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

Intern spotlight: Jessica Berman

When you’re the type of person who goes skydiving and auditions for “The X Factor,” it’s no surprise that you would be anticipating an exciting career.

“I went skydiving last year on spring break, and next on my list I want to go bungee jumping in New Zealand,” Jessica Berman said. “One of my best friends from home also wants to go cage diving with sharks for her birthday, so we’re looking into that right now too.”

Originally from Morristown, New Jersey, Berman is currently interning at START on the project A Pathway Approach to the Study of Bias Crime Offenders, and will graduate from the University of Maryland (UMD) with her bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice in May.

In addition to being a risk taker, Berman has always been interested in the criminal mind, particularly when it comes to matters of national security.

“I’d like to go into intelligence analysis,” Berman said. “Putting the pieces of the puzzle together and finding connections between people is something that I find really interesting.”

She already has some experience in intelligence analysis under her belt, having completed an internship with the Joint Strategic and Tactical Analysis Command Center (JSTACC) at the Metropolitan Police Department Homeland Security Bureau, while currently undertaking an internship with U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command in their Information Security Department, in addition to her internship at START.

“I created a database using open-source intelligence while I was at JSTACC,” Berman said. “They had a very outdated, very small collection of churches, temples, colleges with religious organizations on campus and various organizations with religious backgrounds that could potentially be targets for terrorist activity or hate crimes. So they tasked me with updating it, and also creating a new database just for Jewish institutions. Now that they have those databases they can track calls to service to the identified locations, and see how frequently they become targeted and if police response or security needs to be enhanced.”

In an internship last semester, Berman also worked with the Department of Justice Litigation Security Group, where she learned about how classified intelligence is handled in court trials.

“That internship was really interesting to me, seeing how classified evidence actually may have to be shared during trials, but is shared selectively and redacted, to protect U.S. national security,” Berman said. “During the internship I created a database for them of courthouse data, including all the courthouses, judges and court staff in the country. They need that information to input in their system after each case, and having it easily available will increase the office’s productivity in filing cases.”

Berman is in START's Global Terrorism Minor Program, as well as the Federal Fellows Program at UMD. This one-year program involves taking a seminar course with an influential member in the chosen field of study during the fall semester, and taking a federal internship in the spring semester.

“I’m in the Homeland and National Security Policy track, so I took the seminar course with Magdalena Bajll. She used to work for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and now is at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). She was really awesome to work with,” Berman said.

During the school year, Berman works at the UMD Police Department, with the Police Auxiliary Unit. She is also active in various philanthropic causes, raising money for research for Alzheimer’s disease through her sorority, Sigma Kappa, and for the fight against cancer. Berman’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when Berman was seven years old, and she’s participated in Relay for Life ever since.

Another of Berman’s passions is singing, and she has auditioned for her hometown’s local program “Morristown’s Got Talent,” as well as “The X Factor.”

“I’ve been really passionate about singing my whole life, it’s my hidden talent,” Berman said. “I used to take singing lessons, I used to sing the national anthem for some of my town’s baseball and football games, and I did talent shows and things like that. I looked into acapella groups when I first came to campus, but I decided I just didn’t have time with everything that I was involved in.”

Berman first learned of START at UMD’s First Look Fair, one of several such events put on by the university for students to explore clubs, organizations, campus departments and services, local vendors and community service agencies on campus.

“START has always been on my radar,” Berman said. “I applied to be a START intern my junior year, and I wasn’t selected because I had no experience at the time. Since then, START was something that I was actively looking to get into, because I really wanted research experience. I gained a lot of practical, in-the-field experience at federal agencies and local government agencies, but I didn’t have any research experience and that’s something that as an analyst you really need.”

At START, Berman works with the domestic radicalization team, conducting research on radicalized individuals who have committed hate crimes.

“My friends will tell you I rave about the work I do at START, because I’m doing real work, I’m doing actual research and actual analysis,” Berman said. “I’m learning every bit about these people’s backgrounds and coding it into the database, and just learning why they did what they did, what led them to committing hate crimes, how they went from normal person to radicalized individual spewing hate speech to violence. This type of real-world research experience is the perfect supplement to what I am learning in school.”