DLS Alumna Examines Global Conflict by Studying the Past

“I bookended my whole career at Georgetown,” said Army Col. Susan Bryant, who earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at the University (and two master’s degrees elsewhere).

By the time Col. Susan Bryant began looking for a doctoral program in the humanities, she had already served 18 years in the U.S. Army, lived a third of her life overseas, been a strategic planner in multiple offices at the Pentagon, and written weekly strategic assessments from Afghanistan that went directly to the White House.

Her educational background was equally impressive. A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, she had earned master’s degrees in International Relations and Operational Studies from, respectively, Yale University and Marine Corps University, and had taught International Relations at the United States Military Academy.

Yet despite all her education and experience, she found the dynamics of Afghanistan, her latest post, to be confusing. As Bryant put it: “I didn’t have a way to understand what I had just lived.”

To “understand what she had lived,” Bryant wanted to continue her education with a doctoral program that would help her put everything she had witnessed into multiple perspectives: political, historical, cultural, religious, and philosophical. She found that the only program that integrated these various disciplines was the Doctor of Liberal Studies (DLS) program at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies.

“The Doctor of Liberal Studies program provides the foundation and sets the agenda for the study of the humanities,” Bryant says. “To me, it was the only one that worked. It allows you to integrate all the different disciplines that Georgetown does so well.”

Envisioning the World in 2040

Last summer, Bryant was appointed to a new military post with a rather unwieldy job title that belies the critical importance of her work.

“I have the world’s most redundant job title,” she joked. “I am Chief of Staff for the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group.”

If that title sounds bureaucratic, the work is decidedly not. Bryant is part of a high-level group of Army strategists that is charged with predicting what the world will look like in 25 years, what the nature of the threats will be, and how U.S. defense strategy must evolve to respond to those threats. 

Like many big organizations, the military tends to “round the edges” of ideas it examines, Bryant said, throwing out “wild, weird, or innovative ideas” in favor of consensus-building. The new committee moves in the opposite direction.

“The Chief of Staff of the Army was trying to put together a group of unconventional thinkers,” Bryant said.

Of course, unconventional does not mean uninformed. The committee is examining some of the myriad reports and prognostications that stream from governments, universities, think tanks, and other entities around the world. Then it will cull, analyze, and synthesize this voluminous data to arrive at a coherent vision of the future.

Studying the Past, Predicting the Future

Collecting data from a wide range of disciplines, analyzing it, then integrating it, as much as possible, into a seamless whole—this sounds a lot like the kind of work that Bryant and the others in her doctoral cohort performed as DLS candidates.

Likewise, the subject of Bryant’s work—future threats to our three-centuries-old democracy—may not be that far removed from the study of Plato, Aristotle, and the Peloponnesian wars. It was this deeper level of knowledge, after all, that Bryant sensed she needed when she returned from Afghanistan in 2008, and that she’s putting to good use now.

“I taught Susan Introduction to Philosophy when she was an undergraduate at Georgetown, and then again in the Foundational Seminar,” said Francis J. Ambrosio, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Georgetown’s Doctor of Liberal Studies program. “What has not changed over those several decades was her sharp intelligence and openness to the idea that the most fundamental questions of human living have not changed since the Greeks, and that liberal education is the most effective way to prepare leaders who can enable society to effectively address the challenges those questions still pose today.”

The Georgetown University Doctor of Liberal Studies degree program is the first doctorate in Liberal Studies in the United States, and the first nontraditional doctorate at Georgetown.