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Degree in Homeland Security Offers Multiple Specializations

July 1, 2010
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 Pennsylvania State Police use helicopters like this one, which served during the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, to protect the Commonwealth. Photo courtesy of Penn State Outreach Marketing


Terrorist threats continue to challenge the capabilities of federal, state and local governments, the military, emergency services, businesses and agricultural agencies responsible for protecting the homeland. But that’s not the only concern. The baby-boom generation is reaching retirement age, and these organizations are beginning to lose some of their most experienced employees. For example, about one-third of federal career employees and more than 60 percent of career executives will be eligible to retire between now and 2012, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
To help prepare individuals to meet the continuing threat, Penn State is launching an online Intercollege Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security program.

“The discipline of homeland security has become a consortium of many different specialties,” says Robert A. Cherry, M.D., program chair for the master’s degree program. Cherry, a trauma surgeon and associate chief quality officer at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, adds, “Penn State’s program was created to complement these diverse specialties with a homeland security education portfolio that will suit the needs of many individuals working in this field.”

The master’s degree incorporates Penn State’s current online Master of Homeland Security in Public Health Preparedness and adds four other specializations.



Research, Scholarship and Experience Inform the Program

Penn State’s colleges of Liberal Arts, Medicine, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Information Sciences and Technology, and Agricultural Sciences, the Graduate School, Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Public Affairs and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, are partnering on the 33-credit program. The program is delivered entirely online through World Campus to enable working professionals to participate.
Cherry explains, “It’s about bringing together a diverse group of academic professionals with expertise and practical experience in the homeland security field to mentor, teach and develop the leadership and technical skills of our students.”

The courses are designed to make the learning experience applicable to the workplace, with opportunities for class assignments that are related to students’ work. The curriculum also is appropriate for those who want to transfer from a related field into a homeland security field.

All students participate in a series of core courses and then choose one of five specializations: either the fundamental homeland security program or options in public health preparedness, geospatial intelligence, information security and forensics, and agricultural biosecurity, each with a capstone experience.


Five Ways to Customize the Degree Program

The Homeland Security Base program is aimed toward National Guard personnel, emergency managers and others who wish to study homeland security and defense policy and administration. Participants will focus on homeland security policy, strategic development, planning and implementation to become leaders in preventing, responding to and analyzing natural and man-made catastrophic events. Participants will learn about the major legislation shaping homeland security policy and the impact of catastrophic events on society and domestic and global economies.

According to Jeremy Plant, Ph.D., director of the homeland security base option, “We patterned our courses on those of the Naval Postgraduate School, which Congress designated the lead educational institution in homeland security.”

This option is built on a four-course sequence developed previously for Penn State’s online Homeland Security and Defense Certificate.

“Anyone working in homeland security needs a broad sense of homeland security and how their organization fits into the current economy and global community,” adds Plant, who is professor of public policy and administration and coordinator of Graduate Programs in Public Administration at the School of Public Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg.

The Public Health Preparedness option is designed to provide non-science graduate students with general training in public health related to homeland security. It will be of interest to federal, state and local public health officials, health care professionals, first responders, criminal justice and law enforcement personnel, military staff and members of corporate security. Students will gain an understanding of hazard analysis and incident management with respect to natural disasters and critical infrastructure protection against disaster and terrorist emergencies. Topics covered include disaster readiness/coordination, biosecurity and political/social aspects of terrorism and natural disasters.


Focusing on Geospatial Intelligence

The Geospatial Intelligence option prepares professionals who are or aspire to become leaders in the field of geospatial intelligence and homeland security. Penn State holistically approaches geospatial intelligence as actionable knowledge, a process and a profession. The program is focused on educating the professional to describe, understand and interpret geospatial information so as to anticipate the human impact of an event or actions. These competencies are key to solving important national security, homeland security and business problems.

Todd Bacastow, Ph.D., director of the Geospatial Intelligence option and member of the Dutton e-Education Institute, points out that the best geospatial intelligence resource is an educated analyst. Bacastow comes to the program with years of experience working in the field.

What geospatial intelligence brings to the homeland security field is “a perspective of people, places and things that oftentimes are missing in intelligence analyses,” Bacastow says. “This option gives the individual entering the field a strong foundation in geospatial intelligence, and for folks who have been in the profession, this will be an opportunity to increase their knowledge and interact with other geospatial intelligence professionals working in the field. We are focused on building a broader community of professionals.”

Protecting the nation’s information systems and cyberspace presents one of the greatest challenges for homeland security professionals. Managers and practitioners seeking to advance in information security and assurance, network security and cyber threat defense may be interested in the Information Security and Forensics option. This option is geared toward mid- to high-level information technology professionals who would like to further their skills in information security management. Students will gain an understanding of how to build information systems with assurances and also the role of “trust” in delivering these assurances across multiple venues. It also explores core technologies used in making a networked information system secure and assured.

The homeland security program’s fifth option, Agricultural Biosecurity, is designed to build an understanding of the theories, skills and technology in subjects such as agricultural and food security as well as biological threat reduction. This knowledge is associated with plant and animal agricultural biosecurity, food processing security, active and passive surveillance systems for infectious disease and disease-predictive modeling capabilities. The Agricultural Biosecurity option will train professionals to act effectively to protect the nation’s food and health.

Additional options are planned for 2011, including Computer and Network Security.

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