Matters of National Security
After completing a yearlong vetting process, four Washington College students have spent their summers with high security clearance working at three national security corporations and a government agency.
The National Security Scholars Program (NSSP) begins like most other internship programs: sophomores and juniors, who must have a grade point average of at least 3.0, submit an essay, garner professor recommendations, and put together a résumé.
What comes next takes a sharp detour from the typical narrative: polygraphs, psychological evaluations, and third-party interviews with family, friends, and professors.
The partners in the program —national security corporations and government agencies including Booz Allen Hamilton, Leidos, Lockheed Martin, National Security Agency, and the Maryland Independent College and University Association — then select the students to begin the rigorous process of earning their top-secret clearance, which is the highest level of clearance one can get in the government.
“Year after year, Washington College provides our most successful candidates,” says Lori Livingston, director of NSSP at MICUA. “The college prepares the students for every stage of the application process and the students are highly successful in getting through the program.”
This year, three rising juniors and one rising senior from Washington College comprise the largest group from a single MICUA institution to be accepted into the program. Because of the sensitive nature of their work, Washington College is not disclosing their identities.
“I wanted to do something that really mattered,” says one of the four NSSP scholars, a mathematics and computer science major placed with NSA. Although her majors directly intersect with the program, her dance and German minors reflect a broader set of interests. “As a student of the liberal arts, I have a broad range of knowledge. Anything that comes up at work, I can relate to.”
A second NSSP scholar also at NSA— a major in computer science and English, with minors in creative writing and Spanish — says that her wide range of interests “shows that you can balance unrelated things, can succeed in other areas, and that you’re flexible and adaptable.
That’s one of the things that I really loved about WC — that liberal arts environment that compels you to try everything. I came in as an English major and took a computer science class to fill my distribution. Now that’s what I’m doing for my career.”
All of the NSSP scholars are grateful to their professors for helping to prepare them for careers in national security, and for the Washington College experience itself which, says one of the scholars placed at Booz Allen Hamilton, “taught me to be on time, be responsible, and be attentive.”
“It’s really cool,” he says about the internship. “They treat the NSSP like a business, and their product is intelligent people. They’ve given me a lot of opportunities to learn.”
In addition to leveraging her studies in physics and mathematics, a fourth NSSP scholar was able to bring her skill set from the College’s Geographic Information System program to her project at Leidos.
“The particular project I’m working on has to do with geospatial image segmentation, and they were looking for someone who was able to use that software, which I could do.”
All of the students in the NSSP are likely to take a job at their current placement after graduation. One student, who will graduate in December, won’t “break service” during her last semester. The others will have the opportunity to intern again next summer while they complete their undergraduate studies.
“I just ended my sophomore year and I pretty much have a guaranteed job after college,” says one. That’s incredible.”