Colleges' Hottest New Major: Terror

How power grids work is among topics Cathy Lanier, commander of special operations for D.C. police, has studied for a master's degree in homeland security.
How power grids work is among topics Cathy Lanier, commander of special operations for D.C. police, has studied for a master's degree in homeland security. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Kinzie and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 30, 2005

Cathy Lanier had to think like a terrorist and come up with a way to kill a few thousand people at a picnic in San Luis Rey. The virtual town in California, repeatedly cursed with smallpox epidemics, explosions and attacks on its nuclear power plant, is part of her new education: The commander of special operations for D.C. police is earning a master's degree in the fast-growing field of homeland security.

Schools across the country are catering to such students as Lanier by revamping curricula and research as they try to keep pace with the changes brought on by the 2001 terrorist attacks and take advantage of a large pool of homeland security money. At hundreds of schools, Sept. 11 is influencing how many topics are taught -- from medicine to firefighting to politics to computer networking.

The changes are driven by legislation and policy, interest from students and faculty, demands from employers, a sense of mission -- and money.

The federal government has pumped cash into this new fight, spending more than $12 billion for homeland security research and development over the past four budget years. "Homeland security is probably going to be the government's biggest employer in the next decade," said Steven R. David, who directs the homeland security certificate program at Johns Hopkins University.

"This is all brand-new ground," Lanier, 37, said.

Just as it did during World War II and the Cold War, the government is turning to academia as a partner in defending the country and understanding the enemy. At universities, there are graduate-level classes full of police officers, intelligence analysts and public health experts dwelling on worst-case scenarios, picking apart the cultures of terrorist groups and planning defenses.

Researchers are creating models of explosives and studying germs. And such workers as flight attendants, nurses and lab technicians, whose jobs have been transformed by a variety of threats, are getting hands-on training.

"It's growing by leaps and bounds," said Stanley Supinski, chairman of the Homeland Security/Defense Education Consortium, which was established by two military commands within the Department of Defense, along with two universities in Colorado and the Naval Postgraduate School.

About 80 percent of community colleges offer courses related to homeland security, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Some, such as Northern Virginia Community College, offer certificates.

Employers often hire people studying computer network security before the students have even finished the classes, said NVCC President Robert G. Templin Jr.

Four-year colleges have added courses for undergraduates in fields all but unheard of just a few years ago -- about the Taliban and cybersecurity, for example. Some offer degree programs; Virginia Commonwealth University hopes to have students studying for bachelor's degrees in homeland security this fall.

Several schools are considering establishing master's degree programs. More common are the certificates offered at such universities as Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and George Washington that allow students earning master's degrees to specialize in homeland security. Georgetown students can take a class on al Qaeda from the former head of the Bin Laden unit of the CIA.

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