Top-secret firms take recruitment public

Scholarship program aims to lure students into national security

September 15, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Concerned that a career in national security isn't on the Top 10 jobs list of today's best students, area defense industry companies are teaming with area college leaders to attract new young talent.

Organizers of the National Security Scholarship Program hope to ease what they see as a work force shortage of qualified applicants for national security jobs in government and with defense contractors.

Scholarship recipients will get money, internships and quick national security clearances upon graduation.

Maryland defense contractors have chipped in nearly $60,000 and plans are to raise $100,000 in a year. Program officials hope to place 10 interns this summer.

The scholarships will be available to students at the nine participating colleges in the Independent College Fund of Maryland, which raises money from the business community for private colleges, mainly for student financial aid.

"There is a dearth of talent in the national security field in Maryland," said Mark J. Gerencser, founder of the scholarship program and a vice president at Booz Allen & Hamilton. "What was clear to me was that we needed a mechanism that would maybe create a renewed interest in trying to do things for our nation."

Gerencser said presidents of the nine colleges have agreed to spread the word about opportunities in the field.

"We thought they could create a buzz about careers in national security," he said.

Gordon Adams, a professor of international studies at George Washington University and its director of security studies, called the effort unique.

"There seems to be an intellectual retrenchment among undergraduates about the rest of the world, a decline in curiosity about the world since the Cold War ended," said Adams. College security studies programs have seen declining enrollments over the past few years, he said.

"The real issue is that we're facing more complex challenges than we faced in the Cold War. There's a crying need for people who can learn Farsi, who can speak Chinese," he said.

Scholarship program organizers say they hope to attract engineering, science, law, math and economic students, as well as language majors.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. praised the Security Scholarship Program yesterday at a meeting of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport Business Partnership.

"The whole idea is to locate kids early on while they're in college and to get them internships at defense contractors," Ehrlich said. "It's a skilled work force need."

Under the proposed scholarship guidelines, applicants must have at least a 3.0 grade-point average, a declared major, be a U.S. citizen and have completed 60 credit hours of study. Another, less tangible requirement is "a respect for ethical morals and values."

A draft brochure for the program tells applicants they "will be processed for a Top Secret security clearance which will permit you to actively engage in meaningful work."

"There is difficulty getting good people, not just good students but people who are able to undergo a security clearance investigation and get their clearance," said Townsend Hoen, a senior fellow with the Independent College Fund of Maryland who worked with Gerencser on developing the scholarship. "It's not always easy to do, even with someone who's a good student."

Selected students will receive $10,000 -- $5,000 each in their junior and senior years -- and will be encouraged, though not required, to make a two-year commitment to working in national security. The recipients will have paid summer internships at a participating defense contracting firm or the National Security Agency.

Interns will be placed at firms that have donated $10,000 or more to the scholarship fund. In addition to Booz Allen & Hamilton, top contributors include Allied-Signal, Bell Atlantic, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

"The expectation is that upon graduation, all the background investigations would have been completed and the young man or woman would receive clearance and, therefore, go to work on classified contracts immediately," Hoen said.

A board, consisting of the top contributors to the scholarship fund and academic representatives, will meet for the first time in October. Hoen said the nine colleges will nominate students for scholarship consideration.

"It's our hope," Hoen said, "to be able to get at least one student from each of the nine colleges, depending on how much money we have to spread around."

Pub Date: 9/15/99

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