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.

Finding a passion through terrorism studies

Finding a passion through terrorism studies

Friday, December 20, 2013

Alexandra Walsh, PIRUS Project Intern

Spring and Summer 2013

University of Maryland, College Park


When I came to the University of Maryland in fall 2010, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In high school I was a good student, but wasn’t truly passionate about any one subject. I entered UMD as a Letters and Sciences student, meaning I hadn’t decided on a major, and declared my government and politics (GVPT) major in spring 2011. After researching the different departments and taking a wide range of course topics, I figured that GVPT would be a good fit.

I began taking classes about international relations and the Middle East, and I realized that all I was interested in was conflict, particularly terrorism. I’m from New York, and I remember 9/11 very well. In spring 2012, I applied for the Global Terrorism Minor program through START. It was the best decision I’ve made at UMD. I have found my passion in life, and I couldn’t imagine spending my semesters taking a different course load.

Although I finally found my niche, my parents, family and friends still asked about what I was going to do with my degree. I knew that my next step was to get an internship. Where else would I apply but START? I researched the different areas of research and applied to the Individual Radicalization (now called PIRUS) project in the Special Projects division, and I began interning at START in January 2013. On a typical day, I will research an extremist group looking for names of prominent members to add to a list of both violent and nonviolent radicals in the United States. I will then research individuals and determine if they meet the criteria for the dataset. The most important thing I have learned at START is how to conduct research. I know I will use these skills later in life.

In a year I’ll be a UMD alumna. I’ll either be heading to law school to pursue a career in national security law, or I’ll be (hopefully) beginning my first “real” job. One of the hardest things about graduating will be saying goodbye to START. My experience here has led to new friends and professional connections while giving me access to cutting-edge terrorism research. Through both the Global Terrorism minor and my internship with START, I’ve learned invaluable research techniques and am more educated in all aspects of terrorism studies. If you’re interested in terrorism studies at all, I urge you to apply to their internship program and the minor (if you’re a UMD undergrad).

In furtherance of its educational and professional development mission, START invites its students to write about their research experiences with the Consortium. 

This blog represents the opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of START or any office or agency of the United States Government.