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Virginia Tech undergraduates collaborate on terrorism research with Moroccan students

Four undergraduates. Two continents. One joint research project.

Thanks to a recent agreement between Virginia Tech and Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie, or EGE Rabat, in Morocco, and such online tools as Skype and Scholar, two Virginia Tech students can collaborate with their Moroccan counterparts on a joint research project that focuses on international terrorism.

The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences recently signed a memorandum of understanding with EGE Rabat that includes an exchange program. "We came up with the idea of an international collaboration because of our mutual interest in undergraduate research," said Diana Ridgwell, director of the college’s Undergraduate Research Institute. About 200 students are conducting research through the institute during the 2011-12 academic year.

Ridgwell and her Rabat counterpart, Simon Chin-Yee, informally surveyed their students regarding potential topics students could research together. "On both sides, students said that international security and terrorism were areas of interest to them," Ridgwell said.

Jake Collick of Suffolk, Va., a junior political science major, and Kelsey Yantis of Herndon, Va., a junior majoring in international studies, teamed up with Mohamed Berrada and Nada Heddane from Morocco.

   

Juniors Jake Collick and Kelsey Yantis enjoy a light-hearted moment with their research partners in Morocco, Mohamed Berrada and Nada Heddane, while Diana Ridgwell, director of the Undergraduate Research Institute in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, looks on. Juniors Jake Collick and Kelsey Yantis enjoy a light-hearted moment with their research partners in Morocco, Mohamed Berrada and Nada Heddane, while Diana Ridgwell, director of the Undergraduate Research Institute in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, looks on.

"I enjoy researching about terrorist organizations, their ideologies, and their impacts on other cultures," said Collick, an Army ROTC cadet, "because it is a danger we all face. No matter where one lives, there is another who is trying to harm someone else because they are of another culture, religion, ethnicity, nation, or simply because they do not like the other person. Through research, I hope to find out answers to these questions so that we as a world can identify a way to live together without this danger."

In spring 2012, the four students were in the literature review phase of their research on international terrorism, and all plus their faculty advisers suggested articles or readings for the weekly review and discussions. Although they were still in the developmental stages, working on the question and hypothesis, Yantis said her research would likely focus on the Polisario Front, a political and military organization in North Africa, and its movement for a state separate from Morocco.

Thorough research takes time. This project takes that into account, plus a face-to-face meeting when Berrada and Heddane enroll at Virginia Tech for the 2012-13 academic year.

"This unique international program gives a new spin to the usual exchange program by intertwining undergraduate research that starts before the visiting students arrive on campus," Ridgwell said. The exchange will continue with Virginia Tech students attending EGE Rabat in 2013.

"Skype has helped me get to know both colleagues," Collick said, "which will make me feel like I am seeing old friends when I first meet them in person."

The students also use Scholar and various forms of social media, including Facebook and Google Plus, to continue their conversations.

   

Jake Collick and Kelsey Yantis use Skype, plus social media, to talk with Moroccan students Mohamed Berrada and Nada Heddane. Jake Collick and Kelsey Yantis use Skype, plus social media, to talk with Moroccan students Mohamed Berrada and Nada Heddane. Skype is a voice-over-Internet Protocol service that allows users to communicate by talking or messaging.

Faculty advisers for the project include Edward Weisband, a professor of political science who holds the Edward S. Diggs Endowed Chair in the Social Sciences, and Priya Dixit, an assistant professor of political science. Collick said he credits Weisband for helping develop his research skills and said he appreciates his "phenomenal background in religion, culture, and more specifically, in Islam." Dixit’s research focuses on critical security studies and terrorism, and she has helped the group think about the topic from multiple perspectives.

Djallil Lounnas, an assistant professor of political science at EGE Rabat, has also served as a resourceful adviser.

Collick and Yantis are already preparing to treat their Moroccan counterparts to some Hokie hospitality when they arrive in Blacksburg, Va. Yantis said she wants to take them to hike the Cascades Recreation Area in Giles County, Va., and "show them a true Virginia Tech experience by taking them to a few football games next fall [2012], going to movies at the Lyric, as well as hanging out on the Drillfield."

Collick said a trip to Washington, D.C., is in the works, plus he wants them to meet his family. "My little sister, who is nine, simply cannot wait to meet them," he said.

"Collaborative undergraduate research projects allow students to connect with each other around a common interest," Ridgwell said. "They engage in meaningful conversations, share ideas, and learn how to view topics from a different perspective. Also, these students and faculty are forming long-term relationships that I know will last beyond their undergraduate years."

In July 2011, Tomalei Vess started her job as the founding director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. "This is the first international collaborative research project being undertaken by undergraduates for credit at the university," Vess said. "The international aspect of this project literally opens a whole new world of networking with students and faculty from other cultures."

For more information on this topic, contact Jean Elliott at 540-231-5915.

About the program

The Undergraduate Research Institute is a part of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Its goal is to expose undergraduate students to investigation, inquiry, and creative expression in the liberal arts and human sciences.

The institute publishes an annual research journal. Philologia is written and reviewed by students in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

    The 2012 Philologia cover

Benefits of research

Conducting research as an undergraduate can help students

  • Enhance a resume
  • Understand how research differs across disciplines
  • Increase the ability to think, learn, and work independently
  • Strengthen oral and written communication skills
  • Sharpen critical-thinking skills
  • Gain confidence
  • Find a faculty mentor

Other students' research under way

Other undergraduate research projects taking place in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences’ Undergraduate Research Institute include the following:

  • iPads as Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities
  • Costuming from a Cultural Perspective
  • The Effects of Chaos in the Home on Children’s Attention Effortful Control
  • U.S. Aid to Sudan and Libya: Lessons Learned and Applied
  • A Refutation of Yankee Slanders: The Confederacy’s Reaction to Reports on the Battle of Fort Pillow
  • Predictors of Early Adulthood Depression and Anger
  • Riding with Hitler: The Failure of Fuel Rationing During World War II
  • Music and Multimedia: A Dream Come True

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