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Countering Violent Extremism Class Presents in DC, Receives National Recognition

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"Three students between the ages of 15 and 17 attending a high school in Colorado have been engaging with ISIS resources online. Even though they are getting radicalized by the online material, they have not taken extreme measures or acted violently. They are simply students in a high school who are getting brain washed from the internet with promises of great heroic adventure alongside a group that they can identify with. Is this a situation we should be worried about?"

This is the first question in a thought-provoking series of questions in Action Avenues, a student-made project created for Korbel Professor Annie Miller's "Civic Strategies to Prevent Violent Extremism" class. In January, the project won honorable mention in the EdVenture's "Peer 2 Peer: Challenging Extremism" contest.

The group, including Korbel students Seth, Daire, Shubham Sapkota, Andrew Johnson, Kaitlin Bressler and Allyson Rust, presented their project findings at the Colorado U.S. Attorney's Office and the Office for Community Partnerships at the Department of Homeland Security.

The project received funds from EdVenture and Facebook and the Korbel School provided funds for Daire, Johnson and Rust to present in Washington D.C.

According to EdVenture's website, The Peer 2 Peer challenge was created to explore the uses of "social media to push back against violent extremist narratives to provide a positive, alternative or counter narrative to all forms of violent extremism."

"The Peer 2 Peer: Challenging Extremism (P2P) competition was created with a recognition that the government agencies don't have all the ideas to counter extremism, and that there is much to be gained by partnering with educational institutions and giving them seed money to test prototypes," said Seth Daire, one of the creators of Action Avenues.

Daire said the group decided to create a platform that allowed users to choose their own path. After users choose an initial scenario, a series of questions appears prompting the user to respond to the scenario as it develops, while at the same time giving users information about local resources which could help with solutions. The students tracked and recorded users' responses to the questions.

"We created scenarios for ISIS recruitment, bullying, mental health and provided a success story," said Daire. "These were based, in order, on the Overland High School girls who tried to go to Turkey, Columbine where bullying was a factor, the local Planned Parenthood shooter and Derek Black who walked away from white nationalism. Our project was unique compared to most projects in our focus on bullying and mental health."

The group promoted their website using funds from Facebook to purchase Facebook advertising and also utilized Google AdWords and Twitter. Rust attributed the group's success not only to the group's skills, but also to their approach to countering violent extremism.

"I feel that part of what contributed to the success of the project was the marketing and design of our social media campaign as we had some students with strong skills in these fields," said Rust. 

"Additionally, our product approached extremism and radicalization from various avenues that can be factors leading up to mass violence."

You can visit Action Avenues' website here. Miller will be offering the course again in the Fall semester and hopes students will be excited to engage in active efforts aimed at countering violent extremism.