New Hampshire college offers degree in homeland security

Oct. 10, 2008
Daniel Webster College students enroll in new security major


Parker Moore was in sixth grade when the planes flew into buildings on a brilliantly sunny September morning, and he remembers well what happened next: The police and fire departments were virtually unable to communicate with each other as they rushed to help.

"I definitely had a problem with that," said Moore, 18.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the rescue blunders fortified Moore's desire to work in public service. This year, he became certified as an emergency medical technician, or EMT. When he started looking at colleges near his home in Bow, N.H., he was drawn to the field of criminal justice - until he learned about a new program at Daniel Webster College in Nashua.

"I heard about homeland security and I realized it was sort of a calling for me," he said.

Moore is one of 35 students who began the college's new major in homeland security this fall. The students will spend the next few years taking classes with anxiety-producing names: Acute Stress Management, Sociology of Disasters and Ideology, Conflict and Terror. And when they graduate with a bachelor of science degree, they will join a growing number of young workers eager to confront some of the most perplexing problems of the 21st century.

Before the 9/11 attacks, a few programs in higher education focused on terrorism. But after the Department of Homeland Security was created - President Bush established the initial office weeks after the attacks - programs began proliferating to train students to work in both the public and the private sectors.

"It's about the fastest-growing area in academia," said Stanley Supinski, director of the partnership program at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, Calif.

Now, about 300 schools have homeland security programs. About a third are certificate programs, often for mid-career workers returning to school. The rest are split fairly evenly into master's, bachelor's, and associate's programs, Supinski said.

Many students enter the field because the job prospects for graduates are promising. The US Department of Labor has predicted that the number of jobs in security management will grow more rapidly than those in any other field. Aside from the obvious employers, such as the Department of Homeland Security and other federal and state agencies, businesses are increasingly hiring people to manage their own security issues, from how to recover after a terrorist attack or flood to how to keep computers secure.

The University of Massachusetts at Lowell launched a certificate program in Security Management and Homeland Security in 2004. The program, within the criminal justice department, is designed for people already working in public safety, business, and information technology.

Steven P. Lab, director of the criminal justice program at Bowling Green State University, has been an outspoken critic of the trend toward homeland security majors in higher education.

"It's a hodgepodge of topics that have already existed on college campuses for the most part," he said. "And they've strung them together in a meaningless whole called homeland security."

Lab argues that students seeking careers related to homeland security issues would be more likely to get jobs if they specialize in specific areas that interest them, such as Middle Eastern Studies or biology. Otherwise, he said, "none of these people are going to be marketable when they go out into the workforce."

But Daniel M. Rattner, a visiting scholar in the criminal justice department at Northeastern University, argues that the nation's security requires better communication and collaboration, especially between government and businesses that control critical infrastructure such as power, water, and food. College students who study homeland security - not just terrorism but disease, natural disasters, and other emergencies - will be better equipped to help the country prevent tragedies, he said.

"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

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