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UMD Students Win National Competition Designed to Reduce Violence, Hate

By Laura Ours

A team of students in UMD’s global terrorism studies minor won the $10,000 first prize in a national high school and collegiate competition to design and implement creative solutions to prevent targeted violence, hate or terrorism in their communities.

infOasis, their project in the Invent2Prevent competition, focused on improving teens’ media literacy through an online toolkit of mini games and interactive modules focused on image and media alteration, propaganda and false media. The June 26 event was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Winning feels amazing, after a semester of such hard work, research and content creation,” said team member Zoe Cross ’25, a double major in criminal justice and criminology and psychology. “We are ecstatic that others also feel our content is meaningful and impactful and trust that we can continue to help educate individuals with our project.”

Other Terps who presented at the event were Theodore Hirsch, Ashton Labarta, Kevin John and Stefanie Mena-Gonzalez. The team also included Aylah Dhruv, Katherine Gonzalez and Makenna Osterfield.

Cross said college students spend more time online than any other age group, but the team found that 55% report “not even being moderately confident in their ability to detect false information online, and only 20% of students aged 16-24 are digitally literate.”

Those who used infOasis saw a 132% increase in their ability to correctly identify AI-generated images, while their self-perception of media literacy proficiency jumped from 5.5 to 8.5 on a 10-point scale. The content reached more than 17,000 accounts on Instagram, and had more than 60,000 overall social media impressions.

The UMD team is mentored by researchers Elena Akers and Megan Rutter of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which houses the global terrorism studies minor.

“In the serious and often grim field of terrorism and targeted violence, the students developed and implemented a prevention-focused project that is engaging and fun, while still relying on evidence-based research, which particularly impressed the judges,” Akers said.

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