- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

RICHMOND (AP) — The first class in Virginia Commonwealth University’s program in homeland security and emergency preparedness graduated yesterday with optimism over finding a job in their growing field, which now includes disaster response.

“You can turn on the TV or read the newspaper, and what we’re dealing with is current,” said James Yassine, 25, of Sterling, Va., who wants to be an intelligence analyst. “It keeps it interesting.”

Avery Church, 23, of Exmore, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, said there are “thousands and thousands” of federal jobs for which the four graduates are qualified and that market conditions are so good they could create their own positions.

“They have a degree that no one else does,” said William W. Newmann, who runs the program in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “They are pioneers. It gets them noticed.”

Mr. Newmann, in Shanghai last week to lecture on the U.S. strategy on the war on terrorism and homeland security, said the program has advanced much faster than anticipated.

“We projected 100 majors after five years,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We’ve gotten 50 majors already, so we’re halfway there after two semesters. It’s surprised everybody.”

Amanda Turner, a double major in forensic science and homeland security, is focused on serving her country.

“My mom is a Vietnam veteran,” she said. “My family has a history of military service.”

Miss Turner and the other graduates said the courses raised their awareness about the challenges facing the United States.

“You realize it’s a global war, and it’s come right to our doorstep,” she said. “It’s unimaginable how big this whole thing is.”

William Parrish, a former senior official with the Department of Homeland Security, is a lead instructor in the program, which has courses that attract students from all disciplines and across the university.

In Homeland Security 101, the introductory course, 275 students were enrolled this year. They included students from criminal justice, the school of business and the school of medicine.

Mr. Parrish said “a lot of the academics were scratching their heads” when the program was proposed because they couldn’t understand where it was heading.

“Now, we’ve come to realize that homeland security is a new profession,” he said.

Bryan Downer, 33, of Richmond, has had a variety of jobs over the years, but says he’s now focused.

“It’s what I’ve always been looking for,” said Mr. Downer, who also said he is motivated by a sense of patriotic service.

Mr. Downer will soon go to Norfolk to take a written exam administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security.

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