In her own words: Katie Jo Younkins ’11 M’13, counterterrorism student

In her own words: Katie Jo Younkins ’11 M’13, counterterrorism student

Katie-Jo-at-Herzliyah

Katie Jo Younkins '11 M'13, who is working on her master's in counterterrorism, studies at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Israel. Here she recounts a bit of her journey from her hometown in northern New Hampshire via Wagner College to Israel.

My interest in studying in Israel began with the transformational semester I spent at the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the spring of 2010. Wagner had established an exchange agreement there in 2008, and when Professor Steve Snow referred me to the program, it triggered something within me. I had always hoped to expand my horizons while in college.

I was apprehensive about this trip, as I am not Jewish and had never traveled to the Middle East. But my fears subsided as I absorbed the beauty around me while walking to class overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. I never imagined I would feel so alive and content in a place that was so religiously and politically tense. Growing up Catholic, I never expected to be so warmly accepted by the Jewish people.

Taking Hebrew courses helped me understand the culture of Judaism, while also giving me the ability to converse with community members at my internship at the Pisgat Ze’ev community center. I met wonderful people who answered my difficult questions about Israeli society — especially my questions about the Arab-Israeli conflict and terrorism’s effect on daily life.

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During my last undergraduate semester at Wagner, I continued to ask these questions in a course on the Politics of Terrorism. For years, I had imagined my academic career continuing with law school, but the courses I took in Israel and at Wagner redirected my interests toward counterterrorism.

I decided to pursue my MBA in international business at Wagner, and I recognized that I could interweave the analytical and financial disciplines of counterterrorism studies to explore the funding of terrorists. This idea led me to the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, renowned for its concentration in counterterrorism.

Now, I am taking coursework in Arabic, Egyptian politics, legal concerns, crisis communications, and many other helpful areas. I have the chance to study with highly experienced and knowledgeable faculty, such as the former Israeli ambassador to Egypt and other government advisors. Guest speakers such as former Senator George Mitchell and Alberto Fernandez, the coordinator for strategic counterterrorism communications for the U.S. State Department, come here to speak with students.

This program is helping me understand and advocate for mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence in the Middle East, where millions are displaced and fearful. I saw this while traveling throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt, and I can now see the impact combating terrorism can have for all in that region. I believe promoting mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence for all cultures will lead to the creation of a homeland for all.