As a U.S. Navy reservist, Jim Holst can be called to full-time duty at any moment. In 2003, with just three days’ notice, he was called from his job as a technical support manager for Segway to serve as a battle captain at United States Central Command in Florida as part of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I thought I was going to backfill somebody,” Holst says. “But I found myself right at the front within weeks, leading a group of analysts and preparing briefings for admirals and generals in the battle situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. I didn’t realize how significant this job was until, one time, I was asked to brief Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; then I knew how real it was.”
Today, Holst is a faculty member in the Master of Arts in Homeland Security program, training students on information technology (IT) management in the homeland security arena, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Homeland Security, and the Transportation Security Administration. His courses also prepare students for work in other government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I’ve been working in counter-terrorism for 17 years,” Holst says. “As a reservist, and also an activated service member for one year at Central Command, I acted as a liaison disseminating military information in the counter-terrorism space. In the classroom, I draw upon experiences from positions like this, bringing a Department of Defense perspective to the overall course, which is relevant to anyone who wants to work in homeland security.”
More than half of Holst’s students are already in jobs that connect them to homeland security—with federal, state, or local agencies, as firefighters, police officers, or emergency medical technicians. They want to learn more about homeland security, he says, because it affects their work and can also help them with their professional development. Some students have just completed their bachelor’s degree and are interested in creating a foundation from which to pursue a career in homeland security, while others are professionals with more experience and a keen interest in the topic, or are exploring how to diversify their careers.
Outside the classroom, Holst works as the practice lead for change management for Vertiba, implementing large-scale cloud computing systems for Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. He travels extensively to meet with clients all around the world, so teaching this course online makes it possible for him to teach from anywhere. Holst’s job also keeps him up-to-date on new developments in IT—knowledge he brings straight back into the classroom.
Bringing Real-World Scenarios into the Classroom
“I teach students the basics of IT nomenclature, process, and management,” Holst says. “This gives the students the foundation to act as managers in homeland security and know how to ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to IT issues and management, which is inherently part of the job.”
Holst goes on to share an example:
I give them scenarios to consider, so they can decide whether they need to set up unclassified systems or other systems at a much higher classification, depending on the situation. Let’s say we have information on terrorists planning to infiltrate a water system, and we need to share that information with FEMA. That kind of situation makes students think hard about what kind of secure IT systems they need to set up for an agency like FEMA, as they would now need to work at a high level of security. As you can see, it’s all intertwined. There is a need to understand the threat, the classification, and the systems in order to manage the threat.
After setting the groundwork for the type of systems needed by agencies for particular situations, Holst’s class goes on to cover the staffing of IT projects and the use of consultants and contractors. He then presents the infrastructure of IT, including software, hardware, and cloud computing, before finally going on to applications, such as how to use social media as an IT asset or how best to use mobile and future applications.
Holst believes this knowledge is important for homeland security managers, whether or not they intend to work directly in IT.
He has taught online courses for 17 years. Holst says he is very comfortable teaching in the virtual space, and even co-authored a book about it: “The Student’s Guide to Successful Online Learning.” He is also writing a chapter for a book co-written by Craig Gruber, former director of the Master of Arts in Homeland Security program, on cybersecurity.
Over the past two years, Holst has had the opportunity to do something he has never done in his 17 years of teaching: he met his students face to face. Holst was a guest lecturer at the program’s Pro Seminar, where he spoke on the topic of security in social media. Several of his past and present students were there.
“It was a dynamic I never thought I would experience,” Holst says, “as I truly was a virtual instructor.”
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