Friday, August 19, 2022

New UM Minor to Train Nation’s Security Specialists

Shaio Zerba. Submitted photo

A new academic minor at the University of Mississippi will help educate the country’s next generation of national security specialists.

The university’s Center for Intelligence and Security Studies is adding a minor in global security studies that will supply UM students with the skills and educational background for entry-level employment in the national security sector. The program begins in the fall 2021 semester.

“In the past, this sector, which includes the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies, has had difficulties recruiting and retaining a science, technology, engineering and math workforce, and cybersecurity-educated employees,” said Shaio Zerba, director of the center, known as CISS. “This new minor is designed to attract talented students from these disciplines.”

Founded in 2008, the CISS prepares students for intelligence and security careers by focusing on the critical thinking, writing and briefing skills used by the 18 organizations that form the U.S. Intelligence Community. The center also offers students real-world experiences through simulated national security crises and invites senior government speakers to campus.

The new interdisciplinary global security studies minor will co-exist with the center’s intelligence and security studies minor, which provides Ole Miss students with the necessary education for entry-level employment in the intelligence community.

Both minors complement existing UM programs in the Department of Public Policy Leadership, the Croft Institute for International Studies, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the university’s two Language Flagship Programs in Chinese and Arabic.

The new minor is intended to attract high-achieving students who are interested in global security but perhaps not an intelligence career, Zerba said.

“As the new director for the CISS, I spent my first semester on the job listening to students, especially in the introductory intelligence studies course,” said Zerba, who joined the center in July 2020 after retiring from the U.S. Air Force, where she served for 22 years with intelligence postings spanning the globe.

“Many students expressed a desire to learn more about national security topics and employment opportunities but didn’t necessarily have an interest in intelligence. Offering a broader global security minor under the CISS banner gives students another option to achieve their educational and professional goals.”

Jonah Kocisko, a freshman chemical engineering major from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is pursuing the new minor in the fall. He took the introduction to intelligence studies class in the fall.

“As a foreign language student, I am interested in studying topics that will complement my passion for learning the language and culture of another nation,” said Kocisko, who also is enrolled in the university’s Chinese Language Flagship Program.

“As I have been learning about in my first-year courses in chemical engineering, the role of an engineer goes beyond the calculations learned in class. The most effective engineers are those who are not only knowledgeable in their fields but also have a keen understanding of the greater significance of the work that they do.

“The processes that require chemical engineers have significant national security implications, so to be both capable in the science and well-informed about the application will allow me to be better prepared for a career in chemical engineering.”

Course requirements for the new minor include the completion of 18 hours of classes in intelligence security studies, political science and an approved elective. The elective can be a CISS course or a course offered by other departments related to national security, such as foreign policy or conflict studies, but students must receive prior approval for a course offered outside of CISS.

The global security studies classes range from an introduction to global and national security to upper-level studies on advanced analytics, the politics of nuclear weapons and cybersecurity as it relates to policy and strategy.

“Students will learn about the interagency process to include the National Security Council and supporting departments,” said Zerba, who most recently was a faculty associate at the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University, where she received her doctorate in political science.

“The minor also covers perennial threats, such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also the rising global threat to cyberspace. Additionally, the minor focuses on professional and practical skills needed to succeed in the security industry, such as writing and briefing for policymaking and working in collaborative teams.

“The underlying objective of the new minor is to prepare students to enter the national security workforce ready to contribute to the mission.”

The nation’s security sector employs millions of people, whether military personnel or private sector employees, and the new presidential administration is bolstering its ranks. On Feb. 4, President Joe Biden signed an executive order “revitalizing America’s national security workforce, institutions and partnerships.”

The National Security Memorandum is intended to “modernize how the national security community recruits, retains and empowers its workforce to lead on new and emerging national security challenges.”

A new interagency working group formed by the memorandum proposes to “develop proposals to recruit, retain and support national security professions, including creating additional pathways for Americans with skills in critical areas such as cyber, technology, and science, technology, engineering and math to engage in public service.”

The memorandum also organizes the country’s security community to work more closely with partners outside its member agencies and organizations, such as colleges and universities, state and local governments, and civil society.

The CISS has developed a great reputation with employers for preparing students to enter into intelligence careers, Zerba said.

“Many of the same skills needed for intelligence work can also be employed on a wider range of security and defense sector careers,” she said. “By offering a global security studies minor, the center moves closers to the goal of providing students a broader education in security studies with more flexibility and choices.

“In the coming years, CISS will continue to recruit faculty with the practical expertise in the fields of national security, cybersecurity and intelligence to help expand the center’s course offerings in security and cybersecurity studies. Beyond its two minors, the center plans to foster collaborative interdisciplinary research with colleagues in academia, the U.S. government and industry to benefit the national security community.”


By Shea Stewart

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