The FBI’s Future Agents in Training (FAIT) 2017 program is not only giving area high school students an in-depth look into the FBI, but is also setting them on the right course for their future endeavors.

“Not every kid who participates in this program is going to leave here wanting to join the FBI, but if even one student looks at what we deal with on a daily basis and decides they want to stay on the right track, I consider it worthwhile,” said Special Agent Brenan Despain. “I think it’s hip to be square.”

FAIT is designed to be both engaging and educational for high school students ages 16 to 18, with as much time spent in a classroom at the Regional Law Enforcement Training Facility, 8400 Zero St., as in a mock crime scene at the First National Bank branch across the street, 8225 Zero St.

“Several years ago, we came together and said we want to do a program for youth that involved law enforcement and youth interaction, and at the same time, kind of direct paths of high school students who might be interested in law enforcement,” said Special Agent Rob Allen.

The resulting brainstorm had the FBI’s Fort Smith field office reaching out to Kim Snipes, senior vice president and internal auditor of First National Bank. According to Allen, about one-third of the program is presentation, where students learn what it takes to become a federal law enforcement officer, and the rest is a scenario based on an actual bank robbery.

“They get to learn what a field agent does on a daily basis, but then they’re also interviewing suspects in the mock robbery, dusting for fingerprints and collecting evidence,” added Allen.

The best thing about FAIT is that it’s provided to the students at no cost to them, aside from transportation. The program is so attractive, students as far away as Jonesboro traveled to Fort Smith for the three-day course.

“As auditor for the bank, I and many of our employees deal with fraud, so we’re in contact with local law enforcement and the local FBI offices,” said Snipes.

Some students were surprised to find out how much of the FBI’s daily business involved financial fraud cases, mainly because of how the FBI is portrayed in television and movies. But Snipes added that students weren’t disappointed to find out that the FBI handles a lot of white-collar crimes, it simply changed their perspective.

“There are a lot of young people, just like I was at their age, who are very interested in numbers, and they consider forensic accounting exciting,” said Snipes. “When we started talking about this, it was two-fold. One, was to educate the young people about what the FBI is all about, and two, if they have a passion or a desire to go into law enforcement, this is just one area that they can consider.”

Students enjoyed free pizza and drinks thanks to a slew of area businesses Snipes reached out to. While some were able to make financial contributions, others were able to provide food and personnel.

The Fort Smith FAIT program was modeled after the FBI’s youth and community outreach programs across the country, and has even caught the attention of the Little Rock field office, which is hoping to institute a FAIT program there.

“You usually hear about something like this starting out in Little Rock or Fayetteville first, before reaching us,” added Snipes. “I’m proud to have helped start something here that they’re looking at as a model in their own areas.”