Saving the World in Four Days

International studies major Dillon Brenner '15 discussed international concerns at West Point with students from around the world. (Photo by Matt Hawkins)

Matt Hawkins
December 7, 2015

Four hundred college students, including Bradley international studies major Dillon Brenner ’15, tried to solve pressing global concerns in four days at West Point’s Student Conference on United States Affairs. Though the November event didn’t achieve world peace, it built cross-cultural relationships that will help students navigate foreign policy issues in the future.

This year’s conference included roundtable discussions on topics such as cybersecurity, asymmetrical warfare, climate change, women’s rights and economic inequality. With students from 28 countries sprinkled among discussion groups, international perspectives sparked thoughtful dialogue on pressing matters.

Brenner, a Wonder Lake, Illinois, native, worked through cybersecurity issues with a team of students from the U.S., Singapore, China, Japan and Italy. Policy experts provided background information that helped frame discussions.

“Working with international students put a human face on issues,” he said. “We really got to know each other and we now have a better understanding how cultures operate. It was valuable to see their perspectives.”

Brenner’s world view grew as he befriended a roundtable colleague from Singapore. The colleague shared that international policy often has to be backed by groups of affected nations and at the same time appease U.S. authority.

“He had to find ways the U.S. would agree with his ideas, but within the norms and expectations of the rest of the world,” Brenner said. “It was good to hear that because it moved our perspectives to a bigger view than normal.”

Students also tasted life in the barracks. They woke with the morning “Reveille” and cannon and retired with “Taps.” Conversations with cadets added to the learning experience.

Additionally, discussions explored tensions between American military and United Nations responses to international issues. Panel dialogues and a keynote address from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright brought differences to the forefront for the purpose of stretching future leaders’ minds.

“The hope is that some of us will be in positions of power where our shared experiences will help us build relationships later in life,” Brenner said. “It was valuable to see how big the ideological divide could be and how we could build relationships to make our parts of the world better.”

Brenner left West Point with a clearer understanding of the conversations and processes he’ll encounter as he pursues a career in foreign policy. He hopes to soon pass the notoriously rigorous Foreign Service Officer Test and eventually work in U.S. embassies.

“Sharing life with so many different people made this the most unique academic experience I’ve had,” Brenner said. “Our discussions were crash courses in policy and collaboration that wouldn’t have happened anywhere else. I’ll be able to draw on the conversations and connections as I pursue next steps in life.”