Master's of the security domain

igher education takes notice of the homeland security field--maybe too much notice
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

There exists in the security industry, and has for some time, any number of ways to get smarter. From certifications offered by ASIS and the NBFAA to training offered by distributors and manufacturers to the educational sessions that populate industry conferences small (TechSec Solutions) and large (ISC West), the curious and progressive aspiring executive has every opportunity to acquire skills necessary for advancement.
There is something about academia, however, that goes beyond these kinds of offerings. The university setting, theoretically, is one of objectivity and rigor, where practical applications can be supplanted by philosophical exploration and debate. There is the opportunity to participate in moving a field of inquiry forward. At their highest--the Yale School of Economics, Cal Tech's engineering program, the Harvard Business School--these represent not only places of learning and inquiry, but also places where policy, best practices, and technology are created for use by the world at large, going beyond their respective fields into the mainstream.
For Homeland Security, and by extension almost all physical and logical security, these academic centers are still largely in their infancy. The first course offering in Homeland Security wasn't offered until 1999 (yes, if you can believe it, before Sept. 11, 2001), when the National War College, a school in the National Defense University in Washington, DC, offered it as an elective. The first Master's degree in Homeland Security was offered, beginning in January of 2003, by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, part of the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, Calif. (see Sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, all accepted students get full scholarships, but they must be public sector employees working in the homeland security field.
To date, said Heather Ivssoren, director for Master's program operations and public affairs, the program has graduated 120 students, with a new class coming in every six months. The program takes at least 18 months to complete, with seven two-week residencies and the balance completed through distance learning via the Internet.
Ivssoren called admission "a very competitive process," and it should come as no surprise that the theses produced by graduating students are applicable upon graduation and often held up as best practices in short order. "Two of our graduates are regional directors of FEMA," Ivssoren noted. "It's an exciting place to be and program to be a part of ... We're an open source for security policy here. We cultivate the latest technologies and that's a credit to DHS. They really support us and make it happen."
Their curriculum is very much a model for the curriculums being developed for the private sector at colleges and universities around the country. Closely affiliated with the Center for Homeland Defense and Security is Long Island University's Homeland Security Management Institute, run by Vincent Henry, who holds a Ph.D. in criminal justice from John Jay College and is a Certified Protection Professional. "We have basically the same curriculum [as CHDS]," said Henry. "They tend to come at things from a [Department of Defense] perspective, and ours is more of a state and local and private sector perspective, and that's just reflective of the institutions."
Henry counts Northrop Grumman's director of homeland security Gerald Buckwalter among his current students, and he said the institute is increasingly trying to make connections with private industry, though students thus far have tended to be security end users, like a current program member who is one of the commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, or part of the law enforcement and military community.
"We use the case study approach," Henry said. "The entire program is based on that, like the Harvard Business School. Given the nature of our population of students, the case studies resonate with them in a way that pure theoretical stuff does not. The beauty is you can take the real event and extract theoretical principles, or take theoretical principles and apply them to the actual events ... We didn't want to put together a program that's entirely theoretical. Somebody recently described us as 'professors who have mud on your boots and dirt on your hands,' and I think that's pretty accurate."
Also thanks to the nature of the students' backgrounds and abilities, the curriculum is constantly in flux, said Henry. "Because we have a very collegial relationship with our students, we're open and flexible to having the students suggest topics and lead the class into a particular area," he said. "For example, when the whole Dubai Ports thing was coming loose ... I can't tell you how neat it was to have somebody in the class who runs the largest port in the United States."
Those are sentiments echoed by Howard Evans, dean of National University's School of Engineering and Technology, which began offering a Master's in Homeland Security and Safety Engineering in 2005. "We try to reach out to practicing professionals or executives at companies that deal with security issues and ask them what needs to be incorporated," he said. "It's changing on a continuous basis. We want to make sure that we're as current with what the needs of the industry are as possible. We want to modify things quickly."
The degree at National University, the second-largest non-profit university in California, is more hands-on and technical than the more policy-based courses at the Navy Postgraduate School or Long Island. Headed by Shekar Viswanathan, chair of the applied engineering department, the degree requires prerequisites in general chemistry, environmental science and qualitative methods and statistics, and includes courses on fire and explosion engineering and the science of explosives and biological threat materials. This combination of security and safety is designed to prepare graduates to stand for the Certified Safety Professional and CPP certifications upon completion of the program.
"People and asset protection," said Viswanathan, "those are the two critical things. The program highly defines what are potential threats, how do you mitigate them and how do you respond ... it's an integration between safety and security, principally because they go hand in hand."
So far, National University has graduated 20 students, many of them with a military background, partly because of their San Diego location. The program is 12 courses long, and can be completed in 13 months if students don't build in breathers. The last month is spent working on a Master's project.
"I recall one project was to design a security system for a pharmaceutical plant," said Evans, "and the person actually worked there and his supervisors were intent on going forward and implementing the plan." Another project was a tsunami response for San Diego's Coronado Island.
These are examples, said David McIntyre, director of the Integrative Center for Homeland Security at Texas A&M University, of the difference between training and education. "Training is learning known skills," he said. "Education is being prepared to ask the right question at the right moment and to come up with the right answer." Texas A&M plans to offer a Master's degree in the near future in Homeland Security, but right now only offers a 15-credit certificate program through their Bush School of Government and Public Service. McIntyre believes the academic field of Homeland Security is still very much in flux.
"This is the way that International Affairs was born," he said. "It took 30 years to develop ... I think the same thing will happen with Homeland Security--and there's nothing wrong with that."