WASHINGTON ― With the return to a competition between great powers, the victor of a potential conflict will not only be determined by the skill and coordination of their warfighters, but rather the technologists and entrepreneurs that ensure they are outfitted with the most advanced equipment available, says retired Army Col. Pete Newell.

The Hacking for Defense program, known as H4D, is working to develop this talent by partnering students at universities across the country with the Department of Defense. Developed by Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and Newell, the former head of the Army Rapid Equipping Force, the program partners undergraduate and graduate students with the government in a unique way.

This year, Hacking for Defense will be taught at over 18 universities through out the United States. That’s up from 11 universities a year ago.

Students who sign up for the course are put into teams and tasked to design a solution to a problem statement. Those problems range from issues with the acquisition process and information sharing in disaster zone environments to tracking medical information of combat casualties.

In answering problem statements, students conduct hundreds of interviews with the people their solution is designed to help. This could mean designing an app or crafting a policy change. In doing so, H4D exposes students to a lesser known pathway for national service and introduces students to parts of government that a traditional academic course could not.

Although the program’s name suggests the course is only suitable for computer scientists and engineers, teams are mixed with students with a variety of backgrounds, from political science to nursing.

If the program is going to maximize its impact it “needs to be taught in every state in the country, at as many universities as we can get our hands on,” Newell said. The challenge “is not the speed of technology, but our ability to energize a generation of young technologists to get involved,” he added.