A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

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

START intern tackles competition and challenges head-on


START intern tackles competition and challenges head-on

Leanne Tagle balances school, training, work and health

November 21, 2012Emily Bonta

Identifying terrorists by day and training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai by night might sound like a page from an action movie script, but throw in graduate coursework and it's a typical week for Leanne Tagle. The 24-year-old START intern identifies and codes information about the perpetrators and targets of terrorist attacks for cases in the Global Terrorism Database (GTD).

Tagle began interning with START this semester in conjunction with her graduate coursework in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs at American University. She first heard about START's work through fellow Muay Thai classmate Jaime Shoemaker, a START researcher. Tagle's studies specifically focus on human rights and social justice, which has complemented the work she has done with START.

"The way I see it, you can't really understand human rights violations without understanding the circumstances surrounding those violations," she said. "Studying different terrorist group ideologies has been very helpful in broadening my understanding."

Fighting ahead Aside from her work with START, Tagle is an avid participant in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a form of martial arts and Muay Thai, a Thai combat sport similar to kickboxing. Tagle has been taking classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai for two years now. She was initially interested in learning some form of martial arts to improve her self-defense skills. Since then, Tagle has participated in five Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions and will be competing in her first Muay Thai fight this month.

Tagle has also reaped greater benefits from that training. Tagle has been living with a severe immune deficiency disorder her entire life. This disorder causes her to become sick much more easily than the average person.

"I am usually completely healthy for only about two weeks a year," she said.

She has had both pneumonia and bronchitis more than 16 times. Tagle's Immune system makes her more susceptible to ear and sinus infections. She experienced a lymphoma scare this past summer after doctors discovered a mass in her sinuses.

"Doctors initially thought the disorder itself might have been lymphoma," she said, noting that her immune system is also more susceptible to developing lymphoma or leukemia.

A bright future Tagle has not let her disorder hinder her training. She said she feels as though her training has helped her health a great deal -- she is more coordinated and balanced than before, as well as healthier overall. She follows a gluten-free, yeast-free and corn-free diet and takes vitamins and supplements. She joked that compared to her health prior to training it is "as if she has superpowers" now.

Tagle is looking ahead to her last semester of graduate school and settling on a thesis topic. Her thesis must focus on gender, human trafficking and Thailand. Tagle is looking into the kathoey or "ladyboy" phenomenon in Thailand and the possible growing acceptance of transgender individuals in Thai culture.

"Right now my life is consumed with school, my internship, training and staying healthy," she says. She is also looking forward to her ultimate goal following graduation: to do human rights work in Thailand, a goal her coursework and work with START certainly make possible.

Interested in becoming a START intern? Visit the program website for more information at /education/internships