Design for Defense – HON 481

The effort to integrate the Azimuth Program into the curriculum of the Honors College at Marshall University represents a pioneering collaboration that transcends traditional academic boundaries, fostering innovation and problem-solving skills with a focus on national security. This initiative aligns seamlessly with our mission of enhancing the student experience through practical, real-world applications and interdisciplinary collaboration. In the Honors College, we endorse work that contributes to peace and security through understanding and innovation. In Azimuth, students will engage with complex challenges, learning to navigate and solve issues that can positively benefit national and global communities. This program offers an unparalleled opportunity to work alongside experts from the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) and the Department of Defense (DoD), gaining insights into the interplay between technology, policy, and ethics. It embodies our commitment to promoting collaboration, preparing students for impactful careers and informed citizenship in an interconnected world. Integrating Azimuth underscores our dedication to developing forward-thinking leaders who are ready to address tomorrow’s challenges today.

HON 481 SpTp: Design for Defense

Beginning Fall 2024, the Honors College will offer a new course titled “Design for Defense” as HON 481 (a Special Topics course) to honors students. At first, it will be in a “pilot” phase with the intent to develop this and other offerings in and trough the Honors College and the broader university.

Design for Defense brings students straight into the dynamic world of work on national security challenges, partnering directly with Department of Defense (DoD) personnel and agencies. This course is more than an academic endeavor; it’s a mission-driven experience where students leverage innovative practices to address real problems, embodying the college’s commitment to impactful experiential learning. Students will form teams, acting as think tanks that apply cutting-edge innovation methodologies—Lean Startup, Design Thinking, and Systems Thinking—to navigate complex issues. The course is structured around the Innovation as a Learning Process framework that guides participants through a cyclical and iterative journey from observing and noticing, framing and reframing, imagining and designing, to experimenting and making. This hands-on approach is enhanced by regular engagements with Mission Partners, fostering professional connections and deepening understanding of the defense landscape. Through rigorous research and varied data collection methods, over the course of the semester teams will collaboratively craft early-stage solutions, culminating in a deliverable that has the potential to make a genuine impact. This course will provide students with invaluable innovation skills while instilling a sense of shared purpose, preparing them for future challenges and opportunities across a multitude of fields.


National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) and the Azimuth Program (developed by the NSIN and in a “pilot” phase) are initiatives within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) focused on innovation and problem-solving in national security contexts. Azimuth, under the auspices of NSIN, represents a collaborative effort to integrate the innovative and problem-solving capabilities of academic institutions into the national security domain, providing both educational benefits to students and strategic advantages to the DoD.

National Security Innovation Network (NSIN)

  • Role in the DoD: NSIN is a program office within the DoD, nested within the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).
  • Purpose: The NSIN is set up to foster collaboration between the DoD and a wide array of innovators, including universities, researchers, students, entrepreneurs, and startups.
  • Goals: Its primary goals are to drive innovation in national security and develop technologies that support the individuals responsible for protecting the country.
  • Collaborative Approach: NSIN creates opportunities for collaboration across different communities, connecting entities that might not traditionally work in national security sectors.
  • Programs: NSIN develops and manages programs like the Azimuth Program, which are designed to bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to the DoD while offering educational and professional development opportunities to students and faculty in participating universities.

Azimuth Program

  • Objective: The program aims to engage students in addressing real-world national security challenges using innovation methodologies.
  • Curriculum Integration, Learning Outcomes, and Impact: Azimuth is a flexible 300-400 level course, adaptable to existing curricula. It emphasizes real-world experience, innovation methodologies, and teamwork. The course aims to foster subject matter expertise and tangible early-stage solutions, enhancing student careers and potentially leading them into the national security field. Azimuth involves interdisciplinary student teams working on complex problems provided by the DoD. The course follows an “Innovation as a Learning Process” framework, which includes steps like observing and noticing, framing and reframing, imagining and designing, making and experimenting.
  • Student Selection and Preparation: There are no prerequisites for Azimuth. The program targets students interested in mission-driven learning and aims to diversify the national security talent pipeline.
  • Faculty Involvement: Azimuth requires universities to assign dedicated faculty. NSIN supports establishing Mission Partner relationships and provides teaching materials. Faculty can utilize the provided curriculum flexibly and receive training and ongoing support from NSIN team members. Classroom management parallels other upper-level courses.
  • Flexibility and Scalability: Azimuth is designed to be scalable and flexible, allowing it to fit into various institutional contexts and to serve as a pathway from academic programs to capstone experiences and potentially to careers, including working with contracting partners from the program.
  • Sustainability and Growth: Azimuth advocates a one-to-one classroom-Mission Partner model, enabling deep engagement and potential for long-term collaboration. It supports multiple concurrent courses and inter-university collaborations.
  • Benefits: For students, Azimuth offers the opportunity to work directly with DoD personnel and agencies on national security issues, allowing them to gain valuable innovation skills, make professional connections, and create impactful deliverables. For DoD Mission Partners, it provides fresh perspectives on challenges and potential early-stage solutions.