FORT MEADE, Md. - Alexa wasn’t sure what career direction she wanted to go in after studying graphic design in college, but participating in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) new Bridge Program, particularly her first tour with the printing team, helped guide her decision.
“I had never considered working in print, but was really interested once I learned more about it,” she said. “The chief learned about my interests and used that to reach out to the graphic design office and get me a tour over there. If it wasn’t for that tour transition, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. Every office and experience will lead you to another.”
Initially launched as a pilot in 2020, the Bridge Program is now official, supporting NSA’s efforts to build and sustain its diverse, expert workforce. The program taps into the pool of enthusiastic, entry-level High School Work Study (HSWS) graduates interested in NSA careers, according to Shaun Johnson, director of the Bridge Program.
“We bring in hundreds of High School Work Study students each year, and many of them want to continue working at the Agency after the program is done,” he said. “This program allows participants to get experience and explore different options of their fields.”
According to Johnson, the program capitalizes on the investment made in clearing HSWS students when they first come in, and exposes them to relevant, Agency-wide, real-world challenges, providing a unique opportunity to immediately apply skills and keep pace with advancements in their areas of interest. Students have the flexibility to explore various disciplines from computer science, data science, and software engineering, to business, graphic design, and more.
Bridge Program participants tour four to five different offices and receive hands-on work experience, part-time salary, and full-time employment opportunities when they successfully complete the program. Participants are placed in their first tour and discover the rest on their own, allowing them to build their pathway based on their interests and skill sets.
Talib, a junior studying information systems at University of Maryland Baltimore County, said that the greatest benefit of being in the Bridge Program is the ability to gain work experience while in college. So far, he has worked on teams focused on analysis, IT services, and emerging technologies.
“This program… will ultimately help me find which area I would like to be in when I graduate and become full time,” Talib said. “Since we complete different tours, I have built great relationships with individuals in the offices I have toured in.”
Having the opportunity to test the waters in different areas also helped Gabriel decide his career path.
“When I first started the program, I didn’t know what I wanted to do other than software engineering,” he said. “A year later, I found myself falling in love with assembly language, malware analysis, reverse engineering, and exploitation development. If not for Bridge, I don’t think I would have been exposed to those until much later in my career.”
People like Alexa, Talib, and Gabriel are the present and future NSA workforce that will serve as the Agency’s competitive advantage in the 21st century.
Learn more about working at NSA at NSA.gov/Careers, and learn about student programs at NSA.gov/Academics/For-Students. The High School Work Study program opens for applications August 2023 at intelligencecareers.gov/nsa.
NSA Media Relations