Academics and Research

Sie fellowship allows Korbel student to pursue passion for international security

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Global Connection, an annual publication produced by the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

Ben Briese is a prime example of the high-caliber student selected for the Sié Fellowship, a two-year, full-tuition scholarship to the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies awarded each year to 10 outstanding master’s degree-seeking students. Briese brings to the Josef Korbel School and the Sié Chéou-Kang Center a wealth of experience and knowledge, enriching the intellectual enterprise of the school and center.

Briese is an MA candidate in the school’s international security program. He earned a BA summa cum laude from Saint John’s University in Minnesota. While at St. John’s, Briese nurtured his interest in international affairs through his coursework and by participating in a study abroad program in Nepal. While overseas, he completed his undergraduate thesis on the socioeconomic impacts of a road development project in the Himalayas.

After leaving St. John’s, Briese became interested in conflict and post-conflict societies. He completed an internship with the United Nations Development Programme in Bosnia-Herzegovina and volunteered for 10 months with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps in Israel. “In Israel,” Briese explains, “I lived and worked with a group of Benedictine monks on a grass-roots peace-building program which brought together Israelis and Palestinians to work through a process of dialogue and mutual understanding.”

In 2011, Briese landed a position with the France-based non-governmental organization Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED). He describes the organization as “an international NGO that implements a wide variety of humanitarian aid programs such as the provision of water, sanitation and shelter for refugee populations.” During his first six months with the organization, he worked at the Middle East regional office in Jordan, liaising with donor institutions and developing new project proposals. Then, he worked a year in war-torn Iraq doing monitoring and evaluation. “Our team worked throughout the country in five different provinces,” he says. “We implemented programs to build shelters for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Baghdad, vocational training projects in rural areas, and emergency aid to Syrian refugees fleeing into northern Iraq.”

Briese ended his tenure with ACTED in embattled Syria. “We were providing basic humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people in Syria who could not cross the border into Turkey,” he says. “I was part of a small assessment team which would go into new IDP settlements in Syria and assess the needs there in terms of water, food, shelter and medicine. Then, using GIS [geographic information system] information we collected and satellite images, we would create maps with our needs-assessments integrated and layered on top. This provided a really useful tool for other humanitarian organizations; it allowed them to understand where the greatest unmet needs were and allowed them to coordinate with each other to provide aid quickly while avoiding duplication.”

While working with ACTED—especially in Iraq and Syria—Briese says that “a Pandora’s Box of questions” opened. He adds, “I realized that humanitarian aid cannot address underlying problems. It’s basically a band-aid in these situations. My experiences in Bosnia, Iraq and Syria challenged me with a series of basic questions. How can societies transform from peaceful coexistence to brutal violence in such a short period of time? How should the international community respond? What should be the respective responsibilities of the UN and the U.S. in such situations?”

These questions prompted Briese to pursue a graduate degree, and today, he’s searching for answers to these questions at the Josef Korbel School. “I feel like the Josef Korbel School is a rising program in international affairs,” he says. “Korbel is a great place to pursue unique and interdisciplinary academic pursuits.”

At the school, Briese is a Sié Fellow working with Professor Deborah Avant’s Private Security Monitor research project. Briese, like the other Sié fellows, plays an important role in the center’s research projects and has the opportunity to work alongside its expert faculty members. “Dr. Avant is one of the leaders in the field of private security research, and she’s also involved us in wider conversations taking place in the policy community,” he says.

“Ben has been a valuable member of the student team currently mapping the role of private security throughout the world,” says Avant, director of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center. “He is not only plowing through one of the most tumultuous regions (the Middle East) but also made important methodological suggestions to make the project more efficient. Ben is a good example of the benefits of having smart and serious students working on Sié Center Research.”

The Private Security Monitor is a research project that promotes access to information concerning the worldwide use and regulation of private military and security services. “We are currently mapping where private security contractors work throughout the world, what types of activities they’re involved in as well as the various events and incidents which have been associated with private security contractors,” Briese says. “This will be the first comprehensive global picture of where private security companies are working and what they are doing. It’s quite an ambitious project, and there’s a lot of information to sift through, but the goal is to create a database which will enable future research of the private security sector.”

Recently, Briese was awarded the competitive Rosenthal Fellowship. The Rosenthal Fellowship provides graduate students in international affairs the opportunity to spend a summer in Washington, D.C., working on foreign affairs issues at a federal government agency or department. Through the fellowship, he will work with Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA). Sherman is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and serves as the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Briese says, “I’ll be working with the congressman’s office specifically on issues related to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, including preparing background documents and policy briefs.”

In 2015, Briese will complete his MA and will begin exploring the many options that lie before him. “Working in the State Department has always been a long-term interest of mine. But during my time at the Korbel School, I’ve learned that there are a lot of possible career paths that interest me. I’m looking forward to exploring a lot of different avenues.”

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