Mission:not Impossible

UC’s School of Criminal Justice and U.S. Secret Service work together to place students in the field

One might think, from movies and spy novels, that working for the Secret Service (USSS) entails wearing a dark suit, carrying a concealed weapon and whispering discreetly into a lapel microphone, all the while trotting alongside a limousine with darkened windows.

Although there are indeed positions within the government agency that fit this description, called special agents, there are also numerous USSS jobs that are very similar to those in state and local law enforcement or as a private sector corporate employee, sans weapon.

Lauren Harvey talks to a student at a career fair

Lauren Harvey at a UC career fair. Photo/Greg Humbert/CECH

“It’s not just people in suits following high powered people around the country. There are so many different avenues and different ways to join the Secret Service,” says UC alumna Lauren Harvey, who earned her master’s degree in criminal justice in 2022 and who works as an investigative analyst in the agency’s Cincinnati field office.

Her workdays are typically spent at the computer, perhaps pouring over electronic bank records and financial databases to assist with investigations involving financial crimes such as loan and pandemic fraud.

Then you have UC alum Garrett Williams, a 2015 graduate and special agent at the Cleveland field office, who has a less predictable work schedule. Half the year Williams might be interviewing suspects stateside who are involved in a counterfeit operation or identity theft ring and the other half he could be in Washington, D.C., or out of the country, serving on a protective detail for a public office holder or U.S. dignitary. 

UC criminal justice school has reputation for excellence 

Harvey and Williams are among more than a dozen UC criminal justice graduates who have secured jobs with the USSS through UC’s School of Criminal Justice, part of the UC College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. The school has both in-person and online bachelor’s and master’s programs; and according to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, the school’s in-person and online graduate programs rank among the top 10 in the country. 


"UC is known to be one of the best programs in the country."

Kennon Henderson | UC alum and Secret Service agent

Secret Service agent Kennon Henderson opening a limo door

Kennon Henderson, Secret Service agent and 2018 UC criminal justice alumna. Photo/provided

Kennon Henderson, for example, is a special agent based in Washington, D.C., who is assigned to the presidential protective division. Henderson graduated from UC’s accelerated master’s degree program in 2018 and transitioned directly into a job with the Secret Service. “The master’s program really fine-tuned my attention to detail which significantly helped in both my previous investigative and current protective assignments within the Secret Service,” says Henderson, who says she heard about the program from other professors while attending undergraduate schools in both Illinois and Australia. 

“UC is known to be one of the best programs in the country. Everything that I learned and everything that I did within that program really helped me in the job that I have now,” she says.  

Internships with the Secret Service 

Undergraduates at the school are required to do an internship in law enforcement or a related field, and an internship is optional for graduate student capstone projects.   

While the school’s intern relationship with USSS is fairly new, established in 2018, both USSS officials and UC administrators want to get the word out that the student experience is available and various jobs are there for qualified candidates, not all of whom have to have a criminal justice degree or a degree at all.

But “almost everyone who we placed at that internship is offered a job opportunity,” says UC’s Susan Bourke, a professor emerita of criminal justice who works part time at the school to help students find their career path in law enforcement. In addition to teaching criminal justice courses for over 20 years, Bourke was the school’s director of undergraduate internships.

"Professor Bourke does a really good job of matching students with internships."

Nick Lieb | UC student and Secret Service intern

Susan A. Bourke, MS,
Assoc Professor Emerita,
Sr Research Associate,
CECH-Criminal Justice

Susan Bourke helps UC students find a career in criminal justice. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand

When fourth-year intern Nick Lieb graduates with his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in April 2023, he will have over a year of paid internship experience with the Secret Service. 

“What was most surprising to me was learning about the mission. Most people know about the protective aspect, but there’s the investigative side, the casework, that is the other half of the mission,” he says of working as an assistant to criminal investigators and analysts at the Cincinnati field office. The majority of his experience, he says, has been spent analyzing and processing counterfeit U.S. currency. “There are so many different security features and ways to determine whether a bill is fake or not.” 

Lieb, who plans to take a gap year off and attend law school thereafter, says he can definitely see himself working for the Secret Service or another federal law enforcement entity. 

“Professor Bourke does a really good job of matching students with internships,” Lieb says.

A chance phone call 

It was by happenstance that Bourke connected with the USSS five years ago when a student came into her office asking how to get a job with the Secret Service. Bourke says she had tried to make inroads with the agency in the past, without luck, but decided that day to just pick up the phone and call the Cincinnati field office.

“I was transferred to a very friendly voice who answered, ‘How can I help you?’”

That voice belonged to Yvonne DiCristoforo who was then the special agent in charge of the local field office. Here, she oversaw the service’s investigative and protective mission throughout the Southern District of Ohio and Northern Kentucky. 

"We have everything that a large corporation has…human resources, accountants, analysts, photographers and videographers who work in the Secret Service."

Yvonne DiCristoforo | Secret Service deputy assistant director of protective service

headshot of Yvonne DiCristoforo

UC alumna Yvonne DiCristoforo has worked for the Secret Service for nearly 30 years. Photo/provided

When she answered the phone, DiCristoforo, who now has 29 years with the USSS, already had a close connection to UC. She earned her master’s degree in criminal justice at UC in 1991.

“Yvonne was very devoted to our program and told me she would do what she could,” Bourke says of later meeting with DiCristoforo to establish a closer alumni relationship with the college and a path at the school to give students a better understanding of federal law enforcement careers and the jobs available at the USSS.

“People think ‘Secret Service’ and they automatically think presidential detail,” when there are many more opportunities with us, says DiCristoforo, who has since been promoted to deputy assistant director in the Office of Protective Operations and is stationed in Washington, D.C. 

From the initial meeting, the professor and the agent worked together to mentor students and find them the right fit, hopefully at the USSS. 

"It’s not just people in suits following high powered people around the country. There are so many different avenues and different ways to join the Secret Service."

Lauren Harvey | UC alum and investigative analyst

What Secret Service agents do

Divisions at the USSS include special agents, who do criminal investigations in field offices across the nation or serve on protection details across the globe, such as DiCristoforo did for vice presidents Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden; a uniform division that includes law enforcement duties such as gate checks at the White House, bomb detection, counter snipers on the roofs of government buildings, canine patrols and emergency response teams; and non-gun carrying positions in administration, professional and technical fields that keep the government entity, with its over 8,000 employees, running smoothly.  

“We have everything that a large corporation has…human resources, accountants, analysts, photographers and videographers who work in the Secret Service,” says DiCristoforo.

For instance, as a criminal justice undergrad, Lauren Harvey says she started off thinking she wanted to be an agent but changed her mind and entered an internship as an investigative support assistant with USSS, which led to her current position as an investigative analyst. “Agents really travel most of the year and it’s not the lifestyle I wanted,” she says.

Secret Service agent Garrett Williams standing in a suit by and American flag and the Secret Service sign at the Cleveland Ohio field office

UC alumnus and Secret Service agent Garrett Williams. Photo/provided

Garrett Williams, on the other hand, did his internship with the Highland County Sheriff’s Department in Ohio but says he’s known he wanted to be a special agent since he was a child — from watching James Bond movies with his dad. For Williams, the travel is a bonus.

“You do and see things that people just wouldn’t imagine seeing in their lifetime,” he says.

The USSS has both paid and unpaid internships that are facilitated through the college, but students still need to apply for internships and positions through USAJobs.gov much the same as they do for all government jobs. Job applicants must be 21 to 37 and pass a rigorous background check to vet applicants for criminal and credit history.

Williams says the university prepared him well for the job, and professor Bourke could not be happier to hear it.

“It’s my job, you know, but it’s also my joy,” says Bourke, adding, “I love to see them walk across the stage at graduation. I love to see them get jobs.”

Featured image at top: Illustration/Margaret Weiner/UC Marketing + Brand
Digital design/Kerry Overstake/UC Digital + User Experience

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