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Diversity in STEM: How SLU Is Helping to Meet a Critical Need


In recent years, there has been a noticeable surge in demand for professionals specializing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In fact, national statistics reveal that job opportunities in STEM fields are expanding nearly five times faster than in non-STEM sectors. 

Amidst this high demand, employers in Missouri and across the nation are facing a significant shortage of skilled STEM workers. Various challenges, such as limited opportunities and accessibility issues, have hindered the development of effective educational pathways for emerging STEM talent, particularly among marginalized communities. 

In response to this issue, Saint Louis University (SLU) has partnered with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to address the shortage of qualified STEM professionals in the state of Missouri and beyond. 

SLU STEM graduate, Akshay Mulera, studying on his laptop on campus.

Meeting a Critical Need

The U.S. intelligence community operates as a vital nexus of interconnected departments that depend on a diverse and knowledgeable STEM workforce. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence works to lead and support this community. This work includes cultivating a steady stream of talented professionals for its 18 distinct agencies, spanning from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

Recognizing the critical importance of nurturing a robust talent pool, the Intelligence Community established the Centers for Academic Excellence program. This highly competitive initiative provides grants to select colleges and universities throughout the country that are committed to equipping students for careers in national security. Emphasizing diversity in gender, race and geography, the program aims to ensure a multifaceted and inclusive pipeline of future intelligence professionals.

In 2022, SLU secured a significant $2.5 million grant to establish the Midwest Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence (MW-IC CAE). The Center serves as a pivotal hub, offering educational pathways and resources geared toward nurturing a competitive and diverse cohort of emerging STEM talent. 

SLU leads a consortium of higher education institutions, rallying efforts to recruit and educate students who are interested in careers in the intelligence community and national security fields.

“We’re doing what we can to help fill that gap at the local, regional and federal levels,” explains Dr. Joe Lyons, Director of the Security and Strategic Intelligence program at SLU and the driving force behind the Center. 

Through strategic collaborations with partner universities, organizing industry-focused events and facilitating international study opportunities for students, the initiatives catalyzed by this prestigious grant are reshaping the landscape for aspiring STEM professionals throughout the region. 

Establishing Strategic Partnerships

A lack of access to advanced educational pathways in STEM has been an ongoing hurdle in the intelligence community’s efforts to maintain a robust workforce of qualified professionals. At the heart of SLU’s Midwest Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence is the mission to foster a cross-institutional community of educators dedicated to preparing the next generation of intelligence and national security professionals. 

“SLU is deeply committed to partnering with regional universities to promote STEM education and diversity,” Dr. Lyons notes. “Our collaboration with urban, rural and historically Black colleges like Lincoln University and Harris Stowe State University is expanding opportunities for student achievement.”

The partnership with Lincoln University, for instance, is helping facilitate an early transition to graduate school for qualifying students. Participants can earn a Bachelor of Science in four years at Lincoln and then earn their master’s degree in strategic intelligence or cybersecurity with just one additional year at SLU.

“We hope this partnership is the first of many to provide pathways to advanced STEM education,” Dr. Lyons explains. “Together we can give these students access to opportunities that will expand their career trajectories and help bridge the gap in the industry.”

Creating Opportunities for Underrepresented Students

The center also collaborates closely with regional industry experts and representatives from various U.S. intelligence agencies to curate a diverse range of events, training sessions and resources tailored for students and faculty from SLU, Lincoln and Harris Stowe. This includes inviting distinguished speakers to campus, orchestrating large-scale industry gatherings and providing support for workshops and career fairs. 

“For example, each year we host a one-day symposium conference. This year’s focus is on artificial intelligence and national security,” Dr. Lyons shares. “We also host events on the campuses of Lincoln and Harris Stowe. The Center helps fund events at all three locations.” 

Additionally, the Center established a national security-focused study abroad program at its campus in Madrid, Spain, where students spend a month learning about European security issues. “We’re excited to be able to offer this one-of-a-kind experience to students,” Dr. Lyons says. “The trip is fully funded. We’re trying to make it accessible for students who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity like this.”

The efforts enabled by the federal grant that established the Center fuel SLU’s dedication to increase opportunities for underrepresented students while expanding access to STEM talent globally.

“The goal of the grant is not just to cultivate a pipeline of STEM talent, but a diverse pipeline of STEM talent — and this refers to diversity in many different facets,” Dr. Lyons adds. 

The Midwest Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence (MW-IC CAE) at SLU strives to train a STEM workforce that represents the full spectrum of diversity, including gender, race, ethnicity, age, physical ability and geography.

“You need a workforce that’s reflective of the populace it serves,” Dr. Lyons emphasizes. “There’s a need for people from all walks of life — our goal is to make that an attainable reality.” 

Strengthen the Strategic Intelligence Community with SLU

As the landscape of STEM careers continues to expand, SLU remains committed to forging pathways for advancement within the regional Missouri area. But it’s certainly not something that can be accomplished without support from — and collaboration with — the local community, partnering universities and the broader intelligence community. 

If you’re intrigued by the diverse array of intelligence community and national security careers you could pursue with a STEM degree from SLU, exploring opportunities within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can provide some valuable insights. Learn more about these compelling career paths in our article “10 Types of Homeland Security Careers Worth Considering.” 

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