. 17, Michel and more than 20 other high-level military, government and industry security experts met at USC for the kickoff of USC SHIELD. The eight-month program aims at teaching U.S. and other leaders to understand how to tackle growing issues of national security while bridging bureaucratic gaps between policy and new engineering innovations.

Michel said he looked forward to collaborating and making connections with other leaders in security issues and learning from them.

“As someone who works in the policy shop, I think it’s important to gain [new] perspectives on missile defense,” Michel said. “It’s great that [USC SHIELD] brings a lot of people together – not just military, but people from academia, government personnel and other areas to discuss the missile defense problem, which is especially pertinent in today’s age given the potential areas of conflict.”

Drew Hirsekorn, a Morristown, New Jersey-based Lockheed Martin technician director, agreed. “Collaborating with and getting perspectives from people from different organizations, who are experts in other areas, would be very beneficial for me to get different ideas and tools,” said Hirsekorn, who delivers ballistic missile defense capability to naval platforms.

Over the next several months, 23 participants from the U.S. and Canada will attend hybrid classes given by professors from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, in partnership with the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA). They will explore topics ranging from organizational behavior to how to avoid common errors in engineering assessment, from the essentials of inventive thinking to a case study of the first intercept of a long-range ballistic missile in 1961.

Two three-day sessions will be held in person at USC and one will take place in Washington D.C. Additionally, site visits are planned for Vandenberg Space Force Base and the Space Systems Command at Los Angeles Space Force Base.

As part of USC SHIELD, participants must write and present a group capstone project. Upon completion of the program, students will receive a USC continuing education certificate.

“We want to create the leading academic community in critical thinking of a new deterrent in space that’s required today,” said Riki Ellison, a 1983 USC Dornsife graduate; founder and chair of MDAA; and a three-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers in 1985, 1988 and 1989. “We are striving for educational and academic excellence in an area that nobody else is focused on.”

Members of this year’s class hail from the U.S. Space Force, U.S. Space Systems Command, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, National Guard, INDOPACOM, NORTHCOM, SPACECOM, STRATCOM, Canada, the Missile Defense Agency and industry.

Frank Zerunyan, professor of the practice of governance at the Price School, said the creation of USC SHIELD reflects the university’s longstanding support of the Armed Forces.

“Our relationship with the United States Military is more than a century old,” said Zerunyan, who also serves as director and university liaison for USC ROTC and Nautical Science Programs. “We develop the leaders of tomorrow in our elite ROTC programs and, in this program, interact with today’s leaders to enhance missile defense and deterrence policy and innovation.”

Neil Siegel, USC Viterbi’s IBM Professor of Engineering Management, will teach five of USC SHIELD’s 15 lectures this year, including risk management and problem-solving. Siegel, a member of the National Academy of Engineering who came to USC after a long career as vice-president at Northrop Grumman, said adult learning is one way that the university can contribute to society.

“This kind of outreach to industry and the government is part of the university’s mission,” Siegel said. “USC has had an adult education component for at least 50 years.”

Launched in 2021, USC SHIELD will be even stronger this year, said Candace House Teixeira, associate dean of corporate engagement and programs. She said feedback from the inaugural class has led to the addition of classes on big data and digital technologies, among other subjects.

“We’ve taken feedback from our impressive first cohort and fine-tuned the program with the leadership of our faculty members and partners at MDAA,” she said. “It’s now a more mature program that continues to develop leaders in global space and deterrence. I’m excited for this year’s cohort and for the future.”

Mission Statement

MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.

MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.