Friday, February 5, 2016
Following the conservative standard, Katie Krull layered a freshly steamed navy suit over her crisp light blue blouse. The Mercyhurst University intelligence studies major was about to brief a senior executive on an analytic project she had undertaken at the private company’s behest.
A sophomore from Newfane, New York, Krull (top right) is one of 70 intelligence studies students who are employed by U.S. intelligence agencies and private companies as part of their day-to-day lives at Mercyhurst. Last year, 58 students were hired during the course of the academic year; this year they number 70, and the year is barely half over. Some students work individually, but most work in small groups.
“Our students have the opportunity while they are in school to work for real clients with real intelligence needs and get paid for doing it,” said Brad Gleason, director of the Center For Intelligence Research Analysis and Training (CIRAT) within the Tom Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences at Mercyhurst. “Can you imagine the impact of that on a student’s graduate school application or on a resume?”
The fact that the number of employed students is up significantly this year, Gleason said, is a clear indication that more employers recognize the value of outsourcing entry-level intelligence analysis to Mercyhurst intel students.
In addition to the affordable and high-quality products employers receive, students earn valuable work experience and, sometimes, an internship or even a job upon graduation.
“Our customers have told me that they like to review students’ work and weigh their skill sets against job vacancies they want to fill,” Gleason said. “It’s a win-win no matter how you look at it.”
In the past 10 years, CIRAT’s paid intelligence projects have included small and large analytic contracts, private-firm and government-agency training, and testbed research. The students have established capabilities in an array of areas, among them competitive intelligence, supply-chain monitoring and human trafficking security support.
The work Krull completed through CIRAT is covered by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), so she is unable to share any information, but she said the experience was definitely a confidence builder.
“You have to be responsible for managing your business deadlines on top of your school work; you have to adapt to a different timetable; and adapt to a different kind of relationship, from professor-and-student to client-and-employee,” she said.
Alison Ockasi knows the drill. The junior intelligence studies major from East Smithfield, Pennsylvania, (at right) has completed three jobs through CIRAT, including an NDA project for a private cybersecurity firm. She also researched best practices in crowdfunding for a New York non-profit organization.
She said she has reaped many benefits from the experience, not the least of which is employers’ feedback. On a recent project, she said she spoke with her supervisor frequently.
“That’s a really nice aspect of the work because I got to know my boss a little on the personal level and she was able to give me individualized feedback,” Ockasi said.
Professors say that getting this kind of practical experience while still in school gives Mercyhurst intel students a leg up in the job market.
“Not only is this great for job placement, but it’s great for recruiting,” said intelligence studies associate professor Kristan Wheaton. “Parents light up when I tell them that their children can get this kind of experience at Mercyhurst.”
The Ridge College has an alumni and customer base that touches the far corners of the globe, but Mercyhurst intel students also complete projects for local clients.
Each year, Wheaton employs students from Mercyhurst and other local colleges to run Quickstarter campaigns for area entrepreneurs hoping to jumpstart an idea, a product or business. Quickstarter, which is a term Wheaton coined for his successful crowdfunding strategy, is supported by the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority’s Ignite Erie: Industry-University Business Acceleration Collaborative, led by Mercyhurst and Penn State Behrend.
Intelligence studies major Tyler Ennis, a junior from Kane, (at right) has worked on a couple Quickstarter projects, including the All Aboard Erie Kickstarter Campaign to fund a study on bringing high-speed rail service to Erie.
“Quickstarter has expanded my base of knowledge,” Ennis said. “While working to support pre-entrepreneurs throughout the Erie region, I have broadened my leadership, communication, and critical thinking skills.
"In addition, I learned to work better under pressure. Overall, it has been a pleasure to assist Mercyhurst with supporting pre-entrepreneurs.”