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The Role of Universities in Preparing the Next Generation of Security Professionals

April 1, 2008
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Students gain role models as they view security executives in the classroom. Guest speakers can break negative stereotypes relative to the background, training and activities of security professionals.


University contributions to the development of the next generation of security professionals are manifold. A principal focus is the substantive, academic coursework that universities provide students. Next, pupils are exposed to practical, hands-on security-related functions during their internships and co-ops.  Also, students meet and interact with security professionals when guest lecturers address classes as well as at on-campus job fairs.

Familiarity with the security profession is enhanced when students participate in student professional organizations. Appreciation of cutting-edge security themes arises through exposure to security-related products, services and publications. Career guidance and mentoring encompass other spheres of university contributions to students. Still, challenges exist to entice students to study security and pursue careers in that field.

ACADEMIC COURSEWORK AND TRAINING

Universities provide substantive, academic coursework and training. This can be demonstrated in many ways. There are a breadth of degrees: bachelors, masters and doctoral — in security and information security as well as certificates in these fields.

Additionally, there are disparate continuing education programs, some stand-alone, others offered in connection with security associations and accreditation bodies (e.g., American Society of Industrial Security International). These programs are offered at a full range of universities from large private and public universities, regional state universities to completely online offerings. While it is commendable that many courses are available, the weakness of some programs including the quality of the instructors and students is indicative that there is room for improvement.

Next, there are many security-related courses and topics covered at university security programs, including: internal and security, retail security, information technology security, physical security, investigations, emergency management, business continuity, fire and safety, terrorism and homeland security, among others. Also relevant in the coursework/training arena is the role of teaching in the classroom. Instructors use diverse various technologies — PowerPoint, Internet (e.g., Web links, instant messaging, online exams), pod casting and multimedia (DVD and VCR) — to present the material in a variety of ways. This approach allows for repetition and exposure of content through multiple means.

Future trends in academic coursework include expanded recognition of security as an emerging academic discipline. These vast concepts are then shared with students, security practitioners and instructors.

STUDENT INTERNSHIPS AND CO-OPS

Students also gain practical, hands-on experience during internships and co-ops (internships that pay students in addition to them earning academic credit). During internships and co-ops students work on the employer’s premises, shadow staff, rotate among organizational units and undertake specific assignments. Students often spend a semester or more at these employers, with disparities in the number of hours and credit earned for such activities. Generally, students keep a daily journal of their activities and produce a research paper on what they learned in the position. The internship and co-ops are often graded pass/fail for the majority of the credits, with a letter grade in the remainder of the credits.

Still, obstacles to successful internships and co-ops remain. For instance, the student and employer might not be the right fit due to poor work performance by the student or difficult work environment offered by the employer. Also, some positions are unpaid, making it a financial burden for students. This latter fact may contribute to occasional lackadaisical student efforts during internships.

Students would benefit from a greater diversity of internships, including: types of entities, industries and duties. Also, expanded responsibility and challenging roles — should students prove capable thereof — would be helpful.

As employers increasingly expect prospective employees to have work experience, internships and co-ops should prove very popular in the coming years. With the globalization of business and transnational risks, student internships undertaken overseas will likely be particularly helpful.

GUEST LECTURES AND JOB FAIRS

Other opportunities for students to interact with security professionals arise during guest lectures and at job fairs. Guest lectures by security specialists allow for: detailed explanations by security issues (e.g., stopping a shoplifter, workplace violence training and background checks); and “real life,” experiences (most interesting, challenging or rewarding experiences).

During on-campus visits, security professionals provide feedback to instructors and students as to which skill sets and training are missing from newly minted graduates. This allows for refining or revising the materials presented in class as well as the creation of new course offerings, as appropriate. Students, too, may adjust their plans once exposed to security professional guidance.

Students gain role models as they view security executives in the classroom. A guest speaker will be able to break student negative stereotypes that still exist today relative to the background, training and activities of security professionals. Additionally, guest lectures enable students to establish contacts with future employers. With better recognition of the positive attributes of security professionals today visits to university classrooms will occur with increasing prevalence.

STUDENT PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Students are exposed to security themes through their participation in a variety of student organizations: security-focused entities (e.g., clubs affiliated with the American Society of Industrial Security and Certified Fraud Examiners Association), criminal justice-related (e.g., law enforcement, corrections, law and juvenile justice), business-centered clubs (e.g., finance, accounting, corporate investigations and technology), information technology (e.g., information security) and other student organizations (e.g., student government, fraternities/sororities and honor societies). Also, participation in such organizations allows for students to gain management, leadership, budgeting and marketing skills in conjunction with a broader understanding of security.

Limits to participation in student professional organizations include time pressures, other commitments and the unpaid nature of the activity. Nevertheless, students will continue to pursue such activities as it benefits their personal development. Also, employers view active membership in student professional organizations favorably.

EXPOSURE TO SECURITY PRODUCTS, SERVICES AND PUBLICATIONS

Students obtain a further understanding of security by exposure to security products, services and publications. Security products and services are shared with students during guest lectures, instructor presentation of company brochures, corporate videos and online materials. Also, online and print versions of security publications such as Security Magazine, Security Management and CSO Magazine and business publications aid in broadening student perspectives on the multidisciplinary nature of security in the 21st century.

CAREER GUIDANCE AND MENTORING

Instructors provide students with career guidance and other mentor activities. More specifically, instructors offer guidance to students about their current and future studies, internships/co-ops, initial jobs and charting career paths. This outreach occurs in disparate settings: in the classroom, as an instructor advisor to a student organization and during office hours. Students benefit from such activities as they receive information and perspectives on their studies and careers.

Instructors find such actions fruitful in that they can better benchmark student interests and needs. Career guidance is hampered when students do not take advantage of enthusiastic and helpful instructors. Still, some instructors are less than proactive and helpful, undermining student receptivity to the security field.

Other mentoring arises when students serve as research assistants. Such roles enable students to garner better research and writing skills while further exploring security themes. Should students become enthralled with research and writing, instructors often recommend that the student pursue graduate studies.

CHALLENGES TO STUDENTS STUDYING SECURITY

While great strides have been made in enticing students to study security and pursue careers in that field, some roadblocks remain. Most prominently, instructors and industry struggle with combating the negative misconceptions about the security profession and career opportunities therein. Even today many university students perceive security jobs as largely limited to low-waged, limited trained, unarmed guards. In certain disciplines, including law enforcement studies, this stereotype is coupled with inferences that those working in security were not admitted or “couldn’t make it,” in a law enforcement career.

Ill-informed students, friends and family members sometimes repeat negative stereotypes about security. Such remarks discourage some students from studying security. Discussing security career opportunities with high school students will enable instructors to entice more students into corporate security studies.

Also, the security field must contend with attracting students when many alternative, attractive careers exist. Among other careers available to students who might otherwise study security include: criminal justice, business, computers and engineering. Some students pursue graduate studies in other disciplines immediately upon completing their undergraduate degrees. Such steps often place them in a non-security-related career path. Yet, it is worth noting that increasingly security professionals recognize the need to pursue graduate studies in other fields, including business, law and technology. Thereby, graduate studies in those non-security fields may actually advance security professionals.

University contributions to the development of the next generation of security professionals can be observed in many ways. A principal focus is the substantive, academic coursework that universities provide students. Next, pupils are exposed to practical, hands-on security-related functions during their internships and co-ops.  Also, students meet and interact with security professionals when guest lecturers address classes as well as at on-campus job fairs. Familiarity with the security profession is enhanced when students participate in student professional organizations. Appreciation of cutting-edge security themes arises through exposure to security-related products, services and publications. Career guidance and mentoring encompass other spheres of university contributions to students. Still, challenges exist to entice students to study security and pursue careers in that field.  

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