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

How START's Graduate Certificate Program won over two previous skeptics of online learning

A virtual success

For Suzzette Abbasciano and Shuchi Wadhwa the decision to hit the books while punching the time-clock was made easier by START's fully online Graduate Certificate Program in Terrorism Analysis. Though neither woman had the bandwidth to quit her job and return to school fulltime, both have been able to balance the demands of the graduate coursework with their professional responsibilities thanks to the program's innovative format.

The certificate program has quickly convinced these previous skeptics that a virtual learning environment fulfilled the functions of being educated in a classroom setting and offered benefits beyond that. For Abbasciano, who splits her time between Maryland and California, a non-place-based program was a must, but she wasn't certain an online program was right for her.

"To me online courses seemed to remove the true student aspect of higher education," she said.

"However, the growing popularity of online courses piqued my interest and I came to understand the benefits. I decided to try the program at START and I'm so glad I did. These courses require you to do the work you would in a traditional classroom setting - participation, class discussions and a number of papers - but allows you to do that work from wherever you are after regular business hours."

Wadhwa had her reservations when she began the online program as well, noting that she was always "more of a face-to-face learner."

However, she now lists the online format as one of the program's best features. She has been able to continue her work fulltime at the Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL) and her courses have helped her gain a better understanding of the field in which she is currently working.

"I'm also happy to know that the work I'm doing now can be applied towards a doctoral degree should I decide to pursue that," Wadhwa said.

Abbasciano too looks forward to the end result of work she's putting in now, hoping to turn some of her class papers into journal articles.

"The certificate is helping me to hone my research skills, as well as gain a better understanding of issues that are becoming critical topics for the government," Abbasciano said.

"Though I studied terrorism in my graduate program, I don't feel I became particularly specialized in any one aspect of terrorism studies overall. So part of the appeal of the certificate program for me was the possibility to focus on certain regions, types and aspects of terrorism and counterterrorism."

Abbasciano first became interested in studying terrorism through her undergraduate international relations course, "The Politics and Governments of Western Europe." The class delved into the Italian history and shed light on large amount of terrorist activities in the 1970s. She loved the class because understanding the terrorism issues in Italy's past made it easier to understand the political and social evolution of Italian politics. It didn't hurt that she was also "in love with Italy and in love with an Italian" - her now-husband Stefano, whom she met at Carnivale (Mardi Gras) in Venice.

"Initially, I saw terrorism studies as a tool - the means to the end goal to enter the Foreign Service," Abbasciano said.

"However, I love looking into terrorism issues because there are so many angles to study, and so many career paths you can pursue."

Currently, Abbasciano is a researcher for START and enrolled in the second course of the four needed to earn the Graduate Certificate in Terrorism Analysis.

"I have definitely been introduced to some aspects of terrorism studies that I had not really thought about, such as how policing seems to be a better countermeasure to terrorism in certain cases," she said.

"One thing that surprised me was to find out that despite the history of terrorist incidents in Europe, the region had not really addressed radicalization until after the 2004 and 2005 Madrid and London terrorist attacks."

START's Graduate Certificate Program in Terrorism Analysis provides participants with advanced education on the causes, dynamics and impacts of international and domestic terrorism. Participants also develop the methodological and analytical skills necessary to conduct advanced original analysis in the field of terrorism studies. This program is appropriate for current practitioners, those looking to break into the terrorism studies field and academics alike. The certificate can be completed in 12 months.