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Intel students brief experts at NGA

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Katie Kayes, Connor Bodlak, Alex Burke

(Published in collaboration with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).)

“The experience of briefing the NGA as a senior in college is something I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Mercyhurst University intelligence studies major Connor Bodlak of Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

Bodlak was among 10 top student analysts of the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences who, as part of their strategic intelligence capstone course, briefed senior NGA leaders and subject-matter experts at the NGA campus in Springfield, Virginia, last month. Students who made the trip in addition to Bodlak included D'Artanyn Alonge, Rebecca Card, Katie Kayes, Alex Burke, Christina Eusanio, Emani Burton, Aaron Henry, Sean Crowley and Mike Rowe.

“One of the great thrills for myself and our students was to hear directly from the NGA analysts that our products meet valuable needs for them,” said intelligence studies instructor Bill Welch who accompanied the students, along with associate professor Kristan Wheaton. “What we did is no make-work academic exercise, but actionable information put to use for an intelligence agency in service to our country. The students worked intensely on this for a dozen weeks and it was great to see the payoff.”

NGA senior analysts created the topics and gave them to the students at the beginning of the fall semester. Each project averaged 700-1,000 hours of research, writing and analysis, relying on open-source data and interviews as information sources.

The first group of students assessed the human geography within the Russian Federation by characterizing and assessing the relative and future demographic factors. The team’s estimate focused on how an increase in Muslim population will affect Russia’s socio-political stability in two to five years.

The second group of students analyzed observable evidence of foreign influence efforts from China, Russia and Iran in central and South America. The team analyzed what were the primary reasons these countries sought influence over the region and projected the influence in three to five years.

“As a student, this presentation gave my team the opportunity to hone in on all the skills we developed at Mercyhurst,” said Bodlak, who aspires to be a counterterrorism analyst. “The praise that the NGA gave us for our work was rewarding and reassured me that the intelligence program here at Mercyhurst has really prepared me for my future career.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Hayden, deputy director of analytic operations, concluded: “You give us information that we don’t have the bandwidth to do. This will benefit the intelligence community and U.S. government. … As we are looking to update our information and knowledge in the future, the data you are providing will allow us to do that. We appreciate what you do.”

Mercyhurst is an NGA academic partner, a relationship initiated in July 2013 with a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA. The CRADA partnership provides Mercyhurst’s geospatial students real-world experience in researching and briefing, and increases NGA’s technological and research collaborations.

“The Cooperative Research Agreement we have with NGA is a win-win,” said Wheaton. “It allows Mercyhurst students an opportunity to work on real questions from intelligence professionals in the community. In return, the NGA receives excellent open-source analysis that helps them better understand their areas of interest."

[Content by Victoria Piccoli, Photo by Erica Knight / NGA Office of Corporate Communications]