As I entered the office of Joan Neuhaus Schaan, Baker Institute fellow in homeland security and terrorism, last December, I wasn"t quite sure what to expect. I initially envisioned myself sitting behind a computer filtering through loads of scholarly articles. In reality, my internship was much more dynamic. Two years ago, I interned for my congressman in Washington, D.C., and moving from the Hill to a think tank introduced me to a different perspective of policymaking.

As a Baker Institute research intern, I gleaned information from numerous media outlets, watched films spotlighting the drug-induced violence in Mexico and the United States, interviewed my college classmates to grasp their understanding of my research issue, and attended events pertaining to my research. The experience trained me to think holistically about an issue. Instead of reading several press releases of a specific event, I undertook proactive methods of research by peering through a multidimensional lens.

I pursued every opportunity I had to engage in the sphere of policy that intrigued me most -- U.S.-Latin American affairs. Understanding the distinctions between how U.S. citizens along the border and Mexico"s lower and middle classes evaluated the drug war violence in Mexico emboldened me to think more critically about potential policy that would assuage the concerns of all affected groups.

Neuhaus Schaan proved to be an immensely helpful mentor, guiding me every step of the way as I refined my research topic in hopes of placing a personal mark on the Baker Institute. In addition, I enjoyed working with staff members for Congressman Michael T. McCaul, R-Texas, as we prepared for the congressman"s speech at the Baker Institute regarding Mexico"s drug war. After McCaul"s address, I had the honor of joining Neuhaus Schaan and several of her friends to discuss U.S. policy over dinner. As I listened to a former FBI agent and two former U.S. military members discuss how the United States had dealt with similar international conflicts in the past, I was surprised by the hard realities of managing threats to U.S. homeland security. By the time I began to write a paper as part of my internship, addressing legislation introduced by the U.S. Congress that aimed to curb the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, I was well-versed in the problems facing the Mexican people. I sincerely believe that my experience interning at the Baker Institute enriched my ability to conduct effective research on some of today"s most poignant policy issues.

Blake Delaplane is a Rice University undergraduate majoring in political science and policy studies.