IST students participate in a U.S. Army tabletop exercise

Four students and a professor from the College of Information Sciences and Technology recently participated in a tabletop exercise with the U.S. Army Engineer Research Development Center, which had them working alongside industry and government experts to conduct virtual simulations around the reconstruction of a third world country. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Four students and a professor from the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) recently took part in a tabletop exercise hosted by the U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Arlington, Virginia.

The students, all members of IST’s Red Cell Analytics Lab, were invited to participate by Red Six Solutions, a strategic advisory consulting firm that uses adversarial thinking to provide insights into imminent threats facing organizations. Red Six Solutions recognized the similarities between the college’s security and risk analysis (SRA) major and the work the company conducts.

“They were also intrigued by the fact that we have undergraduates training as red cell,” said Col. Jake Graham, professor of practice in IST and director of the lab, who also participated as a senior adviser in the exercise.

The Red Cell Analytics Lab was designed to give students experience in analyzing real-world problems and to prepare students for the professional world by helping them develop critical thinking skills by thinking like the enemy.

Dan Goga, Shaemus Lunney, Calvin Mende, and Stephen Waggoner — the four students invited to participate in the tabletop — were dispersed into teams and worked alongside representatives from the Interagency, Department of Defense, Joint, and Army, as well as ERDC subject matter experts.

“The variety of professional backgrounds in attendance was astounding,” said Calvin Mende, a junior majoring in SRA. “The connections I made with other participants could lead to future internships or jobs.”

The three-day exercise was conducted as a virtual simulation divided into four phases: innovation challenge identification, concept development, cognitive visualization, and user needs. Five teams consisting of 14 to 16 participants were each led by a two-person facilitation team.

Lunney, an SRA major and Red Cell Analytics Lab Special Project Officer, emphasized the importance of teamwork in successfully completing the phases.

“The process of the tabletop exposed me to the several moving parts in any analytical process,” Lunney said. “Any decision-making process is extremely tedious and time-consuming; therefore, one must be open to discussion and able to collaborate with a team.”

Overall, each team completed 29 short-term exercises. The teams identified challenges and were presented with difficult problems regarding the reconstruction of a third-world country. Results from the exercise will be used to address similar problems currently facing our nation.

“The students were exposed to the breadth and seriousness of the problem set,” said Graham. “This was a real problem, not a practice problem like they have had in the classroom.”

Along with Graham, other senior advisers included Joe Bermudez, president, KPA Associates; Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland (Ret.), principal, Unconventional Strategies & Solutions; Scott Crino, CEO, Red Six Solutions; and Mark Mateski, founder, Red Team Journal.

“Because they’re all Red Cell and SRA students, they have a pretty good baseline for critical thinking, challenging assumptions, building hypotheses, and looking at alternative futures for phenomena,” Graham added. “They were awestruck in the exposure they had with the other participants. Getting to sit should-to-shoulder with people that do this for a living was a great experience.”

The students agreed.

“This experience reaffirmed my choice to pursue this field and has me joyfully awaiting my future IST courses,” Mende said.

“Being able to attend an event with such high ranking officials was very interesting,” Lunney added. “It allowed me to expand my analytical horizons and ask questions from those who have worked and succeeded in the intelligence realm.”

Last Updated February 13, 2018