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Ohio State's national-security major attracts undergraduates

Wire • Feb 19, 2013 at 4:00 PM

A 21-year-old junior at Ohio State University would have been in elementary school during the terrorist attack of 2001.

He would have grown up during two wars and the hunts for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. He could have watched the television shows 24 and Homeland.

Add a certain intellectual bent, and a career path might appear.

Peter Marzalik, for example, was into Russian culture after reading Dostoevsky, and he had an aunt in the FBI. Eric D’Angelo likes languages and has a cousin in the CIA.

“I was interested in knowing things that other people don’t know or aren’t allowed to know,” said D’Angelo, 21, of Avon Lake near Cleveland.

Since 2005, there has been a place for those students at Ohio State. There now are about 250 security-and-intelligence majors in the International Studies program. It has become popular enough that there’s talk of adding a master’s program in the next few years, said Anthony Mughan, the director of International Studies.

The undergraduate major attracts particularly motivated people, he said.

It requires a minor in a foreign language, preferably the national-security “critical languages” such as Arabic, Chinese and Somali. D’Angelo and Marzalik, 21, of suburban Chicago, are double majors in security and intelligence and Russian.

The major uses courses from throughout the university. Linguistics professors teach codes and code-breaking. Computer-science professors teach information security. Sociology professors deal with the social aspects of police and policing.

The university is one of 374 educational institutions that offer some kind of homeland-security program, says the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

The first, introduced shortly after the terrorist attack, was at the naval school in California. Three followed at the National Defense University, the University of Denver and the University of Colorado. (The Pentagon’s Northern Command is in Colorado Springs.)

The real boom time was 2003 to 2005, said Steve Recco, director of partnership programs at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Students demanded the courses, the government directed federal money to the programs, and plenty of jobs became available.

Marzalik and D’Angelo say that, as juniors, they already have conditional job offers from the National Security Agency.

A similar boom happened in the first years of the Cold War with international-studies and diplomatic programs, Recco said. International studies at Ohio State began in 1946.

The homeland-security field is pegged to current events, Recco said. It used to have a harder, terrorism-focused edge. But since Hurricane Katrina and similar storms, disaster-management components have evolved.

Big growth in that area has happened lately at community colleges, Recco said.

At OSU, the growth in security and intelligence came without one of those student organizations that so many other majors have. So Marzalik and D’Angelo created one in 2011.

The Security and Intelligence Club has 30 or 40 members now. On Jan. 22, an OSU law professor and human-rights expert spoke to the group.

Thursday’s meeting will focus on the threat of North Korea.

It gives the students an outlet for their interests outside of class, Marzalik said.

“We have people on both sides getting passionate, but they are making rational arguments,” he said.


By Jeb Phillips - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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