Penn State

Penn State crosses disciplines to study security

When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002, one of the main ideas was communication — getting all of the people working on related issues in different departments on the same page.

Penn State has a new group that is in that vein.

On Monday, the university unveiled a new hub for cross-discipline issues related to threats with the establishment of the Center for Security Research and Education.

“It arose fairly informally,” Director James Houck said.

A retired vice admiral and 41st U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General, Houck is a distinguished scholar in residence at Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs.

Those are just the start of the 10 schools that come together to work through the CSRE. Some of the others are obvious, like the Applied Research Lab that works on classified military projects or the College of Information Sciences and Technology and the Center for Cyber-Security, Information Privacy, and Trust.

Others aren’t what you might think of as threat-related at first, like the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications or the College of Agriculture. But in an age of food security and disinformation, threats can come in a lot of forms.

“What we’ve tried to do is take people who maybe traditionally aren’t talking together and maybe whose research doesn’t overlap and bring them together,” Houck said. “It’s easy for the university to organize around colleges, but we know that isn’t how problems work in the real world.”

The idea isn’t for a new building or a new major. Instead, it’s about a new “way, a new forum, a new mechanism” to solve problems, he said.

“This center will allow us to use the breadth and depth of our university to work on security — an issue that is critically important to our world,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “This is an example of how we envision our shared future: with many areas of excellence, and people who are strategic and focused on living our land-grant mission of service to society.”

The center will also partner with faculty and outside experts “to educate policymakers, the media, the public and Penn State students.”

The first opportunity for that will come Nov. 6, when former director of national intelligence James Clapper comes to speak.

“Penn State has tremendous strength in a variety of separate disciplines relevant to security. But today, the threats we face transcend these boundaries,” Houck said. “Our goal is to address security problems in the most comprehensive, realistic way.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce