The "rock star" lifestyle didn't last forever though. Aside from my love for music, I always felt that doing service and volunteer work were really important aspects to my life as well. At Boston College, I was involved in a program called Appalachia Volunteers where I helped raise money for those stricken by poverty, and over the course of my spring breaks, I took part in building houses in struggling regions of the United States.
Where did you earn your undergraduate degree and what did you study?
I attended Boston College and was a double major in psychology and sociology.
Where did you attend graduate school and what did you study?
I earned my master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in social psychology, where I completed research in the fields of intergroup relations and health behavior change focusing on HIV prevention.
In your own words, what is your job description and what are some of your duties with Emory University?
I have a very fluid position right now; I spend most of my time developing research projects and collaborations, as well as writing grants and papers. I'm also currently teaching the START Terrorist Motivations and Behaviors course. My primary faculty appointment is in the Medical School where I am a visiting associate professor. I also have an appointment as adjunct associate professor in the Rollins School of Public Health.
Aside from that, I've also been working with the Center for Neuropolicy here at Emory. Prior to joining the university, I was an associate professor of psychology at Purchase Collage, State University of New York. Starting this Fall, I will also have an appointment at Georgia State University in the Department of Communication as part of an initiative on transcultural conflict and violence.
What first interested you in terrorism and terrorism studies?
I've had a very long standing interest in terrorism from when I was younger. My interest started to become more focused and sharpened during my undergraduate years when I became very interested in issues of intergroup and political violence, as well as genocide. This area of interest prompted me to want to study intergroup relations in graduate school, where I worked with Felicia Pratto.
Over time, I started to become especially curious about terrorism as a particular form of intergroup violence. Also, like many colleagues in this field, in the weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks I started to think about how I might be able to conduct research that might help our understanding of terrorism, and here I am today.
How did you first hear about START and what made you want to become involved?
I vividly remember how I heard about START: I was in Albany at a conference in 2005 or 2006 where I met Victor Asal and Shawn Flannigan. The conference held a breakout session where people from different disciplinary areas were asked to get together and have a discussion. It was there that Victor and I first started talking about research and even came up with a rough design for a study that would later turn into a more full-fledged research program. Victor told me about START and suggested I talk to Jon Wilkenfeld about applying for one of START's fellowships. The range of research and caliber of people involved with START really impressed me, which was what excited me to become involved.
How long have you worked for START?
I started working with START as a Fellow in 2006 and again in 2007. In 2008, I became an investigator with START where I was part of a bigger interdisciplinary team. My role there was to design and implement experimental studies. Currently, we are gearing up for the next series of studies that will begin later this summer.
What is a typical day like for you as a START employee? (Tasks, challenges, goals for your job)
I really don't have a 'typical' day because there is a variety of what I do and research. I've got a pretty wide range of research going on at any given time; some of my research is related to terrorism, while other projects look at HIV prevention and treatment adherence, as well as other health related topics. The biggest challenge I face is being able to 'shift gears' from one topic area to another without losing momentum.
What types of projects are you currently researching/working on?
Currently, I am working on numerous papers. One of these papers is a collaborative effort with colleagues Jim Walsh from the University of North Carolina Charlotte and Victor Asal. This paper describes an experiment that we recently completed as part of the recent National Science Foundation (NSF) program, which was jointly supported by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with a special focus on terrorism. The data set for this project is large and will lead to a few different papers focusing on the impact of different forms of grievance and perceived risk of taking action.
We also have data from a series of international experiments from Jordan, Malaysia and Turkey that we are working with. This data comes directly from the research that START supported over the past few years, so it is quite exciting to be at the phase where we can really do integrated analyses across the data sets.
Another area that I've started to become involved with is thinking about how the experimental work that we've been conducting might be supplemented with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technologies and a better understanding of some of the underlying neurobiology that is activated when people encounter particular grievances, stories or events. Years ago, I started to think a lot about how music and music videos were being used in the context of recruiting and radicalization.
I wrote a white paper about it based on research I started a few years ago while I was participating in a program sponsored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Lately, I've also been working on a number of grant applications related to terrorism research, which a number of them have been related to HIV prevention. That's been a pretty core element of my work here at Emory.
Have you earned any special awards or recognition for any of your work (academic or professional both with START and outside of START)?
There have been a few things that I'd consider to be recognitions. First and foremost, the work that I've conducted has led to invitations to present at DHS, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the United Nations (UN), ODNI, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters at various points of my career. To me, this is a really nice recognition. Also, there have been a number of projects and programs that I've been able to take part in.
For instance, there was a week-long course on terrorism and countering terrorism that I was invited to facilitate and moderate for DHS. I've taught in the START Terrorism Studies Certificate program now since its inception, which I really take as a serious complement! Finally, I've had the benefit of working with a number of Terrorism Research Award (TRA) recipients over the years, while that is mostly recognition of their great ideas, it's something that I'm proud of, too.
What do you hope for the future of START and its research/work?
I am really excited for the next five years of START; I think that we're in an interesting time with regard to terrorism. There are so many questions that remain with regard to motivations and processes with radicalization and de-radicalization. There is also quite a bit of ambiguity around what is happening with al-Qaida, for instance, and how various groups and their bases of support are evolving and changing.
At START, we'll continue to play an important role in helping to apply solid empirical research to these kinds of questions and to provide insights that are based on science and data, which hopefully are making their way into policy and practice. Perhaps my biggest hope is that we continue to increase the quantity, quality and scope of the research, as well as outreach and education that we collectively do. I want START to continue to foster and nurture the collaborative and interdisciplinary work in a way that has a positive impact in understanding and countering terrorism. It's been an honor to be part of it.