It was 2013, and the Philadelphia native was about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from James Madison University.
“I wanted to go into national security but I didn’t know how to get there. I thought I could apply for jobs, but didn’t have experience on my resume. So, I thought an advanced degree would be the right approach,” he said.
Heaver started searching for graduate programs online and discovered Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies.
It offers a master’s degree with two track options:
- Defense and Strategic Studies/General
- Defense and Strategic Studies/Weapons of Mass Destruction
He was interested in the general option. A variety of factors caught his eye.
Perks and expertise
First, the location. Located just outside of Washington, D.C., it naturally gives students access to the people and places that are significant to their career in the field.
Another perk: MSU was a great option financially compared to other similar programs in the area.
“The price point fit for what I was looking for. They also offered a GA position and other opportunities for tuition assistance. I really liked the small classroom size as well. It was more intimate and you got to know your classmates and professors. The professors were great and either had spent their entire careers in the national security arena, or were still working in the field, so they offered a ton of perspective. It was clear MSU was the choice for me.”
DSS prides itself on its outstanding faculty. They include ambassadors, retired senior military officers, intelligence officers, defense policymakers, and high-ranking national security officials. They are employees at the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security.
“The program is policy-focused and promotes high-level critical thinking. I use it as the backbone for a lot of my work.”
Today, Phil Heaver is research analyst and project manager for Lockheed Martin in their Government Affairs organization, focused on Space, Missile Defense, and Strategic Programs.
His journey began in MSU’s graduate college.
When opportunity knocks
At MSU, Heaver was a graduate assistant and student liaison. This experience helped him make connections and form close relationships.
While the university offers both seated and online classes, he opted for all seated classes.
Initially, Heaver wanted to be a counter terrorism analyst. His first internship was in the arena. But a professor later alerted him to a one-year internship opportunity at Lockheed Martin.
“He said, ‘This is an opportunity you should not pass up.’ I decided to go down that path and I didn’t look back. Here I am, several years later, with a few detours along the way, working on the same team I originally interned with,” the 29-year-old said.
That was another perk of the program: professors were always looking for opportunities and would share those with students.
DSS has rotational internship opportunities at Lockheed Martin.
Eric Thoemmes is in charge of the internship program at Lockheed Martin.
“We have absolutely had a stellar run of outstanding interns from DSS who have come through and a number who have joined Lockheed Martin right after they finish,” said Thoemmes.
Thoemmes is a graduate of the DSS program himself. He graduated in 1989 and went to work for a U.S. Senator. He was later recruited by Lockheed Martin.
Heaver received his master’s in defense and strategic studies in December 2015. Some of his classmates went to work on Capitol Hill, others in intelligence agencies. Heaver took some time off to travel and then joined Lockheed Martin full-time in 2016.
Heaver says DSS prepared him for his future.
“It is an awesome program,” he said. “It set me up for success. I made important relationships and I am so glad I was part of it.”