Alumnae

The Power of Critical Thinking

Marisa Reddy Randazzo ’85 attended Spence from Grades 6 through 12 and then went on to Williams College, majoring in Psychology and Religion. Inspired by a passionate professor in her Psychology and the Law class, Marisa began thinking critically about how psychology can help inform the criminal justice system. It was a field that she has never heard of before, but one that intrigued her.

After working as a paralegal for two years, Marisa attended Princeton University and received her master’s and a Ph.D. in Social Psychology, a four-year long endeavor. She knew she was interested in “working in the thick of things,” as opposed to working in academia, so the summer before graduating, Marisa interned at the United States Secret Service. She worked in the Behavioral Research program, which involved research relating to the safety of the first family. She loved the mission of the Secret Service and the experience of witnessing the real-world application of problem-solving skills.

After graduating, Marisa worked at the American Psychological Association for a year before a job opened up at the Secret Service, which she soon joined and worked her way up from the bottom. Marisa reviewed case investigations about people who threatened to kill the president, the first family and visiting heads of state. There are thousands of cases filed every year, so her work involved finding patterns from different types of threats and gathering salient information in order to ask better questions in future investigations. The Exceptional Case Study Project helped shape, inform and enhance the entire field of threat assessment. Through the study, the Secret Service compiled a wealth of information about how assassinations are planned and carried out to help prevent them in the future. In addition, Marisa worked on the Safe School Initiative, the largest study of school shootings in the United States. For two years, the Secret Service team collaborated with schools to conduct a large study of shootings over a 25-year period. Marisa remained at the Secret Service for 10 years, working on studies, school shootings, stalkers and other threats to aid prevention, and she trained federal, state and local officers on how to investigate threats.

Marisa then worked for two years for a Boston company started by several CIA officers to catch deception in the course of interviews, training law enforcement officials, journalists and accountants to detect if someone is lying during an interview. She then started her own consulting business, SIGMA Threat Management Associates. Her company helps schools, colleges and corporations address threat assessments, and works with high-profile individuals, such as CEOs or celebrities, who are being targeted to investigate and assess the threat. The 8-year-old company has both national and international clients, and Marisa conducts training in Europe, Canada and Australia. She has also written books on threat assessment for colleges and universities.

Marisa says, “Looking back, Spence had a tremendously positive impact on my career path. Spence taught me to think critically and to communicate clearly.” She credits Spence for teaching her to translate information to people in a way that is clear and understandable, which is essential in her line of work. She also acknowledges Spence for teaching her to be confident, articulate, poised and to clearly defend her ideas. These attributes have served her well during interviews for media outlets such as CNN, “60 Minutes” and the “Today Show.”

Marisa reflects that having attended an all-girls school allows her to be braver to try new things and to fail, and to have the confidence to try again. This courageousness and outspokenness is especially helpful when in a predominantly male field. Marisa reflects that “Spence taught me to think through my own ideas and identify where the vulnerabilities are, and had I not had that foundation, I would not have been successful in college or in my career.” She says that Spence students should think broadly about what they can achieve and what they can do with their education. It never occurred to her to go into law enforcement, and more women in law enforcement would help to make even stronger agencies.
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    • Marisa Reddy Randazzo ’85