Emergence Alumna Making a Difference: Innovative Leadership Exploration and Development Program (I.LEAD)

Emergence 1902 alumna Nicole Markuski at the 2020 Alumni Professional Exchange Workshop (APEX).

For many students within any of the Center of Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) programs, the classroom discussions with cohort mates on the challenges facing the homeland security enterprise and innovative proposals for addressing the issues are often an aspect of the respective program missed most by the alumni. Emergence 1902 alum, Nicole Markuski, serving as the Training and Exercise Program Manager for the Maryland – National Capital Region Emergency Response System (MDERS), decided to bring the CHDS academic environment with her as she returned to Maryland.

Markuski’s approach was simple; she chose for her Emergence change initiative project to create a program to foster strategic and critical thinking across the broad spectrum of homeland security professionals in her area that would provide a forum for experts in the field to analyze local/regional issues and explore innovative ways to address those issues. The Innovative Leadership Exploration and Development Program (i.LEAD) will foster discussions and collaboration among public safety and homeland security professionals at all organizational levels in the Maryland-NCR. Markuski developed the framework for increasing communication between the agencies of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, who often respond within each other’s districts, and, in her words “often find themselves working together, without fully working together.

Inspired to pursue the Emergence program by her previous program manager with the Maryland Emergency Response System and CHDS Master’s alum, Philip Raum, fellow MDERS coworker and Master’s alum, Michael McAdams, as well as the current Director, MDERS, Luke Hodgson (Executive Leaders Program 1702 and current Master’s student in CA1901/1902), Markuski entered Emergence with high expectations and a supportive home office. Markuski commented, “During the first in-residence, I began to develop the i.Lead concept to address the challenges with coordination I witnessed with MDERS, but I also knew that if I could bring the Emergence experience into my organization, I would likely have a champion in my corner with our Director.” She continued, “Having a ‘CHDS educated’ leader, the push to be innovative and to look at challenges critically has been exceptional…it has really given me the freedom to explore cutting-edge solutions.”

Conceptually, one of the key i.Lead concepts focus on the relationship-building outside of emergent demands. Markuski explained, “Our hope is that i.Lead will allow us to bring the homeland security professionals into a room to discuss issues and solve problems before we have to be in the room reacting to issues and trying to solve problems.” With the framework for i.Lead developed, Markuski and her Director briefed the program to their executive steering committee to secure funding through the Urban Area Security Initiative Grant provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which funds MDERS. Following their successful delivery, i.Lead is now on track and beginning the process to identify those individuals who can serve as effective change agents for their respective organizations. Markuski noted, “Once we get the right people in the room to engage on the critical issues, we will create a positive, cascading effect and begin to make real changes to improve all of our organizations.”

“I am looking forward to applying my Emergence experience in a manner that can make a difference…I have already started my application for the Master’s program and I want to continue to engage with those professionals who consistently look to think critically about the challenges facing all of us in homeland security,” Markuski stated. With her i.Lead efforts, she may have figured out a way to bring the CHDS experience with her until she returns as a Master’s program student.