Such transformative experiences are common among the 60 other students like Coke-McKay, who take part in the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) internship program. What started in 2005 as a hands-on learning opportunity for a handful of students has quickly grown into an integral component of career preparation for aspiring homeland security professionals and terrorism analysts.
"We consider our interns to be a crucial part of the organization," START Education Coordinator Sarah Fishering said. "Therefore, we seek to ensure that each one leaves with a comprehensive set of research skills and knowledge, as well the opportunity to be involved in cutting edge research."
The program brought new opportunities to Chris Caruso, a 2011 Maryland graduate, who currently works with Faculty Research Assistant Brandon Behlendorf on the Geo-spatial Patterns and Terrorism project for the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). While already interested in the intelligence community prior to interning with START, Caruso credits his newfound interest in pursuing signal intelligence and image intelligence to his work on the Geo-spatial project.
"The project introduced me to a discipline I had never been exposed to before?geographic information systems," Caruso explained, "which in turn, made me consider new career paths within the intelligence community."
A START veteran, Caruso worked with GTD Project Manager Erin Miller last summer on the Historical and Contemporary Terrorism Data Verification project?an experience he describes as "enormously gratifying" because it afforded him the opportunity to indulge his passion for history.
"I learned a lot of historical and contextual information about various terrorist organizations and their offshoots, as well as a lot of general history about various countries, especially those in Africa," he said.
A unique experience
Maryland students are not the only ones benefiting from START's internship program. Student interns hail from schools across the nation, including American University, the University of Georgia and the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS).
John Jones, a nonproliferation and terrorism studies graduate student at MIIS, applied to START's internship program after attending a threat assessment workshop taught by START Director of Special Projects Gary Ackerman last fall.
"The various research projects at START sounded incredibly interesting to me," Jones recalled. "And no other internship program I looked into offered the same hands-on opportunities. I also felt that because of my terrorism studies background, I could effectively contribute to the success of START's projects."
In January, Jones moved 3,000 miles from Monterey, Calif. to College Park, Md. to work on both the Islamic Radicalization Project with START Senior Researcher John Sawyer and the mapping project with Behlendorf. He hopes to learn more about the applications of geographic information systems, as well as the catalysts that lead people toward Islamic radicalization.
For more information on START's education and internship opportunities, please click here.