Education: Nichols’ grad program highlights Jackie Matthews counter-terrorism

Known for its wide array of classes provided through the business education program, Nichols College in Dudley offers other coursework, but often falls under the category of “business schools.” That makes it more than a littler interesting that the school is now offering a graduate program in counter-terrorism. It is, according to the school, the first of its kind not just in Central Mass, but in the country.

[It] is the first graduate program in the United States to offer a course whose focus is solely on violent extremism,” criminal justice professor Allison McDowell-Smith said.

Nichols saw the course as imperative and telling of the times, as Homeland Security has issued statements in the past regarding combating counter-terrorism as a top priority for the United States.

This issue, however, extends farther than just U.S. national security, becoming one that embodies our global world. England in 2017 alone has faced numerous attacks in just a short span of time. The deadliest attack in the UK’s recent history was May 22, when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at an exit of an Ariana Grande show in Manchester, England. The recent tragedies presented London as Europe’s latest target; before that, other cities, like Paris and Brussels, had been victimized. The Manchester bombing was the 13th attack for Europe since the beginning of 2015. Collectively, the attacks have claimed more than 300 lives, and injured countless others. ISIS has been linked to most of the attacks.

By comparison, the United States has suffered less than 10 deadly terrorist attacks, with fewer than 100 deaths, since 9/11. Intellectuals, politicians and others have looked for solutions. Celebrities go to their Twitter and Instagram pages professing love over hate, while some react swiftly and furiously in the immediate aftermath of a horrific terrorist attack. Nichols is searching for something more permanent.

The Nichols Master of Science in Counter-terrorism is a degree about leadership. Through an in-class and online experience, Nichols students will learn the main contributing factors to the radicalization process of violent extremism, and seek strategies to counter both terrorism and violent extremism.

McDowell-Smith has worked for Nichols College for two years now. Her main educational background is a core focus in violent extremism. When asked why Nichols felt the need to include the counter-terrorism program at their college, she spoke about her research on former ISIS members. Her students joined her on that research, and it resulted in a feeling among all involved to further their findings into something better: a graduate program, with six specialty classes, all in the realm of counter-terrorism.

All of the professors included in this program are highly qualified, according to Nichols College spokesperson Lorraine U. Martinelle, director of public relations and social media.

Our faculty work or have backgrounds with the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, the Dutch National Police, U.S. Department of Justice, Harvard University, the U.S. Army, and Massachusetts Army National Guard,” Martinelle said via email.

McDowell-Smith is adamant about teaching students the differences and similarities between violent extremism and counter-terrorism.

Violent extremism,” she said, “is a set of beliefs, ideas and actions that lead into a political, religious or ideological platform. Counter-terrorism is a subset of violent extremism that aims to teach methods of how to combat and prevent extremism.”

According to McDowell-Smith, the course will not only cover the main terrorist groups we see in the media, like ISIS, but investigate and learn about other extremist groups, such as the KKK. She believes the program does not apply only to students with interests in public policy, intelligence and security, but also includes interests tied to other fields, such as, cybersecurity, accounting, law enforcement on the town, state and federal level, and emergency personnel.

What’s interesting about the program is the choice students have to complete the program online or in class. With the online feature, McDowell-Smith notes students as far away as California can be connecting with those at Nichols, and even international students.

McDowell-Smith agreed the program helps to make Nichols College, as a whole, worldlier and in tune to present day society both on a national level and global approach. Other local colleges are not offering similar programs, yet, at least. WPI does have a program in cybersecurity, which is a relevant course in terms of counter-terrorism and extremism.

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