James Madison University

First Class of Intelligence Analysis Graduates

By: Jordan Pye
Posted: April 12, 2010

PHOTO: Brittany Edwards"This May marks the graduation of the first class of students from the Intelligence Analysis (IA) degree program as they are about to enter the professional intelligence field.

Since its official inception in 2007, the IA degree program has provided students with content knowledge and a skill set specifically developed for work in the intelligence community. With concentrations for career tracks in either national security or competitive intelligence, the major enables students to find work with government and military agencies or with global corporations. In the past, those interested in a career in intelligence were often handpicked from schools by agencies or sought the opportunities themselves. However, JMU’s specific program is designed to make students even more desirable for intelligence analyst positions and for direct recruitment by employers.

“As far as I know, there are no other colleges who offer quite the unique set of courses that we do,” IA Program Director Dr. Joe Marchal said. “There are other colleges that have IC targeted programs but if you look at our program you will see that we conceptualize our IC-oriented educational goals in a rather different way.  For example, in addition to traditional coursework in languages, area studies and, say, political science or history, we have four courses in critical thinking, including causal analysis and counterfactual  reasoning, tailored to intelligence analysis, complemented by four courses in computing technology, including programming and data mining, also tailored to intelligence analysis.”

Senior IA student Brittany Edwards became interested in the major as an undeclared freshman, when she took a philosophy course with the IA program’s student advisor, Dr. Noel Hendrickson. Edwards said she has enjoyed a variety of unique learning opportunities through the program, such as working as a student research assistant for the Institute for National Security Analysis (INSA), the major’s research arm developed in 2007 through a grant with the Department of Defense. She and some of her fellow students presented their independent case study at the international professional meeting for intelligence educators that JMU hosted last fall, the Four-Eyes Analytic Training Conference.

“I was able to find an internship for the summer after my Junior year with the help of an IA affiliate, Mr. Ken Newbold, who was able to help me connect with an interested company-member of the [Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance],” Edwards said. “I also was able to initially connect with a…representative of Northrop Grumman Corporation this past October at a luncheon for the IIIA [where] a few of my classmates and I were asked to attend to describe our internship experiences.” Edwards later received a job offer with the company’s Information Systems Sector in McLean, VA.

Since Marchal became the IA program director when the second class of students entered the program in 2008, the spreading awareness of the program has created a need for growth to accommodate increasing student needs, interest and input.  The sophomore and junior courses have been taught at least twice and undergone some revisions already and the senior courses are being taught for the first time this year. Marchal suggested that this graduating class would be very instrumental in further developing the program and improving it for future students.   Their input will be solicited in exit interviews and after they move into the workplace.

“We look forward to talking with the students and their employer as they move into the workplace and using that information to improve the program,” Marchal said. “We’ve already had feedback on student internship experiences and that is being used to revise the courses.  There will be an ongoing effort to get feedback from the students and modify the curriculum, teaching procedures and other aspects of the program accordingly.As is not unusual with new programs, we expect this process will be ongoing for the foreseeable future.”

Edwards said her experience as an IA student during the program’s first run was a very positive one.

 “The IA program is a great one to be a part of at JMU,” Edwards said. “Because the program, as of now, is still relatively small, the students are presented with a great opportunity to get to know each other and their professors on a more personal level than perhaps possible if involved in one of the university's larger majors. It is also evident that the professors involved in the program each possess a large stake in the new major and seeing it succeed which is reassuring to students involved.”


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