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

A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Arabic opens doors for START intern

Arabic opens doors for START intern

Wisconsin native brings her talents to Washington

October 26, 2012Catherine Llamido and Sarah May
Meet Madeline "Maddy" Bersch, a junior studying Government and Politics with a minor in Arabic, International Development and Conflict Management, and Global Terrorism studies. A native of Milwaukee, Wis., Bersch discovered her interest for terrorism studies back in high school through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth's (NSLI-Y) study abroad programs. Maddie Bersch She has lived and studied in Egypt and Morocco, which presented opportunities for her at the University of Maryland, College Park in the Arabic Language Flagship Program.

"I didn't want to attend a school that didn't have a good Arabic program," Bersch said. "Big state schools tend to have the best programs so I also looked at Michigan, but Maryland's proximity to D.C. was an extremely influential factor."

Currently, she is interning at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) as a special projects intern focusing on individual radicalization and the Profiles of Islamic Radicalization in North America (PIRaNA) database. The PIRaNA project identifies individuals who have radicalized to the point of violence, including training or plotting for violent acts.

"Once perpetrators are identified, we try to find out everything about them by using open source material such as media reports," Bersch said. "I've learned that there are a lot of people whose changes in attitude and behavior do not necessarily reflect one another when their life-story is pieced together." Outside of START, Bersch is highly active in additional educational and extracurricular programs.

A multifaceted student, Bersch is a member of Student Entertainment Events, Student Honor Council, as well as a member of Honors Humanities. Not only is she enrolled in advanced level courses such as "Terrorism Motivations and Behaviors" and "Arabic Media," but is involved in UMD's Federal Semester Program, a selective, year-long program that combines a fall seminar course on federal policy with a spring internship in Washington, D.C.

Bersch is also involved with the International Information Program at the State Department. Bersch plans to continue her work with the government organizations, striving to work in the Foreign Service five years from now.

"That's what I'd like to pursue first," she said.

"After living in Alexandria, Egypt, for a year through my program, I'd possibly like to stay in Egypt for a couple of years, work and improve my Arabic speaking ability -- then I'd probably like to come home and possibly work for a member of Congress."