National Security Innovation Network’s Azimuth pilot is a unique, mission-driven, for-credit university course that partners with Department of Defense (DoD) Mission Partners to deliver an opportunity for students to work on DoD challenges hands-on using innovation methodologies. This real-world problem solving allows students to hone new skills quickly and produce early-stage solutions that have the potential to create genuine impact. In Azimuth courses, interdisciplinary student teams are provided with real-world national security problems sourced from DoD agencies. Colorado State University cross listed this course between the Business School and Design School, and computer science students were invited to participate.

Colorado State University Senior, Tara Walsdorf, joins NSIN for a Q&A to discuss her experience in the NSIN Azimuth program and her excitement for the start of her summer with the NSIN X-Force Fellowship.


Name: Tara Walsdorf

University: Colorado State University

Major: Computer Science, minor in Design Thinking

NSIN: Tell us about yourself.

Tara: I am about to start my fifth year at Colorado State University, where I am studying Computer Science. In my second year, I started taking design courses and my advisor mentioned the NSIN-supported courses -- she told me that students have had great opportunities come out of these courses.

NSIN: How did Azimuth shape your next steps in college?

Tara: It was never something I considered, and I didn’t know what kind of options there were since there are so many different opportunities in computer science. Working in national security was not on my radar, but while taking this course, I was introduced to the opportunities in national security and defense technology which opened my eyes. My instructors and the NSIN staff showed me what could come out of this course, besides just the coursework itself. They helped me find the X-Force Fellowship program, which I am excited to be involved in.

The X-Force Fellowship is a summer program that provides student technologists and entrepreneurs a chance to serve their country by solving real-world national security problems in collaboration with the DoD. The fellowship is a 10-week, full-time (40 hours per week), paid opportunity where multidisciplinary student teams bring unconventional thinking and novel approaches to building solutions as embedded fellows within military commands.

NSIN: Can you walk us through how the Azimuth course was facilitated throughout the semester?

Tara: In the first portion of the semester, we had lecturers that taught us about how the government works and how important problem solving is for innovation and solution development. Once we received our problem statement, we were split into groups based on the problem space.

The problem space asked for each team to develop a mobile TOC (tactical operations center) to survive threats of large scale combat operations. The teams were assigned different operational environments to address -- I was on the Desert Team. Once we delved into designing the solution, we worked independently with shorter lectures that gave us background on the issue. During this time, we had short meetings with the DoD Mission Partner (with the 7th Special Forces Group) who could help steer us in the right direction. Some teams focused on a comms system, my team developed an inflatable structure for the desert that could allow for comms systems to be built inside.

We had speakers who came in throughout the Azimuth course. One shared our project specifications, another speaker spoke about the importance of creativity and asking the right questions, and an employee from the Space Force shared about their work.

NSIN: What was your favorite part of the Azimuth Course?

Tara: It was very different from other courses I have taken -- very memorable. My favorite part was how closely we had to work within a team in this course, but we were allowed freedom to make decisions and come up with our solution on our own. Once we developed our details, we started getting more feedback and it allowed us to determine how to please our ‘client’, the DoD Mission Partner, while maintaining our own idea and executing our vision.

NSIN: Now that Azimuth has wrapped up, you were selected from hundreds of applicants to participate in the X-Force Fellowship. Can you tell us about what you will be doing and what you are looking forward to?

Tara: I will be working with the Air Force in Colorado Springs and will be involved in the Cyber Wing. I have learned a lot about the technology issues that they are running into and the new technologies they are implementing. I am looking forward to learning more about national security and everything else to come as a Fellow.

Note: The problem statement Tara will be working on is: The 561st Network Operations Squadron works with many different organizations, and within the squadron are responsible for reporting to multiple different entities with different requirements for each internal department. This has caused information silos, which can result in bigger issues with achieving requirements. The unit is seeking students with experience in information flow to help identify sticking points and processes that may be outdated, then formulate, and propose an idea(s) for how those issues could be addressed.

About National Security Innovation Network

NSIN is a program office in the U.S. Department of Defense, nested within the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). We are set up to collaborate with a wide variety of innovators to include universities, researchers, students, entrepreneurs and start-ups. We create opportunities for collaboration across communities and connect those that might not traditionally work in national security. Together, we help drive national security innovation and develop technologies that directly support the individuals responsible for protecting our country.

For more information or interview requests with Team NSIN, please contact us at