Emergence Program class graduates after fully remote instruction

For the first time in Center for Homeland Defense and Security history, an Emergence Program cohort has graduated without ever setting foot on the campus at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.

In all, 30 students graduated as part of the Emergence cohort 2001, receiving their certificates during a final virtual session and posing for a group photo on Zoom.

While Emergence Program lead instructor David O’Keeffe noted the cohort was “unique” due to starting in July, 2020 during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and finished in April, 2021 and never once met in-person, he also said the participants did a “tremendous job bonding with each other” and participating in the remote instruction.

“They were very engaged,” O’Keeffe said, helping each other during the remote instruction even as they all worked on Covid-19 response for their various agencies and organizations under the pandemic-associated restrictions.

Emergence participants are generally middle management in the first half of their careers as opposed to senior officials in the CHDS Executive Leaders Program and are provided instruction on emerging homeland security issues and topics and how to initiate change. They represent the future leadership of the homeland security enterprise.

Emergence Program cohort 2001 participants show off their certificates during their April graduation ceremony.

O’Keeffe said the program participants “really brought a diversity of experience and expertise,” and included government agencies and private entities ranging from local and state fire, law enforcement and public health to Facebook, Disney and McDonalds to most of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security organizations.

Among the Emergence 2001 participants was Kristin Vallejos, Senior Personnel Security Specialist for the Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement,  who called the program an “excellent and enriching experience.”

Vallejos said the highlight of the program was “getting to collaborate, discuss, and work with other homeland security and public safety professionals from diverse backgrounds and professions.”

She said the program “really helped broaden my perspective on emerging threats to homeland security and how we might approach the solutions and decision-making around those threats,” noting that her profession is a “very narrow field” and people working in her area are often insulated, and the program helped her understand how personnel security fits into the bigger issues of homeland security.

“Going forward, the new network of CHDS will be a huge benefit to me as I work to find well-rounded and balanced approaches” to personnel security, she said.

Another program participant Jake Hoffman, a private with the Toledo, OH Fire/Rescue Department, said the Emergence experience is “truly second to none” and should be required for “all new leaders across the homeland security enterprise.”

Hoffman said the program’s “interdisciplinary approach” allows participants to “escape their professional silos” by learning from members of both the private and public sector with whom they might not typically work.

Hoffman said he appreciated how the program material was structured while also allowing individual growth through the “change initiative project” and other activities, as well as discussing novel approaches to emerging threats and teaching a “macro view” of homeland security that allows every participant to “expand their knowledge and refine their specific area of expertise.”

Participant Tara Ayesha Roberts, Global Crisis Management manager for The Walt Disney Company, said the program encouraged the development of critical thinking and offered detailed guidance on developing leadership traits and personal brand that helped in pitching and implementing the change initiatives.

Roberts said she was particularly inspired by program speakers such as International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) president and CHDS alumna, Cynthia Renaud, who advised the participants to find something in their “wheelhouse or skillset” to champion in an effort to create change in their organizations.

Cohort 2001 is the fifth to complete Emergence since its inception in 2016, and a total of 158 participants have now completed the program.