Nick DiMichele, building on a degree he earned from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) and the opportunities that come with being a John S. McCain Strategic Fellow, is working with the Defense Department on Russian-Ukraine issues.
He hopes the experience will help carry him to a position in the Pentagon.
The McCain fellowship is a one-year civilian program designed to open a senior leadership career path in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). McCain fellows have their resumes passed around to different DoD offices, and then they receive job offers. Applicants can choose one position and stay for an entire year or they can rotate among departments over the course of the year.
“It’s a great opportunity to break into DoD and the Pentagon,” DiMichele said. “I think they really want to build out their senior leaders in this way. I see myself doing 20 years with DoD.”
DiMichele, 31, is urging UMGC students and graduates to look into the program, calling it “a pipeline to convert you into a full-time government employee.” Many UMGC graduates are military veterans with the tactical, boots-on-the-ground experiences that military planners in the Pentagon need in making strategic policy, DiMichele said. Already, one other UMGC graduate has been awarded a fellowship.
DiMichele, who grew up in Colorado, had taken only a few college courses when he enlisted in the Army in 2012. Over nine years, he did active duty in Alaska, Italy, and North Carolina, attaining the rank of staff sergeant. He now serves in the Virginia National Guard.
All along, he knew he wanted a college degree. He said he sought out UMGC because of its reputation for helping active-duty servicemembers succeed. He finished a Bachelor of Science in Political Science in 2020, then went on to a master’s degree in international policy at the George Washington University and a graduate degree in policy management at Georgetown University. Now, he is pursuing a doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University.
One of the UMGC courses that stood out for him was “War, Morality, and Peace,” which examined what is necessary to justify going to war.
“Those are important questions that had a profound impact on me, understanding what is justified in war,” he explained. He said the course made him think about civilian service in support of the mission of the Department of Defense.
DiMichele started his fellowship in Executive Services, handling different types of correspondence for the secretary of defense, deputy secretary of defense, and executive secretary. Although the work helped him understand business practices within the departments, he decided to rotate into the Russia-Ukraine area of the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy.
“I have a strong interest in disinformation, and I want to understand the role that disinformation has in conventional warfare, specifically looking at the case study of the Russia-Ukraine war—how each side is using disinformation to influence the actions of the other side,” he said.
He began the assignment at the end of February and will remain with the office until his fellowship ends in October. From there, he expects to land a full-time DoD position.
Since UMGC is not a traditional university, putting a graduate on a trajectory to attain this kind of fellowship “speaks volumes of how UMGC sets you up for success,” DiMichele said. “I would love to see UMGC grads in these types of fellowships. I want to get the word out.”
The John S. McCain Strategic Defense Fellows Program—named for the former senator from Arizona—is designed to provide leadership development en route to a senior leadership career with the Department of Defense. More information can be found about it HERE.