If there is one lesson to be learned from the COVID pandemic, it’s the importance that technology is having on our world.
Advancements in computer hardware and software are not only enhancing our lives, but also providing greater access to information than ever before.
For government agencies and private employers, how such information is analyzed and interpreted can create numerous opportunities — more informed policy decisions — as well as challenges — potential security threats — never dreamed of before.
“COVID changed the business world forever where intel went from a nice to have to a need to have,” explains Lindy Smart, M.S., executive director of Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. “Right now, we are on the forefront of creating a program that takes advantage of what will come out of that as far as what companies need.”
In addition to cybersecurity and corporate security, a major part of this advanced programming is the competitive and business side of
intelligence — a demand that isn’t slowing down. “It’s data driven,” says Smart, “and every single part of a business from the CEO down to the VPs and directors need decision support.”
At Mercyhurst University, a private, Catholic liberal arts school founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1926, providing cutting-edge intel education has been a major part of its programming for the past 30 years. The University began its Intelligence Studies program — the most established civilian curriculum in the country — in 1992 and has continued to grow it exponentially since the terrorist attacks of September 11.
The program is part of the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences — named after Erie native Tom Ridge, 43rd governor of Pennsylvania and first Secretary of Homeland Security — and the largest of the four colleges at Mercyhurst, with nearly 1,100 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. A Center of Excellence for distance and online learning, the Ridge College develops top talent in the areas of intelligence, information management and applied science through hands-on education and training.
“Over the past 30 years, we’ve had more competitors, but we’ve also continued to grow and evolve in new areas, such as cybersecurity and corporate security, and we’re still leading the field while providing a robust liberal arts education,” notes John Olszowka, Ph.D., dean of the Ridge College and associate vice president of Graduate Programming and Strategic Academic Initiatives.
Mercyhurst University has set itself apart in the resources available to students and other partner organizations. Complementing its highly regarded Intelligence Studies program, the University has a state-of- the-art cyber education center, opened in 2018, which has advanced both the University’s status as one of the leaders in the field of intelligence studies and an opportunity for Erie to build its reputation as a leader in the field of cybersecurity.
The $2 million, 8,000-square-foot facility currently houses Federal Resources Corp., as well as two computer mathematics labs, a cybersecurity lab, and several collaboration areas. The facility is also home to the Center for Intelligence Research, Analysis and Training, better known as CIRAT. CIRAT is a training center and pipeline for Intelligence students that gives them the opportunity to work with business and government agencies on real-world projects.
“Here, at Mercyhurst, students can develop and hone their skills, which they can utilize in government, state and federal agencies, as well as in business and other areas,” Olszowka explains.
Expert Faculty and Administrators
The tech investment complements Mercyhurst’s robust curriculum and continuing investment to attract top intel and cyber professionals to its faculty to better prepare students for work in government or industry. Smart, for instance, is the Ridge College’s first female executive director of Intelligence Studies. A Harborcreek Township native and Mercyhurst graduate, she joined the University in spring 2022 after several years in a high-profile role at Target Corporation’s headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the retail giant, she developed and implemented competitive intelligence risk strategy and rose through the ranks to become director of competitive intelligence.
Christopher Mansour, Ph.D., an assistant professor and co-founder of the Cybersecurity programs at Mercyhurst University, came to the University from Villanova, where he earned his doctorate in engineering with a concentration in cybersecurity.
Brian A. Fuller, a retired U.S. Army First Sergeant and director of Operations for the Ridge College, supports all operations related to the academic curriculum for Ridge College activities. He also is director of the CIRAT as well as the Innovation Entente Lab (IEL), and oversees the University’s internship program.