Political science major presents at U.S. Strategic Command conference

  • Abby Cawley headshot
  • Abby Cawley headshot

Senior political science major Abby Cawley recently presented on Flashpoints as Consequences of American and Chinese Sharp Power at the U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence and Assurance Academic Alliance Conference and Workshop. The conference and workshop aim to strengthen the collaboration and interactions between defense and academic institutions. 

Cawley became interested in the conference after her advisor, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Nate Smith, brought the event to her and her classmates' attention. "The topic [of the conference] excited me, and I was going to be able to use knowledge from my Nebraska Wesleyan classes and my recent study abroad experience in South Korea. It was a neat opportunity to network, learn about the field, and improve my writing and presenting skills," said Cawley. The theme of this year's virtual conference was Redlines, Grey Zones and the Reframing of Great Power Competition.

The project

The basis of Cawley's paper focused on international security, particularly that between China and the United States. Her thesis, in part, read: 

Abby Cawley presentation

The use of sharp power is gaining prominence in international relations by China and the US, reducing the effectiveness of deterrence as visible through the increase of flashpoint areas where both countries feel threatened. Sharp power only increases deterrence when there are no great power or neighboring states to take issues with it.

Experiential learning and opportunities 

Cawley noted that working on the research paper provided her with the experience she needed to be a better writer and presenter - while being able to apply her coursework to the real world. 

Prof. Smith sees direct correlation between NWU's political science coursework and student opportunities. "I think so much is happening right now politically that being informed about these issues is crucial," said Prof. Smith. "Specifically with international security type topics, like what Abby wrote about, the U.S. is finding itself in a position where its dominance in the world is being challenged. Strategic interactions become really important. Our political science courses at Nebraska Wesleyan prepare students to tackle these really big and important issues. It's so cool when someone like Abby does exactly that!"

Abby Cawley headshot

Cawley encourages her fellow students to stay in good communication with their advisors and to always take advantage of opportunities, even if you don't feel qualified. She shared that, "presenting alongside people who have life experiences in the field" can be intimidating, but in actuality "it ends up being a group of people who share common interests and passions." 

"Abby has grown so much as a scholar while at NWU," Prof. Smith continued. "She is naturally a quiet person but don’t let that fool you - she has big thoughts and ideas which leads her to often contribute really insightful things. She has become somewhat of an expert in the security arena and it’s been really fun to see. When Abby and I talk about world events now, I speak to her more as a peer than a student as that is the level of knowledge and understanding she has."

Faculty support 

Along the way, Cawley received lots of support from Prof. Smith. "Before the conference, my advisor looked over a rough draft structure, answered questions of what to expect at the conference and offered to set up a mock presentation for me." He continued to offer information, revisions and suggestions along the way, ultimately positioning her for success. 

"Abby is one of the most positive and upbeat people I have ever met," Prof. Smith said. "This was a conference full of military and security professionals and Abby did a great job! She meets every challenge and setback with such a positive attitude – it is truly remarkable."


Learn more about the conference and workshop by visiting their website. Interested in political science? Take a look at Nebraska Wesleyan's political science department