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Ambassador William J. Burns

Stephen Ressler, Ph.D.

Thom Shanker


Ambassador Burns’ photo taken by Brigitte Lacombe

William J. Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of the national bestseller, The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal (Random House, 2019). He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2014 after a thirty-three-year diplomatic career, as only the second serving career diplomat in history to become deputy secretary of state. Prior to his tenure as deputy secretary, Ambassador Burns served from 2008 to 2011 as undersecretary for political affairs. He was ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs from 2001 to 2005, and ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001. Ambassador Burns earned a bachelor’s degree in history from La Salle University and master’s and doctoral degrees in international relations from Oxford University, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar. He and his wife, Lisa, have two daughters.

Stephen Ressler, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). A registered Professional Engineer in Virginia, he earned a B.S. from West Point, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University, and a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He served for 34 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and retired at the rank of Brigadier General in 2013. While on active duty, he served in a variety of military engineering assignments around the world. In 2007, he deployed to Afghanistan to create a civil engineering program for the newly created National Military Academy of Afghanistan in Kabul.
      Dr. Ressler is passionate about communicating the joys of engineering to inquiring minds of all ages. His three video lecture series — Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures, Understanding Greek and Roman Technology, and Everyday Engineering — are among the most highly-rated offerings in The Great Courses’ 600-course catalog. He served as an on-screen expert for the Discovery Channel documentary Superweapons of the Ancient World: The Ram and Blink Films’ The Real Trojan Horse, which aired on PBS in 2015. His award-winning Bridge Designer software has been used by over two million middle-school and high-school students worldwide. He is also a developer and principal instructor for the ASCE Excellence in Civil Engineering Education Teaching Workshop, which has provided teacher training to more than 500 civil engineering faculty members from over 200 colleges and universities.
      Dr. Ressler has received numerous national-level awards from the ASCE and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), including the 2011 ASCE Outstanding Projects and Leaders Award — the society’s highest honor.

Thom Shanker is the National Security and Foreign Policy Editor for The New York Times Washington bureau. He joined the editing ranks in 2014 after serving for thirteen years as Pentagon correspondent for The Times, covering the Defense Department, deployed military forces and national security issues. He has made dozens of reporting trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, including embed assignments with Special Operations forces and units from squad though corps command.

He is co-author of Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda, a New York Times bestseller.

Before joining The Times in 1997, he was foreign editor of The Chicago Tribune. Mr. Shanker was The Tribune’s senior European correspondent, based in Berlin, from 1992 to 1995. Most of that time was spent covering the wars in former Yugoslavia, where Mr. Shanker was the first reporter to uncover and write about the Serb campaign of systematic mass rape of Muslim women.

He spent five years as The Tribune’s Moscow correspondent, covering from the start of the Gorbachev era to the death of the U.S.S.R. and the collapse of the communist empire in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Shanker attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, studying strategic nuclear policy, international law and public diplomacy. He serves as a nonresident senior fellow at the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World, based at Tufts University. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Colorado College, and was awarded an honorary doctor of laws by the college.