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, March 8, 2017

It was May 28, 2008, and the weather was calm. I had just finished playing a baseball game at a park about 45 minutes from my house and my family decided to celebrate the victory with a trip to Damon’s Grill & Sports Bar. Following lunch, my mom opted to make the solo trek home while my brothers and I continued our day with a quick trip to the mall. The sky opened up and rain started falling but it felt like nothing out of the ordinary.

We were leaving Macy’s, my brothers with bags weighing their arms down, when my mom called. She explained calmly and matter-of-factly that a tree had fallen through our house. She said it fell through the entire house and we would likely be displaced for quite some time. My mom typically isn’t dramatic, but it was impossible for my brothers and me to understand the scope of the situation until we saw the damage for ourselves. There, we saw the house that raised us, the very foundation upon which I took my first steps, mumbled my first... read entire post

Thursday, January 5, 2017

As the semester is winding down and final exams are quickly approaching, I find myself reflecting back at my first experience working with START as an intern in the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) with Incident Locations and Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT). Prior to the START internship, I did not have much applied experience working with a large database containing terrorist incidents. I was a student in the Federal Semester Homeland Security Policy Program, a selective program for UMD students interested in Homeland and National Security, which combines a fall semester course taught by expert practitioners with enrichment events and workshops throughout the year to help students excel in professional internships and careers in the future. I was able to use all of the information and knowledge I have gained through the Federal Semester program and my Homeland Security course to help me be successful at my internship with START.

As a GTD intern, I regularly used the Global... read entire post

Thursday, December 1, 2016

September 11 pushed the topic of terrorism to the front of minds and into the national discourse. Terrorism became something we worried about. Something we researched. Something we tried to solve. I know I’m not alone in wondering why seemingly normal or otherwise rational people might join violent causes. The wondering has motivated me to search for answers through research examining the causes of such radical beliefs and behaviors. In conducting research for the Narratives/Counter-Narratives project at START, I look at how al-Qaida and ISIS target their communication to individuals living in the United States. These narratives we review refer to not only the content of violent extremist messages, but the way in which they communicate and tailor these messages to a particular audience to convince people of the legitimacy of their beliefs and recruit them to their cause. The project goal is to create a public knowledge tool that can be used by policymakers and practitioners to... read entire post

Friday, November 11, 2016

The following is a student blog authored by a START intern.  These editorial columns reflect the opinions of the author(s), and not necessarily the opinions of the START Consortium. This work was originally published in the Georgetown Security Studies Review (GSSR), the official academic review of the Georgetown University Center for Security Studies (CSS).

Nearly every time an American is revealed to have a connection to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin is quoted about the ​danger this poses to the United States: “We have a responsibility to stop those who would travel overseas to join [ISIL], both because of what they do over there—murder, rape, slavery—but also because we don’t want them going over there, getting additional skills, training, and coming back as hardened operatives to do complex attacks here in the United States.”[i]  ​

Americans can’t be blamed for believing that... read entire post

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

START’s main focus might be researching terrorism, but what drew me to an internship here was its use of cross disciplinary research, which allows it to explore related fields. I was looking forward to expanding the use of this cross disciplinary approach as a member of the Risk Communication and Resilience (RCR) team under Holly Roberts. The Risk Communication team is the ideal example of START’s versatility when it comes to research…my tasking during the first few weeks ranged from researching the resilience of hospitals to understanding the mechanisms associated with communicating risks.  

Researching the resilience of hospitals was especially rewarding as I was able to experience first-hand the importance of cross-disciplinary research. The overall objective of my research was to assist with UMD’s Women in Engineering training camp by providing potential ways to mitigate risks for hospitals when confronted by a natural or man-made disaster. In a time where the... read entire post

Monday, August 15, 2016

After spending several semesters at START through the First-Year Innovation and Research (FIRE) program, I finally decided to take the leap this summer and become a START intern for the Risk Communication and Resilience (RCR) team. While FIRE students work with the RCR team, as an intern, I really dove in to the research and finally got to experience the “dreaded beast” that is transcribing interviews. My experience as an intern has been both enlightening and significantly different than my time with the FIRE program. This summer I had the opportunity to take notes and present key takeaways at a Symposium hosted by the TSA and START’s sister Center of Excellence CREATE, participate in the Training in Risk and Crisis Communication (TRACC) simulation, and attend several enrichment events on topics like crafting of emergency messages and using the Global Terrorism Database. Along with these experiences, the interesting projects that I have been able to work on have made the internship... read entire post

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Before I began my internship at START, the words “risk communication” and “resilience” meant nothing to me. All I knew was that I was applying for something that sounded interesting and pertained to terrorism research. I had little to no background in communication, save the required introductory Gen-Ed class all University of Maryland undergraduates are required to complete. As a Biology and Public Health Science major, I was uncertain of how these keywords would relate to my field of interest, but I applied anyway.

In sum, I’ve learned that risk communication has a fluid and dynamic definition that is unique to its exigence. Broadly, it is defined as the way a community converses about past, present, and future risk events. These bring about a few important keywords: preparedness, response, and recovery [1]. Often, communities undergo training in order to manage themselves and the conflict at hand, to be as well prepared as possible and minimize damage or loss. The main... read entire post

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

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