Rider University is tapping the expertise of former Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker to bring real-world experience to its master’s degree program in homeland security.
Schweiker, executive in residence at Rider’s Department of Political Science, brings decades of governmental know-how in guiding emergency response. As lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, he helped coordinate the emergency response after the terrorist attack on 9/11 that caused the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Somerset County, killing all 44 people on board.
“One learns a great deal and it shapes a perspective on what happens when a jurisdiction or leadership takes their eye off the figurative ball of homeland security,” Schweiker said. “One, we can’t do that. Two, what better person to insist on that kind of vigilance than someone who has seen the downside of when you take your eye off that ball.
“ … Take a look at those four terrorists who jumped that plane. Three of them got through without any extra scrutiny. One did get an extra bag check. It shapes one’s perspective and outlook and passion for how important it is.”
Schweiker, 65, earned a master’s degree in management from Rider in 1983 and was awarded an honorary doctor of laws in 2004. He served as lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001 where he oversaw the commonwealth’s emergency response platform. Weeks after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush appointed Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as director of the new Office of Homeland Security, and Schweiker became governor.
“I will support on a programmatic level the effort in a number of ways: it could be a guest with a professor who is teaching a class, a would-be graduate who is looking for career advancement advice, recruiting a notable speaker to talk about how homeland security is conducted in this day and age,” Schweiker said. “This is about assisting the program in discrete programmatic ways.”
Homeland security professionals protect ports, tunnels, airways and power plants, and encompass a wide network of local and federal agencies. But they aren’t just about terrorism; the professionals also are charged with coordinating responses to natural disasters such as hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes and heat waves.
Jim Castagnera, associate provost and legal counsel for academic affairs, said Rider’s master’s program attracts veterans and current military members who have significant active duty experience and those who desire to work in policymaking. The school began offering the program three years ago at its main Lawrenceville campus.
Rider’s website quotes a recent study that shows a 97 percent increase in job postings in the New Jersey region alone for applicants with a master’s degree in homeland security, with employers listing the top three skills needed as criminal justice, risk assessment and crisis management.
“We are a small university so we have got to have high quality,” Castagnera said. “I think we have one of the best political science programs in the state in terms of quality of their teaching. We rely on people like Gov. Schweiker who have a connection and commitment to the university. These men and women in political science are great scholars and great teachers. They don’t necessarily have a lot of boots-on-the-ground experience. [Our] kind of graduate student wants to see boots-on-the-ground experience. They want to deal with people who understand what they’ve been through and who bring to the table some knowledge and experience they have not had.”
Rider is home to the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, where students can study and gain practical experience in state politics.
Michael Brogan, an associate professor of political science, said the homeland security program offers students networking opportunities, training sessions and internships with the FBI, New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies. One Rider student in the program is currently interning at the White House.
“We’ve had lots of success in placing students in the office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the state police,” Brogan said. “We are setting up a pipeline with the World Trade Center and Federal Emergency Management Agency.”
Last year Rider brought in U.S. Military Academy Lt. Col. Bryan Price, who taught terrorism and counterterrorism. This year the school is hosting an FBI special agent to teach those courses.
“We build the credibility, maintain it and take it to the next step,” Brogan said. “That is how we envisioned the program.”
Schweiker will provide mentorship and a connection with homeland security professionals, sharing his insight and perspective.
Nearly 17 years after terrorists attacked America, Schweiker wants Americans to stay vigilant.
“There are challenges out there every day,” Schweiker said. “[Homeland security] is an incredibly important realm of American life after what happened on 9/11. I do wonder about the American sense of vigilance these days. We cannot take our eye off the security ball.
“We have a commitment at Rider to those who want to protect the country,” he continued. “I love the perspective that we have here: an appreciation for shared command, building relationships; not just in the technical realm but the soft skills, the leadership, inspirational realm of being shared command. I think that’s where we distinguish ourselves.”