Countering weapons of mass destruction focus of certificate program

Credit: U.S. Army

Credit: U.S. Army

Students complete online graduate work in year

Weapons of mass destruction can be man-made or naturally occurring in a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear form. Regardless of the source or type of agent, several U.S. government agencies are responsible for anticipating, evaluating and countering WMD threats.

Personnel with an understanding of the scientific principles behind WMDs are critical to advising leaders at all levels of government.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought back to light the fact that weapons of mass destruction, whether they be biological, chemical or nuclear, can make a huge impact on our way of life,” said Dr. James Petrosky, professor of nuclear engineering and director of the Nuclear Expertise for Advancing Technologies Center at the Air Force Institute of Technology.

The Countering of Weapons of Mass Destruction graduate certificate is an online part-time program designed to be completed in one year. Students take one course each quarter that will provide a fundamental scientific knowledge base, related to the production, use, effects and mitigation of WMD.

“The graduate certificate programs at AFIT fill a niche with graduate-level, technical and achievable education for working professionals to complete part-time in about a year,” said Dr. Jeremy Slagley, assistant professor of industrial hygiene and environmental science and the director of the CWMD graduate certificate program.

What makes the AFIT CWMD certificate program unique is the graduate-level technical focus of the classes with a focus on both warfare and terrorism.

“There are several programs offered throughout the country on CWMD, but none are technical. They are political science type programs based on policy and agreements,” said Dr. John McClory, professor of nuclear engineering and chair of the nuclear engineering program at AFIT.

The ability for AFIT to launch the online certificate program is due to support received from the Department of Homeland Security whose leaders were looking for technical, graduate-level education in the WMD field.

“There is a need for this technical education, especially in the folks who are looked to as experts to advise decision makers at all levels of the government,” said Slagley.

The first course in the series this fall is biological weapons effects and technology. The course is particularly interesting at this time with the COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide response. “A relatively quiet period in infectious disease was ended by the emergence of COVID-19. Biological weapons generally are simply infectious diseases and the world is affected all the time,” explained the course instructor, Lt. Col. Casey Cooper, assistant professor of industrial hygiene.

AFIT first awarded the CWMD certificate in 2009 as part of an in-resident master’s degree program. Thirty students earned the certificate before the master’s program was suspended in 2018. This is the first time the certificate has been offered as a stand-alone program and executed fully online.

The CWMD graduate certificate program is open to government personnel at no cost. An initial call for applicants was extremely well received and more than 75 interested candidates have applied for the program.

More information on the CWMD Online Graduate Certificate is available on the AFIT website at and prospective students can apply online at

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