The Next Generation
Virginia Commonwealth University, a research university, offered Homeland security and emergency preparedness degrees for the first time to attract students this past spring.
“They have a degree that no one else does,” says William W. Newmann, Ph.D., associate professor and director of undergraduate programs for VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “They are pioneers. It gets them noticed,”
Recent graduates of the program include Avery Church of Exmore, Va., Bryan Downer of Richmond, Va.; James Yassine of Sterling, Va.; and Amanda Turner of Gloucester, Va. Church and Yassine received dual degrees in political science and Homeland security and emergency preparedness; Turner’s dual degree includes forensics science.
“I feel really marketable,” Turner says. She had considered joining the Virginia Air National Guard before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but a recruiter encouraged her to hold off until she received a college degree so she could become an officer. “Sept. 11 hit home and gave me a drive to want to help,” she says. “The average person, day-to-day, sees the news stories, and it does not seem to affect their daily lives, but once you start taking the classes, you realize that the global war has reached our doorstep.”
Turner also received recognition as the top student to graduate this semester, and she will pursue a career as a support staff member with a federal government agency. She is also interested in getting an online master’s degree in Homeland security emergency preparedness, which VCU hopes to offer as early as spring 2007.
“Homeland security and emergency preparedness are what I wanted to study because I want to serve the country,” Downer says. The graduate adds that the program taught him about the legal issues of Homeland security and emergency preparedness. “You are always going to be confronted with these issues,” he says. “Things must be done appropriately even if you are doing the right thing. A legal background in this industry is necessary. When you take all of these classes, you begin to see how they are interconnected.”
Downer says the Sept. 11 attacks also inspired him to want to serve the United States. “I would say that Sept. 11 was like having someone throw gasoline on the campfire. That was my resolve to do something to help secure the nation,” he says. “I wanted to do something to help, but I did not know what I could do. The program at VCU has shown me ways to get involved and pitch in to help.” He plans to pursue a career in customs and border protection. “I would suggest to anyone considering it, make sure you are committed,” Downer says. “You are studying how to protect the country from terrorism and even national disasters. We are teaching people to save lives.”
Associate Professor William Parrish, a former senior official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, says this program will bring professionals to Homeland security departments, since the program covers the six missions of national strategy for Homeland security: intelligence and warning; border and transportation security; domestic counterterrorism; protecting critical infrastructure and key assets; defending against catastrophic threats; and emergency preparedness and response.
“Unfortunately the Sept. 11 attacks did happen, and terrorism is here,” Parrish says. “There need to be qualified and trained professionals for Homeland security departments. Many people were assigned to new positions with no training and background on Sept. 12. Now, we have a program that can put professionals out there.”
Parrish, a retired U.S. Marine Colonel, served as the first associate director for Homeland security at the Presidential-directed Terrorist Threat Integration Center. The students also benefit from guest lectures from government agencies in Washington, D.C., and support from the Virginia state government.
“The FBI was practically doing back flips when they learned we were starting this,” Newmann says. “The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is also very interested and excited.”
VCU received approval for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Homeland security and emergency preparedness from the State Council of Higher Education in May 2005. A master’s degree program has been developed, and it should be offered by spring 2007.
The program in Homeland security and emergency preparedness is designed to give students both theoretical and practical knowledge. Students study emergency planning and management principles; the nature and effects of natural disasters; the nature of the terrorist threat to the United States from both foreign and domestic organizations; and counterterrorism policies.
For more information on the program, visit http://www.vcu.edu.