Ph.D. Student Balances Experience/Academics at U.S. Secret Service

Ph.D. Intern Andrea Weiss poses with President George Bush, local police and other interns during a recent visit to Huntsville.
U.S. Secret Service Intern Andrea Weiss witnessed presidential protection firsthand during a recent visit by former President George W. Bush to Huntsville.

Ph.D. Student Andrea Weiss wants to merge academia and a federal law enforcement job during her lifelong career. So this summer, Weiss took an internship with the U.S. Secret Service in Houston.

“I don’t want to go right into teaching,” said Weiss, who expects to graduate in 2013. “I want to go to work in a federal government agency. I think there is a value in professors who have had both experiences. Sometimes it is nice to know what goes on in the real world. And academia can help fill in the gaps of things that can be fixed. I want to tie the two of them together.”

As a Ph.D. student at Sam Houston State University’s College of Criminal Justice, Weiss is researching the military and delinquency to determine the impact of service on general crime and intimate partner violence. As a U.S. Secret Service intern, she is using her research skills to help piece together cases of bank fraud, money laundering, and identity theft.

The process is similar for research papers and criminal investigations -- investigating a problem, finding relevant information and summarizing the results in a report – but the outcomes are quite different. One can land a suspect in jail; the other can change the way the profession operates.

Ph.D. Student Weiss stand below a replica of a U.S. Secret Service badge.
Ph.D. Student Weiss stand below a replica of a U.S. Secret Service badge.

“I believe there is great value in the internship program,” said Special Agent Kim Smith. “ It gives the students the opportunity to observe the daily investigative and protective operations of the Secret Service. Additionally, it allows the agency to impart knowledge that will enhance the student’s future law enforcement endeavors, whether at the local, state, or federal level. Ms. Weiss was very eager to learn and constantly asking questions. She was a great asset to the Secret Service Houston Field Office.”

For now, Weiss is hooked on the criminal work. She has witnessed cases at every stage in the process – from the tip phoned in by a concerned citizen to the trial in federal court. In between, there’s a lot of work that goes into building a case such as digging into financial records and other evidence; writing, filing and serving subpoenas and warrants; interviewing suspects and witnesses and working with the District Attorney and the courts in the process.

“You have to build a picture and prepare the case to go to trial,” Weiss said. “You have to convince the other side that you have enough evidence to win at trial even if it never actually goes to trial.”

Weiss got to witness the culmination of a year’s worth of work during a bank fraud and identify theft trial in the federal courts in Houston.

“There are some cases that I worked on that I want to find out what happened,” Weiss said. “You get wrapped up in it. You feel like you are a part of it, and you want to see how it all turns out.”

picture of a sheet of printed.Weiss also got a crash course in fake currency in the counterfeiting unit, where she helped review stacks of envelopes full of money sent daily by financial institutions and police departments to test for authenticity. Using a microscope and other equipment, agents look for the telltales signs of genuine bills, which include differences in papers and inks, security features and other intricacies. The review went way beyond what Weiss learned as a retail clerk to check for fake currency. She also learned how to watch for trends in collected bills to try and track down the source.

“You really don’t realize the detail and effort that goes into making money,” said Weiss. “The agents say they are experts in genuine money, not in counterfeit. They can tell what’s counterfeit by looking for genuine features that are missing.”

During her two and a half month summer internship at the U.S. Secret Service, Weiss also got to observe security and protection details, including former President George W. Bush, Vice President Joe Biden, and Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. She had her picture taken with President Bush and Romney.

“Protection is one of the principal tasks of the Secret Service and because it is an election year, the office was very busy preparing for numerous visits,” said Weiss. “For each type of visit, I was able to learn about the structure of the visits, the preparatory steps required and the overall planning and organization.”
Weiss is hoping to turn her experience into a job with a federal agency when she graduates in 2013.

Closeup of detail on a bill.“I like the investigation and nature of government work in general,” said Weiss. “This internship served as a stepping-stone to illustrate that I have worked, albeit briefly, in a government environment. It also provided the opportunity to network and gain references and points of contact with those already in the same career field.”

Weiss said SHSU has one of the largest and best internship programs and it has a strong reputation in the criminal justice community. While undergraduates can earn nine credits towards their degree, graduate students are eligible for six credits for their internship experience.

“The internship office goes above and beyond to help pair students with an opportunity in a variety of criminal justice agencies and organization that fits with their future career goals and aspiration,” Weiss said.

Member of The Texas State University System