Amazing Students

Laura Courchesne

Laura Courchesne’s passion is understanding the nexus between non-state armed groups and civilian populations, a subject that she’ll be able to continue studying as a 2017 Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.

Hometown:

Fair Haven, New Jersey

High School:

Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

Degree objective:

B.A. Economics, B.A. Religion

Expected graduation:

May 2017

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

Through my majors, I’ve explored the applications of behavioral economics, organizational behavior and political psychology to understand, anticipate and model violent group behavior. I’ve researched non-state armed groups, civilians in conflict zones, and terrorist networks for the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project at the Woodrow Wilson School, the Unit for Relations with Arms Carriers at the ICRC, Oxford’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, the Peacekeeping and Stabilization Operations Institute of the U.S. Army War College, and the Carter Center.

This past summer, through UGA’s Bali Maymester Program, I conducted fieldwork in Indonesia, focusing on the impact of historical violence and notions of causality in Balinese Hinduism on perceptions of terrorism. I also had the chance to assist with an Executive Leadership Course on the Changing Character of Armed Conflict at Oxford University. I worked with high-ranking members of foreign militaries from Pakistan, U.K. and Colombia.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be a recipient of Foundation Fellowship, which has allowed me to travel and research all over the world. I’m also lucky to be a member of wonderful communities through Blue Key, Palladia and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies as well as the Leonard Leadership Scholars Program. This past fall, I was named a 2017 Rhodes Scholar.

Current Employment:

I’m working as a research assistant for the Changing Character of War Programme at Oxford. The research focuses on illicit economies in borderland regions, including the Afghanistan/Pakistan and DRC/Uganda borders.

Family Ties to UGA:

I had no previous ties to UGA or Georgia, but I fell in love when I visited campus and Athens.

I chose to attend UGA because…

… of CURO, the Honors Program and the Foundation Fellowship! These opportunities gave me the freedom and flexibility to shape my academic experience through research, travel and mentorship. I’ve been able to pursue my interests to the fullest extent, and I’m forever grateful that I came to UGA.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… to go for a run near the intramural fields, relax outside on North Campus (especially Founders Memorial Garden), or eat lunch downtown at Thai Spoon.

When I have free time, I like…

… to hang out with my wonderful and inspiring friends, watch “The West Wing” on Netflix, or listen to the Freakonomics podcast.

The craziest thing I've done is…

… live by myself in Lausanne, Switzerland, for three months studying psychopaths. I had never been to Switzerland before and most of my lab members didn’t speak any English. Part of the research involved being locked in a sound-proof virtual reality lab, essentially scaring people we thought had psychopathic traits to measure stress responses. It was an awesome way to learn about the neuroscience and psychology of violence.

My favorite place to study is…

… Moore College or Walker’s coffee shop.

My favorite professor is…

I’ve been blessed with so many incredible mentors and teachers at UGA. Dr. Adam Goodie has been an amazing supporter and advocate from my first days on campus, helping me to develop my own path and teaching me everything I need to know about the psychology of decision-making. Dr. Jeffrey Berejikian has helped me refine my vision for the future, is always available to bounce ideas off of and acts as a constant source of guidance and inspiration. Dr. David Mustard was one of the first research mentors on campus, helping me to explore the ways in which I could ground my interests in empirical study. Dr. Pete Brosius sparked my interest in the role of development in conflict zones and supported me in pursuing my first fieldwork experience. Dr. Laura Little has also provided invaluable insight in my exploration of how organizational behavior can be applied to the study of violent groups.

I took a class with Dr. Meghan Skira my first semester of college, and her incredible talent is the reason I decided to major in economics. Dr. Carolyn Medine and Dr. Jodie Lyon in the religion department are also amazing educators, whose passion for the discipline is infectious. Their courses pushed me to think differently and creatively about the study of religion.

And of course, I’m so thankful for the fabulous support system I’ve received through the Honors Program, especially Jessica Hunt, Emily Myers and Dr. David Williams.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

… Dr. Scott Atran, the author of one of my favorite books, “Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.” He is an anthropologist who has applied cognitive psychology to study rational choice, conflict and terrorism.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… create an effective and ethical program for militaries that incorporates an anthropological, sociological and psychological understanding of conflict-affected communities into strategy and policy. I want to use the social sciences to improve the ways in which we engage in stabilization efforts and conflict resolution, to promote lasting peace and trust-building.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… spend time as a photojournalist in Southeast Asia. Another one of my favorite books is “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War” by Lyndsey Addario, a war photographer who talks about the importance of photography in portraying complex issues. I took a class in photography last summer through the Bali Maymester program and absolutely loved it. My favorite photograph was of a grandfather and grandson with their offerings, waiting in a packed basin to be blessed by the water of the Tirta Empul temple.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

My passion is understanding the nexus between non-state armed groups and civilian populations. I am fascinated with what influences non-violent populations to begin endorsing and engaging in violence, the strength of social bonds within violent organizations, and the types of relationships non-state armed groups form with civilians. Long term, I hope to work in conflict mediation, interacting with actors involved in conflicts and helping countries work together to eliminate the threat of non-state armed groups. I aim to build generalizable behavioral models that predict escalations of violence and conflict dynamics on the basis of organizational attributes. I hope to foster a more universal adoption of behavioral approaches by governmental agencies and militaries.

After graduation, I plan to…

… pursue an MPhil in Development Studies at Oxford University. I’ll be conducting fieldwork and hopefully writing my thesis on how resource access influences conflict dynamics and the behavior of non-state armed groups.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

There are too many to choose from! I trained for and ran the AthHalf with two of my closest friends my junior year, and we had the best time encouraging each other as we ran up the many hills in Athens. Through the Foundation Fellowship, I’ve met a Supreme Court justice, rode a camel in the Sahara Desert, and been charged at by a bull elephant in the Serengeti. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had at UGA.

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