Sarah Jacob is from Cleveland, Ohio. She majored at U-M in international studies, biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience; she also received a minor in Islamic studies. Sarah wrote an honors senior thesis on the reintegration of extremists in Indonesia and Malaysia for U-M’s Program in International and Comparative Studies (PICS) Honors Program. At U-M, Sarah worked at the Museum of Art (UMMA), the Marketing Street Team at Recreational Sports, and Dr. Natalie Tronson’s Laboratory of Memory Modulation. She also led student organizations, including ARISE South and Southeast Asian Mentorship Program, the Student Engagement Council at UMMA, and Sigma Iota Rho International Studies Honors Society. She now continues her work for UMMA and remote research projects.
Why did you choose to write an honors thesis?
I was always intrigued by the idea of culminating my studies with a major independent project. Early in my sophomore year, I met a student writing her honors thesis and her experience made me even more excited about the possibility [of writing my own]. I spent a lot of time exploring my interests to find the right question [for an honors thesis]. This question and the passion I developed around it ultimately drove me to apply.
What did you research?
I researched terrorism and state responses to transnational terrorist networks in Southeast Asia. Specifically, I studied how Indonesia and Malaysia are reintegrating extremists into their societies at the state level. As foreign terrorist fighters (including those that travel abroad to join international conflicts) are repatriated, extremists are released from prison, and individuals considered national security threats are identified by states, countries like Indonesia and Malaysia must develop robust and diverse ways to engage these individuals. To ensure the safety of their communities, Indonesia and Malaysia must work to understand the social, psychological, and economic journey former extremists undergo to safely and nonviolently rejoin society. I wanted to study this reintegration process, the states’ response, and the larger implications of counterterrorism on building stronger communities.
What was your favorite part of your research?
I was able to travel all around Southeast Asia in advance of writing my thesis. Visiting and building personal bonds with the places and people I was researching was definitely my favorite part. I also truly enjoyed learning more about this topic and understanding the issues of international security. Studying transnational terrorism and its impact on communities provided me with an understanding of human behavior I did not anticipate.
What did you learn from this experience?
It sounds dramatic, but this project took me physically around the world, transformed my writing style, expanded my expertise, and refocused my entire life for my senior year. I learned a great deal about international security, counterterrorism, and I formed an elaborate connection to Indonesia and Malaysia. My research opened a new world to me and I was able to recognize how important it is to learn from and understand others. As someone who also studies human behavior, learning, and emotions, researching how extremists can change taught me a great deal about the importance of studying the human mind. I also learned more about the intersection of my fields. Combining my previous study of international relations, biopsychology, cognition, neuroscience, and Islamic studies into one project was such a dream. One of my thesis’ biggest conclusions is how much potential rests in community empowerment and building human connection. The communities which I studied worked across some of the deepest lines of difference and through their most painful moments to reconstruct and, most importantly, reconcile. I feel it is so important to understand, from a political and personal level, that empowering individuals and working to meet paramount needs of psychological, social, and economic care will help us embrace truth and reconciliation globally. I learned how powerful listening and including others in conversations about counterterrorism and peacebuilding is to actually advancing these initiatives. As I enter the world beyond undergrad [study], I am emboldened to take these lessons into my future.
What are your plans for after graduation?
As our world continues to change, I hope to remain flexible and responsive about my future plans. Right now, I am excited to continue working at UMMA and on my research for the rest of the summer. Eventually, I hope to dive more into international advocacy and explore even more the intersection between neuroscience and international relations.