Mason’s High-Level Stand-Ins Give Authenticity to ‘15 Minutes with POTUS’

Posted: June 11, 2013 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: June 13, 2013 at 6:43 am

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 By Buzz McClain


White House Situation Room. White House photo by David Bohrer

Think of it as “‘American Idol’ meets national security,” with the president of the United States (POTUS) and two top advisors sitting behind the judges’ desk deciding which urgent policy briefing is the best — for a cash prize, and in front of a live audience.

That’s the premise of “15 Minutes with POTUS,” a national contest presented by George Mason University’s School of Public Policy (SPP), taking place Friday, June 14, at 7 p.m. at George Mason’s Founders Hall Auditorium in Arlington, Va. Admission is free but RSVPs are required.

The real POTUS will not be present in Mason’s mockup of the Situation Room; instead, Charles S. Robb, former senator and governor of Virginia (and a distinguished visiting professor at Mason’s SPP), will serve in the role of commander in chief. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency (also a distinguished visiting professor at SPP) will serve as the national security advisor, and Mason public policy professor Janine Davidson, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, will be secretary of defense.

“We’re not allowing PowerPoint or presentation technology,” says Mason public policy professor Jeremy Mayer, who originated the contest. “We want the words and the oral presentation skills to carry the day. It’s a great opportunity for the students to show what they can do.”

Mason received more than 40 entries from policy programs around the country. The finalists are William Scheffer, a senior from the University of Michigan; Connor Goddard, a junior from Northeastern University; and a team of three master’s students from Mercyhurst University, David Krauza, Lisandra Maisonet Montanez and Gregory Marchwinski II.

The briefings delve into demanding and dangerous high-profile topics — including China-North Korea relations, deweaponizing Iran and options for American involvement in Syria. The students, who have submitted 10 pages of written briefings, will have 15 minutes to advocate for their position and respond to questions from the panel. The winner takes home $1,500; there is a $500 prize for the audience’s choice.

Write to Robin Herron at

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