NIU Celebrates Past, Present, and Future at 60th Anniversary Event
June 30, 2023
Standing at the podium in front of a crowd of hundreds at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stacey Dixon stated that now, more than ever, the National Intelligence University (NIU) is “our university.”
“It belongs to all of us in the [Intelligence Community] and the national security community and reflects who we are, what we do, and what we aspire to be in the future,” said Dixon, looking out at the school’s supporters: students, faculty, alumni, and Intelligence Community (IC) leaders at an event on June 28 celebrating its 60th anniversary.
“When we hear that, we feel like we’ve arrived,” said Tom Van Wagner, who has worked at the university for 31 years, including as its director of alumni relations since 2011.
During Van Wagner’s tenure, NIU was renamed three times, went from a college to a university, updated curricula, added a master’s of science and technology intelligence program, changed locations, and watched its student body transform from largely military to a diverse mix of government civilians and service members. As NIU President J. Scott Cameron pointed out, the school modernized and evolved to serve more stakeholders and provide relevant programs, while staying true to the original vision for a Defense Intelligence School in the early 1960s.
“Tonight, we’re also celebrating fulfillment of that original vision of what NIU should be,” said Cameron, who played a pivotal role in transitioning NIU from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), truly making the institution the IC’s sole-accredited degree granting university.
The goal was always to better prepare civilians and service members with the knowledge and interagency academic experience that is critical to solve future national security challenges. While other undergraduate and graduate programs could offer intelligence degrees, NIU has always provided what they could not: the ability for cleared government civilians and service members to do classified research, assignments, and have classified discussions with other members of the Intelligence Community and broader national security enterprise.
Valerie Stout, a 2021 graduate, said the chance to learn with colleagues from across the IC and receive joint duty credit after earning a master’s degree, were factors in her decision to attend NIU. These factors also helped increase her promotion potential at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
NIU alumni are increasingly taking on leadership positions across the IC, including a former Director of National Intelligence and former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, DIA, and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. When Sue Gordon, former principal deputy director of national intelligence, took the podium, she reflected on NIU’s past, present, and future, saying that NIU graduates were frequently her colleagues in each of her career stops. She also addressed the importance of NIU developing leaders who understand how to operate across organizations now at a moment of strategic uncertainty in the world.
“This is fundamentally a leadership moment. This is ’Can we see the moment in which we exist, understand what it demands, and then become what it needs?’” said Gordon, who now serves as vice chair of the board of directors for the NIU Foundation. “The reason the ODNI was so interested in becoming the steward of this great university was because we couldn’t imagine an Intelligence Community without a place where its leaders develop together.”
At the start of the night, Ray Cross, executive director of NIU Foundation, announced that the gathering was the largest, outside of a commencement, that the university had ever hosted. This was the institution’s largest gathering of alumni, students, faculty, staff, and former and current Department of Defense and IC leaders. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers, NIU has built a 2,000-plus person alumni association since 2015.
Many of the 248 2023 graduates were also on-hand, and even future students, beginning degree programs this fall. “There were 20 or 30 future students at the event already establishing professional networks. That excited me more than anything,” said Van Wagner. “When leaders around the community start referring to NIU as ‘our university’ perceptions change, processes change, and then we by default become the academic institution of choice in our profession,” said Van Wagner. “The future is bright for NIU.”