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

START internship, DHS support inspire alumna's career track

When Julia Fuller began her college search several years ago, she was like many other high school seniors. She could not wait to get out of town, experience a new place and meet new people. That was until the Columbia, Maryland native visited the University of Maryland, College Park, and fell in love. When she wasn’t admiring the 1,250-acre campus, she was thinking about the diverse academic opportunities the university offers.

Fuller, who joined the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism her sophomore year at UMD, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO).

“My first day at START, I was excited and a little nervous,” Fuller said. “I knew I needed to apply myself and use the available resources to learn as much as I could.” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, START, Julia Fuller, DHS, Department of Homeland Security

Fuller began her career in terrorism studies interning at START on the Global Terrorism Database Casualties and Consequences team. During this experience, Fuller gained significant experience identifying and coding data on terrorist attacks. Fuller’s involvement with the GTD piqued her curiosity and furthered her drive to obtain a better understanding of terrorism.

After her START internship, Fuller worked as a Summer Scholar with the Summer Honors Academy under the National Center for Border Security and Immigration (NCBSI), a DHS Center of Excellence based at the University of Texas El Paso. There, she studied the interactions between charismatic leadership and religious social identity under Dr. Michael Zarate and Ph.D. candidate Brandt Smith.

“While interning at the NCBSI, I actually ran experiments and engaged with doctoral researchers,” Fuller said. "That experience is what convinced me to further my career and attend graduate school.”

After her NCBSI internship, Fuller had a clearer idea of what she wanted to do. That summer, Fuller was accepted into the START Diversifying Security Studies Fellowship (DiSS), a career development program supported by the DHS Office of University Programs, and also interned with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

During the 2013 government shutdown, the DIA was closed, and Fuller took the opportunity to attend a START speaker session by Dr. Gina Ligon, Director of Research and Development in the Center of Collaboration and Science at UNO. Ligon sparked Fuller’s interest when she spoke about the Leadership of the Extreme and Dangerous for Innovative Results (LEADIR) project at UNO.

One year later, Fuller’s interest in LEADIR materialized. She packed her bags and traveled to Omaha for two weeks to get some exposure to UNO’s graduate programs. For the next eight weeks, she worked with Ligon on the LEADIR project, coding information regarding the innovation of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent attacks.

Fuller credits LEADIR for confirming her growing interest in understanding organizational behavior, leadership and branding.

“My experiences on the LEADIR project were eye opening,” Fuller said. “You can look at terrorism in so many ways, and work with so many people with different focuses.”  

Fuller’s thirst for knowledge has only grown since the LEADIR project. When she returned to the Washington, D.C. area in Fall 2014, she interned in the DHS Homeland Threats Division of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), working on radicalization and messaging topics. While interning at I&A, Fuller says she was an intelligence analyst in training—her dream job.

Today, Fuller is busy working on her master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice at UNO. For her graduate assistantship, she is working with Ligon and Pete Simi, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, on various projects as a part of the Radicalization and Violent Extremism program.

Fuller, who plans to embark on her master’s thesis, faces another important choice. Although she is still narrowing her interests and ideas for her thesis, she is interested in prison radicalization, organizational differences between domestic and international terrorism groups, and different group recruitment tactics.

Looking back, Fuller says her experiences have showed her the value of the work she does. She has seen the importance of collaboratively working to tackle complicated challenges. She is thankful for her opportunities so far, and does not plan to slow down any time soon. Fuller knows that her journey has just begun.

“Terrorism is a very complex issue that cannot be approached from one perspective,” Fuller said. “But collectively, I think we can work to reduce it.”