Claire McCleskey enrolled in Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies Program after she finished college. She graduated in May and has been appointed a Presidential Management Fellow. (Jason Hornick/For Express)
As an undergrad at Georgetown, Claire McCleskey majored in security studies, a field that covers threats to national security like terrorism, weapons proliferation and international crime. When senior year came around, McCleskey knew she wasn’t quite done.
In the fall of her senior year, she took a class on terrorism, she says, “and I realized, ‘Wow, I love this, I want more of this.’ ”
“We get people who have been out working for a number of years,” Spear says. “And then increasingly we’re also getting a community who are coming straight from undergraduate, because those entry-level jobs aren’t there anymore.”
Spear says the GW program is aimed at giving students skills to be competitive in the job market. For example, in addition to required classes in international security politics, defense policy and program analysis, students take economics and either a language course or quantitative analysis course, “because we’re in the era of Big Data now,” she says.
Past GW security studies students have gotten jobs at think tanks, nonprofits or in the government, including agencies like the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But, Spear says, the sequestration and shrinking federal budgets that caused the dearth of entry-level jobs are also prompting security professionals to look to new fields.
“I’m certainly thinking more about the private sector and what type of satisfying security careers you could have using the same skills,” Spear says.
To prepare students for the job market, many security studies programs in the D.C. area are set up so students can work or intern while taking classes. Most have classes on evenings and weekends. It typically takes between two and three years to complete the programs.
“I wanted it to be, ‘During the day I’m working and tonight I’m going to class,’ ” McCleskey says. “Which is what SSP students do.”
“Sometimes you think a master’s is going to be a magic bullet, and someone is going to hand you a job, which is not at all what happens,” McCleskey says. “But someone saying, ‘Hey, you should try this,’ is half the battle.”
McCleskey says her professors’ knowledge of the industry — which many still work in — has been an asset to the program.
“There are professors that are so approachable and want to get beers with you,” she says. “And then you learn that they had some really, really fancy job, and if you knew them in the workplace you wouldn’t be calling them by their first name.”