West Virginia University Chief of Staff Jay Cole never imagined the breadth of what the FBI does, until he completed the agency’s “Citizen’s Academy.” It was then he realized the full impact of the FBI in North Central West Virginia and on WVU itself.
Clarksburg, located about 40 miles south of Morgantown, is home to the FBI’s largest division, the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS). The Clarksburg complex also houses the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System and the Biometric Center of Excellence.
“WVU and the FBI are two of the largest entities in this region,” Cole said. “It should give us a real sense of pride.”
The collaboration between the two has been a catalyst for economic growth in the region, as well as providing an outlet for WVU graduates.
“Many companies tell us stories about opening offices in North Central West Virginia that support the FBI and Department of Defense biometrics operations,” said Bojan Cukic, Robert C. Byrd professor of computer science and electrical engineering, who came to WVU in 1997, around the time the University and the FBI began collaborating.
“And they count on the quality and availability of WVU graduates to further their mission.”
Cukic estimates that many of these companies have a workforce that consists of 75, 80 or even 100 percent WVU graduates.
Cukic said the partnership with the FBI led to the creation of strong research programs, and “many undergraduates getting those degrees are able to participate in projects that give them hands-on experiences.”
Cukic is also co-director of the Center for Identification Technology Research, established at WVU in 2002. It is the nation’s only National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center focusing on biometric identification and credibility assessment technology.
One of the best hands-on examples for students is the program’s biometric data collections.
“For several years now, our students have collected biometrics data and shared them with the FBI for possible use in test and evaluation of novel identification tools and techniques,” Cukic said. “This project includes undergraduates, who gain research experience using the systems in data collection.”
The partnership has introduced students to the world of the FBI, and because of that, the Bureau, as well as several subcontracting companies, tends to hire many WVU graduates.
“There’s been nothing but dramatic growth in economic activity surrounding biometrics and identity management in this region to the extent that the I-79 Corridor is now called the ‘Biometrics Corridor,’” Cukic said. “This synergy is also enabling the FBI and DOD to have a good reason to be in West Virginia and remain in West Virginia. The workforce here is the best in the country, and it’s a natural fit.”
The FBI Citizens’ Academy which Cole attended, and recommends to others in the University community, gives ordinary folks a first-hand glimpse into the workings of the Bureau.
Held in Clarksburg at least once a year, the Academy teaches citizens over a nine-week period how investigators collect evidence, track down criminals and even fire their weapons.
“The class assembled at a shooting range,” Cole said. “We watched a SWAT team simulation and they allowed us to shoot firearms.
“I walked away with a greater understanding of the complexity and diversity of the FBI’s mission. I knew something about their work on biometrics and interstate crime, but through the Citizens’ Academy, I learned a lot more and developed a much deeper appreciation for the Bureau. Having CJIS in our own backyard, working closely with WVU and employing West Virginians, is a huge asset for this region.”
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