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May the Force Be with You

A competitive X-Force Summer Fellowship gave two Endicott College students the entry point into the national security field.
Psychology major Caroline Kiernan ’24 was one of two Gulls who nabbed a prestigious X-Force Fellowship with the Department of Defense. Now, she's applying to graduate programs in cybersecurity.
By: Danna Lorch

Christopher Mills ’23 grew up in Beverly, Mass., watching NCIS and Criminal Minds, imagining a future as a forensic detective cracking high-profile cybersecurity crimes. 

These days, Mills’ reality is incredibly close to his childhood dream. 

As a senior majoring in criminal justice at Endicott, Mills worked as a research assistant for Associate Dean Kyungseok Choo under a prestigious multi-million dollar Department of Justice (DoJ) grant that Endicott received from the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention. Choo told Mills about a 2023 Summer Fellowship opportunity at X-Force and encouraged him to apply. 

Part of the National Security Innovation Network at the Department of Defense (DoD), the X-Force Fellowship is a paid summer internship geared towards students of all majors who are passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. The fellowship gives students training and opportunities to help solve pressing national security problems as part of a team. 

“I immediately looked up X-Force, saw that the role involved policy analysis and searching for gaps in data sets, and was at the intersection of innovation and technology,” said Mills. “I knew that I had to apply.” 

He submitted a cover letter with an application and requested a letter of recommendation from a mentor. Mills said his previous government internship with the DoD’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, his work with Choo, and the knack for teamwork honed by competing on hockey teams helped him during the interview that followed. 

Mills received a letter of acceptance and was then assigned to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy at the DoD.

Throughout the 10-week, full-time virtual internship, he focused on domestic preparedness support for the prevention of wildfires and DoD involvement in minimizing the threats they posed. 

“Even though I didn’t have experience analyzing wildfires,” he said, “being able to take a problem set, whittle it down to the most critical information, and present it to my supervisors with a set of proposed solutions were skills that I took away from the Fellowship.” 

Mills and a colleague recently presented their findings to students and faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) in Monterrey, Calif.  

A competitive X-Force Summer Fellowship gave two Endicott College students the entry point into the national security field.

Nowadays, Mills is pursuing an M.A. in Security and Intelligence Studies at Northeastern University, a program the experience at X-Force helped inspire him to apply to. He has advice for other Gulls considering applying for the X-Force Summer Fellowship too. “If you’re even remotely interested in national security issues or national defense and want to come up with tangible solutions that will be taken seriously by supervisors, then you should just apply and see what happens.”

Psychology major Caroline Kiernan ’24 was also an X-Force Fellow this past summer. Kiernan transferred to Endicott as a sophomore determined to become a psychologist. “My interest in psychology started from a place of wanting to help others, but at Endicott, it transitioned from wanting to be the person who offered therapy to wanting to help solve cybercrimes,” she said.

Just like Mills, Kiernan’s first internship involved working with Choo’s DoJ grant, helping to develop training modules for law enforcement to better detect threats to cybersecurity. 

“I didn’t think it was going to be interesting at all, but I discovered that cybersecurity is my thing,” Kiernan said. “Now I’m obsessed.” 

When Choo encouraged Kiernan to apply for a 2023 X-Force Summer Fellowship, she was all in but knew that it was highly competitive. She threw her application into the ring anyway and became part of a small cohort selected from more than 2,000 applicants. 

Kiernan was assigned to the Corporate Communications department at the National Security Innovation Network, where she was part of a team running X-Force’s social media channels, getting the word out about the DoD, and pulling together features using archival data. 

“The best part of the Fellowship was the speaker series. Every Friday, someone from the cybersecurity field, the DoJ, or the Department of Homeland Security spoke with the fellows. Everyone gave out their contact information, and I made so many connections for future career advice,” she said.  

X-Force also helped Kiernan crack the code for programming her next moves in the field. 

Back at Endicott, Kiernan is writing her thesis on how North Shore police departments are implementing cybercrime training initiatives. She’s also applying to graduate programs in cybersecurity. 

As a senior, Kiernan enjoys offering guided campus tours to prospective students and handing out advice along the way. She tells every single one of them, “The internships are really important. They help you figure out what you want to do—as well as what you don’t want to do—after you graduate.” 

The X-Force Fellowship is a 10-week, full-time, paid opportunity. Student applications for the Summer 2024 cohort will close on Jan. 31, 2024. More information can be found here.