Travelers traversing between Northeastern airports this holiday season won't have to pass security before finding employees with Erie Community College-aided training.
ECC and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration honored its first class of graduates from their homeland security training partnership in June 2014, with a ceremony held at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. More than a year later, the partnership's overwhelming success has now spread outside Erie County, connecting out-of-state TSA employees at Boston's Logan International Airport and New York's JFK and LaGuardia International airports with vital security training and college credits through online courses at ECC.
"This is yet another example of ECC quietly providing specialized training for our country's workforce," ECC President Jack Quinn said. "We've been providing such critical training across Western New York for decades, but this partnership has certainly expanded our capabilities past our home turf."
TSA is currently partnering with select community colleges to provide airport staffs throughout the nation with training, as well as the opportunity to work toward a TSA certificate of achievement in homeland security and/or associates degree in homeland security or a related field. The TSA launched the program in 2008 - with airports and community colleges in locations including Baltimore, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. - to determine the best approach to educating employees while causing minimal interruption to their work schedule.
In spring 2013, 10 new airports joined the associates program, including Buffalo-Niagara International Airport (BUF) along with its college partner, Erie Community College.
In its first year, ECC honored 10 program grads with a TSA certificate of achievement. This fall, the program's headcount ballooned to 145, with students enrolled in courses such as intro to homeland security and transportation and border security, and all are encouraged to use their credits toward either an eventual associate or bachelor's degree.
"Erie Community College gives TSA employees the opportunity to continue education and pursue a degree in homeland security," said Randy Gagnier, TSA training manager and employee at Boston's Logan International Airport. "The critical thinking that is required of the course assignments helps us perform with a better sense of awareness, and I know, with each week that goes by, Erie Community College is making me a better TSA employee here at Logan."
What makes ECC an ideal collegiate institution to lead this type of TSA training is its experience in online education. The college already offers over 250 online courses (in a variety of concentrations) each semester. Abbreviated winter and summer sessions also offer multiple sections of online courses in several disciplines; and ECC uses "best practices" models and rubrics to manage its online course delivery, with mentor and tutoring services also available.
Per the TSA program specifically, faculty from the college's nationally lauded homeland security certificate program - recently ranked eighth in the U.S. among two-year schools by Community College Week - are highly qualified to teach training courses, given their previous employment in criminal justice, cybersecurity and emergency management.
And, the courses are convenient for working professionals, something that helps while toiling in a field as demanding as transportation security.
"The fact that employees can schedule their own time in order to take the classes is a great advantage," said Eileen Fernandez, TSA education coordinator at New York's JFK International Airport. "JFK no longer has to accommodate employees' work schedules and that is an advantage for the agency. And since ECC classes are online, room coordination for employees is no longer needed."
Based on survey numbers, only 16 percent of TSA screeners have an associate degree or higher. With this program, TSA officers are exposed to college-level education and how it can help improve their job performance; teaches them about the history of and need for homeland security; and motivates them to continue their education. Based on its current success, ECC's TSA partnership plans to continue to grow throughout the Northeast and across the U.S., and will continue to provide career-focused education opportunities for future semesters' worth of online students.
Since 1946, Erie Community College has met the needs of a diverse student body while contributing to the economic vitality of Western New York. As a member of the state's SUNY system, the three-campus college provides flexible, affordable and accessible educational programs in an accommodating academic environment. Equipped with the knowledge of these programs, ECC's faculty, staff and students strive to enrich their host communities through skill, service and partnership.