Archived Voice Articles

A summer with the FBI

By Sally Jongsma

Jonathan Vander Vliet  (left), who was assigned to Quantico for his internship with the FBI, hopes to go to graduate school in security studies.

Jonathan Vander Vliet (left), who was assigned to Quantico for his internship with the FBI, hopes to go to graduate school in security studies.

Most engineering majors can barely complete the required courses for the major in four years. Jonathan Vander Vliet plans to graduate in four years with both engineering and political studies majors. This summer he even found an internship that combined the two—at the FBI.

“It’s a good mix,” he says of the two majors. “When I get tired of grinding away at an engineering problem, I break away to do some reading for political studies. If I’m tired of struggling with theoretical policy issues, I go crunch some hard numbers.”

Both of Vander Vliet’s majors require or strongly encourage students to participate in an internship or off-campus program. As an engineering major, Vander Vliet didn’t have the option of spending a semester off campus and still completing his program in four years.

So he began to look on the Internet for summer internship opportunities that might fit. A week before the application deadline in the fall of 2004, he happened upon FBI summer internships. He immediately wrote the required essays and solicited recommendations, and within a few weeks he learned that he had been selected as a semi-finalist for one of 116 intern positions for the summer of 2005.

That’s when it got interesting. In November, an FBI agent arrived in Sioux Center to interview not only Vander Vliet, but also his roommates, neighbors (at college and at home), teachers (high school and college), former employers, and more. Drug and polygraph tests came next. The polygraph was the most intimidating.

“Being asked the same twenty questions five or six times in the course of the test made it difficult to concentrate,” Vander Vliet says. He was accepted into the program and, based on his background and interests, was assigned to Quantico, the agency’s engineering research facility.

Vander Vliet worked with a team of engineers on projects related to security technology. His assignments related to housing and brackets for testing and prototypes.

While the technical work he did was interesting and valuable, it was working in a professional environment that Vander Vliet found most beneficial. “We learn engineering principles and theories, but we don’t often get to apply them concretely,” he says.

Another asset for Vander Vliet was gaining top secret security clearance. He’s hoping to go to graduate school in security studies and the clearance he earned this summer stays current for up to two years and remains inactive but alive for five years. He hopes the experience might open the door to working with the defense department or a national security agency.

“I’m starting to realize that I may not work as an engineer,” he says. At the same time he values his engineering education. “Engineering teaches a structured method of analysis that gives you a concrete way to approach evaluating and problem solving—it gives you critical evaluation skills.”

Vander Vliet believes it has never been more important for people to develop the combination of skills he is learning. People involved in public policy and in security agencies usually have a history or law degree, but it is becoming increasingly helpful to have a technical background as well. “There’s just not enough time to study everything you need to know to get good at something,” he says.

Vander Vliet studies hard and is reflective. He also says he stays up too late playing video games, having fun with friends, and engaging in late night discussions.

“If you’re thirsty for knowledge, there are so many opportunities to learn,” he believes—and so many opportunities to marvel at God’s creation—whether it is in engineering designs or in the way societies function.

About his intended career path, he says, “I’m not sure security is a normative career. It seems to be more a result of the fall. It’s easier for me to see how faith shapes public policy than how it determines how security functions.” Yet he believes that working as a disciple in government gives an opportunity to show leadership in a Christ-like manner, realizing that injustice needs to be addressed wherever it is found.

Vander Vliet wholeheartedly recommends the internship experience to others. He’s sharpened his aspirations for the future and gotten to know a smorgasbord of people from across the country, as he says. And he had a great time doing it.