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In Conversation with TJ Lunardi

By Mary Cate Connors, Office of International Programs

TJ Lunardi joined the Office of the Provost on March 30, 2020 as the inaugural director of Princeton’s new Global Safety and Security unit (GS&S). Lunardi has dedicated much of his career to public service, and spent 15 years in the Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. Department of State. After moving to the private sector, Lunardi worked as the director of intelligence and crisis management at the Starbucks Corporation and, most recently, the director of global readiness and opportunity at Microsoft. As the director for GS&S, Lunardi will work with his team on global intelligence and risk management for the University, traveler preparation and education, and incident and crisis response.

You arrived at Princeton in the midst of a pandemic, when international travel was suspended and much of Princeton’s workforce was working remotely. What was that like for you?

I came into a situation where Kara Amoratis, [the associate director of Global Safety and Security], had done incredible work at the beginning of the pandemic when students were returning home. Princeton was just beginning to grapple with the fact that all of life had changed radically in the course of five weeks. 

That’s when questions turned from the visceral to the intellectual: How do we find some sort of stability? How do we approach this? What is [international] going to look like? It was a very rewarding moment to join the University. 

The Global Safety and Security unit was established before we had ever heard of COVID-19. What are the goals for this new unit, and how does the pandemic affect those goals?

International programming at Princeton has grown significantly and our goal is to step back and think, how do we effectively manage [that growth] and what is our philosophy [when thinking about travel]? The chief goal from there is to develop and deliver that philosophy at an institutional level. 

To build something like the GS&S unit, it shouldn’t matter if you do it in the middle of a pandemic or not, because the principles underlying the approach should be applicable no matter what the University is facing. If you’ve only built your program to work when things are good, then it’s not going to be a very durable program — especially in the safety and security realm.

What are the benefits to establishing a unit like the GS&S?

As a unit, we hope to establish a clear structure of what expectations are [in terms of travel], and an easy-to-access set of support structures. There will be a widely available, transparent set of standards and people will be able to spend less time thinking through all the basic logistics. GS&S will work to protect the University’s interests and longevity by bringing a much more [systematic] and sustainable approach to how we manage risk in the realm of international operations. 

We are building this new capability and structure in a way that will deliver across the diversity of the Princeton community and we hope that GS&S will serve as a multiplier. For faculty and administrators, this will encourage more creativity and give them more space to find new ways to engage [in the international space]. And for students and parents, they are going to feel — and be — more prepared and more confident about getting out there. 

How will GS&S keep up with the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the constantly changing logistical challenges in the international travel and security realm at this time? 

We have not even begun to understand what the second and third order consequences of this pandemic will be. We may well be leaving the unprecedented period of stability in international travel, in international security and in international relations that we’ve become accustomed to in our lifetimes. It may be more dangerous and more difficult to move around the world than it has been. But that doesn’t mean disengaging with the world. It just means we’re going to have to find new and creative, and more flexible, ways to do it. 

One of my top practical priorities over the course of the next six to eight months is to build an in-house intelligence capability. It’s easy to do and cost effective to build a small part of our unit that will be able to deliver good information and analysis.

One of the great things that the unit has at its fingertips is access to an incredible amount of expertise at Princeton. Pick anywhere in the world, we have world-class faculty members who have connections in all of these places to deliver fidelity about what is happening. Global Safety and Security hopes to build and deliver analysis, but also to leverage Princeton experts and better tap the incredibly rich vein of information and thought at Princeton on all of the topics where we have questions. 

What are you most excited about in this new role?

I am already humbled, and yet incredibly inspired and energized by the colleagues across Princeton that I have had the opportunity to work with. I am excited [to jump in], because I think Princeton’s grassroots approach to doing international is unique. If we can successfully marry that with a unique approach to doing the safety and security side, it is going to become a model that others will be envious of and want to copy — and deliver for our students and scholars a rich and rewarding way to engage with the world beyond campus.

PHOTO: Marcus Pflugrad