Nation reconstruction becomes focus of new center at West Point
January 20, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Jan. 20, 2011) -- The official unveiling of the new Center for Nation Reconstruction and Capacity Development on Jan. 11 came with a message to the department heads in attendance. Three months since it was approved as a center of excellence at West Point, the CNRCD is operational and will be ripe with opportunities for cadets and faculty academy-wide.
"There is a significant body of work already started, and probably most importantly, there are opportunities in this center that cut across disciplines," Col. Robert Kewley, Systems Engineering department head, said. "We certainly encourage those who think their cadets would benefit to take advantage of this, and that's really the reason this is a center, and not simply a project (within our department)."
Among its achievements, the CNRCD has already seen its director-Dr. John Farr-and two of his colleagues deploy to Afghanistan, five capstones and a cadet honor thesis in progress. The CNRCD is currently working toward sending cadets to countries of long-term strategic interest for a cultural immersion study-abroad program.
The first of the center's two components, Nation Reconstruction, is a function the American military has performed throughout history-Europe, Korea, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan-and will continue to do in the foreseeable future. The other, Capacity Development, is a bit more complex.
"The formal definition of capacity building, or development, refers to assistance that is provided to entities, usually societies in developing countries, which have a need to develop a certain skill or competence or for general upgrading of performance ability," Farr said. "In many ways this is a bigger challenge than simply building schools or roads. We must develop a country's capacity to sustain these investments long-term."
This latter component is what brought Farr, Maj. Brian Sawser and Lt. Col. Kenneth McDonald, the Center's associate director, to Afghanistan in December 2010. While there, they taught a class in a former indoctrination center used by the Taliban in Kabul while exploring potential opportunities for relevant and connected cadet projects.
An economic development model was developed jointly with US Forces Afghanistan, which they forwarded to the State Department. This also provided the basis for a systems analysis capstone.
Funding for research and capstones to date has come from the Assistant Chief of Staff Installation Management and the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which sponsor cadet projects with the Stability Operations Center, U.S. Institute for Peace and United States African Command.
Currently, SE provides support to the CNRCD for procurements and travel issues, while most of the capstones are being executed through the sponsorship of various systems engineering educational programs.
The CNRCD's website, also being designed by cadets, is currently being populated with resources, tools and information about the center and will serve as a resource portal for the Army.
Other cadet projects include:
Aca,!Ac Conflict indicators for Africa;
Aca,!Ac Systems analysis of illicit transportation networks in Central America;
Aca,!Ac Designing the study abroad program focusing on cultural immersion;
Aca,!Ac Resource prioritization model for Afghanistan.
The CNRCD office is located on the fourth floor of Mahan Hall, one floor above the Operations Research Center, which was critical in the development of the CNRCD.
"Without support from the ORCEN, the CNRCD would have never happened," Farr said. "Lt. Col. Paul Kucik, the ORCEN director, took the early lead on developing the justification and overview briefings (among other things)."
The idea for the CNRCD was more than a year in the making, Farr said, to determine if the center would be viable to West Point and the Army. The center was vetted to the Departments of Defense and Army plus other government and non-government organizations. George Mason University organized a round table on Capitol Hill to discuss the CNRCD. All of this was needed to hone the center's mission while building relationships with those who would support it.
"I think to start a center at West Point you need to have two critical elements. First and foremost it needs to make sense for it to be located at West Point. It needs to be strongly tied to cadet education and something the faculty can be passionate about," Farr said. "Secondly, there needs to be a strong need proponent within the Army."
The center's mission statement gives its focus as taking interdisciplinary and systems approaches in their work. The operative word in all this is interdisciplinary, Kewley said. If it wasn't in the forefront of their mission, it would fail. Kewley said the nation reconstruction problem is unique in that it requires interdisciplinary solutions.
That might mean a study-abroad trip, an advanced individual academic development trip and capstone involving potentially a systems engineer cadet, a computer science cadet, a mechanical engineer cadet and another majoring in a foreign language, all working toward the same mission, for example.
"West Point is uniquely qualified to tackle this role because of our military focus and our broad curriculum," McDonald said. "Also, our rotating faculty has all dealt with these problems during recent deployments. In essence, a third of our faculty are subject matter experts."
Farr, who also teaches engineering management, came to West Point in 1992 and was among the first civilian instructors at the academy. He left in 2000 to start a systems engineering department at the Stevens Institute of Technology and returned to West Point last summer. Farr said he was excited to return and credits the faculty and staff to be among the most dedicated and sharpest minds he's worked with. He believes the CNRCD has the potential to yield great results for West Point, the Army and the international community.
"One of the problems with the whole nation reconstruction arena is that the community is very fragmented," Farr said. "I hope that in 10 years West Point will be viewed as having helped bring all of the stakeholders together so they can work jointly. This truly is an international problem that requires interagency, government and non-governmental organizations and interdisciplinary solutions."