Academics vs. Aliens:
Selected Essays on Social Science Research, Defense Education, and the Power of Partnerships 

Edited by Gwyneth Sutherlin 

Defense education has undeniably been at the heart of the Minerva research project, Defense Education Civilian University Research (DECUR) Partnership. Minerva, an organization focused on basic social science research, launched this pilot program in 2019 with the aim to:

Improve knowledge brought into the classroom; increase professional military education (PME) institutions’ ability to inform and help contribute to civilian social science dialogue; encourage and facilitate better connections across PME institutions for those experts with complementary intellectual and research interests; enhance civilian scientist awareness of critical social science challenges confronting the DOD; and encourage civilian academics to collaborate and engage with PME instructors and their students at PME institutions.1

The approach we took for the Understanding Chinese Influence project is called problem-based learning, which places the students at the center of the research. This framework allows practitioners to keep rigorously testing their ideas as their knowledge evolves. Learning in this manner with a host of partners who are experts in many fields is thrilling, but it is also challenging. Everyone speaks a different jargon and wants to pull the project in a different direction.

The book is divided into two sections of student essays that discuss the main goals of the program: the roles of partnership and social science education in PME. Each section is introduced by a reflection from one of our esteemed partners who worked on the project over the past two years. Eleven masters’ students contributed essays informed by their experience that comment on the broader topics of scientific innovation through collaboration, the role of social science research for national security, and how they would like to see PME take creative advantage of programs like Minerva DECUR.


1 “DECUR Partnership,” Minerva Research Initiative, available at <>.

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Academics vs. Aliens




Gwyneth B. Sutherlin and Veronica Wendt

Part I: The Role of Partnership and Collaboration in Research

Amy K. Sitze

Are Facts, Truth, and Trust Passé in the Age of Social Media?
Dawn Scott

The Missing Link: Efforts to Increase Collaborative Capacity
Michael L. Halligan II

The Convergence of Strength: Combining the Best of Academia and the Government
Tyler B. Harris

Toward Holistic Understanding in the Age of Convergence
Shawn M. Bault

Basic Social Science Research and Project-Based Learning for Strategic Leaders
Jericho J. Guzman

Part II: The Role of Social Sciences in Professional Military Education

Blaise Zandoli

A Case for Basic Research in Professional Military Education
Eric C. Danielsen

A Practitioner-Centric Approach to Making Sense of Chinese Influence 
Armand Cucciniello

Failure Is an Option Here
Christopher King

Bridging the Gap: Military, Civilian, and Industry
Patricia Pefley

Looking Forward: Improved Situational Awareness of Chinese Covert Online Influence
David E. Bolanos

The Nychthemeronic Hunt for Knowledge and Wisdom: Minerva and Her Owl
David P. Meadows


Gwyneth B. Sutherlin

About the Editor