Liggett student’s research published

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 15, 2015


GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Jane Ninivaggi lived the life of a researcher for more than a year, spending just about every day studying, exploring and inquiring for more information about militant Islamic extremist groups’ recruiting efforts in the United States.

Her work resulted in her research being published in a University of Richmond journal, “Digital America,” and she’s only a senior in high school.

“I felt very gratified and thankful when I found out they were publishing my article,” Ninivaggi said in an email. “It’s very rewarding to feel like your hard work is being recognized by people outside of your direct academic community.”

“Her research is quite fascinating and relevant — it looks at militant Islamic extremist groups and their activity on social media, and it’s really impressive that a university journal published her piece and asked her to continue writing as a columnist,” Liggett Director of Marketing and Communications Michelle Martin said in an email.

Seniors start their Academic Research Projects in their junior year. They will be presenting their research during the Celebration of Research event May 26. Students are asked to dig into something that they’re interested in researching for a project that helps them prepare for the academic rigors of college.

Ninivaggi’s project evolved over time as she dove into her studies.

“An interest in the roots of terrorism and (President Jimmy) Carter’s response to the 1979 Iranian Revolution originally got me interested in my research,” she said in an email. “However, much of my junior year I dabbled with various areas of study, such as marketing, cultural revolutions, gender equality and domestic terrorism. These topics ultimately culminated into my current research question.

“I find the timeline of these terror-related events to be fascinating,” she said. “At the beginning of my project, I was focused on the potential formation of the American equivalent of the British Jihadi Network, yet less than a year later, it became evident that ISIS and other extremist groups were actively infiltrating U.S. borders. It has been extremely intriguing to follow the development of a system tantamount to the British Jihadi Network in the United States.”

Ninivaggi, who plans to study human rights at Barnard College in the fall, was looking to prove that these groups have the ability to build a recruitment system in the United States using social media.

She found examples of jihadist radicalization in every state.

She spent a great deal of time and effort on the project. Despite spending more than a year researching, she said she feels as engaged now as she did when she started her research. She spent so much time on her research that she wondered if she would end up on a “no fly list” due to her tracking of jihadist activity for her project.

“Social media is the most efficient system of communication the world has ever seen, and I’ve learned that its ability to disseminate information so directly makes it a valuable weapon in the War on Terror,” Ninivaggi stated in a news release. “In many ways, extremist Islamics are fighting Western marketing with Western marketing, but it is similarly as effective for the U.S. to use social media as a tool for de-radicalization to combat terrorism.”

It was a learning process from start to finish, and she values how the research program through Liggett prepares students for college and other challenges in life.

“It demonstrates the value in being passionate or simply curious about something, and the dedication that it takes to follow through with that passion,” she said in an email. “The program shows the value in challenging yourself, something that is imperative not only in school, but everyday life.”

Peter Gaines, head of Liggett’s Upper School, said these research projects are meant to give the students skills that will help them in their academic careers. While the school often hears from previous students that their college professors want to know where they gained their excellent writing skills, they’re taking note of the Liggett graduates’ research capabilities since the school launched its Academic Research Project program in recent years.

While not every senior has work published on a national scale, Ninivaggi isn’t the first senior to see her work recognized through publication or another forum.

With the publication of her work, Ninivaggi has an “opportunity to contribute to a larger dialogue, as well,” Gaines said.

“That’s obviously something we’re really thrilled to see our kids doing,” he said.