Thanks to Matt Shomo, MPP 2020, for writing this blog post!

I will be the first to admit that I used to avoid trying new things. I would settle into a routine with podcasts, food, exercise; all of the above. This “old me” lifestyle applied to how I approached school as well; I would lean towards classes that only had an explicit connection to things I was extremely knowledgeable of or interested in.

But that old me is old news.

Part of my Harris journey has been expanding my palette in terms of academic material, and there is no greater example of this than my decision to take a course called Contemporary US Intelligence. Granted, part of the appeal of this particular class is the instructor, current United States Congressman Mike Quigley, AM '85, who sits on the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). During his 11 years in Congress, four of which have been spent on HPSCI, Congressman Quigley has interacted with every imaginable intelligence community leader and policy expert.

He and the guest speakers were large factors in my decision to take the class. But once I began preparing for the first few classes and dove into material that was totally foreign to me, I was increasingly intrigued by the new concepts I would be learning, such as warning and surprise, covert action, oversight, and the role of policy makers. Many of these topics will be analyzed through the context of current events including the congressional investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election.

And then there was our first guest speaker.

Mike Morell served his country with 33 years of distinguished service in the Central Intelligence Agency – most notably as the Presidential Daily Briefer for President George W. Bush in 2001 and as Deputy Director of the CIA from 2010–13 for President Barack Obama. I would be remiss if I forgot to make note that Mr. Morell and I have one very important thing in common: we were both born and raised in Akron, Ohio.

Over the course of nearly three hours, Mr. Morell talked about his path to the upper echelon of the United States intelligence community and the lessons he learned along the way. He shared insights and stories about a wide range of topics and did so in a way that was authentic and, at times, transfixing. Personally, his conversation made issues discussed in previous lectures click and topics covered in previous readings come to life. Never before had I given as much thought to these particular policy issues—not because I viewed them as unimportant, but rather because they didn’t fit within my particular policy bubble.

A willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone is a key component of the Harris experience; for me, course offerings such Contemporary US Intelligence helped me to expand my intellectual sphere. I have become a better consumer of information, in both my professional and academic life, because of my classes at Harris.