IGKNU (pronounced i.gnew) is founded on the observation that the world has emerged as an integrated system of peoples, cultures, and economies that thrive best when actions are grounded in knowledge about the global integration of human endeavors and the understanding needed for mutual acceptance and collaboration. The cornerstone of empowerment in the globalized world is knowledge. So, the IGKNU vision is GLOBAL to the power of KNOWLEDGE (Gk).
—from the UTPA web site
Global understanding to the power of knowledge. This is the foundation of the University of Texas-Pan American’s Integrated Global Knowledge and Understanding Collaboration, commonly known as IGKNU. It began with a five-year, $2.5 million federal grant from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in October of 2006 and has developed into three curricular programs, cultural immersion abroad, career development conferences in Washington, D.C., a speaker series and high school outreach.
It all started with Dr. Van Reidhead, former dean of UTPA’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and now the provost and vice president of academic affairs at East Stroudsburg University in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Relatively new to UTPA at the time, Reidhead insisted that UTPA needed to develop a program in global security due to its proximity to the border and the volume of international exchange between South Texas and Mexico.
“There is an art to diplomacy,” said Nick Weimer, manager of IGKNU. “Dr. Reidhead had this goal to bring more national opportunities to the Valley.”
While Reidhead’s idea began taking shape, a Congressional report, ordered following the September 11, 2001 assault on America, called for an increase in workforce diversity.
“Not only ethnic and racial diversity,” said Sandra Hansmann, director and principal investigator for IGKNU, “but cultural and geographic diversity, as well.” Traditionally, she explained, the intelligence workforce hailed mainly from the East Coast and Ivy-League-type universities. The report urged the federal government to seek an intelligence workforce comprised of people from across the country and from private and state universities.
“To create diversity of thinking,” said Weimer.
The ODNI awarded the grant to UTPA, and work began to develop the curriculum, hire staff, proceed through the university’s internal processes and create an external advisory board. Reidhead included his colleagues from different colleges within UTPA, creating an interdisciplinary program that attracts students with diverse undergraduate majors.
IGKNU focuses on three core areas: intelligence, national security and global leadership.
“They all overlap,” said Weimer. “The intelligence field is used in corporations and in government.”
Students interested in global security and leadership have three curricular programs from which to choose:
• An undergraduate minor in Global Security Studies, an 18-hour program of study
• A Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies: Global Security Studies and Leadership (36 hours)
• A graduate certificate in Global Security Studies and Leadership (18 credit hours)
Even the names of some of the courses in the program are intriguing: Introduction to Global Security Studies, Interdisciplinary Research in Business, Science and Engineering, Cross-Cultural Psychology, Cyber Security, and Open Source Research, to name a few. Students in the program develop critical advanced research skills, intensive communication skills, a strong cross-cultural understanding and the ability to perform critical analysis. The program places a heavy emphasis on research and analysis, according to Weimer, because every government employee with whom they have visited has told them these are the skill sets lacking in their employment pool.
Exploring the program is like reading a captivating espionage novel. In the program’s practicum courses, students have the opportunity to explore a topic. One group of Hansmann’s students participated in the Institute for Analysis (part of the National Intelligence Agency) Challenge Project. The challenge requires participating groups to explore and research security and intelligence issues, particularly those that create vexing problems for our country. Hansmann’s students chose this topic: Identify emerging leaders in Russian organized crime. Like seasoned intelligence personnel, they began an extensive study that began with research questions and evolved into creating an analytic cycle and identifying a profile of the traditional leader profile in Russian organized crime and a contemporary leader profile. They read Russian newspapers, using machine translations and even asked one of the student’s grandparents, fluent in Russian, to translate for them. Students became so absorbed in the project that they devoted countless hours outside of the classroom to complete their challenge and to submit the results of their analysis.
Over the past four years, more than 50 UTPA students have traveled to China and Morocco to participate in IGKNU’s month-long summer Cultural Immersion Abroad. While in these countries, students attend foreign universities and take classes taught by those universities’ professors. “Buddies” from the country are assigned to the UTPA students, and native and other international students are their classmates. The UTPA students stay in the universities’ dorms and eat in their dining halls. They first learn words in the foreign languages and then progress to sentences.
“The focus is on proper diction and pronunciation,” said Hansmann, “enough of a foundation to continue the study of the language when they return, if they’re interested.”
Students who take advantage of the Cultural Immersion Abroad also get to travel throughout the China or Morocco to visit notable sites.
Other colleges within UTPA continue to play a role in IGKNU’s success. A Chinese language and culture summer institute for high school students established by the collaboration is now run by the university’s Department of Modern Language and Literature.
IGKNU conducts a summer program, also for high school students, called Got Intelligence? Participants are divided into teams representing intelligence and security agencies. They develop a plan for a joint task force on humanitarian aid. This year the students chose Haiti, and a graduate of the Global Security Studies program led them.
“Got Intelligence? shows the students how to apply intelligence and security,” Hansmann said. “It’s not just about James Bond. It is also about saving lives and improving the world. It also incorporates the whole idea of peace-keeping intelligence.”
Students learn much more than how to develop a plan of action. They also learn that pity is not productive.
“We make an effort with these projects not to have the students objectify or pity,” Hansmann said. “You walk a fine line, understanding the realities but taking on a strengths-based focus.”
Another aspect of IGKNU is their speaker series. U.S. Army Reserve Major General George R. Fay, lead investigating officer into the military intelligence involvement in the detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, launched last year’s series.
Five students have already graduated from the Global Security Studies program. They received employment offers from the FBI, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and military intelligence. One graduate is currently working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), another has entered graduate school and two are now employed by IGKNU.