A group of 32 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees became the first-ever class in the Denver Metro area to earn a TSA Homeland Security Certificate, and their educational commitment executed through coursework at the Community College of Aurora was recognized at an April 10 ceremony.
The TSA Associates Program, which partners with community colleges across the country, offers three classes: Introduction to Homeland Security, Intelligence Analysis & Security Technology, and Transportation and Border Security. Officers receive a certificate of achievement upon successful completion of the three classes, but the program also gives them a jump start to pursue an associate’s degree while improving their career advancement opportunities at TSA.
“I can already tell you we’ve just added an extra layer of security to the airport community because these folks are more aware of their surroundings. I think that’s key,” said Lawrence Nau, Acting Federal Security Director for TSA Denver.
CCA has been able to retain 31 of the 32 graduates to continue into a nationally unique fourth course covering Homeland Security. That class in addition to the previous three already completed means these TSA employees already will have reached one-fifth of the credits needed to obtain a two-year degree.
That reintroduction to the classroom is critical, given that only 17 percent of Transportation Security Officers report having an associate’s degree or higher and 26 percent have completed some higher-ed courses.
CCA has modified its Associated of Applied Science degree to allow the TSA grads to be able to seamlessly move into a Criminal Justice pathway. A two-year degree is possible with 16 more courses, many in general education subjects.
“I think the ones that are still working on our first set of classes, 100 percent of them will continue their education,” said TSA officer Bridgett Gonzalez, a member of the night class taught by Aurora (Colo.) Police Department Detective and homeland/terrorism specialist Michael Thrapp.
The TSA Associates Program at CCA was first launched in 2011 in partnership with local community colleges and has grown to include more than 3,800 officers at 114 airports nationwide. Today, the program is now represented in all 50 states and has a roster of 87 participating community colleges aiding in preparation.
“This is an important step, not only in the career development of participating officers, but also for strengthening the security of our nation’s transportation systems,” said Patrese Roberts, National Program Manager, TSA Office of Training and Workforce Engagement.
CCA was a natural choice as the educational partner in the Denver metro area due to a longstanding relationship training flight crew members in self-defense courses. The expertise provided by Thrapp and Michael Carter, the college’s Homeland Security chair and TSA Grant Administrator/Instructor, enhanced that natural fit.
Both faculty members have deep law enforcement and FBI ties.
“The classes really did give us a lot of enlightenment in the workplace,” said Gonzales, who returned to school after 18 years and raising four children. “We now know more about the threats that are out there—and we already knew a lot.”
The four-course offering in the TSA Associate’s Program that CCA offers directly relates to and is useful in the employees’ career field. Carter called it a “great program” and was so motivated by the students’ enthusiasm, he taught classes even though it wasn’t part of his normal teaching load.
“You could see the amount of respect the students had for these men, too, because of the amount of knowledge that they were able to impart,” said Karen Sheppard, TSA education coordinator for Denver. “It opened their eyes to new opportunities, and we’re about doing that for our employees.”
The CCA courses were offered both in the day and at night and lasted 18 months. A second group of students already has completed the first two courses of training, with another several dozen slated to begin in September.
“You can definitely tell the balance that the CCA instructors brought between the curriculum and their personal experience from outside that allows these students to progress to a higher level,” Nau said. “And when you have an older group that’s been removed from the educational environment for awhile, you need something to motivate them. Injecting that personal experience is what motivated these folks to continue to come back.”
CCA already has numerous commitments from students seeking to further their education at the college and hopefully increase their upward mobility and excitement about their chosen professions.
“Community College of Aurora truly is a family and we want these students to understand that, come back to us, and work with us so they can see what the opportunities and possibilities are,” Carter said. “They will not get lost here at CCA.”