Duke's First Rosenthal Fellow Works on Defense Policy

This summer, MPP student Rob Peterson found himself writing memoranda for the U.S. Secretary of Defense, reports for Congress and briefs to Capitol Hill staff members. One of 13 Rosenthal Fellows, Peterson spent his summer applying the skills he learned at the Sanford School to the Department of Defense’s Stability Operations Office.

Capt. Rob Peterson“Stability operations are concerned with the maintenance of peace,” Peterson said. “The idea is to use military force, diplomacy, and development to keep a situation from devolving into conflict.”

Peterson worked on the Commander’s Emergency Response Program alongside a civilian stability operations expert, a member of the Senior Executive Service, and a GS-15 senior official; all of whom had extensive experience in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. The program enables military commanders and State Department officials in Iraq and Afghanistan to assist the local population through urgent, humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects.

 “I found the internship challenging and fulfilling,” he said. “We put together a solid team that made a positive impact.”

Peterson is the first Duke student to receive the prestigious Harold W. Rosenthal Fellowship, which is available to qualified students interested in international relations through a competitive application process. The fellowship places nine to 13 college seniors and graduate students each year in summer internships with the State Department, Department of Defense, Department of Treasury or with a member of Congress.

With three deployments to Iraq and one to Southeast Asia, the former Marine is more than familiar with the importance of maintaining peace. Peterson is deeply committed to public service and interested in the intersection of civilian and military aspects of foreign policy. 

“The most dear and important policy issue to me is keeping the positive trend in Iraq and helping our troops succeed. I spent a lot of time over there and I don’t want the United States to forget about our Iraqi allies,” Peterson said. “It is also important that we support our troops in Afghanistan. These men and women have volunteered to place themselves in harm’s way.”

Peterson found Professor of the Practice Tom Taylor’s national security course excellent preparation for his internship.

 “I had a lot of experience in the military but this gave me a perspective on things that occur at the higher level, specifically, how Congress and the Department of Defense interact and how the president manages his national security apparatus.”

He also credits the Sanford School for teaching him to write straightforward, compelling memos. “The most valuable skill that I learned was to look at a problem, take it apart, and then communicate alternative solutions in a clear and concise manner.”

It was Peterson’s writing, in fact, that helped secure the Rosenthal Fellowship. His application required a two-page essay on foreign relations, which Peterson chose to write on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan. The teams combine efforts of civil and military organizations to provide assistance to the Afghan government and humanitarian assistance projects, such as providing electricity and fundraising to build schools.

“The Stability Operations Director looked at my essay and said, ‘This is what we do,’ and that is part of the reason why I was selected.”