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SPA Students Learn and Network at Forum with Homeland Security Experts

SPA Graduate students recently got a front row seat at a gathering of top homeland security professionals in Virginia.

Graduate students from American University’s School of Public Affairs (SPA) recently got a front row seat at a gathering of top homeland security professionals in Virginia.  

SPA Professor in Practice Trace Lasley invited six students in the master’s program for Terrorism and Homeland Security to assist at the Homeland Security Enterprise Forum (HSEF) in late October. The three-day event draws over 200  representatives from across the political spectrum from government, the private sector, non-profit think tanks, and academia. 

“It’s valuable for students to be in the room where these discussions are happening,” said Lasley of the forum that took place in Middleburg. “It’s also a great networking opportunity.”

Beyond what students learn in the classroom about homeland security issues, it’s important to hear from professionals in the field, Lasley said, who also coordinated a group of student volunteers for the first HSEF in 2021.

The 2022 HSEF included sessions on the human trafficking, drones, cybersecurity, and quantum computing as it relates to security threats. Among the speakers were three former secretaries of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Michael Chertoff, Kevin McAleenan and Kirstjen Nielsen, as well as U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Department of Human Services Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, TSA Administrator David Pekoske, and FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate.

Last year Anna Christy, SPA/BA ‘21 MS ‘22, helped as a notetaker at the forum, and this year she coordinated the student volunteers.  She said it was a powerful to learn from so many experienced professionals in the homeland security enterprise, many of whose research she’d read in class.

“We got to see everything we worked so hard for in our coursework and really come to life. That was incredible, and we felt very motivated coming out of it,” said Christy, now an adjunct professor in the AU Department of Math and Statistics.

Rob Walker, executive director of HSEF, said he appreciated the help students provided, along with their insights as young professionals entering the field. 

“Our mission is to invigorate conversations, to elevate those conversations above partisanship, and to integrate solutions,” Walker said of the event. “The students brought a different perspective and multi- generational audience. We want to bring in folks that are really going to tackle the challenges that we discussed.”

As Tatiana Eastin, SPA/MS ’23, finishes her degree and works on her cyber policy and management graduate certificate, she said she welcomed the chance to assist at the forum.

“It was a perfect opportunity to meet people across the enterprise from government and the public sector,” said Eastin, who would like to work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “I did actually end up making some good connections and talk about future jobs.”

Eastin said she was a little “star struck,” seeing so many high-profile experts at the forum, yet found them open and eager to meet the next generation entering the field. Covering sessions on the cyber supply chain and future of the TSA was eye-opening, Eastin said, adding that was grateful to have the experience.

A report summarizing the conversations at the forum will be published soon. Walker said throughout the year the Homeland Security Experts Group will champion some of the recommendations and urge policymakers to see them through to implementation.