OXFORD, Miss. – It usually takes at least a decade for an academic program to earn recognition for excellence from a nationally acknowledged organization, but the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at the University of Mississippi has managed to accomplish that feat in less than half that time.
The Director of National Intelligence recently designated the CISS as an Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence. Along with the recognition that comes with such an honor, CAE schools receive several years of funding from the federal government to develop courses, fund student study abroad opportunities and run conferences and workshops.
“I am especially happy about what this means for our students,” said Carl Jensen, CISS director. “It is further validation that the IC approves of our educational model and the recognition will open doors for Ole Miss students in the future.”
While many universities and colleges have applied for the CAE program, few were selected. Other CAE schools include Penn State, Virginia Tech, Howard University, Creighton University and the universities of Maryland, Texas at El Paso and South Florida.
“With this award, we can fund opportunities for UM students that will broaden their horizons, increase collaboration with students from other CAE schools and enhance their education,” Jensen said.
Jensen and Melissa Graves, CISS project coordinator and instructor, began outreach efforts with Jackson State University in 2010 to establish a Mississippi consortium to apply for CAE status. UM and JSU were able to leverage their complementary strengths, which made them especially competitive in the application process.
“Members of the IC tell us over and over how they support our approach to educating students,” Graves said. “Many characterize it as ‘an ROTC program’ for intelligence. By that, they mean we seek out high-performing students in a wide variety of disciplines and educate them so they are prepared for entry level positions in the intelligence world.”
Graves emphasized that the program prepares students to become analysts, whose job it is to make sense of an increasingly complex world.
“Analysts are the ones who take in information from a wide variety of sources, including satellites, human assets, intercepted communications and open sources such as the Internet,” Graves said. “They synthesize all this data and put it in a form that is useful for policymakers to help them with decision-making.”
Alexandria “Lexi” Thoman of Chesterfield, Mo., has been in the ISS program for three years. The Croft Institute for International Studies scholar and Boren Scholarship awardee said the ISS minor has not only developed her analytical, writing and briefing skills, but has given her invaluable opportunities to build professional contacts in the intelligence community and the private sector.
“Looking back at my three years in the center, I can’t think of a program at my university that is any more deserving of this award,” Thoman said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”
Established in 2008, CISS has graduated 18 students, with most alumni serving in the intelligence community, government (including legislative aides for senators) and the military. The program has 38 enrolled this semester.
The ISS program provides its students myriad opportunities to learn about the IC firsthand. In November, Jensen, Graves and CISS administrative coordinator Carl Hill will take a group of students to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Five Eyes Analytical Workshop, sponsored by the Defense Intelligence Agency. At the workshop, students work side-by-side with analysts from a variety of allied countries to discuss methods of enhancing analysis.
In the spring, ISS students participate in the Days of Intrigue, a practical exercise in which representatives from the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and State Department lead them through a realistic scenario similar to what they might face one day as intelligence analysts.
“The annual Days of Intrigue practical exercise, developed by Melissa Graves and Walter Flaschka, has been widely hailed as a ‘best practices model’ by the IC,” Jensen said. “For the first time in 2013, students and faculty from other CAE schools will attend the exercise to learn how to implement a similar event.”
Also a senior behavioral scientist in the RAND Corporation, Jensen was named the 2012 Instructor of the Year by the International Association for Intelligence Education for the development of the ISS minor program.
In 2008, UM became one of two universities affiliated with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s University Based Analytic Training program. This has allowed Ole Miss students to attend workshops and work closely with intelligence analysts from the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The Director of National Intelligence established the CAE program in 2004 to educate the next-generation IC workforce. Intelligence work is extremely demanding and diverse and includes such challenges as rogue and failing states, transnational organized crime, pandemics, climate change and financial stability.
Consequently, the IC is looking for students with a variety of skills ranging from fluency in critical languages to engineering, business and criminal justice.
For more information about the ISS program, contact Carl Jensen at email@example.com or Carl Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org ,or visit http://www.olemiss.edu/ciss/