Monday, February 24, 2014

UMD Pushes Forward with Global Terrorism Minor

START, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, was founded in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 attacks.

William Braniff is the Executive Director of the innovative program, START, housed at the university's sprawling Baltimore Avenue. START aids in the research efforts of social scientists and other similar research institutions by investigating the basis of terrorism-related questions.

Specifically, the program aims to discover the nature of terrorism and its evolution, dating back even before the Sept. 11th attacks. The program further investigates how geography and cultural influence impact terrorism on a global spectrum, and what the future of terrorism may look like.

The purpose of this program is to not only cultivate research and results, but to disseminate these findings on a national level. For example, teaching methods and research methods that are used at the graduate and professional level.

It is important to note, Braniff explained, that the research generated by START is relevant and helpful to the government, although it is not a government entity, it is an academic entity at the university.

The academic side of the START requires a study of the behavioral and social sciences aspect of terrorism coupled with experiential learning.

Complex is the word that Braniff would consistently use to define the changing field of study that is terrorism. On a global or local scale, the study of terrorism ranges from countering violent extremism in schools to combating larger groups like Al-Qaeda.

Terrorism involves many fields of study that, together, help to mold the Global Terrorism minor. The study of terrorism is not just the study of crime, government or sociology, but a culmination of different studies, coupled with an intensive study of the history and manifestations of terrorism.

Experiential learning is also a fundamental component of the START program. Braniff explained that students this semester are working on a Fearless Ideas program that involves countering violent extremism.

Students are required to contribute research to the Fearless Ideas program as part of their experiential learning. Students conduct research to design very localized thinking about terrorism. For example, Braniff explained that a group of students is currently working to develop a plan on how to counter violent extremism in elementary schools. Gangs and other violent groups may develop early, on a very localized level, and if plans can help schools regulate and discipline these groups, their potential to become a part of larger terrorist organizations decreases.

Internships and study abroad opportunities are also available to students through START. Braniff assisted a group of 15 students on a study abroad trip to Australia this winter where students studied the manifestation of terrorism in foreign countries and how they deal with threats and counter attacks.

The program is still young, Braniff explained, and he hopes it evolves and develops as a leading resource in terrorism studies nationwide.

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