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Secretary of Defense Contact

LtCol Shane A. Donahue, USMC
Chief of Staff
OUSD Personnel & Readiness, Force Education & Training
+1 (703) 692-4176

Strategic Thinkers Program

Selective new program of the Office of the Secretary of Defense enrolling active duty military officers 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 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.

Application Process

Students participating in a group project

The application process is internal to DoD -- the Services will make nominations and recommendations, and OSD will make selections. While the second cohort for the 2020-21 academic year has already been selected, the Services will be taking nominations for the 2021-22 third cohort in November 2020.  The Services will then provide candidate recommendations to OSD in December 2020, and OSD will make selections in January 2021.   Note: All nominees for the program must be in the paygrade of O4 to O6 (preferably O5, post command) and have already completed Joint Professional Military Education Phase 1 and at least 10 years on active duty before the start of the academic year.

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. 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 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.