Through an innovative collaboration between the U.S. Department of State and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), two University of Maryland students are taking advantage of a unique dual internship opportunity with both organizations. The interns are currently working on projects for the Terrorist Designations Unit in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department using START data and other open sources.
Nikita Kandpal, first-year graduate student in public policy, has previously worked with START on the "Situational Determinants of Maritime Piracy" project and is applying those skills with her new assignment with the State Department.
Kandpal is currently working on a long-term research project where she is observing foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) and their use of new social media, while also exploring relationships in terms of cyber security controls and monitoring. Throughout the semester she will also be completing numerous smaller, short-term projects that involve compiling recent news articles, reports and statistics on pre-assigned FTOs in hopes to gain a greater intelligence of analytical, research, writing and communications skills.
"The work START does across a variety of different topics has opened my mind to other facets of international security studies that have given direction to my academic research interest and consequently, defined the areas of study that I hope to pursue a career with in the future," Kandpal said.
She spent her last academic semester compiling current reports and journal articles on the topic of Maritime piracy and learning how to code for individual piracy events. As a START intern, Kandpal also developed professional communication skills that helped build a working relationship with both her peers and supervisor. Additionally, she learned general research skills, such as how to conduct a literature review, and organize and search for suitable information sources.
Courtney Davis, a senior government and politics major with a minor in international development and conflict management, is also working with the State Department this semester.
Davis' current responsibilities include researching how and why kidnapping for ransom and extortion fall under the Taliban umbrella in groups such as the Haqqani Network, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Quetta Shura Taliban. Like Kandpal, she will be carrying out her research in the 'bullpen' at START and will have access to the expertise of the researchers on the corridor, as well as the resources of the center, such as the Global Terrorism Database.
"So far, my internship has been going well and I have been fortunate to be receiving strong support from the START faculty and staff," Davis said.
Davis hopes that this opportunity with both START and the State Department will help strengthen her research skills and knowledge of the human causes for terrorism, as well as clarify her career interests.
She first heard about START last semester in one of her classes, and then again in a competition that she participated in run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Throughout the remainder of the semester, both Kandpal and Davis will gain many transferable skills, including time management, self-direction and how to frame and hone policy-relevant research questions. Both START and the State Department are excited about this new opportunity and are looking forward to what is to come.
"Everyone involved is thrilled about the growing relationship between DOS and START, and hope that this internship program will lead the way for students to develop a greater knowledge of how to conduct valuable research in the real-life professional field of terrorism studies," Davis said.