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Dean’s Medal recipient blends Pentagon experience with doctoral studies

May 12, 2016 - BOSTON, MA. - Scenes during the College of Professional Studies Doctoral Hooding Ceremony held in Matthews Arena at Northeastern University on May 12, 2016. Hunter Hustus, Technical Advisor on Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Weapons Issues at the U.S. Air Force, received the Dean's Medal. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern UniversityMay 12, 2016 - BOSTON, MA. - Scenes during the College of Professional Studies Doctoral Hooding Ceremony held in Matthews Arena at Northeastern University on May 12, 2016. Hunter Hustus, Technical Advisor on Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Weapons Issues at the U.S. Air Force, received the Dean's Medal. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Through Northeastern’s Doctor of Law and Policy program, Hunter Hustus brought a critical real-world challenge from his workplace to his studies. That challenge involved nuclear deterrence decision-making, and his workplace is the Pentagon.

As he put it, “This is the ultimate form of an applied approach.”

Hustus served 20 years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, and is now the technical advisor to the deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration at the Air Force headquarters in Washington. This role involves research and analysis on nuclear deterrence issues and developing communications and advocacy strategies to build support for Air Force positions and programs.

As part of his doctoral program, Hustus, who spoke to fellow graduates Thursday morning at the College of Professional Studies doctoral hooding ceremony, created a web-based digital game to provide a safe and authentic space for nuclear weapons experts to evaluate options across various scenarios. His thesis project focused on the preferences of nuclear weapons experts—specifically, how they think about nuclear weapons issues and the elasticity of their positions.

“The DLP program improved my ability to develop, implement, and evaluate public policy,” Hustus said.

At Thursday’s ceremony Hustus, DLP’16, received the Dean’s Medal for Outstanding Doctoral Work, the highest award presented to the college’s doctoral candidates. He received his degree on Friday at the college’s graduation ceremony.

Hunter Hustus, with College of Professional Studies Dean Hunter Hustus, after receiving the Dean's Medal for Outstanding Doctoral Work. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Hunter Hustus, with College of Professional Studies Dean John LaBrie (right), after receiving the Dean’s Medal for Outstanding Doctoral Work. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Hustus noted that his work contributes to the field of serious digital gaming that is described by his doctoral advisor Casper Harteveld, assistant professor from the game design program in the College of Arts, Media and Design, as balancing “reality, play, and meaning.” His quasi-experiment enlisted experts from the government, think tanks, and universities.

He found that the preferences of, and conceptual frameworks used by, nuclear weapons experts are not fixed and can be influenced by participating in this type of game. He recommended adopting this type of policy exercise methodology, as well as more research through games, for nuclear deterrence efforts.

Hustus holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Connecticut State College and a master’s degree in political science from the University of South Dakota. His degree from Northeastern comes more than 20 years after earning his master’s, and he said the Doctor of Law and Policy model was a “perfect fit for me”—adding that he was surprised how much he learned and noting that the program allowed him to rethink what he already knew and develop new perspectives.

“I finished more aware of how much I still don’t know and I’m determined to never stop learning and applying my knowledge to public policy,” he said.

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