PPCC launches certificate program for airport screeners

April 29, 2011
photo - U.S. Transportation Security Administration employees Brandy Newton, left, and Carol Lufkin worked security at the Colorado Springs Airport on Friday. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE
U.S. Transportation Security Administration employees Brandy Newton, left, and Carol Lufkin worked security at the Colorado Springs Airport on Friday. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE 

Robert Tuck, a lead transportation security officer at Colorado Springs Airport, views classes that he’s taking in homeland security at Pikes Peak Community College as a road to a better future.

A seven-year Transportation Security Administration employee, Tuck said he wants to eventually earn an associate’s degree so he can “move up and have a better career. I originally signed up because I wanted to better understand our security needs and broaden my horizons to learn how others are doing security.”

Tuck is one of 18 TSA employees enrolled in a new program at the college designed to give the agency’s security officers the opportunity to work toward a TSA Homeland Security Certificate or an associate’s degree in homeland security or other field. The 18 employees will finish the first introductory course on Thursday, will take a second on intelligence analysis and security technology in the fall, and finish the program with a third course on transportation and border security next year.

The program is designed to help further the education of the agency’s security officers — about 10 percent have associate’s degrees or higher — by coordinating employee work schedules and classes so they don’t conflict, though the classes are not part of their work schedules, said Jim Schear, the agency’s federal security director at the Springs airport. The agency pays tuition for its security officers — and other employees if space is available — for the classes because it believes employees will gain additional skills and information they can use to improve customer service, he said.

Schear, who was part of the pilot for the program in 2006 in Baltimore, said 27 out of 1,400 people there signed up for the program initially. In the Springs, 20 out of 100 employees signed up (two dropped out later). “So the interest level in this program,” he said, “seems to be much higher here.”

After the pilot program in 2006, the agency started rolling it out at airports nationwide and now more than 1,800 of its security officers from 50 airports are enrolled in classes at 46 community colleges in 36 states. TSA plans to have the program available at 91 large airports within two years. The agency contacted PPCC last fall to get the program started, and the college hired Richard White, a retired Air Force officer who also is a homeland security and information technology export, as the sole faculty member.

Carol Lufkin, a master behavior detection officer for the agency at the Springs airport, said time constraints had prevented her from resuming the college education she started years ago before having children, and the program made it easier to get back into the classroom. She wants to learn about other agencies in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, TSA’s parent agency, for potential career opportunities in the department created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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