Black Colleges Involved in Efforts To Boost Intelligence Community Talent PoolBy Peter Galuszka
Not that long ago, Dr. David A. Padgett’s chosen career field could have been considered mundane. The associate professor of geology at Tennessee State University teaches his students the intricacies of mapmaking, using satellite global positioning systems and other technologies.
It’s hardly mundane any more. TSU has found itself at the forefront of a federal effort to increase the number of national security-related courses available on campuses, including historically Black colleges and universities.
Padgett is overseeing three such courses. One could help U.S. combat troops in Iraq negotiate the dangerous streets of Baghdad. Another hopes to help troops understand the important role Iraqi family ties play in intelligence collection efforts.
To date, three HBCUs — TSU, Clark Atlanta University and Norfolk State University — are involved in the multimillion-dollar federal program, which hopes to generate new recruits for the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and others. Other schools receiving funds as part of the program include Florida International University, Wayne State University and the University of Texas at El Paso.
The program is directed under the Intelligence Community Centers for Academic Excellence, which is linked to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a new body set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to oversee all intelligence agencies. “We want to develop course skills that will develop a talent pool that can be used in the nation’s national security imperative,” says Dr. Lenora Peters-Gant, national director of the program.
One goal of the Centers for Academic Excellence is to reach out to schools that have diverse student bodies and help their faculty develop programs that federal security agencies need the most. The program, begun in 2004, offers grants ranging from $250,000 to $750,000 and will be funded through 2015, Peters-Gant says.
The grants are being used to set up courses in language and area studies of particular interest, such as the Middle East, Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. They also will boost technology training in geography, psychology, mathematics, communications and the physical sciences.
Interest in national security and intelligence gathering among college students had languished in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War. But it came back with a fury after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Federal money was made available to colleges, but, Padgett says, HBCUs didn’t get much of it.
“When a lot of higher education funding shifted after Sept. 11 into defense, a lot of Black colleges weren’t in a position to take advantage of it,” he says.
“We saw an opening. In order to have a diverse work force in the intelligence arena, you have to get to minority-serving institutions. In intelligence, people have to go to areas populated by people of color,” Padgett continues. TSU’s proposal was approved and the school received an initial grant of $750,000 last year and will receive a similar amount for the next two years.
Since the program requires that grant recipients reach out to local high school students to interest them in intelligence studies, Padgett has had to innovate. As part of one exercise, Padgett set high schools students up with GPS locators so they could find 10 phony weapons of mass destruction hidden in the Nashville area.
Norfolk State is especially well-positioned to get into intelligence studies because of its proximity to several military bases. It is also relatively close to CIA headquarters and special operations training facilities. Norfolk State has won commitments for $2.3 million over five years, says physics professor Arlene Maclin, who oversees the program.
CAU, the other participating HBCU, won a $500,000 grant that it will use to augment seven computer science courses and add two others. The new courses involve national security and data mining, which can be used to tease threads of useful information from giant masses of information.
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