By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
Every week, Ryan Akers, a senior in the Strategic Intelligence (SI) track at PHC, assembles something known as the Border Security Alert (BSA), a report used by the national intelligence community. Using a data collection system (programmed by PHC alumnus Dennis Pinderman*), Akers compiles information forwarded to him by his team of sixteen student analysts, each one tracking news from a different sector of the US border. These timely news stories about security breaches, weapons and drug trafficking, and illegal immigration are then forwarded to confidential “customers” in the intelligence community, who then sift the data for patterns.
Janet Grey*, who performed Akers’ current job as Project Manager from 2005 to 2006 until she graduated from PHC, notes, “The BSA serves a genuine need in the Intelligence Community, but it also gives students a chance to hone their research, writing, and analysis skills.”
Many SI students at Patrick Henry College serve on the BSA at one time or another, helping to create an actual Intelligence resource while earning their undergraduate education. Such practical training is typical of the SI program, which provides students hands-on experience and a taste of the real world applications they’ll need to become “top-notch analysts,” says recent SI grad John Crutcher.
Graduates of PHC’s SI track typically go on to work for any number of government agencies, and have held internships with the U.S. Department of State, Air Force Command and Control, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI, and others.
“All SI internships are actually in government positions, or working for contractors who work for the government,” says Colonel Gordon Middleton, Director of Strategic Intelligence at PHC. “And 99% of SI internships are paid.”
By the time a student graduates from the SI program, he or she will possess a much-coveted government security clearance, a special topical focus in subjects like terrorism or Middle East politics, real-life internship experience, and background in some aspect of intelligence analysis, such as the BSA.
“The project and personnel management skills I learned while on the BSA have been invaluable,” offers Grey. “The work I do now requires me to manage multiple projects and analysts with overlapping deadlines. Keeping track of one product with a team of thirteen people was a great way to learn the basics of how to manage resources, plan ahead, and compensate for the problems that inevitably arise.”
For the aforementioned reasons, Patrick Henry’s Government major in Strategic Intelligence is unique (only one other program like it exists in the country), attracting many students. Initially, it sounds exciting and shadowy, evoking images of James Bond and sleek cars. And while the reality of sitting behind a desk analyzing data may seem more plebian, most who try it inevitably find it satisfying. Analysts in the intelligence community perform complex, critically important tasks in the service of national security, says Middleton, noting that SI graduates acquire skills that can be applied to almost any other area of “knowledge work.”
“Great analysts are always in demand,” he says, “but even more so in the current national security environment.”
Meanwhile, the SI major at PHC continues to evolve. Plans for the near future include a new computer system to manage the BSA, and perhaps further student initiatives to sift through sections of the raw data.
“Someone just recently asked to be put on the BSA customer list and asked for research papers involving the border,” shares Akers. “We don’t have the capability (to do this type of research) yet, but it would be a great opportunity to do some in-depth analysis.”
Regardless of which careers, in or out of the intelligence field, inevitably attract PHC’s SI students, most agree that the diverse, hands-on experiences they’ve received will prove an invaluable well from which to draw.
* names have been changed at student’s request