Cardinal Directions: From Non-Traditional Criminal Justice Major to Homeland Security Special Agent

Ed Schwer ’01 serves as a special agent assigned to the Indianapolis Office of the Resident in Charge (RAC) for Homeland Security Investigations, and he will soon be promoted to the position of national program manager. After spending more than a decade as a police officer, Ed made the decision to attend Ball State as a non-traditional student and study criminal justice and criminology. While he initially planned to use his degree to launch a career in teaching, the events of 9/11 drew him back into active service.

Note: The views expressed in this article solely represent Mr. Schwer’s personal thoughts as a Ball State alumnus.

What is your job like?

I investigate federal crimes that fall under the purview of Homeland Security Investigations. While assigned to RAC Indianapolis, I’ve routinely investigated illegal exports of military technology, drug money laundering, drug smuggling, and I occasionally investigate a wide range of other offenses including child exploitation.

In the past ten years, I’ve also been assigned to assist the U.S. Secret Service in protection details, work as a digital forensics expert for cell phones, and worked with dozens of local police departments to support their investigations. I also serve as a subject matter expert in investigations involving the use of aircraft by criminal organizations and support law enforcement throughout the country in that capacity.

In short—there is no typical day at work for me.

In my new role as the national program manager, I will be overseeing a program at the National Targeting Center, Investigations outside of Washington, D.C. that will be responsible for systematic targeting of aircraft being used by transnational criminal organizations and other criminals.

I will also develop and oversee the training program that will teach our more than 7,000 special agents how to identify the illicit use of aircraft and conduct an appropriate investigation. That training will include entry-level instruction to newly hired agents as part of their six month training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and more advanced classes for experienced agents in the field.

What do you like about career?

I love my job every day because it affords me an opportunity to serve my community and country in a role that is never routine or boring.

I’ve walked into the office expecting a boring day of writing reports, only to run out the door five minutes later for emergencies such as an active shooter at a school and an unknown aircraft violating U.S. airspace. I’ve left my house on a “three-day trip” and returned weeks later.

What kinds of skills and traits are required for a career like yours?

The skills required for this job are all taught to every agent during a six-month academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. I attended training with people from every walk of life you can imagine and every educational background imaginable. The training includes a wide range of skills from applying constitutional law, to MMA-style ground fighting and firearms, to interview training.

While skills can be learned by anyone, the traits required to be an agent must be learned and practiced over a lifetime.

In my personal opinion, the greatest trait necessary is integrity. Integrity includes a wide range of topics from honesty to your work ethic. Almost as important is the trait of ingenuity or, some would say, flexibility. The job changes as our leaders shift investigative priorities and as laws change. Criminals are always looking for methods to avoid capture, so their methods are constantly evolving. We must shift with the environment we find ourselves in and adapt our practices to deal with the issue at hand in order to ensure that we continue to protect the people of this nation from today’s threats.

The final trait I think is important is determination. You have to come to work each day determined to do the right thing and overcome obstacles. 

How did you begin your career in criminal justice and criminology?

I began as a reserve police officer in southern California in 1988, graduated from the San Diego Police Academy in 1990, and I’ve attended a total of four state and local police academies over the years. I took time away from law enforcement over the years, working in the information technology consulting industry when not in law enforcement. I attended Ball State as a non-traditional student with my wife from 1998 to 2001 and had planned to leave law enforcement for teaching. However, I felt compelled to return to the field after 9/11.

Why did you decide to attend Ball State?

I have many relatives including my mother who are alumni. Historically, my family on my father’s side were glass blowers and moved to the Muncie area from Pittsburgh when the Ball brothers moved to the area. I grew up in Southern California, but I have fond memories of summers spent at family reunions in the Muncie area. Aside from knowing the Muncie area, Ball State’s reputation for providing a quality education at an affordable price made the decision much easier for me. 

Why did you choose to major in criminal justice and criminology?

My plan was to combine my existing experience at the time with a degree in computer science to teach at a police academy. My math skills leave much to be desired, so I began looking at other departments.

When I took an intro to policing class as an elective for what I mistakenly thought would be an easy A, I realized how little I knew about criminal justice as a science.

I remember all too well how captivated I was with a then relatively new professor: Dr. Michael Brown. Concepts like targeting (meaning in resources, not necessarily policing) the top 3% of recidivists in juvenile delinquents—who have the potential to impact more than 50% of the violent crime committed by juveniles—profoundly changed the way I viewed the criminal justice system.

Dr. Brown became my advisor and mentor, which I’m proud to say has led to a 22-year-long friendship. The faculty and staff of the CJC department helped me grow as a person while feeding my brain, for which I will remain eternally grateful.  

What would you recommend to current Ball State students who want to pursue a career like yours?

 The most important advice is to be themselves and focus on doing what they love.

Regardless of whether you’re a STEM major or an art major, there is a special agent job out there that will allow you to work in a field you’re passionate about.

Whatever your background, conduct yourself in all matters with honesty, integrity, and courage. If you are looking for a challenging career that will allow you to make a difference and serve your nation, the rewards of this career go far beyond financial. Seek out a recruiter within the agency you want to work for and get all of the information you can about the hiring process.  Last, apply for every agency you can and get your foot in the door—you can always transfer to another agency. 

Remember that in all professions, your reputation will follow you. Your social media posts, work ethics, and even your credit rating today will impact your career for years to come.

To learn more about the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and their programs, visit their website. To stay up to date on events and news, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and  Instagram, and visit their blog. For questions, please email the department at