OXFORD, Miss. – It wasn’t a typical summer for four students enrolled in the University of Mississippi’s intelligence and security studies minor. Instead of working summer jobs or lounging by the pool, they were selected to attend the prestigious Intelligence Community Centers for Academic Excellence Summer Seminar, which was conducted in August in Leesburg, Va.
The students – Mackenzie Metcalfe, a junior from Powder Springs, Ga.; Glenna Lusk, a senior from Collierville, Tenn.; Alex Jones, a senior from Madison; and Elizabeth “Drew” Austin, a junior from Nashville, Tenn. – attended instructional sessions and participated in realistic simulations and practical exercises.
The two-week seminar, which is designed to acquaint high-performing students with the U.S. intelligence community, or IC, also provided an unparalleled opportunity to interact and network with professionals in the field. The curriculum within the seminar included critical thinking, data collection, analytic writing and briefing, as well as the application of structured analytic techniques to solve problems related to national security.
Broken into two parts, the seminar’s first week included lectures from first-rate professionals within the IC who spoke on different technical skills analysts need for success. During the second week, fictional simulations forced students to address an abundance of real-world intelligence problems.
“I think anytime you participate in a simulation, it is beneficial and you gain a better view of what being an analyst is really like,” Metcalfe said.
Only a few students from select universities were invited to attend the seminar. To be considered, a student first had to be enrolled in a university that had been designated an IC Center for Academic Excellence; UM’s Center for Intelligence and Security Studies received this honor in 2012. Next, only a limited number of slots were available, meaning that competition for each was fierce.
“I knew going in that we were sending four of our best students,” said Carl Jensen, CISS director. “Mackenzie, Glenna, Alex and Drew are great representatives of our program and the university.”
Jensen’s faith in his students was validated when Jones was recognized as the “Best Overall Briefer” at the seminar, beating out dozens of students from other national intelligence programs.
“Much of what we did there was very comparable to what they teach us in the classes at CISS,” Jones said.
In addition to their impressive work at the seminar, all four UM students had opportunities to meet top-level intelligence personnel, including former President George W. Bush’s personal briefer. The abundance of IC professionals in attendance made the trip worthwhile, Austin said.
“I think just hanging out with people in the intelligence community was the most valuable part of the seminar,” she said. “I really got an insight on what it would be like to be a part of the intelligence community.”
Lusk added that, “the simulation at the summer seminar reminded me of the weekend-long Days of Intrigue practical exercise put on by the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies.”
The CISS, created in 2008, is housed in the Old Athletics Building. Selection for the minor is competitive among interested students, based on applications, panel interviews and previous class work. All applicants who wish to pursue an internship or employment in an intelligence agency must pass a rigorous background check.
Already, more than 20 students have graduated from the highly selective program and many have found employment with intelligence and police agencies. An additional 50 students – including Austin, Jones, Lusk and Metcalfe – are enrolled in the upper-level CISS classes. The minor culminates in a capstone project and oral defense before faculty members. The students come from all areas of the university, including the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute for International Studies.
For more information on the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/ciss/.