Agency Insiders - Coastal Carolina University
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Agency Insiders

National intelligence studies program bridges academic learning with authentic experiences in national security.

By Sara Sobota

Photos by LaMesha Craft 

Students in every academic field benefit from experiences that bring the professional world to life. However, insider opportunities in national security and intelligence are particularly essential to helping students understand distinctions among different agencies and allowing them direct contact with professionals in the field.

CCU students under the mentorship of Rick Kilroy, associate professor, and LaMesha Craft, former lecturer, both in the Department of Politics, are fortunate to have a program that allows them to see, hear, and interact with those doing the work and hiring new employees in national intelligence agencies.

The National Intelligence Studies (NIS) Study Away program took its fifth trip to Washington, D.C., in March 2020, bringing eight students on a weeklong visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS),  National Maritime Intelligence Center (NMIC), US Coast Guard Intelligence Coordination Center (ICC), National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), Army Cyber Command, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Kilroy and Robert Bulsza of CCU Career Services served as faculty advisers and mentors.

In addition, Kilroy and Craft brought a group of ten students on a three-week program in summer 2019 that allowed them even more extended interaction with intelligence agencies and national security officials. While the spring program, which is fully funded and now in its third year, offers an orientation to the intelligence community in Washington, the summer program is a working trip, offering course credit and more extensive immersion in the field.

 “This is students’ opportunity to get as much insight as possible, and the intelligence community wants them here,” said Craft. “A lot of [officials] said, ‘I wish I had this when I was in college,’ because students get an opportunity to understand different agency cultures.”

Sandra Ataalla, a sophomore intelligence and national security studies major who attended the summer 2019 trip, said the experience exceeded her expectations.

“I learned so much more from this program than I had anticipated,” she said. “It helped me gain a better understanding of what the intelligence world looks like.”

Students conducted an intelligence estimate and briefed  their research to instructors at the DHS Intelligence Training Academy. They submitted their resumes to professionals in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), who offered direct feedback. They observed team collaboration among analysts at the National Security Agency (NSA).

“Everywhere they went, they were able to see real-world applications of the content we teach in the classroom,” said Craft.

Students also gained valuable insight to the pathway from college curriculum to internships to employment in the national security industry. On each trip, Kilroy holds a social event with local CCU alumni working in the field.

“We have a number of our students who are now working in D.C.,” said Kilroy. “Some are in the intelligence community, some are on Capitol Hill, one was doing an internship at a congressman’s office this year, one is at the Heritage Foundation [think tank], and one is at INSCOM now.”

Kilroy said the networking piece of the puzzle is essential, and CCU students hear about a variety of ways to succeed.

“They [CCU alumni] all have different stories to tell of how they got there, which is helpful: ‘I got hired as a contractor, and then I went to this next job…’ They explain the types of routes for how they got where they are, and students really learn about the networking piece. That’s how things work in D.C. – it’s about the networking process, connections, and relationships.”

Kyle Brossard, who attended the 2018 summer trip, has since become a new GG7 intelligence analyst with the National Ground Intelligence Center, and several other students have applied for internships with the agencies they visited.

As the NIS Study Away program continues, the CCU-Washington, D.C. ties are mutually strengthening. The group regularly meets with U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and the office is becoming increasingly familiar with the program and the university.

“This year, he actually remembered our group,” said Kilroy. “The field is becoming aware of CCU, and we’re getting our brand out there.”

The ongoing program benefits not only those students who attend, but the entire CCU intelligence and national security studies program. Following the summer 2019 trip, Craft distributed copious notes from agency briefings and meetings to all CCU intel students, and numerous students who had not attended a trip applied for internships based on relayed information.

The next NIS Study Away program is planned for summer 2021 and promises to continue offering students a gateway to internships, field experiences, and potential employment in the national security field.

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