NDISC Alumnus Spotlight: Griffin Cannon ‘19

Author: Notre Dame International Security Center

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Griffin Cannon, Notre Dame Class of 2019, is among the first members of NDISC’s Undergraduate Certificate as part of his studies in International Security. As noted by our director, Dr. Michael Desch, Griffin is also “one of the most enthusiastic” about the Center and the education we teach to students who are interested in the field. It was because of this we were excited to sit down with Griffin to talk about his experiences both at Notre Dame and his life away from campus.  


Where are you from and why did you go to Notre Dame?  

I’m originally from Vermont and had heard about Notre Dame from various alumni in the family. At the end of high school, I decided to attend as a mechanical engineering student in the Navy ROTC program. The Navy program didn’t work out for medical reasons, and the engineering also fell by the wayside, but I stuck around and quickly found more than enough reasons to love the school. 


Why did you decide you wanted to study International Relations? 


From a young age, I’d been fascinated by history and foreign affairs. While I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to pursue the subject as a major, I hoped to take as many electives in the area as possible. After a semester of enjoying a history of national security elective, I decided to study political science. It didn’t take long—only a U.S. Foreign Policy course with Professor Dan Lindley—for me to be certain I’d made the right choice. 

At the end of my sophomore year, Professors Desch and Lindley encouraged me to apply for the undergraduate fellow program. 


Which class resonated with you most? 

I enjoyed all the courses, but the gateway course was particularly memorable. The complete focus on national security from obscure factoids about the development of the National Guard system in the interwar period to an end-of-course budget cycle simulation—I loved every minute. 


Both during and after your time at Notre Dame, you held internships at the Hudson Institute and then the Eisenhower School. What did you learn and how did NDISC prepare you for these internships? 

The internships both informed and were informed by the coursework at Notre Dame. On the one hand, they got me interested in the national security world and gave me a taste of the day-to-day in D.C. On the other, NDISC guest speakers, coursework, and professors gave a glimpse into the state of the art when it comes to the academic study of many of the same things, with frequent direct crossovers. Being exposed to that level of excellence through the courses and professors and speakers back at school only made everything I did in D.C. that much richer and vice versa. 

The material one learns at NDISC is widely read, and so is the faculty’s work. At the Eisenhower School, for instance, I learned that one of the instructors taught one of Professor Eugene Gholz’s books on military innovation in the classroom.  


You’re currently a Research Assistant at the US Senate. What are your day-to-day responsibilities? 

 While the job changes significantly over the course of the year-long NDAA cycle, what I learned is always helpful. NDISC gives you a grounding in such a great range of national security questions, as well as the particulars of how national security issues are actually addressed. It’s a set of skills and knowledge I constantly use. 

 One of the more valuable skills, not just for working on the Hill, but for anyone going into the field, is the ability to think with a broad perspective. One of the frequent charges against the policy community (or D.C. in general) is that it is inbox-driven, lost in the weeds, and unable to see the bigger picture. NDISC gave me the ability to step back from that type of thinking (knowing I’m sometimes guilty of it, myself) and think of serious policy questions from a different perspective. Where and when have states dealt with this type of problem before? What are similar cases where something totally different happened? Why did that happen the way it did? 

 Knowing how to tell a causal story and how to test it are important skills that are surprisingly rare. The type of critical thinking and historical context in any NDISC guest lecture or paper presentation is an incredibly valuable thing and worth holding on to wherever you go. 


You mentioned the Navy, and you spent time at the Naval War College in the Fleet Seminar Program. What did you learn there? 

I’d always been interested in the Navy and when I heard I had the opportunity to attend the distance program with the War College, I jumped at it. While some of the course material is truly unique to the professional military education system, a great deal of it is not. Our Strategy and War course, for instance, hit many of the same notes as a Strategy seminar I’d been lucky enough to take with Professor Joe Parent. Other parts of the program also had echoes of NDISC: Professor Desch’s work on civil military relations was assigned reading at one point, and of course the professional military education system loves Clausewitz and Thucydides. 


What would you tell someone who is considering the NDISC program but isn't sure if it's the right fit? 

Try it! The program is an incredible opportunity and has something to offer for everyone. For some, it’s an interesting concentration to challenge you and expand your horizons. For others, it's where you find your passion and your people. You won’t regret it either way.