When Mark Pollitt was a child, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the military. After graduating high school, Pollitt completed some active duty before attending Cornell University to earn his undergraduate degree. It was the height of the Vietnam War, and Pollitt’s college experience was unfortunately colored by riots and the divisiveness of the times.
After graduating from Cornell, Pollitt completed more than 10 years of active duty; seven with the Marine Corps and three with the Coast Guard. He served as a naval aviator and also did law enforcement and intelligence work. While Pollitt is proud of his career in the military, he realized his ambition was not to become a General or Admiral. Instead, he found himself intrigued by the law enforcement part of his job and thought a career with the FBI would be an exciting next step. So, Pollitt set off to join the FBI. “It’s a bit like trying to join the major leagues right out of the box,” jokes Pollitt. “But fortunately, as they say, timing is everything.”
Luckily for Pollitt, it was the perfect time for him to pursue the FBI. The FBI needed pilots and hired Pollitt for a position in Miami. Pollitt spent roughly 10 years working on many cases investigating organized crime, cybercrime, fraud, theft, labor racketeering, and more.n 1987, while serving in the Baltimore office, he proposed to start computer crime and computer forensics programs. Management initially turned down the idea saying computers had no place in the FBI. But the local office agreed to allow Pollitt to work on those issues in addition to his regular duties. Five years later, in 1992, as the computer and internet started to grow, the FBI came back to the proposal and agreed they needed programs in computer crime and computer forensics.
They started looking internally to find Agents who knew something about computers. Pollitt had built a computer background in the military and had developed a reputation as the “go to” person, and was asked to help get the program running. “I was on the ground floor of the FBI developing both computer crime and computer forensic programs,” says Pollitt. “I ended up as the Chief of the Digital Forensics program and took that from a very small group of seven people with about a dozen people helping out part-time to an organization of more than 300 people operating worldwide.”
In January of 2001, Pollitt had the opportunity to study at the National Defense University to study information management. He liked the idea of continuing his education, especially since his undergraduate years were chaotic, and decided to attend.
“In a lot of ways, it was a life-changing experience for me because it allowed me to focus on the technology, and more importantly, its relationship to not only the mission of my organization but the mission of a wide range of other organizations,” says Pollitt. “This was the first taste I got of this notion of knowledge management. Knowledge management is the theory recognizing that there is data, which is nothing more than non-contextualized stuff, ones and zeros from a digital perspective, that by themselves mean absolutely nothing. Then there is information, which is data that is organized and structured such that it can be retrieved and searched. And when you take that capability, and you intertwine it with the business process of whatever organization you’re working with and use that information in a way that helps that mission, then that becomes knowledge. And of course, knowledge is ultimately the goal, and it’s the most valuable thing.”
The National Defense University Program had a partnership with Syracuse that would allow him to finish his master’s through the iSchool. He attended a career fair where he met Scott Bernard, Executive Professor at Syracuse and former naval aviator. Pollitt and Bernard instantly bonded, and Bernard convinced Pollitt to come to Syracuse when he finished at NDU.
“When you get a letter or an email that says, ‘What you taught me, not just about the subject, but about life and how the real world works, and it made a difference in my life,’ that’s as good as it gets.” – Mark Pollitt
After completing NDU, Pollitt took Bernard’s advice and attended Syracuse to finish his degree. “The first time I went to campus, I felt a distinctly welcoming ethos. And the more that I get to know Syracuse, the more amazed I am at just how inclusive they are as an institution,” says Pollitt. “There were a number of us that were coming from various military programs to the iSchool, and we not only felt comfortable and welcome, we saw in some of the adjunct faculty, folks that had our backgrounds and had ‘been there and done that.’ Even the faculty that didn’t have a military background genuinely seemed to understand and appreciate what we had done in our careers.”
But for Pollitt, the calm would not last. The Tuesday of his second week at Syracuse was September 11, 2001. Despite a crushing FBI workload, by taking hybrid distance courses, classes held at Greenberg House, and summer intensives, he completed his degree in a year and a half. All the while, applying his newly acquired knowledge to help the FBI adapt to a new age of technology and terrorism. He would retire from government service in 2003, with over 31 years of service, and doing so, more doors opened for him. One day, Bernard called Pollitt and asked how he felt about teaching part-time at Syracuse. Pollitt thought back to his incredible experience as an iSchool student and graciously accepted the offer. He began teaching at Syracuse in 2004 and continues to teach to this day. When he thinks back on his years with students, he says what he enjoys most is the opportunity to share his experiences and knowledge with a new generation.
“One thing I’m most grateful to Syracuse and the iSchool for, is the opportunity to have shared my life experiences with students,” says Pollitt. “People say, ‘You should just retire.’ And you know, maybe one of these days I will. But I spent almost 70 years collecting and learning and putting all this stuff together. And I feel like it’ll be a waste for that not to get transferred to people that can use it. And, frankly, few people have the kind of life experiences that I’ve had. And maybe that’s a good thing. But at the end of the day, I’ve been shaped by things that, fortunately, most people haven’t been, and as a result, I’ve learned some things that a lot of people probably won’t learn. And when you get a letter or an email that says, ‘What you taught me, not just about the subject, but about life and how the real world works, and it made a difference in my life,’ that’s as good as it gets.”
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