LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell students will compete next week in the championship round of a national contest that asked them to create an anti-terrorism education campaign.
The students’ campaign, which they named ProjectPACE, was developed through the “Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism” competition, which calls on college students across the country to produce multimedia campaigns on the influence and methods of extremists – from homegrown terrorists to ISIS – with an eye toward empowering the public and stemming radicals’ activities. The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and administered by EdVenture Partners.
Tailored predominantly to young people, the ProjectPACE campaign features an interactive website at www.projectpace.org that includes a video, a self-guided quiz and educational content; information on social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; and in-person presentations to area high schools on what terrorism is and what people should know to help diffuse violence.
The UMass Lowell students, who are all criminal justice majors, developed the ProjectPACE campaign as interns in the university’s Center for Terrorism and Security Studies under the direction of faculty member Neil Shortland, a forensic psychologist and expert on terrorist behavior who manages the center.
“ProjectPACE provides a way for individuals – especially young people who may be at-risk of being recruited by terrorist groups – to expand their understanding of violent extremism so that our generation and the next will become adept at challenging biased misinformation,” said UMass Lowell team member Matthew Levenson of Billerica, a double major in psychology and criminal justice.
Student teams from 50 colleges and universities entered the contest at its start last semester. Department of Homeland Security officials recently named UMass Lowell’s entry among the competition’s top three public-awareness campaigns because of ProjectPACE’s ability to engage its intended audience. The judges have invited the UMass Lowell students to present the campaign to an expert panel of anti-terrorism leaders in the contest’s final round on Tuesday, July 18 in Washington, D.C. The winning team will receive $5,000 in prize money.
“We are proud to be a part of such a unique opportunity to make an impact,” said ProjectPACE team member Matthew Chigas of Peabody. “I’m honored to work side-by-side with UMass Lowell counterterrorism experts. As this initiative continues to gain momentum, we will help educate more and more people, and education is paramount in the fight against extremism and violence.”
Along with Chigas and Levenson, the ProjectPACE team includes Kyle Cooper of Billerica, Colleen Silva of Burlington, Breanna Ambrose of Danvers and Lunenburg residents Joseph Basile and Daniel Gonzalez.
This past semester, ProjectPACE team members visited Billerica Memorial High School, Danvers High School and Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford to share the educational campaign with students and teachers. The team hopes to conduct more visits to local schools in the future.
“An amazing asset to any school curriculum, ProjectPACE is fully committed to raising awareness, decreasing violence and prejudice, and promoting diversity and peace," said Billerica Memorial High School Assistant Principal Christopher Lordan. “The students behind the initiative are dedicated to combating violent extremism and the organization excels at leading meaningful and honest interactive discussions to heighten awareness and resolve common misconceptions.”
Developing public-awareness campaigns for the “Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism” competition is one of the internship options UMass Lowell students may pursue in the university’s Center for Terrorism and Security Studies.
“The Peer to Peer competition gives students the opportunity to tackle a real-world problem in a way that means something to them. They are given the chance to analyze a complex problem, propose an innovative solution and create something that matters. These campaigns can change students’ educational experience, offering them the opportunity to not only learn about violent extremism, but to try to prevent it,” Shortland said.
This fall, the ProjectPACE team plans to advance the campaign by participating in UMass Lowell’s DifferenceMaker Program, through which students learn entrepreneurial skills they can use to launch business and community ventures and compete in contests like the DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge to win seed money for those ventures.
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 17,750 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu