• J. Scott Cameron, president of the National Intelligence University, eagerly awaits the final steps this weekend that will mark years of work and preparation as the university officially transitions from the Defense Intelligence Agency to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  Photo courtesy of National Intelligence University
     J. Scott Cameron, president of the National Intelligence University, eagerly awaits the final steps this weekend that will mark years of work and preparation as the university officially transitions from the Defense Intelligence Agency to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Photo courtesy of National Intelligence University

The Intelligence Community’s University: NIU Transitions to the ODNI

June 17, 2021
By Sandra Jontz
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J. Scott Cameron eagerly awaits the National Intelligence University’s (NIU's) “watershed moment” this weekend that will punctuate years of diligent work to “bring the university home … with ruthless government efficiency.” 

On Sunday, the university officially transfers from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). 

This shift enables the staff, faculty and students to benefit directly from the intelligence community’s (IC) stakeholders and from the ODNI’s integrating role; bringing into its fold the educational efforts that are building the next generation of the country’s intelligence officers, said Cameron, the university’s president. 

“We are a knowledge bank of the intelligence community” that helps craft the solutions to the hard national security problems and builds the leaders of the future, Cameron said. “If you look at where the intellectual capital of our community resides, it resides with the experienced thought leaders who are in functional disciplines and who are the best at what we do. But it also resides in the heads of younger future leaders, who go to work every day and they see the limits of technology, law, policy—and they know what the enterprise that they're going to be leading needs to change. We bring them together.”  

Started in 1962 as the Defense Intelligence School, the DIA led this unique, collaborative institution and has shaped its curriculum, provided resources, recruited experienced faculty and staff, and educated civilians and service members from different agencies. 

The majority of NIU's faculty and staff will transition to the ODNI with the institution this Sunday. “After a long, hard journey, it will be great to walk in, be welcomed and get to work,” Cameron said. “I couldn't ask for anything more.” 

Congressional action in December 2019 launched the transition that required collaborative partnerships across the IC, the Defense Department, with Congress and the Department of Education to ensure accreditation.  

Additionally, as if carrying out a massive transition, on a truncated time schedule with no interruption to the university operations and student services weren’t daunting enough—planners and administrators had to contend with a global pandemic that forced the transformation and modernization of the institution, which had been accustomed to providing instruction in classified settings, said Cameron, who took the helm as the university’s president in August 2017.  

Credit for successful implementation of solutions that fostered remote instruction, coupled with safeguards that permitted in-person training such as the use of Plexiglas in classrooms to ensure distancing and protection, sanitation stations and more, goes to the student senate members, who collaborated with leadership to guide the university through COVID-19 and usher in some changes likely to remain well after the pandemic ends.  

COVID-19 solutions accelerated the university’s efforts to offer “true blended learning” that incorporates brick and motor classrooms, online learning and instructional schedules for students who pursue degrees on their own time, typically in the evenings and on weekends.  

“Part of the challenge everybody is facing now is how do we come up with not just the workplace of the future, but the university of future,” Cameron said. “We have not traditionally invested in the things that would make us remote learners, but we learned quickly we did pretty well, and the students made the difference for us.” 

The university’s future mosaic will also be more inclusive, Cameron said, as he seeks to increase campus diversity among students and faculty, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.  “We are talking about and how do we find [diverse students], how do we target them, how do we help develop them and bring them into a conversation that welcomes them.” 

NIU remains a degree-granting institution accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, retains its in-residence Joint Professional Military Education Phase I program and continues to operate from its main campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and from regional campuses. 

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As a just-retired professor who served at the now NIU under all 4 of its previous names, I am happy to see that the institution has finally succeeded in becoming a national asset not subordinate to only one of the IC members. We appreciate the fine support DIA has given the "college" over the years, but we now have the opportunity to serve the entire community. This is a major moment in our history. Best wishes for success as we make this momentous change.

We’ll said, Dr. Gordon. The long, industrious path from our MSSI accreditation efforts in the early 1980s seems to have been a profitable investment.

As a retired professor who served at the now-NIU under all four of its previous names, I am proud to see that the Defense Intelligence School has finally achieve its ambition to become the National Intelligence University serving the entire Intelligence Community. We appreciated DIA's strong support these many years, and look forward to the future as an important IC asset.

The Undergraduate Intelligence Program at the former JMIC, now NIU, was the most satisfying, empowering, and frankly fun phase of my overall educational experience. Broadening my mind among peer intelligence professionals from across the spectrum of agencies was most gratifying.

As an enlisted Marine at the time, the experience and education surpassed anything I had done up to that point. The faculty and curriculum were outstanding and interesting.

I want to congratulate the faculty and staff for making the move possible and a success.

I wish you fair winds and following seas.

Semper Fidelis
Peter Hoeft
GySgt USMC Retired

As a part-time MSSI student, I am so glad to experience the continued evolution of the NIU standard. After I graduate in 2022, I will continue to look and give back to NIU for the reminder of my lifetime. Abe

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