Program of the Month Q&A: Homeland Security Adjunct Faculty Member Aida “Tere” Silva


A retired special agent with more than 25 years of field experience as a homeland security investigations supervisory criminal investigator, Aida Teresa (“Tere”) Silva now teaches such courses as International Legal Systems and Systems of International Terrorism in the homeland security (HLS) program at Medaille. Also a veteran, she served as an intelligence officer with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard and the United States Air Force for 11 years.

Here, Silva discusses her extensive background, the incomparable value of imparting her real-world experience to HLS students, and the many career options available to those with a homeland security degree and training.

 

Can you describe your background? What drew you to a career in homeland security?

I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1984, I joined the Puerto Rico Air National Guard and the United States Air Force, where I served for 11 years as an intelligence officer. After completing a B.A. in communications, I pursued and completed my juris doctorate degree while working at a law firm and as a reservist. During my last two years serving the Puerto Rico Air National Guard and a year after I graduated from law school, I was selected to work in a joint Air Force and U.S. Customs counter-drug initiative. This is where my passion for law enforcement originated.

In 1994 I became a special agent for the now legacy U.S. Customs Service, a component of the Department of the Treasury which would eventually become part the Department of Homeland Security. A profound understanding of world affairs and the intricacies of the pillars that constitute the federal justice system were key to what would follow and define my professional career for the next 25 years of my life. The most important thing was, as stated by Secretary Condoleezza Rice; “Your first obligation is to find something you like doing, because if you like doing it, you’ll do it well.” I had found what I liked, I pursued it, and I was determined to do it well. 

The tragic events of 9/11 were followed by the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which required our law enforcement careers be redefined, and our authorities expanded to new legal powers. We adapted and prepared to confront new types of criminal violations and growing national security threats focusing on our homeland. This new focus, in response to terrorism, required that our laws, regulations, investigative methods and training evolve and be applied from a different perspective. 

Eventually, I became the first female supervisor in the agency in Puerto Rico to be in charge of the Office of Professional Responsibility, as a Resident Agent in Charge for P.R. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.     

 

How does your real-world experience in the field, along with the experience of your colleagues, help shape the content and effectiveness of HLS classes?

There is absolutely no substitute for experience. Institutions, especially U.S. government law enforcement, place a high value on practical experience. Criminal investigations and homeland security must rely on specific skillsets that can only be obtained through meticulous and dedicated learning activities and that are related directly to time spent conducting complex criminal investigations. The learning process never ends, and the way learning evolves is through experience.

Real-life stories taken from my background bring a unique experience to the classroom. When I present a topic and integrate it into the chat forums, it brings our courses to life. The chats become alive and students are able to explore those topics through the eyes of the instructor. There is nothing better than a great, true story when you are teaching a class. 

 

How would you describe the value of a homeland security degree in today’s world?

National security agencies as a whole are the largest organizations in the federal government. Employment opportunities in the security industry are one of the biggest and most sought after at this time. In my view, a homeland security degree is one of the most comprehensive degrees available, and it presents a broad spectrum as far as the types of jobs available. A few examples of career opportunities include: immigration attorneys, intelligence or financial analysts, enforcement removal officers, customs and border protection agents, criminal investigators, and import specialists

Knowledge is a valuable tool, so I am a firm believer that you should learn to refine those tools as much you can. Post-graduate studies and a degree in HLS will further prepare Medaille students to become subject matter experts in the myriad of opportunities the homeland security field provides. 

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