Students to become published authors via new major at York College
Watch any “James Bond” or “Jason Bourne” spy movie, and you’ll notice there’s a common theme.
It’s not an actor, fictional character, or place. Rather, it’s a skill, a mental aptitude, a way of thinking, and it’s what a relatively new major at York College of Pennsylvania teaches: Intelligence Analysis.
While the students studying Intelligence Analysis aren’t trying to become the next Ian Fleming or Robert Ludlum (the authors of James Bond and Jason Bourne stories, respectively) they are working on their own book, the second edition of “Intelligence Analysis: Unclassified Area and Point Estimates (and Other Intelligence Related Topics).”
Now, the field isn’t quite what the films have glamourized, says John Weaver, the Program Coordinator of Intelligence Analysis Program at York College. It also doesn’t have much to do with techno gadgetry that sometimes plays a central role in fictional spy stories.
“Many people probably have this conception that Intelligence Analysis deals with James Bond related activities,” he says. “It’s actually the synthesis of multiple sources of information, classified and unclassified, that provide a perspective about what is happening.”
Starting blocks for a book
What started out as an assignment in a graduate class Professor Weaver was teaching in 2015 before arriving at York College evolved into a chapter in another book published by Nova Science Publishers. From that success, he decided to try it at the undergraduate level when he came to York College.
“I offered up the idea to the students last year,” he says. “We looked at the National Security Strategy from 2015, and I gave the students an option: They could either do a group project and turn it in for a grade, or, if they were willing to go above and beyond and contribute about 30 pages worth of information as a group, I would see about getting a signed book deal.”
They all accepted to go above and beyond.
He formed a collaboration between his Intelligence Analysis class and the World Regional Geography class of Jennifer Pomeroy, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Geography in the Department of History and Political Science.
The same publisher, Nova Science Publishers, accepted Professor Weaver’s and Pomeroy’s first edition book proposal, and the work began.
Students from both classes worked on a joint project to assess President Obama's 2015 National Security Strategy and focused on eight country or regional issues, as well as ISIL and Al Qaeda, two non-state actors. As Dr. Pomeroy points out, geographic intelligence is essential for the intelligence field. Whether it is terrain or airfield analysis, critical infrastructure assessment, risk or disaster modeling, and vulnerability analysis and predicting, being able to mine data from multiple sources and conduct accurate analysis are key for decision making in the intelligence community.
These 10 student projects became 10 chapters in a book edited by Professor Weaver and Dr. Pomeroy, titled “Intelligence Analysis: Unclassified Area and Point Estimates.” That was last year.
Second Edition Opportunity
This year, on Day 2 of the 2017 fall semester, Professor Weaver offered his students the same option but this time, it would be updating the content from the first edition for a planned second edition. Some of the topics have been dropped and others added, such as Syria, and others have gained greater focus such as cyber and the Islamic state.
Jordan Bernard of Bowie, Maryland, a junior studying Intelligence Analysis, leapt at the opportunity and possibility to become a published author, but he acknowledges some research challenges.
“The hardest part about writing this book is, in the intelligence community, any data or information that’s more than five years old is considered obsolete,” he says. “So, it’s hard to find credible, recent sources. Any five-year-old data or information might be accurate but just not relevant anymore – or not as relevant as it once was.”
But when push comes to shove, Jordan chose to contribute to the book instead of the paper.
“It’s an opportunity to become a published author, and I’d only be 21 when the book is released,” he says. “That wasn’t necessarily a goal of mine, but I thought it would be cool to put on a resume that, before I turned 25, I became a published author.”