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Mercyhurst names new school for Ridge

By Erica Erwin, Erie Times-News, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

April 11--Tom Ridge's name graces an airport, an educational building, an environmental center -- and now an innovative new school at Mercyhurst University.

The nation's first Secretary of Homeland Security, Pennsylvania's 43rd governor and longtime congressman who grew up in Erie will be on campus at 10 a.m. today to dedicate the Tom Ridge School of Intelligence Studies and Information Science. The university's seventh school brings together the departments of intelligence studies, mathematics and computer systems, and communication.

"We wanted an interdisciplinary approach that brings together the skill sets of the intelligence professional, the math and computer systems expert, and the communications specialist, and produces a career professional that's comfortable in all three of those domains," said James Breckenridge, dean of the school. "That's a unique opportunity."

The collaboration will fill a need for graduates who are well-versed in all three areas, including social media, Breckenridge said: data scientists and communication professionals who understand intelligence and intelligence analysts who understand data science and new media.

"We know there's a demand out there, and we're going to meet that demand," he said.

There's a need to be able to analyze, understand and use "big data" -- the volume and scope of data produced, for example, by the more than 1 million customer transactions handled by Wal-Mart, Breckenridge said.

By analyzing big data, "we can track health trends; we can track customer needs and wants and expectations; we can anticipate where a particular epidemic can be going next. We know when somebody is buying a whole lot of flu medicine in an area, there may be a flu problem.

"What makes us healthier makes us safer and makes us more secure," Breckenridge said. "You have to look at security in a lot of different ways."

Naming the building after Ridge just made sense, Breckenridge said.

"We're thrilled, obviously," he said. "From his days as governor of Pennsylvania and later as a U.S. Cabinet secretary, he's always demonstrated a global mindset. That global mindset and his expertise in security and intelligence were just a perfect fit for what we do. And he's a native son. All those things came together to say 'This is the obvious choice to make.'"

Ridge is chief executive of Ridge Global, an international provider of security and risk management services, and a partner in Ridge-Schmidt Cyber LLC, a cyber security consulting firm.

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"Graduates of Mercyhurst's intelligence studies program are well-known and highly regarded inside the walls of our nation's intelligence and defense agencies in Washington," Ridge said in a prepared statement. "I am honored that Mercyhurst University, an institution with which I have enjoyed a long and proud affiliation, would choose to attach my name to this new school. The young men and women who will leave with degrees will play a critical role in defending our nation's safety and securing our freedom."

ERICA ERWIN can be reached at 870-1846 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at


(c)2014 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

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