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

Graduate Certificate bridges master’s and doctoral programs


Graduate Certificate bridges master’s and doctoral programs

Q & A with Graduate student Sarah Muskovitz

February 6, 2017Brooke Blankenship

Like many others, Sarah Muskovitz became interested in terrorism studies in college. But unlike others, it wasn’t a dynamic professor or cool course that piqued her interest; it was where she lived. Her University of Minnesota residence hall sat across from a large Somali neighborhood in Minneapolis. She met and formed friendships with many of her neighbors and gained a better understanding of the Somali-America community and the dangers facing its members. She often heard stories of young men who had fallen victim to terrorist propaganda. She just as often heard stories of community members who had crimes committed against them because of their ethnic identity, religion and race.

These experiences shaped her educational path. After finishing her master’s program in forensic psychology at George Washington University last year, Muskovitz enrolled in START’s graduate certificate program determined to further her knowledge of terrorism studies before starting a doctoral program. In the START program she is exploring her interest in radicalization and relationships between cultural identity and political violence.

How did you find out about the START Graduate Certificate Program?

A friend of mine mentioned Maryland’s top criminology program when I was researching where to apply for my Ph.D. I was finishing up my master’s degree at the time and did not necessarily want a year break between that program and a doctoral program. As I was researching UMD, I stumbled on the START website and was hooked on the research. As soon as I saw that there was a certificate program that could be completed in a year, I knew I wanted to be involved.

How did START’s program help to shape your career? What are your specific areas of interest?

My courses at START have definitely helped me solidify what I want to do with my career. After spending three semesters studying forensic psychology, I felt a little bit disconnected from terrorism analysis, so I was ecstatic to jump back into it. The readings that we do each week, plus the engaging discussions, have been wonderful. My specific areas of interest stemmed from my experiences in Minnesota and revolve around Somali-American cultural identity and attitudes toward politics. Eventually I would like to conduct a qualitative study with groups of Somali-Americans and Somali-Canadians in Minnesota, Ohio and Ontario and learn about the struggles they endure being not just Muslim, but also black in North America.

I would like to examine the societal implications of being part of a group that is scrutinized by counterterrorism units, and how that changes the way people think and feel about the United States and about Somalia. I also want to learn more about programs like Average Muhammad and how they benefit vulnerable young adults who could be on their way to being radicalized.

What was your favorite graduate certificate class and what did you learn from it? What most surprised you about the program?

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the classes I have taken so far at START, I particularly enjoyed my class taught by Dr. Peter Weinberger (Counterterrorism Policy- BSST 632). I love the way he set up his class with a lecture and discussion followed by an in-class activity. It really brought together what we learned and turned it into something more tangible. He was also very approachable and full of knowledge.

Will you be pursuing additional studies after the program?

I will be finishing with the START program in May of 2017 and then I hope, pursuing my doctorate in criminology at a strong program in terrorism analysis and counterterrorism policy.​

What are your future plans?

Ultimately, I would like to become a college professor and researcher that studies terrorism for a top tier program. I would also love to expand my academic and research knowledge into other areas of interest, such as school shootings, child victimization, military violence, police brutality and violence as a broad concept.