Two CIB analysts are among six students from Coastal Carolina University who have been selected to present their research at the National Council for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) conference in April. The elite conference –the largest undergraduate research gathering in the United States– will be held at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. It will be the 33rd annual conference held by NCUR, a nationwide body whose mission is to promote undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity in all fields of study.
The researchers are Tyra Bjorlo, a CIB Executive Officer who heads the organization’s Transnational Issues Section and the Africa Desk, and Clara Comiskey, a longtime CIB Analyst who won the CIB’s prestigious “Best Essay Award” last December. The two CCU students submitted their research abstracts to NCUR late last semester. They were later notified by the conference organizers that their abstracts had passed the selection process because they were found to “demonstrate unique contributions to your field of study”. The CIB caught up with Tyra and Clara and asked them a few questions about their research and upcoming conference participation.
Q: Can you briefly describe the topic of your research?
Tyra: My topic is Women in Militant Islamist Groups. Since 9/11, women have been more prevalent in militant Islamist groups. I specifically look at the roles that women play, such as negotiators, supporters, recruiters, and suicide attackers. In recent years, specifically since the creation of ISIS, women are participating in operational roles within Islamist groups, which could potentially lead to decision-making positions.
Clara: My topic addresses the near future of the Islamist insurgency in Africa’s Sahel region. To do this, I looked at humanitarian crises, foreign aid, and regional state, government, and military capabilities within the region. I also focused on the state and non-state actors in the Sahel. For this project, I used Structured Analytical Techniques to assess all of these components. My research addresses the current strength of the insurgency and the threat it poses to the United States’ security interests.
Q: How did you decide to research your topic? Why do you find it so interesting?
Tyra: I always knew I wanted to study terrorism, so when one of my political science professors, Dr. Nora Onar, approached me about women and political Islam, I thought it was an interesting, unique topic to pursue. I find this topic interesting because of the traditional roles that women assume in Islamic hyper-patriarchal societies. These types of societies impose significant constraints on women and can be perceived as very oppressive. So, my interest stems from the curiosity of how women who possess no rights and are seen as inferior to men by conservative Muslims and jihadists, end up playing important roles and fighting for militant Islamist groups.
Clara: I started researching the Sahel because I liked the idea of having a more unknown topic. So much of our program is focused on the Middle East, Russia, and China. The Sahel is an emerging hot-spot that will be a major focus for the Intelligence Community in the next decade. By focusing on this region, I will have desirable skills and knowledge when entering the Intelligence Community after college.
Q: What is your advice for incoming CIB analysts who have an interest in researching a topic in depth?
Tyra: Definitely do it! My advice would be to have an open mind when approaching a topic and do not be afraid to learn. Read all the literature that you can find on the topic, including daily news sources, and develop your contribution based on what is missing or is not as heavily researched. Studying a topic in depth is great because you can focus on it for your entire undergraduate career.
Clara: Just dive right into it. The more you immerse yourself in your topic, the more interesting you’ll find it. Having an extensive understanding of your topics background is crucial. Learn as much as you can about the region’s key dates and figures, culture, and history. Most importantly, find local news outlets that pertain to your topic and check them daily. Knowing how the region views itself can provide much more insight to the bigger issues.
Tyra and Clara will be traveling to Kennesaw State University in April along with four UCC students, who will also present at the conference. Their trip is generously funded by CCU’s College of Humanities and Fine Arts and coordinated by the University’s Office of Undergraduate Research.