Founded in 2013, the Clements Center for National Security reports directly to UT’s president. In less than a decade, it has built a network of more than 600 alumni, many holding influential positions with the National Security Council, CIA, State Department, Defense Department, Congress and leading think-tanks. “You show me a trouble spot in the world, and I’ll show you a Clements Center alum who’s working on it,” says Inboden. Off the top of his head, he rattles off an impressive list:
- In the western Pacific, aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, an F/A-18 Super Hornet Navy pilot prepares for his catapult launch after another Navy intelligence officer has briefed him on where he can expect to encounter China’s air defense systems as the Navy fliers conduct a freedom of navigation mission.
- A CIA officer who is posted in Asia coordinates with her host country counterparts to share intelligence on the threat from China.
- A diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, coordinates with CIA officers, the U.S. ambassador and Pakistani officials on the next phase of America’s counterterrorism strategy in the region after the U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
- A U.S. Army Green Beret officer deployed in Africa partners with local forces in counterterrorism operations against jihadist groups.
And, of course, Washington is thick with Clements Center alumni.
- In the Pentagon, a senior Army strategist is working for the secretary of defense to bolster the Army’s presence in Europe and to equip the Army with the right weapons, force posture and doctrine to deter Russia across NATO’s frontline.
- On Capitol Hill, a Senate staffer prepares the necessary legal authorizations to provide real-time, lethal intelligence targeting to the Ukrainian forces, while a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member prepares emergency legislation providing humanitarian, financial and military aid to the Ukrainian people and military.
- At the National Security Council, one staff member drafts a strategy to identify the primary threats to America, set policy priorities, and allocate resources for countering Russian and Chinese aggression, while another develops a specialized China strategy.
Not only are they serving their country in those trouble spots, such as Eastern Europe, China and Pakistan, they form a de facto young Longhorn alumni network. “They’re staying deeply connected with each other. They’re encouraging each other, helping each other with their careers,” says Inboden. And even if they haven’t kept in touch, they will show up to the same secure facility in far-flung locations and recognize one another from UT. “I think it’s tremendously inspiring,” he says. “It’s also a real encouragement to our current students.”
Other alumni are serving as faculty members teaching diplomatic and military history and security studies across the country, including at the Naval War College and the Naval Postgraduate School, the Air War College, West Point and civilian universities such as Duke, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Williams College.
In all, the center’s staff estimates that more than 150 recent alumni hold federal positions. The lion’s share is in the executive branch, with many of those in the intelligence community and at the State Department. But as noted above with the congressional aide, they also serve in the legislative branch, and, because Clements often partners with UT’s Strauss Center for International Security and Law, it claims several alumni in the legal realm as well. “Through our alumni,” Inboden says, “you can see the sinuous connectivity across the whole of the national security system.” Still others work on security issues in state government, such as with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Outside of government, other alumni serve in think tanks and work for closely connected federal contractors.
Program coordinator Amber Howard works to bring young alumni back to speak, do mentoring sessions or give advice on internships and jobs. “I so rarely have an alum who has said they don’t have time. They always have time. They think, ‘Oh yeah, the Clements Center. The kids we’re going to get are coming from this.’ ”
A Center of Concentric Circles
The Clements Center is an unusual animal in academia. Very few other universities have similar centers focused on applying the lessons of history to current national security challenges and training undergraduate and graduate students to be the next generation of national security leaders. “Student involvement is best pictured as concentric circles,” Inboden says. There’s a core group of 80-100 students with whom the center interacts almost every week, and many of those are majoring in international relations. Chief among those are 30 to 35 undergraduate fellows. Each year, around 80 applicants compete for 20 new positions; the rest are fifth-year seniors serving a second year.
The next circle out, perhaps an additional 200, would be students who come to a guest lecture a couple of times a month, attend informal policy discussions, or take classes sponsored by the center. Furthest out would be the roughly 1,000 students who interact with the center once or twice a year through events such as major conferences or the annual National Security Career Fair held on campus.
The center offers a certificate in security studies for undergraduates, which about 150 students are pursuing at any time. Each year, Clements sponsors an introductory undergraduate class informally called “Intelligence 101” taught by Paul Pope, a former CIA case officer who along with fellow CIA veteran Steve Slick runs the Clements-Strauss Intelligence Studies Project. That course has about 80 students, and each year a number of them get jobs in the intelligence community.