UVA Student Project Gains International Attention

Oct 18, 2013

College students hand in millions of papers each year, and most end up in the trash, but a University of Virginia undergraduate was surprised and honored when her 26-page paper was given to hundreds of experts on counter-terrorism.

Credit www.virginia.edu

Rachel Schwartz is a junior at the University of Virginia - a double major in biology and foreign affairs, so it was no surprise that she found the subject of chemical weapons interesting.

"And so I was writing a research paper for my class in anti-terrorism and the role of intelligence, and I decided to kind of branch away from the Iraq and Afghanistan track that most of the students were taking and focus in on Syria," said Schwartz.

That paper helped her win a prestigious summer internship at the International Institute for Counter-terrorism in Israel.   There she did far more than get coffee for colleagues and answer the phone.

“You do your own research and then, and the goal is to write a mini-thesis.”

She decided to dig deeper into the situation in Syria and  learned that there had been six chemical attacks on civilians there - the most recent, just before Christmas in Homs.

She was back in the States on August 21, when chemical bombs rained down on the suburbs of Damascus.  Schwartz, like other Internet witnesses, was horrified, but she was gratified when her research was given to hundreds of experts on counter-terrorism in September.  They had come to an international conference to discuss Syria and related topics, and Schwartz’s work provided important background.  She now plans a career in world affairs, and hopes to help prevent or more effectively counter future attacks.