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Celebrating Three Years of Service to the Homeland Security Mission

By Lauren Kielsmeier, Executive Director for Academic Engagement

The Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council (HSAAC) recently celebrated three years of service to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Formed in March 2012, the HSAAC is comprised of a diverse group of university presidents, academic leaders, and interagency partners who advise the Secretary and senior leadership on matters related to homeland security and the academic community. Across the Council, members provide guidance on student and recent graduate recruitment; international students; academic research and faculty exchange; campus resilience; homeland security academic programs; and cybersecurity.

The Council’s work has significantly improved the Department’s engagement with the academic community. Through its six subcommittees, the Council has provided more than 100 recommendations to DHS. Of these, 82 percent have been fully or partially implemented, resulting in key accomplishments for both the Department and the academic community. 

One such accomplishment is improved campus resilience and emergency planning efforts. In October 2014, the Council, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Office of Academic Engagement (OAE) hosted the National Seminar and Tabletop Exercise for Institutions of Higher Education, the first in a series of tabletop exercises targeted to colleges and universities. The event brought together more than 100 participants from 21 colleges and universities, providing key insights surrounding common planning, preparedness, and resilience best practices and challenges. Also addressing a Council recommendation, FEMA launched the Academia and Resilience web portal, containing program guides, tools, outreach materials, and downloadable tabletop and emergency planning exercises targeted to the academic community. 

Additionally, the Council’s work surrounding student and recent graduate recruitment has supported DHS’s efforts to strengthen the diversity of its workforce and develop strategic partnerships with Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). In 2014, DHS signed Memoranda of Understanding with five higher education associations, collectively representing 1,531 institutions around the country. These agreements formalize and strengthen the relationship and communication between the Department and the national associations.

Council recommendations have supported increased transparency and engagement on international student issues. Based on Council advice, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began publishing draft policy guidance for public input on the Study in the States website, with 14 pieces of policy guidance published for public comment to date. To expand engagement with the academic community, OAE partnered with the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), ICE SEVP, and the U.S. Department of State’s EducationUSA network to host a webinar with HBCUs focused on recruiting and enrolling international students.

In support of the Department’s mission to enhance cybersecurity, the Council’s recommendations have also led to the  promotion of key cybersecurity initiatives and resources, including the Secretary’s Honors Program Cyber Student Volunteer Initiative. Also noteworthy are the Council’s recommendations that resulted in the Department’s identification of 34 of its key research priorities as well as efforts to provide guidance on homeland security degree requirements and programs at U.S. colleges and universities.

The Council has been an invaluable asset to the Department and our efforts to engage with the academic community. I am proud of the Council’s accomplishments and grateful to its members for their service.

Learn more about the HSAAC here. For more information on DHS and academic engagement, visit http://www.dhs.gov/topic/academic-engagement, or sign up for email updates through DHS’s GovDelivery service.

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