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College Hosts Intelligence Studies Boot Camp

AnalyticsThe UTSA College of Business Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence hosted a data analytics boot camp this fall for 10 undergraduate students.

Students were selected based on their prior knowledge of statistics, interest in a national security career, essay and general academic success.  The interdisciplinary and intercollegiate cohort included six students from UTSA, two students from Texas A&M University-San Antonio and two students from the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley.  Majors represented included actuarial science, business, cyber security, math, mechanical engineering and psychology.

“Since elementary I’ve always been fascinated with intelligence,” said Grace Johnson, a program participant majoring in cyber security and minoring in intelligence studies. “Cyber security is the way of the future for intelligence careers.”

The 30-hour boot camp exposed students to data science techniques while solving a simulated national security issue. The program was led by consultants Max Thibodeaux and George Whittenburg.

“As mentors we are passionate about the perennial issue of producing good intelligence and communicating it effectively,” said Thibodeaux. “This is a practice run for the real world. So, a little like student teaching, this experience gives participants the ability to try on the job for size and fit.”

Student teams were given crime data and were asked to develop an intelligence briefing by analyzing patterns in the number and location of reported fatalities in the designated area. The key intelligence question was determining whether foul play was a detectable factor in the number of fatalities. Another challenge was to determine how best to show the information to decision-makers.

“As mentors we showed them some baseline tradecraft and guided their interactions in a working group,” said Thibodeaux. “The idea was to leverage data tools to create explanatory visuals and potential new insights into the challenge.”

Using Tableau, a data analytics tool, and Alteryx, an analytical tool, students conducted statistical analysis and developed visualizations of the data.  At the program’s conclusion, the students delivered a standard intelligence update to a senior-level intelligence official.

“The intelligence community has such a veil of secrecy over it these days,” said Thibodeaux. “This kind of experience helps to pull back the veil and exposes its participants to the practical difficulties of this kind of work.”

“It was an amazing opportunity,” said Johnson, who is a UTSA Top Scholar and a member of the UTSA Honors College and the Business Honors Program. “I enjoyed the hands-on experience and seeing the applications of what I’m studying. It solidified my belief that this is a career that I’d like to pursue.”

The college’s Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence plans to conduct the boot camp again this spring. For more information about the center and its programming visit their website.

–Wendy Frost

 

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