The first class of Transportation Security Administration workers to complete a three-course program offered by the TSA and LaGuardia Community College received certificates of achievement in a ceremony at the school on Friday.
The three courses are part of a larger initiative by the TSA which encourages its employees to obtain associate’s degrees in criminal justice. These classes, along with a fourth one, are paid for by the TSA and administered by LGCC at the airports themselves — LaGuardia and JFK — to make it easier for workers to take part.
Gale Rossides, deputy adminstrator for the TSA, was on hand at the ceremony, held in LGCC’s Little Theater, as a keynote speaker. She told the employees present that it’s “never too late to pursue college education.”
More than 2,500 workers are participating in the initiative nationwide, Rossides said, adding that there is at least one associate’s program in every state.
According to Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman, only 14 percent of TSA officers have college degrees. She said the program offers many a chance they wouldn’t otherwise have to pursue higher education.
The first four free courses provide credits that can then be applied to an associate’s degree if students choose to continue with the program by matriculating into LGCC. The classes include an introduction to homeland security and intelligence analysis, as well as border and maritime security, taught by retired NYPD officers and FDNY firefighters, according to Randy Fader-Smith, a spokeswoman for the college.
Elsie Torres, a TSA officer at JFK who successfully completed the first three courses and was awarded a certificate at the ceremony, said she hopes the courses will allow her to move up in the organization to the role of manager or inspector.
Because of the classes, Torres said, “I can see things that I didn’t before.” Torres moved from Puerto Rico and began working for the TSA in large part because her sister died in the World Trade Center attacks. She has four children and lives in Union City, but said it hadn’t been too hard to get to class every Sunday at 9 a.m.
“[My kids] know how committed I am with my job,” she said. “I make TSA my career.” Torres will go on to take the fourth course in the spring, and will then try and get her associate’s degree.
Sabrina Bojko-Sosa, an ambitious TSA officer from Jackson Heights, said she hoped to go even further. Having successfully completed the first three courses, she plans to get her associate’s degree, and then hopes to earn a master’s from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“This program definitely made it easy as far as our schedules,” Bojko-Sosa said. At first, she noted, taking classes took some adjustment. “It’s been a while since I’ve been to school.” Now, though, she seemed invigorated by the prospect of more.
“I’m not done yet,” she said.