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

Spotlight on START Communications Interns: A closer look at the people behind the bylines

This semester, START interns Mary Beck, James “JR” Taylor and Andres Feijoo will put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard to tell the stories of START, its researchers and its interns. Feijoo is a second year graduate student at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, concentrating on international security and economic policy. He plans to pursue a career in international journalism or international trade. Beck is a UMD sophomore in the communications track, majoring in public relations. Taylor is a UMD senior, double majoring in communication and sociology, with aspirations to become a public relations practitioner for an organization in the sports or technology field.

What is your favorite part of the storytelling process?

(Andres Feijoo) I am definitely the type of writer that enjoys "having written" over the writing process itself. Developing story ideas, researching background information and interviewing people are the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of writing a story but putting the words and phrases together for a wider audience can be a humbling experience. But once I finish, few things can match the level of pride I feel to see a piece of mine appear in print!

(Mary Beck) I enjoy the writing process the most. Coming up with a perfect way to phrase something actually gives me a little rush! Telling people's stories is important, and I love to find the best way to do that.

(James Taylor) My favorite part of writing a story is the actual writing itself. I enjoy tinkering with words to find the best way to get my point across. However, a close second would be clicking save, especially if it's for an assignment.

What has been your most fascinating writing assignment to date?

(Feijoo) I've always loved politics but unlike some other political junkies who live for interpreting election statistics and making forecasts on who will win the presidency, I was always fascinated by the personal narratives of the men and women in the political arena. Figuring out why anyone would want to be a politician nowadays -- given the demanding schedule, endless fundraising and unrealistic expectations thrust upon them -- intrigued me.

When I interned last spring at The Hill newspaper, a publication that mainly covers Congress, I had the chance to interview members of Congress about the first jobs they had growing up. I wrote about a congressman from Alaska who spent his youth delivering products and supplies on a barge to villages along the Yukon, Porcupine and Kuskokwim rivers; a freshman Republican from Illinois who owned a pizza shop with his family; and a Democratic congressman from Florida who spent most of her professional life as an elementary school principal.

What I found interesting from interviewing all of them was how directly those job experiences applied to their roles as members of Congress. The former barge captain from Alaska complained that the House of Representatives does not operate nearly with the same efficiency that was demanded on him when delivering critical supplies to rural villages decades ago. Owning a pizza restaurant forced the first-term Republican congressman to become a pragmatic problem solver, an approach he uses in addressing policy issues. And the former school principal felt that the Congress could benefit from having more educators in office.

(Beck)  I recently designed, wrote and edited a newsletter from scratch for one of my classes. Even though I have a position within the organization and know about a lot of the inner workings of the group, viewing everything from the perspective of our audience and writing it to cater to them gave me a new perspective on what we do.

(Taylor) I wrote a proposal about the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center about how the center could improve and expand its social media presence. The class assignment really allowed me to develop social media campaigns for an organization, which is something I'd like to actually do professionally in the future

Why did you choose the University of Maryland?

(Feijoo) My graduate school choices came down to attending the London School of Economics in the UK or here at Maryland. Some of my friends and family thought I was crazy to turn down the opportunity to attend a prestigious graduate institution in England. But with its proximity to Washington D.C. and the ability to network with public policy professionals, Maryland was the smarter choice.

(Beck) I chose the University of Maryland primarily for financial reasons, but I definitely haven't regretted my decision. UMD has a great public relations program. To be honest, I didn't know what public relations really meant until I came to college. Once I found out, I thought, I can't imagine a better career path for me! So I adjusted my four-year plan and got into the PR track as fast as I could.

But the thing I like best about the university is what it has to offer outside of my studies. There are a lot of unique groups and people here. I've had opportunities to do amazing things here that I don't think I could have done at most other colleges. Being close to D.C. and my hometown has been great, too.

(Taylor) I originally picked the University of Maryland because of the value for the money. It continues to be a good investment not only because of the education, but the resources and opportunities being close to D.C. provides as well.

If you could go back to your high school self and offer school/career advice, what would you say/do?

(Feijoo) Having good grades only gets you so far. To really stand out, get involved in leadership roles - either through sports, clubs, arts- where you are forced to work with different people and make decisions on what is best for the group and not just for yourself. The ability to problem solve is an underappreciated asset to have.

(Beck) I would say, start learning about PR and get yourself on that track for that now! Don't wait! Also, declare a minor in music and sociology right away.

(Taylor) I'd tell myself in high school to go take more writing classes. They definitely would have served me well in college and helped me in the tougher writing classes I've taken.