More than 50 people gathered April 30 to dine and celebrate the FBI Citizens Academy’s 14th graduating class at Villa Antonio restaurant on South Boulevard in Charlotte.
“We’ve enjoyed having (the graduates) as part of this class and we hope that you will continue to support the FBI’s mission and bring awareness to the community about the work we are doing here,” John Strong, FBI special agent in charge of the North Carolina division, said to the audience.
Keynote speaker John Rossi is a former assistant director of the FBI; he currently manages legal investigations for the NFL. He spoke about the significance of ethics and integrity.
“The FBI has to protect the badge by developing trusting relationships in the community and making critical judgments by deciphering the truth from very little information in often extreme circumstances,” Rossi said.
Building trusting relationships and gathering community support are the top reasons the FBI created the citizens academy in 1993. The first academy started in Phoenix; the Charlotte division began its program in 2000.
Stacie Ward, community outreach specialist for Charlotte’s FBI division, said the agency wanted to “demystify negative stereotypes by sharing information about the inner workings of the FBI.”
Ward said more than 10,000 people nationwide and 200 in North Carolina have graduated from the program.
Twenty graduates working in education, finance, information security, law, government, transportation and nonprofits make up this year’s graduating class. Toward the end of the evening, each graduate’s name was announced, they shook hands with Strong and were handed a black, leather-bound certificate commending them for completion of the course.
Kathleen Nicolaides, a former federal prosecutor who currently teaches criminal justice at UNC Charlotte, said the experience “gave me a fresh view of the bureau and the multifaceted individuals working there.”
David Matusiak, information security specialist and president of InfraGard – an association of diverse professionals dedicated to sharing information and intelligence on national security in partnership with the FBI – said it was an excellent networking opportunity and a hands-on experience with some of the technology used in investigations.
“This class provided me with a higher degree of awareness about the FBI and criminal culture in the U.S. … I will pass on these lessons to my students, hopefully inspiring them to be engaged citizens,” said Susana Cisneros, a UNCC Spanish instructor and a CMPD Citizens on Patrol volunteer.
The FBI Citizens Academy is an intense nine-week course that gives citizens an inside look at the way the FBI operates, including topics on international and domestic terrorism, white-collar crimes, bank robbery and hostage rescue. Participants also engage in firearm training and use forensic technology.
Potential candidates must be 18 years old, have no felonies, live or work in Charlotte, pass a background check and be nominated for the class. For information, visit http://1.usa.gov/1iin4US.
Crystal O’Gorman is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Crystal? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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