Hacking for Defense course teaches students skills to solve national security challenges


Courtesy of Kristyn Smith

Students from the ID 752 Prototyping course use cardboard boxes to build toasters for an activity.

In the era of education during COVID, college students are having to trade a lot of hands-on activities for Zoom calls and discussion boards. But a new course is still providing students with hands-on activities while keeping students safe and providing them with a quality education.

Kristyn Smith is one of the instructors for the course. She said that the course is designed to get students from diverse backgrounds to come together as one in order to try and solve some of America’s toughest national security challenges. 

In the class, students will be pitched a problem statement and then as a group will brainstorm and build an idea, create a prototype, then pitch the idea to the Department of Defense. 

“There is a great benefit from getting students from different programs that learn differently or have different insights or backgrounds to kinda build an idea together as a team,” Smith said.

The course has minimal lecture time and leans heavily on hands-on opportunities. In Smith’s experience, that makes students even more motivated to learn.

Smith said that students will also become stronger public speakers and better interviewers.

“Interviewing is something that— no matter what degree you’re in or what area of life you move into after college— it’s very important to be able to talk to someone, ask them questions, and get relevant information that can help you move forward,” Smith said.

Through the course, Smith also hopes that students will learn how to see different perspectives than their own.

“Not all the time do we get that opportunity to have empathy for others and I think whichever way you go in life, it’s really important to have empathy in planning things and building relationships,” Smith said.

Smith said that along with learning how to communicate with people who don’t think the same, students will also be able to build friendships with students they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have otherwise.

Students will also have the opportunity to work with industry partners.

“Once they finish this course, it would be great if their idea got picked and they got to move forward and actually launch a business around this, if they are interested in doing it, that would be fantastic,” Smith said.  “That would be a reach goal.”

Smith said her favorite part of teaching the course is being able to watch students grow in their abilities. 

“I’m excited for that ‘glow-up’, which sounds silly, but that really truly is my favorite part of teaching anything, and I think this hacking for defense class is going to be transformative for a lot of people from start to end,” Smith said.

For more information on the course, the syllabus is available on WSU’s website.