Eight weeks of ideation, prototyping, and pitches led 17 UC Berkeley students to Washington D.C. where they presented their hard work to Treasury Department officials as well as the defense and intelligence communities. Reflecting on this amazing experience, the Collider participants want other students to know that they all have the power to break free of their rigid, controlled environment to bring about change.
One year ago, UC Berkeley students were studying in Nice, France when the tragic Bastille Day terrorist attack killed one of their own. Just two weeks prior, another Berkeley student lost her life in a Bangladesh terrorist attack. Inspired by the death of their friends and frustrated by their lack of agency in these situations, 22 students came together to apply their skills to tackle problems important to them and the world.
Working with the Sutardja Center and Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), they formed the first student-led Collider Project. The Data Science and Transnational Security Collider served as a collaborative community enabling students, with the help of mentors and sponsors, to create data science tools that help counter-terrorism experts better anticipate future terrorist attacks.
Instead of following the traditional Silicon Valley path of helping startups and tech companies, these students recognized a larger need for their skills in Washington D.C., where major policy makers and enforcers lack sophisticated data science tools. At the C4ADS office in D.C., the students met analysts and researchers who conduct investigations on topics related to the environment, terrorism, political corruption, sanction evasion, and human trafficking. Seeing the real people whose work would be improved reminded these students that they could not afford to stop their endeavors.
The UC Berkeley students shared their work at the Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Center in Washington D.C. The program opened with comments by Varun Vira, COO of C4ADs; Yaya Fanusie, Berkeley Alum and Director of Analysis at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; and David Law, Director of the SCET Innovation Collider Program. The students were also welcomed by Juan Zarate, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisors for combatting terrorism from 2005 to 2009. Members of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, Counter Extremism Project, and Palantir also joined the students.
Many of these students will now continue and expand their work as a nonprofit organization. Soon after pitching in Washington D.C., they began meeting with individuals who want to help this great effort. Next semester the students will continue to build data science tools and solutions relevant to transnational security. Furthermore, they will begin analyzing data using these tools. Not only will this provide immediate validation, but it will hopefully allow for actionable insights. Dedicated to information transparency, these students findings will be easily accessible through journalistic publishing.