NDISC Spotlight: Ryan Spees '23

Author: Notre Dame International Security Center

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The Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC) is proud to provide an International Relations and Foreign Policy education to students at every step of their academic journey. We also know that every student's story is different and they take different paths that lead them to Notre Dame and to NDISC. From San Diego to South Bend and from the US Marine Corps to NDISC, one such story is that of Ryan Spees, Class of 2023. We were excited to talk to Ryan as he shares his story.


Describe your personal background and why you chose Notre Dame.  

Coming from Ramona, a small town in San Diego, school was never my main interest, but I have always wanted to join the military because of my family’s deep history of service since the Revolutionary War. I decided to enlist after high school and my career in the Marine Corps began in 2014.  

I was stationed on Camp Pendleton as an Intelligence Analyst for the duration of my 5-year active-duty enlistment, beginning at 1st Combat Engineer Battalion where I was depended on for tactical level intelligence and enemy situation briefings. I was also able to deploy with a combat engineer company for a fast-paced security mission in Oman, where I ran the intelligence section for a Base Defense Operations Center. 

During this time, Lindsey, my fiancé, helped me enroll in my first online college classes and while school was never my strong suit, I told the Battalion Career Planner that if I were to go to college, Notre Dame was the only place that drew my interest.  

My next orders were to 1st Intelligence Battalion where I operated at the strategic level, looking at adversarial ICBM testing, grand military strategy and strategic interests, and the present threats between the US and its challengers. In in late 2018, I was ordered to a Special Purpose-Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP-MAGTF) to South America. The experience expanded my interest in international relations and security issues. 

By 2019, I had completed 5 years of active-duty service, and Lindsey was looking to start law school. I chose to reenlist in the Marine Corps Reserves and enrolled in my local community college full time so that I could transfer wherever she decided to go for Law School. When she was accepted to the University of Notre Dame, I couldn’t have been more excited. I was also thankfully accepted for transfer and began as a junior in the fall of 2022, and I have enjoyed every second.  


What made you interested in pursuing Political Science and International Relations?  

As an intelligence analyst, I’ve focused on strategy, military conflicts, security issues, and interests as they relate to military operations. Political Science and International Relations are both necessarily intertwined with the field of military intelligence. Notre Dame, and more specifically NDISC, have provided high quality classroom opportunities that have supplemented my prior hands-on experience.  


How did you find out about NDISC?

Now that we were married, Lindsey was considering her offers for law school; we also considered which schools had undergraduate programs that aligned with my interests. The Notre Dame International Security Center was strides ahead of its competition. I was extremely interested in the undergraduate fellowship and certificate program as it provided an opportunity to bolster my degree with defense and security centric courses that are relevant to a career in defense intelligence. Additionally, the unique opportunities to meet with distinguished fellows and national leaders alongside students who share my interests presented a sense of community and support. 


What's your favorite class?

Thus far, I’ve had US National Security Policymaking, US Foreign Policy, Great Power Politics After the Cold War, and am currently enrolled in The Science and Strategy of Nuclear War, Ethics of Emerging Weapons Technologies, and Webb’s War: Vietnam and After (an NDISC-only class). 

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Always a Marine. Ryan (pictured in the green hoodie at our annual Small Unit Leadership Exercise) has established himself as a leader among his cohort

The Science and Strategy of Nuclear War co-taught by Prof. Desch of NDISC and Prof. Bardayan of the Physics Department offers students insight into the scientific development, social and political implementations of nuclear weapons. Also discussed is Countervalue and Counterforce Targeting which aids in assessing adversarial capabilities, making threat assessments, and determining an adversary’s situation dependent course of action. 

My favorite class so far has been US Foreign Policy, taught by Prof. Lindley. While challenging, it taught many of the theories and trends of international relations and security issues. The Russia-Ukraine War became a real time case study that allowed me to combine my professional skillset with the course material to write my papers. 


How has your experience in the Marines informed your time at NDISC?  

I enjoy contributing my own perspectives to our discussions. I believe my experience from the Marine Corps has given me the ability to pose unique questions during our lectures or speaker events. Many of the topics are things that I’ve had exposure to in the Marines, and I’m interested in seeing how my experience fits within the academic view of the field.  


How do you apply your learning from NDISC into your role as an Intelligence Analyst?  

NDISC has significantly contributed to my role as an intelligence analyst. I currently serve as the Senior Intelligence Analyst within my Detachment and am tasked with the intelligence training for 37 Marines. I work with our Master Analyst to build training plans and I regularly incorporate lessons learned from NDISC so that our Marines can improve their own analyses and intel products.  


How have you grown in the NDISC program?  

NDISC has changed how I view the decisions of international actors and I truly believe I am a more well-rounded analyst. It’s extremely important that spaces exists where ideas and voices, regardless of age or experience, may be free flowing and NDISC provides such a forum. I was immediately impressed (and intimidated) by the caliber of students and faculty involved in NDISC. I quickly felt the invitation to engage and contribute and their support has allowed me to hone the professional and analytical skills needed to be effective in the Intelligence Community. 


What would you tell someone who was considering NDISC?   

I believe NDISC is a great fit for most interests and degree paths. First, NDISC is greatly intertwined with engineering, science, and technology, as we routinely approach subjects such as the military industrial complex, conventional military capabilities, and newly emerging or improving technology. Just a few examples are cyber, UAVs, artificial intelligence, and Chemical/ Biological/Nuclear/Radiation weapons. Even someone in economics would benefit from our discussions about power (economic and political), economic coercion methods, and international trade and markets. The network built within NDISC alone is enticing enough.  


The faculty and staff at NDISC are proud to be a part of Ryan's story. We're also excited to be part of yours! To learn more, contact us.