Sparling loved history when she came to UVA, especially the complex history of the Cold War. But the more she studied, the more she knew she wanted to be at the decision-makers’ table. She expanded her studies into economics to widen her skillset and started applying for national security internships in 2020.
Her journey to Fiji began with an internship at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C.
“I had a lot of opportunities to work on research projects. I did one focused on artificial intelligence and national security,” she said. “That experience, and getting to meet so many amazing women working in the field, helped me figure out what working in this policy area looking like in practice.”
After her internship, she took a Batten course, Innovating for Defense, with John Robinson, the National Security Policy Center’s director of academic programs, offered in partnership with the National Security Innovation Network.
“I was with a team; we were partnered with USCYBERCOM [created in 2009 at the National Security Agency headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland], working on a semesterlong project to develop a framework to evaluate partners for cyber-cooperation in Africa,” Sparling said.
Robinson said Sparling is an excellent student, but what really sets her apart is her ability to confidently and compassionately lead others.
“Since 2018, roughly 250 undergraduate and graduate students have taken Innovating for Defense. I’m convinced that Maggie Sparling is the best team lead – and leader – I’ve seen in those five years. She is a rare young person who possesses exceptional intellectual and academic ability, but also the stamina, grit and desire to do the hard work of leading and helping others.”
Sparling also did a summer fellowship in 2022 with X Force, a summer internship program at the National Security Innovation Network which works directly with military and national security leaders on mission-focused, real-world projects. In that role, Sparling worked with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, to evaluate Chinese activity in the “gray zone,” the murky space between peace and cooperation and armed conflict, in the Pacific Islands. From this experience, she met Lesley Wilhelm, who works at the Naval Surface Warfare Center – Indian Head Division. Wilhelm invited her to participate in a war game exercise.
“One of my teammates and I from the summer went up to Maryland after [fall semester] exams and briefed our research at a wargame in December,” Sparling said. “At the wargame, I met April Herlevi, who works at the Center for Naval Analyses and the National Bureau of Asian Research.”