Mercyhurst forms Tom Ridge School of Intelligence Studies and Information Science

Mercyhurst University today will announce its seventh school — the Tom Ridge School for Intelligence Studies and Information Science.

The new school will include the Intelligence Studies Department, Math and Computer Science Department, and Communication Department, as first reported by The Merciad on March 26..

Ridge will take part in a formal announcement ceremony today, April 11, at the Center for Academic Studies board room.

“[This] has never been done before,” Tom Gamble, Ph.D., proudly stated, talking about the monumental move. “[The idea] came from Gamble and Jim Breckenridge, Ph.D., the department chair of the Intelligence Studies Department” according to Phil Belfiore, vice president of academic affairs.

Intelligence Studies …“currently sits within the School of Social Sciences … and they have somewhat outgrown the Social Science school,” Belfiore added. “Also, the opportunity to attract external funding made it interesting to propose this school.”

Belfiore and Breckenridge included the Math and Computer Sciences Department in order to focus on the opportunities for the intelligence and math/computer disciplines available in the area of “big data analytics.”

“[The Intelligence Studies] program has grown by leaps and bounds … including in the trends of data management which are coming at us right and left,” Breckenridge said.

“So, it made sense to take the Department … and bring in some folks who are deep into information science. The logical people to do that, that’s Math and Computer Science.”

Chad Redman, Ph.D., the department chair of Math and Computer Science, also submitted letters to Gamble, stating that this move would aid his department in pursuing new projects.

“We have a leading program in Intelligence Studies and data science is the quantitative heart of intelligence. So, if anyone should be getting involved in data science, it’s us,” Redman said.

Breckenridge has also stated that bringing the two departments together would enable the new school “to be more agile and more creative” and grants them “more ability to respond to the current information environment.”

The increased agility can be seen in possibilities mentioned by Redman on the creation of a Kaggle team, which would consist of students and faculty and would allow massive companies to contact Mercyhurst in order to find yet-unknown solutions to data problems they experience.

“Participation on such a team would give the students some excellent real-world experience and really polish their skills,” Redman said.

In a recent interview, Gamble said the largest growth in the school may come “on the Math and Computer Science side,” with the capacity to invest in the emerging trends of information science.

He said that a recent development included the addition of the Communications Department to help advance opportunities in studying the effects of social media.

In the process of creating the new school, the idea was run past the Faculty Senate and Board of Deans of Mercyhurst.

The concerns

While the response was overall positive, several concerns were voiced.

“The formation of another school, and, in fact, [I] think the pairing with Mathematics and Computer Science makes sense at several levels,” Randy Clemons, Ph.D., dean of the School of Social Sciences, said.

Even so, he said, “across campus there have been some concerns raised about the chance, for example: access to math and computer courses for students in terms of both the sciences and core, students and faculty becoming more isolated, [or] students losing one of the edges they have had since the program’s founding in terms of being more broadly trained in the liberal arts than their competitors.”

Another professor, Chris Magoc, Ph.D. of the History Department and an Associate Dean of the School of Social Sciences, voiced similar praises and concerns.

“The closer association of the Intelligence Studies program with computer systems and mathematics in the new school will serve students of the program very well.

“I do have some concern that the program’s separation from the School of Social Sciences might lead to a degree of isolation from the disciplines of political science and history that have long been essential to the academically broad training of effective intelligence analysts,” he said.

Despite these concerns, though, both professors have made it clear that they approve of the formation of the School and that they have faith the University and Breckenridge will continue guiding the program for, as Magoc said, “continued national leadership in the field.”

In response to these concerns, Breckenridge said the Intel students are still required to be part of the Common Core Curriculum which the rest of the university follows, but also that within the Intelligence Studies requirements “are courses in history, political science, the languages, criminal justice. So we’ve included in our curriculum opportunities to be instructed by liberal arts professors. So we’ve not abandoned anything.”

Emphasis on Ethics

The other aspect of the curriculum the new school will emphasize is ethics.

“Given all the things that have happened over the past decade since 9/11 we want to make sure that our students leave here with a foundation for integrity and a strong ethical foundation.”

This drive for ethics is in response to “Snowden, Manning, and Intel failure in general, which overall comes about from not looking for the truth in the right way,” Breckenridge said.

The new school will seek to continue improving the discipline of Intelligence Studies, Breckenridge said, and improve the opportunities available for students, even those who are not on campus.

The plan is, within 10 years, to have all courses in Intelligence Studies available online, both in undergraduate and graduate programs. And the Ridge School also seeks to expand its ability to help graduates gain employment in all areas, including the fields of Big Data and Data Analytics into which the School is currently expanding, and also to expand on a global scale.

“This opportunity presented by combining data mining and big data analysis with intelligence analysis on both national security or the competitive intelligence front is very important for our students, and for United States businesses’ competitive position,” Gamble said.

This will also include study abroad opportunities for students. The goal is that students will not only have the ability to study abroad in Ireland like all Mercyhurst students, but anywhere in the world, according to their education and desired field of work.

Choice of name

Naming the School after Tom Ridge seemed “the sensible thing to do, given his career, the first Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States and being from Erie,” Gamble said.

He also emphasized that while Ridge and his supporters have donated to Mercyhurst in the past, and will hopefully continue to do so, such donations were not the main reason for naming the school after him. The Ridge-Mercyhurst tie is already strong, with his and Mrs. Ridge’s archives resting at the University, and will likely grow stronger.

The Tom Ridge School for Intelligence Studies and Information Science presents itself as a groundbreaking opportunity for Mercyhurst students, and for all the departments involved. This university has been leader in the field for quite some time now, and with the creation of this school, it will only advance its lead above the competition. It will further cement Mercyhurst’s name into the minds of employers, potential students, and the world.