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Indiana University

Steven Tomaszewski (MPA '10)

MPA December 2010

In the movie Little Miss Sunshine, the son in the family is crushed when he learns that he’s colorblind and can’t fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot. SPEA graduate student Steven Tomaszewski had a similar experience, but instead of becoming discouraged, he was excited about the new opportunities that opened up.

“I didn’t know I was colorblind until I enlisted with the Air Force after high school,” he says. “Out of the 230 jobs on their list, that brought the number I was qualified for down to 30. But it turned out I have an aptitude for languages, so I was selected to become an Arabic linguist.”

After basic training, the Air Force sent Tomaszewski to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. He did so well that he was transferred to the Air Force Academy to complete a bachelor’s degree in political science. He expected to ship out to Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas after graduation, but received a last-minute offer to attend graduate school.

“It was literally five weeks before graduation,” Tomaszewski recalls. One of his professors, who was affiliated with the academy’s Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies, had tracked down some funding that would allow Tomaszewski to complete a master’s program. “He told me, ‘All you’ve got to do is find a program that will accept you.’”

Tomaszewski put together a list of universities, with SPEA among his top picks. “Time and time again SPEA is always ranked at the top of the list for public policy,” he explains. “I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I knew how great it would make me look to have come here.”

Fortunately, the Air Force Academy already had ties with SPEA dean John Graham, who had previously been dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School (part of the RAND Corporation historically associated with the United States armed forces). Graham was sympathetic to Tomaszewski’s rushed application process, even after he learned that Tomaszewski had only 18 months to complete his master’s.

“SPEA really worked with me to apply to the program, and then to tailor a course of study specifically for me, which I guarantee I could not find anywhere else in the country,” Tomaszewski says.

Not only was Tomaszewski on a limited timetable, he also had a highly unusual area of interest: outer space policy. His interest in international relations – specifically with Arab nations – had led to an appreciation of the crucial role of outer space technology that can gather intelligence without violating a country’s airspace.

International policy regarding the space above the earth’s atmosphere is hazy and underdeveloped, Tomaszewski explains. He views outer space technology as the future of military operations, but says that outer space policy has not yet emerged as an area of academic study.

Because of the broad applicability of SPEA’s courses, however, he has been able to concentrate on outer space while learning more generally about public policy. For example, in a budgeting class, he analyzed NASA’s finances. In a public management class, he looked at intercontinental ballistic missile shield programs. For his summer internship, he worked as a consultant for Crane Naval Base to determine the feasibility of utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles.

“I’ve been able to use this program to push the limits of what a SPEA degree can look like and empower somebody to do,” he says. He praises the SPEA faculty and administration for their willingness to help him adapt the program to his interests. “They have been great with pushing their comfort zone and tailoring the program to my needs and the needs of the Air Force and the country.”

Tomaszewski explains that SPEA’s “real-world” approach has allowed him to dive into pressing issues facing the United States military. “SPEA does a great job of emphasizing the need to tackle current problems head-on and come up with solutions that are actionable,” he says. “It really opens up your thought process and prepares you for the work you’ll be doing in the future.”

For Tomaszewski, that work could include anything from briefing domestic pilots on potential terrorist threats to serving abroad as a policy analyst. No matter what it entails, he says, SPEA has given him the tools to succeed.

“I’m going to take the skills I learned at SPEA and have an edge up wherever my career takes me,” he says. “I’m going to be a better officer and serve my country better because of my experience here.”