New Hampshire college offers degree in homeland security

Daniel Webster College students enroll in new security major


"Having students that are interested in better understanding these topics and who are educated in the subject matter of how best to prevent and address these issues is a very smart curriculum to pursue," he said.

Michael Fishbein, provost at Daniel Webster, was the force behind his school's new major. He began thinking about the need for a different kind of education soon after 9/11, when he believed the government paid too little attention to comprehending terrorism.

"That was our motive," Fishbein said. "To educate students, you have to understand the nature of the threat."

So Fishbein created a program at Daniel Webster that he hopes will fill that void. Since the school already had programs in aviation and computer science, he and other officials decided to focus the homeland security major on those areas. Daniel Webster's program takes an "all hazards" approach to homeland security, which means that students will learn about confronting all kinds of disasters - natural and manmade.

"Many people confuse homeland security with terrorism," Fishbein said. "Terrorism is one element of homeland security."

Students majoring in homeland security will be required to spend a year concentrating in a specific geographical area, or learning a language. Daniel Webster, which has about 750 undergraduates, does not teach languages, but is thinking about adding one - possibly Arabic. Students can also study languages at other local colleges through an education consortium.

The homeland security majors are required to complete an internship in the field. And later this semester, the students will conduct a security audit of the Daniel Webster campus, which lies beside an airport. In two years, midway through their course of study, they'll do it again.

The college hired a former Air Force officer, Rick Johnson, as the lead faculty member in the new program. This fall, Johnson, who also worked in homeland security jobs for private companies, is teaching Introduction to Homeland Security. Johnson and Fishbein made clear early on to the new majors what the program would not be.

"They thought this was going to be terrorist-hunting," Johnson said. "It's nothing like that."

So far, no one has left the program.

Joseph Brittelli, a freshman from Bangor, came to Daniel Webster on a ROTC scholarship, and expects he will eventually spend some time overseas. The program, he hopes, will help him better understand his experiences. And he's eager to become part of a new field of study.

"The thought of being able to blaze a trail to help other people come to this profession is really exciting to me," he said.

On a recent afternoon, Fishbein, whose background is in social psychology, was teaching a class called Ideology, Conflict and Terror. His students, mostly young men, were discussing Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian intellectual whose writings later provided the ideological foundation for Al Qaeda.

Fishbein told his students that Qutb, a leader of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, believed Islam was incompatible with other religions.

"And that says what for the future?" Fishbein asked.

"That there is no future, other than Islam, at least in his mind," said one student.

The class goes on to discuss the writings of Qutb, who was executed in Egypt in 1966. "We reap the whirlwind," Fishbein said, "a half a century later."

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com