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