Senior political science and homeland security major Justin Mayes has worked two summers as an intern for START as a part of the University of the District of Columbia’s Scientific Leadership Award program.
The program is designed to provide working experience to students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in an internship. It is part of a partnership between UDCand START and was initiated during Barack Obama’s first presidential term to get more minority students interested in homeland security-related fields.
“For any large organization, variety is important,” Mayes said. “Having people in a variety of fields with different life experiences, be it racial, ethnic or religious, is necessary to have a dynamic, effective organization that people want to work for.”
The partnership was established in 2013 when several UDC students were accepted into the summer internship program at START, said Amy Pate, the research director at START.
“The students, START leadership, and the leadership at UDC recognized that a more formal partnership could be beneficial to everyone,” Pate said.
Recognizing this, START and UDC applied for support from the Department of Homeland Security to fund a formalized summer program for minority students. With support from DHS, START began hosting students in the summer of 2015 with a commitment until the summer of 2019.
Students who go through the program are given a stipend and required to work a full 40-hour week. They also are encouraged to interview START staff and write about speaking events to provide a well-rounded experience.
“This program is important because the national security field is not as diverse as it should be,” Mayes said. “On a basic human-to-human level, diversity is important, but in the field of national security, the importance is also a practical matter: how can you tackle threats emanating from and against people of various ideologies, if you’re working with only one perspective or set of life experiences?”
Pate echoed this idea, noting the lack of diversity in the homeland security workforce, specifically in leadership positions:
“START strongly believes that we need perspectives from all segments of our homeland, including under-represented communities, in order to secure it.”
Mayes’s first summer at START in 2016 was spent working on the Understanding Domestic Radicalization project. As a part of this team, Mayes helped to identify whether gang members are more susceptible to radicalization and terrorist activity.
Admittedly, Mayes was unsure of what to expect when he was assigned the project. However, Patrick James, Mayes’s supervisor on the project, holds high praise for Mayes, describing him as mature, self-reliant and willing to learn new things.
“Throughout the summer, Justin consistently impressed me with his remarkable patience and adaptability,” James said. “I have no doubt that he will go far in whichever direction he chooses to take his career.”
Mayes was happy to come back for a second summer and earned a place in the highly competitive program in which START students work on a project for the State Department.
Regarding his career, Mayes began his college years pursuing political science and homeland security with hopes of joining an intelligence agency. He has since shifted his focus toward finance because of the mobility and flexibility of that career path.
The relationship between UDC and START has given Mayes an equally diverse and valuable internship experience.
“The breadth of START’s research is what fascinates me,” Mayes said. “Terrorism is a broad, complex problem and START brings together a lot of people with a lot of differing expertise to prevent it.”