Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Honors CHDS Graduates

In commemoration of the Naval Postgraduate School’s (NPS) Fall Quarter Graduation Ceremony on December 18, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf extended his congratulations to the latest cohort of students completing the Master’s Degree Program at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS). “The education you received at NPS not only improves you all as individuals, but it also allows you to use your knowledge on behalf of national defense and the American people,” Wolf noted. “The Department of Homeland Security specifically relies on NPS to produce the next generation of homeland security professionals and leaders, particularly the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Investing in our leaders of tomorrow is an investment worth making. With the tools, skills, and knowledge you’ve gained, I have no doubt that investment will continue to pay out for years to come.”


NPS conducted the 2020 Fall Quarter Graduation Ceremony in a virtual format instead of the traditional campus-wide celebration that culminates in applause from student’s classmates, instructors, and family as their name is announced and they walk across the stage in King Auditorium. It seems befitting for a year in which we faced extraordinary challenges while transitioning to a virtual learning environment and adapting to a continually changing global pandemic. NPS produced a special video to honor the achievements of this latest cadre of graduates that includes comments from students and faculty and highlights congratulatory messages from NPS President Ann E. Rondeau, Gen. David H. Berger, 38th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Acting Secretary Wolf, Vice Admiral Brian Brown-Commander Naval Information Forces, and other senior leaders.

This CHDS master’s cohort began their journey in April of 2019 and overcame the issues created by COVID-19 to succeed and earn a Master of Arts in Security Studies while oftentimes serving on the front line of the nation’s battle against the pandemic. Lauren Wollman, CHDS Managing Director of Academic Programs, noted their achievements, “Once again, and in the face of extraordinary challenges and obstacles, our graduates have delivered research vital to our nation’s wellbeing. From the scourge of homelessness to the curious and frightening specter of satellite debris, this cohort charged head-on into every fray, to forge better paths to our future and shared security. We are so proud of them. And we cannot wait to see what they do next with their hard-won knowledge and ideas.”

The 1903/1904 master’s students together before the coronavirus pandemic.

The overall composition of the cohort is a reflection of the collaborative mission that homeland security entails, with professionals from the fields of emergency management, immigration, law enforcement, fire service, homeland security, local and state government, military, and public health. “One of the overarching strengths of the CHDS Master’s Program is the people,” explained Sean Miller, Director of Delaware County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “They are all involved because they desire to make the country safer through top-notch instruction, collaboration, and research.” The group also has a wide representation of agencies that collaborate across multiple levels to protect the Homefront: from the local level (Chesterfield County Police Department, City of Austin, City of Irvine Police Department, Cobb County Police Department and Fire & EMS, Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, Gwinnett County Police Department, Mansfield Independent School District, New York City Police Department, San Diego Harbor Police, Somerset County Department of Health, St. Louis Fire Department, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Torrance Police Department, Volusia County Schools) to the state level (Delaware County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and Florida Highway Patrol) to the federal level (Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense-USNORTHCOM, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration, US Border Patrol, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations).

During the rigorous 18-month program, CHDS participants develop skills in critical thinking, leadership, and policy. Each graduate completes a thesis on a current issue facing his or her jurisdiction. The theses topics from this cohort focus on key homeland security issues, such as cybersecurity, disaster response, human trafficking, immigration safeguards, public safety, school security, social unrest, and protecting space infrastructure. Many of the past master’s theses have translated directly into policy and practice. The theses from this master’s cohort (1903/1904) will be available on the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL) once they are fully approved for public consumption. Mikaela Ellenwood, Operations Branch Director, FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team, added “Our cohort completed the program under challenging circumstances. The instructors guided us through difficult conversations, and we challenged each other’s biases and assumptions. CHDS makes it possible for homeland security professionals to learn, think differently, and to apply that knowledge to serve the nation with integrity.”

In conjunction with their successful completion of the program, select CHDS students and faculty were honored with a variety of awards. Ellenwood and Miller were recognized by their peers as recipients of the Mark Carr Esprit de Corps Award. Miller expressed his appreciation, “While it is admittedly (and rightfully) a challenging program, my fellow cohort members kept me going throughout the duration of the courses and I value my relationship with all of them. The relationships, knowledge, and skills I gained while at CHDS will undoubtedly serve me well throughout the rest of my career.” Other award winners included City of Irvine Police Department Lieutenant Cathy Scherer who received the Curtis “Butch” Straub Award and Jaime Chen, USCIS Immigration Services Officer, who received the Outstanding Thesis Award for her thesis titled “Muted Voices: Toward an Understanding of the U.S. Asylum Program at the Southwest Border.”  Chen described her experience, “The CHDS program is an incredible opportunity to research, learn, and write about homeland security. Beyond that, it provides the connections, space, and guidance to achieve positive change. My favorite part is its community of people. Even during a pandemic, they strive for the highest andragogy with generosity, humor, and integrity.”

Erik Dahl, CHDS Associate Chair for Instruction

Speaking of awards, another member of the CHDS family was recognized during the NPS Fall Quarter Graduation Ceremony. Erik Dahl, CHDS Associate Chair for Instruction, received the Lieutenant Commander David L. Williams Outstanding Professor Award. In addition to teaching, he also helps manage the overall academic side of the National Security Affairs department, which is the parent department of the degree that our CHDS students receive. This is actually the second time Dahl has received the award—he also won it in 2014. In terms of Dahl’s roles and the overall homeland security mission, many things have changed since then. But, as he explains, some things remain the same “Teaching for CHDS has been one of the greatest pleasures I’ve had during my 12 years at NPS. It sounds like a cliché, but I really do learn more from our students than I think they learn from me. And although this last year has been incredibly challenging for everyone, it’s also been exciting to be part of CHDS as we transitioned to remote learning last spring. The students have been very flexible and in fact we’ve been able to do some things that we couldn’t have done before.” Dahl described an example that occurred last summer when California was in the midst of a record-breaking fire season, and one of his firefighter students was able to Zoom-in to class while taking a break from fighting the fires. “There he was, on his phone in uniform in his official vehicle, keeping up with schoolwork while keeping us all safe. And another time, when our students were assigned to give group presentations on homeland security issues in their communities, several students got together to brief us, live from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, about how local authorities work together to ensure major events like the Indy 500 are kept safe. It just wouldn’t have been the same if they had given a standard PowerPoint presentation in the classroom in Monterey!”