Natalia Peña (SSP’17) on Research, Running, and Studying Terrorism

Natalia Peña
Security Studies Program, Class of 2017
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Summer 2016 Internship: Government Accountability Office – Defense Capabilities and Management Team (Student Analyst)
Favorite Classes: Terrorism and Counterterrorism with Daniel Byman; Security Issues in South Asia with Christine Fair
D.C. Jobs and Internships:
Research Assistant to Professors Daniel Byman and Bruce Hoffman; Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Research Intern)


May 1, 2017
by Aislinn McNiece

Natalia Peña (SSP’17) graduates this spring from the Security Studies Program with a concentration in terrorism and sub-state violence. Peña, who grew up in Minnesota but did her undergraduate years in Boston, spent her two years at Georgetown working with Professors Daniel Byman and Bruce Hoffman, interning in government departments, and training for a half-marathon. These were among the highlights of attending SFS to earn her graduate degree.

“When I was deciding on graduate schools, I had less than 8 hours in D.C. to visit campus, make a decision, and find an apartment. Stepping out of the cab that morning and looking up at the front gates — the ones that I had only ever seen in promotional materials for ‘my dream school’ — was pretty surreal. It’s hard to choose one favorite memory from my time at Georgetown. Meeting and learning from such incredible professors and peers and living with my younger sister for two years are two that definitely top the list.” Peña majored in Political Science and Islamic Civilizations for her undergraduate degree at Boston College, where she took classes on Islamic political philosophy, the Arab world, and inter-state dynamics in the Middle East. One of those classes, Terrorism and Political Violence, led her to international security and, eventually, SSP: “the perfect program that combined my interest in the Islamic world with political violence in its various forms.” At SSP, Peña found both mentors and subject material that met her expectations, and, in many cases, exceeded them.

“I’ve taken some great classes during my time at SSP, but two in particular stand out: Dr. Byman’s Terrorism and Counterterrorism class and Dr. Fair’s Security Issues in South Asia. They are both fascinating and engaging lecturers, and first-rate scholars who challenged me academically in ways I didn’t know were possible. “

In addition to the class she took with Byman, Peña also supported Byman as a Research Assistant, working with him on his online Terrorism and Counterterrorism course for edX, a free online course platform.

“I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Dr. Byman in a few different capacities during my time at Georgetown. His advice on academics, careers, and life in general has been invaluable. Apart from being an impressive scholar of terrorism, he is truly an incredible professor and mentor.”

Peña held several other professional research experiences during her time at SSP. She assisted Dr. Bruce Hoffman on research for his forthcoming edition of Inside Terrorism and recently joined the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies as a Research Intern. Additionally, she spent the summer of 2016 doing research in the Government Accountability Office.

“I worked as a Student Analyst for the Government Accountability Office on their Defense Capabilities and Management Team. I spent the summer immersed in [Department of Defense] strategy documents and honing my research and analysis skills. When I wasn’t thinking about defense strategy, I got to know D.C. on foot by training for a half marathon.”

Being in D.C. was one of Peña’s favorite aspects of her graduate school experience, from the professional opportunities to the athletic ones available right off the Georgetown campus.

“I have loved living in a city where people are so passionate about what they do. D.C. is definitely an industry town, but if politics and international affairs are your passion, there is no better place to be. Outside of academics, D.C. is such a vibrant city and there is always something to do. Runs down the national mall also never get old!”

Peña will stay in D.C. for some time following her graduation from SSP, continuing her research internship with the Transnational Threats Project at CSIS. When her time at CSIS ends, she hopes to continue researching issues of jihadist terrorism. Graduating from SSP will mean leaving Georgetown’s campus — something Peña says she will miss.

“I have loved the community of SSP and Georgetown as a whole. It’s been a wonderful corner of the city in which to spend two years!”