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Take 5: Meet NCU’s 2019 Alumni of the Year, Dr. Mike Clumpner

Alumni of the year, Dr. Mike Clumpner speaks at NCU graduation

Dr. Mike Clumpner graduated from NCU in 2015 with his PhD in Business Administration, specializing in homeland security policy. Since leaving NCU he has found tremendous success as a respected authority in his field and as the founder of Threat Suppression, Incorporated. Due to his many accomplishments, Dr. Clumpner was recognized as the 2019 Alumni of the Year, and was invited to speak at our recent commencement ceremony.

We were able to spend a few minutes with Dr. Clumpner and asked him to share a bit about his background, how he found his calling, and what it was like to attend NCU.

How did you become involved in the field of active shooter and terrorist events?

When I was young, I was invited on a ride-along by a paramedic from the local fire department. I went on the ride-along and I was immediately hooked. I wasn’t so sure about being a firefighter, but I was absolutely convinced that I wanted to be a paramedic. During my senior year in high school I did a transition program where I got my EMT certification. I went right from high school to paramedic school and was a paramedic by 19, working on an ambulance.

Shortly after, I decided that I really wanted to be a firefighter. I was hired by the fire department and never looked back. I went to the police academy in 2009, and by that time I had been in the fire service for nearly 17 years, and a paramedic for 13 years, but I was always intrigued by law enforcement. I took time off work and went to the police academy and became a sworn law enforcement officer.

I was assigned to one of the busiest SWAT teams in the Southeast right out of the academy. It was a dream assignment. They needed a paramedic, so I was the right fit. I became interested in active shooter events in 2005, and I was already doing contract teaching work for the FBI. At this point I was a paramedic, firefighter and police officer, so I knew a lot about emergency response from all angles. I knew that the current national response plan wasn’t effective, because it relied on special operations like SWAT and tactical paramedics. However, by the time these folks got there, the events were long over. 

I was challenged by one of the FBI agents to come up with a better plan, which began this journey of my research.

Why did you decide to attend NCU?

Few universities had a PhD homeland security policy program, and most of them were business programs that threw in one or two homeland security classes. What drew me to NCU was that all the programs were homeland security programs. There was a wide range of classes to choose from and I was allowed to select classes that intrigued me. I liked that, so I jumped on it and loved it.

You’re never working when you’re doing something you love.  If I wasn’t going to school to get my degree, I would have been studying this exact same stuff on my own. I realized that through my program, I needed to figure out a solution to the active shooter problem. So, as I was doing my research for my classes, I was building out a PowerPoint presentation, and I continued to lecture as I worked through my program.

What did you like about NCU?

Going through the program made me challenge my beliefs. There were things I thought were fact, but when I looked closer, the data didn’t really support what I initially believed. This showed me the importance of data and led me to see the difference between opinion and fact. Too many times in life we get misdirected by people that interject opinion, just unsubstantiated facts and emotions. So I became more data driven after going through my degree program.

What's one important thing you learned as a student?

One thing that was pivotal for me was that my professors gave me room to question things and challenged me to “prove it.” They gave me leeway to make decisions, and then put it on me to prove it. I learned that it’s okay, even necessary to upset the apple cart, that’s how you get to the truth. But you have to use data and facts to prove everything. This really helped me separate emotion from decision making and learn to use data and facts to lead the way.

Have there been benefits to going back to school?

Getting my degree definitely opened doors for me, especially in academia. Law enforcement officers don’t care if you have a PhD, firefighters and paramedics don’t either, but in the world of academia they do.  So, a lot of the training I was doing was for K-12 through universities, but after I earned my degree I was much more widely accepted. Not only am I a law enforcement officer, I am a firefighter, a paramedic and I have a PhD. I was able to talk everybody’s lingo.

Has your degree helped you outside of your work?

Data matters, facts matters, so taking research classes can actually help you in many aspects of life. It can help you remove emotion from situations, focus on data and understand what’s really happening. Classes like statistics are difficult; but they allow you to understand what stats are, how they can be used, and sometimes misused to tell a story or support a point. So these types of classes can make you a more logical, thoughtful person in all areas of your life, not just help you in the workplace.

How is life different after earning your PhD?

All of a sudden, maybe 18 months after graduating, I realized that when people asked me questions, I had the answers. And when I didn’t know the answers, it was something that wasn’t known industry wide. It almost scared me, because when I graduated I realized that people were going to expect you to know the answer. I don’t know all the answers, but I did continue with a relentless pursuit, trying to figure these events (active shooter) out. There’s a lot that goes on after you graduate, the knowledge-seeking doesn’t stop.

What’s your advice to future and current students?

First, I would say to not pay attention to negative comments online or people who are just complaining. These are people that are unhappy or who failed out of a program. That’s not who you’re supposed to be listening to. If you want to succeed, you have to listen to people that have succeeded, it’s that simple.

Next, I would tell them that you have to want it to earn it. It’s not easy, and that’s okay, it’s not supposed to be. This is personal, you have to push the noise away and go succeed. It’ll cost you time. It’ll cost you money. It’ll cost you sleepless nights. You will literally lose sleep over it, but it’s worth it. Once you earn it, it’s yours and nobody can take it away.


 Watch Dr. Clumpner’s 2019 Alumni of the Year speech.