A leader and problem-solver, U.S. Army officer earns master’s in homeland security

Rising Up at KUEC: In this Q&A series, outstanding 2021 KU graduates share how the KU Edwards Campus has helped them start, advance or change their career. Meet Megan O’Keefe.

Megan O'Keefe, Master of Science in Homeland Security: Law & Policy 2021 graduate

2021 graduate Megan O’Keefe is prepared to take her service in the U.S. Army to the next level. With a newly earned master’s in homeland security (law & policy), the 33-year-old information operations officer aspires to improve her organization and continue to be a leader within the information dominance field.

“Tough days motivate me,” said O’Keefe. “It’s my family, my friends and my neighbors who remind me, ‘Service before self!’” With peers deployed globally and a brother who overcame cancer to become a firefighter, it’s no wonder the Las Vegas native finds inspiration in serving her country.

O’Keefe’s interest in the program was encouraged by her mentor, Major Natalie Morrow. Her graduation this May will mark the end of a ten-year journey. Though O’Keefe has no plans to leave the Army, teaching might be in her future.

“As a lifelong learner, it’s interesting to study the relationship between the military and Department of Homeland Security in the Leavenworth think tank,” she said. “I hope to give back to the schools that have given me so much.”

Read more about what O’Keefe learned during her time at KU.

Q: What is a typical day in your life like?

A: While attending the University of Kansas, my typical day starts with a run around Fort Leavenworth with my teammate Wallace, a fluffy lovable retriever. After that, I throw on a uniform and head to work at the Command and General Staff Officer College, diving into military theory, the philosophy of leadership and methods of force modernization. I enjoy healthy discussion and debate with other military officers about how to best solve tomorrow’s challenges as we pursue the mid-level ranks across the Department of Defense.

I end my days hopping on Zoom to translate those Army lessons into everyday challenges in homeland security, from cybercrimes and environmental threats to the agricultural landscape and critical infrastructure of Kansas and Missouri and terrorism risks. It is a lot to stay on top of!

Q: What makes you the happiest?

A: The people I work with who make it their life’s work to ensure the next generation can succeed make me happy. My professors at the University of Kansas are veterans who know what it’s like to solve hard problems in and out of uniform. It makes me happy when we can come together as a team to find the “ah-ha!” moments.

Q: What motivates you?

A: My family! My friends! My tribe!

At the beginning of 2020, my brother Matthew overcame stage three testicular cancer to become a Las Vegas firefighter. One year later, he is cancer-free and he lets nothing stop him from being a great husband, father and lifesaver when 911 rings.

My closest friends remain deployed globally to protect the service men and women who are in and near conflict, whether fighting California forest fires or keeping eyes in the skies over the Middle East. It’s my family, my friends and my neighbors who remind me, “Service before self”!

During the pandemic, Team Rubicon reminded me that disasters don’t stop when we’re stuck at home. We cleaned up homes around St. Joseph after a flood and fed families in need. Tough days motivate me.

Q: Why did you choose KU?

A: My mentor, Major Natalie Morrow, a fire captain in Mammoth, California, and former platoon leader in the Nevada Army National Guard, said, “Megan, you would do well in Incident Command, you should look into it!” Naturally, when the opportunity to study homeland security became available, I jumped on it. Little did I know that as an art and outdoor enthusiast, I would fall in love with the area museums, Katy Trail and surrounding lakes. My best memory yet was flying in a WWII piper cub over corn fields carved into a maze to celebrate the KC Chiefs!

Q: How did KU meet your personal and/or academic needs?

A: As an Information Operations Officer, I have the responsibility to understand the impacts of cybercrime, terrorism and crisis communication with the law and policy to legally operate under. Service members have the responsibility to protect the interests of the United States at home and overseas. With the development of new agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), this is an area I wanted to know more about.

The Army finds itself increasingly in support of our civil authorities to solve hard problems. 2020 showed us how complex and chaotic problems can become when they happen in a short period of time. Therefore, knowing what laws and policies exist is critical to developing the right solutions in a crisis. If it weren’t for KU, a keystone would have been lacking in the bridge to my future.

Q: How has your KU degree prepared you for the future?

A: It has planted seeds that I hope will grow as I become a strategic planner in the Army and beyond. Dr. Tidwell challenged me to be a better crisis communicator. Professor Diaz created a foundation of where our legal system started. Dr. Hoeflich and Professor McMillin challenged us to consider where it should evolve as the world changes. Professor Biller expanded my appreciation for the field of cyber law and its military implications. Finally, Professor Crawford connected many of these dynamic topics looking back in history to understand how they can be studied through the lens of a terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda.

Q: What was the most difficult part of earning your college degree and how did you overcome it?

A: Time management! Balancing the Command and General Staff Officer College with the University of Kansas forced me to prioritize my week. Sleeping, eating right, exercising, volunteering and socializing with friends was always a delicate dance with weekly assignments.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?

A: I liked being a student incident commander. Management of people is tough stuff and being afforded the opportunity to practice this was rewarding. Our practicum takes all our core lessons across disciplines and capitalizes on the strengths of each student to work as a team, using input from guest speakers throughout the KC Metro to exercise a crisis response.

Q: What is your favorite memory of your time with KU?

A: The day I have my degree in hand will be a ten-year journey complete. I look forward to finally being a Jayhawk alum on graduation.

Q: What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?

A: I hope to remain a leader in the information dominance career field and take the skills and training from KU to improve my organization. I’d like to teach! As a lifelong learner, it’s interesting to study the relationship between the military and Department of Homeland Security in the Leavenworth think tank. I hope to give back to the schools that have given me so much here.

Q: What advice would you give others who are thinking of earning a degree, whether a first-time bachelor’s, a second bachelor’s or a master’s?

A: An education is a journey. I started mine not knowing where I would I go, trusting that doors would open if I worked hard and followed my curiosity. Remain curious. Tackle a path where every day is a challenge worth pursuing, even if it has setbacks, lower grades than expected or tough instructors. It is the challenge you will remember and be grateful for, knowing you earned it.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Homeland Security at KU in Leavenworth and online through the KU Edwards Campus.


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