Alex Olsen MPP 2018 is developing a model for meditation-based resiliency training for U.S. military members and veterans.
By Katie Gibson
May 22, 2018
Mental health and the military don’t always go together. But Alex Olsen MPP 2018 believes they should. During his time at HKS, the Salt Lake City native has begun developing a model for meditation-based resiliency training for U.S. military members and veterans. We spoke to Olsen about his work and future plans.
What brought you to Harvard Kennedy School?
I came to HKS from the Air Force Academy, after a two-year humanitarian mission in Armenia. I’m a lot younger than most of my classmates. That can be intimidating, but I also felt like I had a lot to learn from them. I wanted to develop my leadership and communications skills, and the Kennedy School has definitely been a good place to do that.
You received the Cheng Fellowship at HKS (through the Center for Public Leadership), and you’re working on developing mindfulness training for veterans and active military members. Tell us more about that?
Mental health issues are so common in the military—much more common than they should be. I believe we need to prepare people for the hard times they’ll face during their military service, and we also need to address issues of PTSD for those vets who suffer from it. I’m working on a coaching model that pairs veterans with active duty military members to offer personalized coaching and workouts. We look at the whole person: physical, mental, emotional.
The Cheng Fellowship has been great. It’s given me a chance to “fail fast,” as they say. I’ve been able to build a foundation for my organization, and look at it from a social entrepreneurship perspective. I’ve learned to ask good questions, define the problem I want to solve, and think about both the business side and the mental health side of this project.
Meditation is a key component of your program. Why is that?
Meditation has been repeatedly proven to help mitigate stress and PTSD. I’ve found it to be tremendously helpful in my own life. Here at HKS, I co-founded a well-being society for students, and we’ve been running weekly meditation sessions this year.
How has your time at HKS helped prepare you for your next step?
I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to practice speaking and writing here, in my classes and workshops. Now I’ll get a real-world chance to apply some of these skills. I also love the diverse community here at HKS; you meet people from everywhere. The Kennedy School community is so passionate about purpose—that’s the spirit of ‘Ask what you can do.’ It lifts everyone up.
What’s next for you?
My wife, who is also active duty Air Force, and I will be stationed in St. Louis, Missouri. I’ll be serving out my assignment while also working to get this coaching program off the ground. I’m looking forward to building partnerships between the military and the public and nonprofit sectors to bring this training to a wider number of people.