A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

In training the next generation of scholars and practitioners, START offers its students a chance to publish their work on this blog.

Latest Intern Blog Posts

Latest Intern Blog Posts

In furtherance of its educational and professional development mission, START invites its students to write about their research experiences with the Consortium. Their work is featured on this START Student Blog. START students interested in blogging should contact Jessica Rivinius at rivinius@start.umd.edu.

The posts within this blog represent the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of START or any office or agency of the United States Government.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A typical day interning at START consists of surfing ​Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. While doing this, I am occasionally asked by some of my fellow interns “What exactly does spending hours on social media have to do with terrorism research?” I pleasantly respond, “I’d be happy to tell you!”               

On October 22, 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally shot Canadian solider Corporal Nathan Cirillo, in front of the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada. Zehaf-Bibeau then entered the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings where Members of Parliament, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were present.[1] During the crisis, social media played a vital role as an information channel. Local citizens were posting updates on the crisis on Twitter, and some posted photos showing the locations of where emergency responders were stationed. This prompted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)to ask individuals via social media not to post photos or information of... read entire post

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

So far, I have spent two semesters at START with the Risk Communication and Resilience team. I have worked on numerous projects, but the most interesting research I conducted concerned various disasters and hospitals’ responses in crises.

One of these well-known disasters was 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. At the time, I was old enough to know what was happening, but I did not fully understand the details of what was going on during the crisis. Through my research last summer, I gained a better understanding of the timeline of events, and learned about the communication failures that took place, both before and after the hurricane hit. I read about the serious and horrifying lack of preparedness that ultimately lead to the catastrophic disaster response following Hurricane Katrina. Yes, the storm was devastating, but what made the natural disaster into a full-blown crisis, was the lack of action in the days following the levee break. 

My research revealed stark differences... read entire post

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Prior to my internship at START, the majority of my presentation experience had been purely academic.  I recently had the opportunity to break from the norm when presenting a Significant Terrorist Activity Briefing (SigTAB) for my fellow interns and staff.  The presentation was vastly different from others I have given in my academic career, and it was interesting to be able to reflect on the experience via valuable feedback from my peers. While my presentation focused on significant terror attacks, the lessons I learned could apply to any public speaking engagement.

My first takeaway from this experience is “be concise.”  In past presentations, I have had much more wiggle-room to interpret events as I wanted to. I have found that the expectations for a professional presentation are much different, especially when you are responsible for something like a briefing.  Presenting facts in a short and sweet manner can be difficult at first. The best bet is to strike a happy... read entire post

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I first applied to START because I had a desire to find a hands-on experience with geospatial intelligence and more deeply explore the academic environment in the field of terrorism research. Prior to my beginning at START, I had a background in non-proliferation work, US defense policy, and Middle Eastern grand strategy. In prior positions, I had the opportunity to work for academics and former members of both the Pentagon and the White House. Over the course of my previous work, I found that I had an affinity toward the field of counterterrorism but had been frustrated with policy research. START exceeded my expectations in allowing me to gain hands-on experience in the field I hope to become a part of.  

START has one of the highest quality intern experiences that a student or graduate could hope to find in the DC area. In my first month, my exposure to various issues in the counterterrorism realm has been outstanding. I have heard from speakers that work at places like... read entire post

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I came to this internship knowing three things: 1) I want to help improve the society in which we live, 2) I will probably never see a battlefield, and 3) I am going to fill this moral goal through extensive research. I excelled in the risk communication and research methods courses I took prior to this internship, but I didn’t really know what START had in store for me. After working rigorously on the internship application process, I was eager to embark on this new journey. When I first sat down with my program manager, Holly Roberts, I soon realized that I’d be jumping in to the sphere full-throttle – and I couldn’t have been more excited for the challenges ahead.

There are numerous vital elements of risk communication and resilience that drive research within the field. Some of the questions we ask include:

How can an organization effectively disseminate important health and safety information to the public? What constitutes effective communication? Through which... read entire post
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Throughout my childhood and teen years, I had the opportunity to meet various people from around the world, and participate in “study abroad” sessions. Those experiences were the catalyst for my interest in international studies. And while I knew I wanted to pursue international studies, I was never sure which facet of it I was most interested in. I became interested in terrorism as a second semester sophomore at American University in a class on peace and conflict resolution. After spending only two classes on terrorism, I knew I wanted to pursue this vast topic even further. I had the chance to do so the following semester during my study abroad in Amman, Jordan. In addition to the classes I took in Jordan, our time was supplemented with speakers on terrorism and visits to the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC), just outside the capital.

From there, my interest in terrorism studies only grew. In the fall of 2014, while visiting tourist attractions... read entire post

Thursday, February 4, 2016

By now, I’m getting pretty used to being thrown into unique situations. From my high school study abroad in South Korea to my newest position as the sole communications intern at START, I’ve become pretty comfortable with terrifyingly new experiences. Much of it is due to luck; however, by allowing my experiences to mold who I become, and not being afraid to fall flat on my face in the process (sometimes literally)!

For 17 years of my life, my comfort-zone was in my three-bedroom ranch house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I wanted to become a lawyer and stay in the area. Despite having my life mapped out, I applied to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea through a program called the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). In the summer of 2011, I first sacrificed certainty for the appeal of the unknown. I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with my four new host family members—and none of them spoke English. Little did I know that the comfortable life I lived... read entire post

Monday, August 31, 2015

In late March 2015, through a combination of sheer luck and frantic Google searching, I stumbled upon the internship program at START. After completing the application and interview process, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a summer intern for the Risk Communication and Resilience Program. This proved to be the first step on a path that would lead me through a summer of brand new experiences and unbelievable learning opportunities.

I am a rising sophomore at Carthage College majoring in Psychology and Criminal Justice. Given my age, I came to my internship with virtually no professional experience. I had also never lived alone beyond a college dorm, and I had never been to Maryland. Faced with this daunting array of new and unfamiliar experiences, I left Minnesota for College Park filled with the strangest combination of overwhelming excitement and mind-numbing terror. I didn’t know it yet, but there was no reason to be anxious—START is easily one of the most... read entire post

Monday, August 24, 2015

When my supervisor asked me what I hoped to achieve at START this summer, I told her that I simply aspired to learn some things and to have fun while doing so. Working with the Risk Communication and Resilience team, I like to think that I have achieved that goal.

I was first tasked with developing a literature review about the Ebola outbreak in Dallas.  Through that project, I gained deeper insight into that incident, as opposed to simply reading about it on Yahoo! amongst a sea of other Ebola-related headlines.  I learned about the timeline of events, starting from Thomas Eric Duncan’s (patient zero in this particular outbreak) misdiagnosis of sinusitis to his death 10 days later and the subsequent fallout.

I then spent the larger part of the summer working on the Training in Risk and Crisis Communication (TRACC) mobile application.  Being a computer science major, this provided a highly beneficial opportunity for me to gain mobile development skills, particularly... read entire post

Monday, August 17, 2015

Since Sept. 11, stories about terrorism have been regular features in the news cycle. At first, they were focused on sleeper cells, airport security, and finding “the next 9/11.” After a few years, the initial shock of Sept. 11 began to fade and the new Transportation Security Administration regulations were being touted as more of a hassle than a necessary precaution.  News headlines were dominated by cloak-and-dagger stories about operations overseas, reaching their peak with Osama bin Laden’s death. Recently, as ISIS has overshadowed al-Qaida as the most talked-about terrorist group, a new type of story has become a fixture in the news: Americans who travel overseas to become foreign fighters for terrorist groups.

Foreign fighters confound journalists and commentators. How could any sane person give up a comfortable life in the United States in favor of the war-torn deserts of Syria? How did no one see it coming? How did they even get out of the country? The Profiles of... read entire post


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