by Mark Zenow

HUNTERSVILLE – Local graduates are now ready to tackle the daunting task of keeping U.S. airports safe.

The Central Piedmont Community College graduated its first class of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) associate’s program at the Huntersville Merancas campus May 24. The one-year TSA continuing education program develops existing TSA employees’ capabilities in risk management, intelligence analysis, security technology and transportation and border security. Credits can also be applied toward an associate degree in Criminal Justice Technology at CPCC.

TSA Chief of Staff David Nicholson came to Huntersville from Washington, D.C., to address graduates.

“Our force in the airports is the nation’s first-line defense,” he said. “As we change to a risk-based security force, we need to be more self-aware and analytical in our approach to the security business.”

To that end, he said the TSA is always looking to update its practices and enhance its techniques. The associate’s program is part of that ongoing process.

“We’re all about staying ahead of people who would do us harm,” he said to the 31 students wearing bright blue TSA uniforms. “Being able to do that requires that we have people who are in tune to what our mission is, who are focused every day, and who know it only takes one person to defeat us.”

The additional education this program offers “gives context to TSA employees, allowing them to question and challenge our policies and practices in an effort to strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems,” Nicholson said.

Pedro Zamora addressed fellow students, their guests, and campus officials after receiving his certificate and a handshake from Nicholson.

“It’s quite an emotional moment for all of us,” Zamora said. “As an American, the flame of service and dedication for my country burns full force in my heart.”

He said the program helped him better understand the intricacies and structures of the governmental agencies charged with keeping citizens safe, calling those agencies “vital to the well-being and protection of the American flying public.”

Merancas campus Dean Beverly Dickson echoed Nicholson’s comments, commending the students for their dedication to their career choice, community and nation.