A retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer and Penn State World Campus student is the recipient of the 2021 Michael P. Murphy Award in Geospatial Intelligence.

Daniel Selik, a student in the intercollege Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security (iMPS-HLS) degree program, received the annual award at the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) Geoint 2021 Symposium held in October in St. Louis. 

“Shocked!” was his initial reaction upon learning he won the award, Selik said.

“I thought perhaps the email notification was sent to the wrong student. Once it settled in, there was a humbling calm, a feeling that I was not at all worthy to be the recipient of an award the namesake of which is a true American hero — especially as a fellow sailor.”

The award is named in honor of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a Medal of Honor recipient and distinguished Penn State alumnus. Each year, it recognizes the achievement by a graduate student in Penn State’s online geospatial intelligence program who has served in the U.S. military or with the geospatial intelligence community and demonstrated exceptional contributions to the discipline.

Gregory Thomas, associate teaching professor and assistant director of the geospatial intelligence programs, is Selik’s academic adviser.

“Danny initially earned a postbaccalaureate certificate in GIS from Penn State in 2014, then he began the intelligence and geospatial option in the iMPS-HLS in 2018,” Thomas said. “Danny was subsequently accepted into the counterterrorism option as well. Completing both options required taking five additional classes. Danny has excelled in the course work and is described by his instructors as an outstanding, solid student and excellent researcher.”

Pursuing his master's degree online

Selik is enrolled in two of the homeland security program's options: the intelligence and geospatial analysis option and the counterterrorism option. He decided to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree after a year of service as a geointelligence analyst with the federal government.

“Completion would likely open doors, and since I had the time, there was no better time than the present,” Selik said.

Then he was relocated to Iraq for work and later deployed to Afghanistan as a chief petty officer. At that time, the other university at which he was enrolled was unable to support distance learning, Selik said.

“So my education was put on hold. After a few years and a few more deployments, I started over with my master’s degree, but this time through Penn State World Campus, which offered far more online flexibility,” Selik said.

Instead of jumping into a full graduate program, Selik said he chose the certificate route first.

“Seven years passed between the start of my master’s journey at a different university and completion of Penn State’s postbaccalaureate GIS certificate, which also saw several changes to my employment trajectory,” Selik said. “Upon starting the iMPS-HLS GEOINT program three years after completing the GIS certificate, and completing additional GEOINT deployments around the world, I saw there would be advantages to having graduate instruction in counterterrorism as well.”

For both capstone projects, Selik said he focused on Africa.

“For the GEOINT option of the iMPS-HLS, I focused on analyzing where the next major conflict may take place within Africa’s Great Lakes Region,” Selik said. “I found the African continent so interesting from an HLS perspective, I stayed in the region for my HLS Counterterrorism capstone. This time I researched if African countries with longstanding leaders were/are more susceptible to terrorism.”

Selik said he is looking forward to graduating in December 2021, plans to continue his federal service through retirement, and then transition to teaching geography and geointelligence at a community college in Phoenix.

The Murphy Award

Candidates for the award are nominated by faculty who teach in the geospatial intelligence program. The committee is made up of faculty in the geography department who also teach geospatial intelligence courses, Thomas said.

The endowment for this award was originally made possible by the generous gifts of Maxar Technologies, the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, Dr. and Mrs. Todd S. Bacastow, Dr. Alan W. Scaroni, and Dr. Richard DiEugenio. 

Murphy was a member of the class of 1998 and the first University alumnus to be awarded the Medal of Honor. A Navy Seal, Murphy received this singular distinction posthumously for his courageous actions in 2005 during the war in Afghanistan.

Learn more about the geospatial analysis option and the geographic information science programs that are offered online through Penn State World Campus.

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