Event Highlight

SIPA Hosts Secretary of the Navy

By David Sweeterman MPA ’23
Posted Dec 15 2022
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro joined a group of SIPA students for lunch on December 8.


The Honorable Carlos Del Toro, current secretary of the U.S. Navy, visited Columbia last week at the invitation of President Lee C. Bollinger. As part of Del Toro’s visit, SIPA hosted a lunch for selected students from the United States and other countries. The gathering included active and former military members in addition to civilians.

Among those who attended was SIPA student David Sweeterman MPA ’23, who prepared the following report for SIPA News.

As the self-described “CEO of the Navy,” Secretary Carlos Del Toro is responsible for manning, training, and equipping combat-ready forces to protect U.S. national security interests around the globe. The secretary is also responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies that are consistent with those established by the U.S. president and the secretary of defense regarding national security policies and objectives.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro spoke with a group of SIPA students at a lunch on December 8.
Policy professionals in a changing national-security environment must be flexible in their thinking, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told students.

After briefly describing his roles and responsibilities, Del Toro spent most of the lunch answering questions from the students in attendance. Their inquiries were wide-ranging: What is the most critical adversarial threat to the United States? How can the country maintain forces capable of confronting both state and non-state actors? How is the Navy addressing climate change? How can the armed services foster better civilian-military relations? Speaking on these topics and others, Del Toro provided key insights that may help diverse students as they move forward in their professional careers.

Among other things, Del Toro noted that the national security environment is always changing, which means new ideas and new technologies will be the key to maintaining a competitive edge. Therefore, professionals in the field of international and public affairs operating in the changing national security environment must be open to transformation, and not inflexible in their thinking and in policy development.

In an related observation, Del Toro underscored the paramount importance of strategic thinking. Professionals of international and public affair, he said, need to understand not merely the substance of critical issues, but also how those issues overlap with and relate to each other, and the effects that any policy might have on the status quo — both regionally and globally.

The secretary also said that we need to prioritize education and professional development in order to address the challenges of the future. Del Toro emphasized that each individual sets their own standard — for policy, for objectives, for the professional environment. Therefore, only by giving priority to education and development can we have the highest standards of practice and professionalism.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro speaks with SIPA student David Sweeterman.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro greets David Sweeterman MPA ’23.

Del Toro closed with a exhortation to perservere in the pursuit of goals, stressing the inherent value of doing so even in the face of difficulty and uncertain prospects of success.

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The luncheon with the Secretary of the Navy was a rare experience, and I am grateful for the chance to participate. To meet such a noteworthy leader in the field, gain insights on applying my education outside the classroom, and hear a few words of wisdom — it was one of those opportunities that not everyone gets, and makes you appreciate being at SIPA and Columbia all the more.