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Simulation introduces Ford School students to careers at the CIA

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ford School students got a glimpse into the work of one of the most elusive organizations in the world when representatives from the United States Central Intelligence Agency came to Ann Arbor on Saturday, March 20 to run a simulation exercise. While "the agency" has been conducting simulations on campuses across the country as a recruiting tool for some time, this was the first one held at U-M.

Every year, the Ford School's Graduate Career Services staff work closely with CIA recruiters to provide opportunities for graduates and interns, but this year, the agency moved to establish a stronger relationship with the University and introduce Ford School students more directly to the work of CIA intelligence analysts. Dale Avery, the associate dean at the Sherman Kent School of Intelligence Analysts and a 26-year CIA veteran, said the agency is focusing on schools that have a diverse student population, high academic standards, and academic programs of interest to their needs. While this was the first simulation at U-M, it was "like coming home" for many of the CIA facilitators. Six of the seven facilitators were U-M alumni, including three Ford School graduates.

The CIA simulation is an abbreviated version of the training that all Directorate of Intelligence analysts must undergo. The 23 Ford School participants were asked to analyze an emerging energy security crisis in a fictional world two years in the future. In the span of four hours, students were tasked with sifting through large amounts of information from various intelligence sources, assessing the situation, and briefing a senior U.S. policymaker, played by one of the CIA reps. Graduate and undergraduate students worked together, modeling the economic situation, drawing detailed timelines, and identifying suspects.

"The exercise completely captured students' attention," said Director of Graduate Career Services Jennifer Niggemeier. "It was a beautiful Saturday in Ann Arbor, but students dove into the ‘intelligence traffic' as if nothing else in the world mattered."

The professionals took note. "Every one of the students demonstrated the analytical skills we seek," said Avery. The CIA representatives commended the ability and willingness of students to work together to tackle the issue. They were also impressed by students' quantitative skills. One of the facilitators joked that the students in his group were able to determine the impact of the crisis on oil prices in 2090.

Master's student Jessica Tesoriero, who organized the student side of the event, thought this would be great for the school. "It's a wonderful way to build an understanding of potential careers at the CIA and an opportunity for students in Ann Arbor to connect with those working in Washington." Students agreed. Several said they learned a great deal from the simulation, including how to ask more effective questions, how to brief policy officials, and how to apply the skills they've gained at the Ford School. "It's easy to lose sight of how everything we learn here comes together, said Simon Tam, a master's student studying international development. "The exercise refocused my attention and opened my eyes to new career possibilities."