OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - Six Global Innovation and Strategy Center (GISC) interns from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln revealed the results of a four-month long communications study at the U.S. Strategic Command GISC facility on April 26.
The interns explored methods of communication in the Pan-Sahel Africa countries of Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. The increasing global interest in Africa has led to a desire to find effective ways to deliver credible information to a local population.
""We narrowed [the topic] down with demographics,"" said Keith Roland, a student earning his master's degree in political science. He said the interns chose Muslim youth as the target communications audience.
According to Christopher Kerr, a UNL master's student with a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and minor in political science, the interns chose Muslim youth because they were the largest demographic among the Pan-Sahel African countries and because they are perceived as the future leaders of those countries.
As part of the study, Kerr said the team needed to find means of delivering credible information to the people in the countries rapidly and easily. They evaluated the communication environment to include government censorship levels, third-party influences, literacy rates and the communications infrastructure.
In their summary, the interns recommended the immediate use of a variety of communication tools to include recorded audio, billboards, national radio and community radio. Based on the environment, the interns concluded these communication tools would most effectively communicate messages to their target audience.
Gaining knowledge from various sources and locations for the project was made a bit easier by working at the GISC as opposed to working from the university setting.
""We had access to field experts while we were here,"" said Kerr. ""We identified the people we wanted to talk with and it was done. ""
A couple of experts they were able to talk with were Jason Beaubien, a National Public Radio foreign correspondent who spent more than three years reporting from Sub- and Trans-Sahara Africa and Dr. Frances Harding, a Department of Languages and Cultures of Africa professor from the University of London.
Two students also had the benefit of taking a trip to Washington, D.C. , to collect more data on the case study by way of the Smithsonian, Voice of America and other D.C. area resources.
Mr. Kevin Williams, GISC director, was pleased with the completion of the project. ""We had high expectations for the program,"" he said. ""The work [the interns have done] has advanced the ball in strategic communications. ""
""They struck me as a group of intelligent, highly motivated and energetic people,"" said Lt. Col. Jessica Meyeraan, Partnership Group deputy. ""Each student possessed strengths that contributed to the overall soundness of their report. The six of them delivered a product that was based on comprehensive research and solid analysis "" The result was a relevant collection of actionable recommendations. ""
Though Meyeraan logged the students in as ""temporary government employees,"" she said the GISC wanted the students to think on their own.
""We gave them the tools and technology,"" said Meyeraan. ""But, we tried not to over-guide them and allowed them to narrow down the topic. ""
She said she brainstormed with other joint forces commands in search of relevant or understudied topics for the interns. After the topic was formulated, different department heads at UNL were engaged. The university solicited students and they started with 12 to 15. After conducting interviews, the GISC leadership narrowed the group down to a six-student team. The majors of the students chosen ranged from Broadcasting and Philosophy to International Affairs and Political Science.
Meyeraan said the next internship project is set for the fall 2007 semester using University of Nebraska-Omaha students to explore two topics: challenges of space debris and tunnel detection. She expects the students chosen as interns will again come with technical and non-technical diversified majors.
EDITORS NOTE: For more information regarding this event, contact Major Tom Knowles, (402) 232-8997, U.S. Strategic Command public affairs.