UM hosts director of National Intelligence at annual summit

Published 11:36 am Tuesday, April 9, 2024

By Clara Turnage 

University communications

Today’s college students are the future of the intelligence community, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a crowd of University of Mississippi students Friday.

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Haines and U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly spoke to students during the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies’ annual Days of Intrigue. The 3-day event provides access to intelligence community leaders and lets students put their skills to the test with an international incident simulation.

Haines told students they can find purpose in the intelligence community, regardless of what they are interested in.

“What some people assume is that there are only certain fields of experience we are interested in, but that’s not true,” said Haines, who is the first female director of national intelligence.

“Having terrific language skills is great, STEM is also great, but the reality is we’re looking for folks with every type of expertise. There really is a job for almost everybody.”

Kelly charged students to follow their passions regardless of how out of reach they may seem.

“I remember what it was like to be a young person from a small town in Mississippi,” the Union native said. “I promise you the world is open to each and every one of you if you’re willing to take the chance and do something you love. Do something you love and make it a career.”

The Days of Intrigue event brings national intelligence leaders to the university each year and offers students a chance to network with potential future employers, said Shaio Zerba, director of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies.

“Days of Intrigue is a great way to bring Washington, D.C., to Oxford because we invite members of the intelligence community to campus to mentor our students,” Zerba said. “These one-on-one interactions not only motivate students in their studies but also help them see a future in national security and intelligence.”

Fifteen students met with Haines and Kelly before the panel, where they asked questions about topics ranging from navigating politics in Washington, D.C., to artificial intelligence and long-term threats from China and Russia.

“We got some real-world insight into a political sphere that you only see on TV,” said Sydney Lynch, an Ole Miss junior political science major from Long Island, New York. “I mean, look at them, Director Haines is a registered Democrat and Rep. Kelly is a Republican, but they work together every day. That’s important for us to see.

“This is the kind of thing you’d normally expect to see from an Ivy League school, but her coming here really makes students like me feel inspired and like this is a realistic goal.”

The next generation of students will be integral to solving complex technological issues such as the influence of artificial intelligence on society, Kelly said.

“I remember before there were cell phones; I remember when the phone was attached to a cord,” he said. “You guys were born into this world, you are residents. My generation, we’re aliens trying to figure things out.

“I think the solutions are in your generation, not my generation.”

Founded in 2008, the center has grown over the last 16 years into a recognized hub for aspiring intelligence officers, Zerba said. Days of Intrigue, too, has grown in size and notoriety.

“Every year, Days of Intrigue gets bigger and better,” she said. “Not only has the center gained a reputation for organizing a quality national security-centered career event, but also our students and alumni continue to impress intelligence community talent recruiters.

“Director Haines’ visit is a culmination of these efforts.”