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Strategic Thinkers Program

Selective program of the Office of the Secretary of Defense enrolling active duty military officers and Department of Defense civilians in a specialized track within the Johns Hopkins SAIS Master of International Public Policy degree. The goal of the program: To build a cohort of strategic thinkers to advise senior principals throughout the Department of Defense.

Johns Hopkins SAIS graduates at commencement

Johns Hopkins SAIS is a lead partner with the Secretary of Defense Strategic Thinkers Program (STP) of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). This highly competitive one-year Master’s program -- which began with the first cohort in the 2019-20 academic year -- annually selects a small group of talented, field-grade military officers and Department of Defense civilians to participate in this unique curriculum leading to a Master’s degree in International Public Policy (MIPP).

Students immerse themselves in the conceptual dynamics and trends of war and strategy and analyze their role in the development of effective decision-making and execution of strategy and military operations. Once coursework is completed, graduates will leverage their strategic thinking skills primarily in demanding principal staff assignments at OSD, on the Joint Staff, or on a combatant commander's staff, or other senior level headquarters; others will go to command positions. These appointments will require graduates to deal with unanticipated security challenges and seek innovative approaches in order to engage our nation's top civilian and military leaders on the development and conduct of strategy and military operations in the broader context of national policy objectives.

STP challenges our rising military and civilian leaders to push the boundaries of their thinking about national security and defense issues, habituating students to take an enterprise view of national security. Doing this well requires students to be omnivorously curious, analytical, and creative. STP is not easy. But neither is the assignment that we ask graduates to take on: to advise DoD’s senior-most leadership making decisions about wicked problems in an imperfect information environment. STP is producing the leaders and advisors that we need to innovate and accelerate our work, sharpen our warfighting edge, and maintain our unparalleled effectiveness on the battlefield, now and in the future.

Caroline C. Baxter
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Education & Training)
Office of the Secretary of Defense

Application Process

Students participating in a group project

There is a two-step application process. The first step is internal to DoD -- the Services will make nominations and recommendations, and OSD will make selections.Nomination packages are due to OSD by 1 December each year and selections are made by 1 February.

Note: All military officers nominated for the program must be in the O-4 or O-5 paygrade, having completed at least 10 years on active duty before the start of the STP academic year, received a favorable evaluation in at least one key operational assignment, and finished Joint Professional Military Education Phase 1, attaining an overall ranking in the top 20 percent – preferably the top five percent – of their class. All civilian leaders nominated for the program must be in the GS-13 or GS-14 pay band, have a demonstrated record of success in a graduate-level program, and possess at least one year of supervisory or managerial experience acquired within the last five years.

Those selected will be required to complete a second-step and apply directly to Johns Hopkins SAIS and the MIPP here.

How the STP Differs from the Johns Hopkins SAIS Masters in International Public Policy Track:             

8 total courses are required for the Masters in International Public Policy (MIPP) graduation requirements. As a member of the STP cohort, 4 of the 8 MIPP courses required, as part of the STP enrollment track, are offered only to the STP student cohort of military officers and civilian leaders. The STP students may individually select their remaining 4 courses from the regular MIPP track options. 

STP students track through the 4 STP required courses together, as a cohort, in what has been designed as a laboratory for critical thinking. These specially tailored courses draw on the disciplines of applied war and strategic studies, including the importance of economics, culture, geography, and more, and provide a blend of hands-on wargames, decision exercises, staff rides, research, and classroom briefs and discussions all through the Socratic method. There are no lectures.

All courses are led by the Director of the Strategic Thinkers Program, Professor Dan Marston.

Officers and civilians in the program's cohort will have exclusive access to world-class instructors and military and policy experts who are renowned for their scholarship, influence and networks, both inside the National Capital Region and around the world.

Secretary of Defense Contact

CDR Charles “Randy” Harmon, U.S. Navy, SPHR
Deputy Director, Professional Military Education
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Education and Training
Office: (703) 693-3529
Mobile: (202) 391-8588
Email: [email protected]

STP in the News

The Department of Defense recently highlighted STP and its intended outcomes, as well as the perspectives of several talented alumni, in an article on – “Graduate Program Fosters Strategic Leaders”.