The Critical Infrastructure Higher Education Initiative

by Christie Jones

In 2010, the Center for Infrastructure Protection and Homeland Security (CIP/HS) at George Mason University began a partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection (IP). The objective of their continuing relationship is to support IP’s effort to create a comprehensive, unified higher education system that produces and sustains the leaders and workforce required to ensure the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure. This program, called the Critical Infrastructure Higher Education Initiative (CI HEI), works to develop critical infrastructure educational materials including syllabi, case studies, and technical assistance resources and to make them publicly available to colleges and universities throughout the nation and the world.

To date, CI HEI has created eleven stand-alone critical infrastructure security and resilience (CISR) courses, a five-course CISR certificate program, an eight-course public administration concentration, three supplemental case studies, and two room exercises. The CI HEI draws upon subject matter experts from government, industry, and academia to develop these materials. In addition, course curricula undergo a quarterly review to incorporate changes in policy, literature, and practice as well as feedback received from practitioners and the academic community.

CI HEI courses have been implemented in graduate-level homeland and national security programs across the country. The program builds on this strong academic foundation and increases integration of CISR courses into a broader range of academic fields at all levels of higher education. The interdisciplinary nature of these resources allow them to be utilized in a variety of disciplines; the CISR concepts illustrated in the curricula make them applicable to emergency management, engineering, environmental sciences, health and healthcare, business, agriculture, public policy, and law.

George Mason University’s Executive MBA–Critical Infrastructure Track program is an excellent example of the university’s efforts to increase engagement with diverse academic programs. Based on the CI HEI five-course certificate program, the EMBA will address the critical areas of risk analysis and management, systems analysis, and cyber security within critical infrastructure sectors. The program emphasizes interagency action and industry-government coordination to achieve business efficiency and achieve resilience.

In response to needs voiced by academics and practitioners in the CISR community, and to facilitate this type of integration in other fields, CI HEI will develop more flexible formats of its current curricula. This year, the Foundations of CISR introductory stand-alone course will be broken down into “plug-and-play” modules. These will encapsulate key CISR theories and concepts in easily accessible formats for various disciplines. CI HEI will also create educator packages – fully developed “courses-in-a-box” – to assist faculty and practitioners new to the CISR education space. The “courses-in-a-box” will contain presentations, lesson plans, handouts, and online content that supports implementation of a new CISR foundations course at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. The development of new CISR faculty is another need CI HEI hopes to address with train-the-trainer workshops. These workshops will provide potential faculty members with best practices, skills, and tools for teaching CISR courses.

CI HEI will augment these efforts through increased engagement with undergraduate and associate degree programs in various CISR-related disciplines. Many students enter the CISR workforce as undergraduates and often do not pursue advanced degrees until well into their careers. With growing interdependency between the public and private sectors in critical infrastructure, students at all levels of higher education must encounter the concepts of security and resilience early on to prepare them to meet the challenges of the ever-changing risk, policy, and operational critical infrastructure environment. CI HEI will target outreach to undergraduate programs, community colleges, and minority-serving institutions through individual institutions and related associations.

As it enters its fourth year, CI HEI remains the vanguard for dissemination of valuable and accessible CISR-related course materials. By responding to the needs of the CISR education community, the initiative is poised to provide academics and practitioners with relevant, timely products and technical assistance. Direct any questions regarding CI HEI, feedback, or requests to join a growing list of subject-matter experts, to Christie Jones, education program manager, at cjones62@gmu.edu or 703-993-4792. To access CI HEI educational materials, please visit http://cip.gmu.edu/courses/.


This article was originally published in The CIP Report, Volume 14, November 2014, and is reprinted with permission.


Christie R. Jones, M.S., is the education program manager for the Center for Infrastructure Protection and Homeland Security at George Mason University. She leads the Critical Infrastructure Higher Education Initiative and is the editor-in-chief for the Center’s monthly publication, The CIP Report.