Upper Marlboro native and senior English major Jesse Thrift is not your average college senior. On top of managing a full-schedule of classes, Thrift interns at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), is president of University of Maryland's Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) and led a team of START staff and interns this past weekend in Relay for Life, a community gathering held by the American Cancer Society to raise money and bring together those who have been touched by cancer, to celebrate survivors and to remember those who have died.
With a strong interest for terrorism studies and national security, Thrift became involved with START during the fall semester of 2010 after he heard of an internship opportunity through START's listserv. The position he applied for dealt with compiling social science coding for one of START's databases.
"I had no idea what that was, but it sounded interesting, so I decided to apply," Thrift said.
Thrift began his internship with START under the supervision and mentorship of John Sawyer, Lauren Pinson and Gary Ackerman while he worked on the POICN (Profiles of Incidents involving CBRN by Non-state Actors) database. Most of his time was spent coding and writing case summaries for POICN, but he also was able to write attack scenarios and code for PIRaNA (Profiles of Islamic Radicalization in North America).
This semester is quite different for Thrift; instead of his usual coding duties, he has been working with START's Suzette Abbasciano and Peter Reuter, professor of public policy, on a case study of wildlife trafficking.
"It's interesting because the last organization I coded for POICN was the Sea Shepherds?anti-whaling activists?and I went from that to researching illegal trafficking of animals," Thrift said. "It's been extremely interesting and I've thoroughly enjoyed delving into an area that I didn't know much about."
Aside from his work at START, Thrift is also the Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) president at the University of Maryland, a role he relishes.
"I really enjoy trying to come up with inventive ways to get more people involved in the American Cancer Society and help out to such an amazing cause," Thrift said.
Always one to strive to make a difference, Thrift wanted to become involved in CAC upon learning about it during his freshman orientation and finding out more about its involvement in Relay for Life. The event has held tremendous meaning to him and his family for the last 10 years.
"My youngest sister, Catie, was diagnosed with cancer in 2002," Thrift said. "She fought as hard as she could for two long years, but died in 2004 at only 9 years old."
Thrift's mother had found out about Relay for Life while Catie was in treatment and the family had hoped to attend and walk to celebrate Catie's fighting spirit.
"Catie had really wanted to participate, but she was never able to go to one before she passed, so we do this now in her memory."
In Catie's honor, Thrift's mother and other sister started their own Relay for Life team in 2007 and have participated in at least one a year ever since.
This year, Thrift initiated his own team at START. Under his leadership, START interns, staff and researchers gathered on Saturday, April 21 at University of Maryland's Ludwig field for the opening ceremony. The team stayed through the night, taking turns walking or running laps around the track.
To learn more about the START participants, to donate or to start a team of your own, visit here.