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NDSU student wins national award for best social science research

Published April 30, 2012

An international studies and political science student at North Dakota State University, Fargo, was awarded first place by the Western Social Science Association for her undergraduate research paper. Sarah Mayo presented her research paper at the association’s 54th Annual Conference in Houston, April 11-14. At the conference, Mayo received her award, which includes a plaque and a $500 cash prize.

Mayo’s research paper titled “The Rhetoric of Terrorism in American Discourse” focuses on the use of language in American English language print media and U.S. government publications. In her research paper, Mayo evaluates the use of the words jihad, madrassa and Allah in several major American newspapers and government publications from 2000 to 2010, contrasting their meanings within Arabic with the generally intended meanings as used in English writing.

“My research shows that American English-language print media and U.S. government publications, when dealing in topics of terrorism, are saturated with Arabic words that I think are used incorrectly,” Mayo said. “I argue that the ways in which these particular Arabic words are used very closely mirrors the use of them by al-Qaida ideologues, whose goal it is to pervert their meanings for propaganda purposes.” In her research, Mayo puts forth the premise that continued repetition of terrorists’ rhetoric and propaganda is ineffective in countering terrorism and suggests some possible language alternatives.

Mayo has studied Arabic at NDSU for three years. In 2009, she received a Critical Language Scholarship awarded by the U.S. State Department to study Arabic for a summer in Alexandria, Egypt. She stayed in Egypt for a year working as a teacher at an English-immersion primary school. She is the daughter of Bret and Dawn Mayo of Fargo.

Mayo plans to graduate in May from NDSU and next fall begin pursuing a master’s degree in political science at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. “My experiences in conducting research, and also working as a teaching assistant last semester to Dr. Jarret Brachman's political science class on the subject of terrorism, have led me to my aspirations of eventually becoming a professor,” Mayo said. Brachman is an internationally recognized counterterrorism expert, currently serving as an associate research fellow at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at NDSU.

Mayo’s adviser on the award-winning research paper, Tom Ambrosio, associate professor in criminal justice and political science at NDSU, said her paper was written as the capstone requirement for her International Studies major. “Sarah’s exploration of the original-language meanings of the terms and the contrast to the current usage was insightful and provided a systematic examination of a topic that everyone knows about (the use of Arabic words in American media), but had not really examined,” Ambrosio said. “Moreover, her time spent in Egypt gave her an appreciation of the use and misuse of language when certain words are taken into another context.”

Tom Isern, University Distinguished Professor of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies at NDSU, said the recognition of Mayo’s research is outstanding. “This is a competitive matter, and the award is prestigious,” said Isern, who serves as president-elect and program chair of the Western Social Science Association.

Mayo is currently working on another research project on the topic of framing effects in cross-language communication, co-written with Kjersten Nelson, assistant professor of political science at NDSU.


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North Dakota State University
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Last Updated: Thursday, August 08, 2013 8:33:23 AM