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CCU undergrad Eric Winter presents at U.S. Strategic Command symposium

October 9, 2019
Intelligence student is one of five undergraduate students in the nation to present at the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Deterrence Symposium in August.

Left-of-launch missiles. Chinese technical advances. Iranian tanker attacks. Unless your family members are global military personnel, this might not be considered dinner table conversation, but it was perfectly appropriate banter for senior intelligence and national security studies/information systems major Eric Winter when he found himself at the USSTRATCOM Deterrence Symposium in La Vista, Neb., among a table of global leaders.

Winter was one of five undergraduate panelists in the nation to be invited to the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Deterrence Symposium in August 2019, a global conference consisting of 700 government officials in the private industry designed to advance dialogue and promote collaboration on 21st century strategic deterrence and assurance, both domestically and internationally.

Over dinner, Winter went round for round with many global senior officials, engaging in discussion about industry topics prior to the keynote event.

“I talked to three upper-level officials: one Australian undersecretary of defense and two generals from different countries,” Winter said. “We sat there and fired off different things about Chinese technical advances and how that affects U.S. integration in a potential conflict with China. It got into a very technical conversation very quickly.”

Winter’s panel presentation, at a table shared with students from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Nottingham, focused on Chinese advances in artificial intelligence and quantum computing and how they could weaken global perception of the U.S. as a technological superpower.

Winter’s journey to the USSTRATCOM Symposium began when he served as a panelist at the Deterrence and Assurance Academic Alliance (DAAA) Conference, an initiative to build bridges between academia and USSTRATCOM, in March 2019. Winter’s presentation on Chinese cybersecurity and artificial intelligence attracted the interest and admiration of the panel’s moderator, who subsequently nominated Winter to adapt and present his work on a Deterrence Symposium panel showcasing the next generation of thinkers.

The USSTRATCOM symposium required the undergraduates to speak on pressing global deterrence and assurance issues familiar to the general media as well as high-ranking government officials – a pretty tall order for students with no field experience.

But as Winter presented his research to the crowd, he was met with support instead of skepticism.

“When I got out there and actually started talking, I saw a lot of the senior professionals start nodding their heads, and they actually took out books and started taking notes. ... I thought, “Huh, they’re listening,’” Winter said.

That’s when he realized he was no longer the student watching from the crowd, but an intellectual contributor of his field with something worth saying.

“I’m used to being the person who would learn from these people, and now they’re hopefully learning from me,” said Winter.

Winter wouldn’t have had these conference opportunities if not for his mentor, Chris Ferrero, CCU assistant professor in the Department of Politics within the intelligence and national security program, with a functional specialty in weapons of mass destruction. The pair formed a working relationship after Winters took Ferrero’s Research and Communication in Intelligence course. Winter was one of a handful of students Ferrero recommended for the DAAA conference.

“Eric wrote an excellent paper in that class, and he gave two oral briefings that were outstanding,” said Ferrero. “He has a phenomenal stage presence, and I immediately thought of him as somebody who could command an audience in a venue like STRATCOM.”

The admiration is mutual, as Winter credits Ferrero with the conference successes and for future, professional opportunities.

“We’re very close,” said Winter. “He’s my faculty mentor here. And I would not know a lot of the things about federal service now if not for him. I don’t think I’d be where I am without him.”

Winter’s attendance at the USSTRATCOM Deterrence Symposium has led to future opportunities. With one semester left before graduation, he’s already applied to his top choice government organization, having been approached personally at the conference. Additionally, Jonathan Ward, founder of the Atlas Organization in Washington D.C., specifically requested his resume, promising an internship and future career employment. Wherever he lands, though, Winter emphasizes his goal to pursue higher education in cybersecurity.

Ferrero also points to Winter’s competence and genuine passion for the industry, which, in this industry, ultimately breeds trust.

“He is extremely smart; he knows his stuff. I’ve gotten some advice from him about how to safely use technology,” Ferrero said. “As an American citizen, I would sleep well with Eric working in our intelligence community or in our national security industry.”