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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University July 7, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 39
Johns Hopkins Doctoral Student Killed in Explosion in Iraq

Nicole Suveges

Political scientist Nicole Suveges was civilian Army contractor

Nicole Suveges, a Johns Hopkins University graduate student in political science who was working in Iraq while doing research for her dissertation, was among four Americans killed in an explosion June 24 in the offices of the District Council in the critical Sadr City section of Baghdad.

Two U.S. soldiers, a State Department employee, an Italian translator working for the Defense Department and six Iraqis also were killed, according to news reports.

Suveges, 38, was in Iraq as a civilian political scientist working in the Army's Human Terrain System program, advising the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, according to BAE Systems, the company that employed her. BAE said she helped Army leaders in efforts to reduce violence in Sadr City and rebuild local infrastructure.

Her knowledge and experience, including a previous tour in Iraq as a civilian contractor and her time as an Army reservist serving in Bosnia in the 1990s, reportedly made her especially effective in working to improve the lives of everyday Iraqis.

According to a report from the Human Terrain System, Suveges was attending a meeting of the District Advisory Council, which was scheduled to elect a new chairman. The attack, HTS said, was thought to have been carried out by " 'a special group' believed to be Shia militia members acting in contravention of a cease-fire order issued by Muqtada al-Sadr."

Steve Fondacaro, HTS program manager, said, "Nicole enthusiastically embraced the challenges posed by working in a war zone, believing that social scientists could make the greatest contribution at the tactical level." In the last e-mail he received from her, Fondacaro said, she wrote, "I love this job!"

In a message sent to the university community upon learning of Suveges' death, President William R. Brody said, "Nicole was committed to using her learning and experience to make the world a better place, especially for people who have suffered through war and conflict. In that, she exemplifies all that we seek to do at Johns Hopkins: to use knowledge for the good of humanity."

Mark Blyth, an associate professor of political science and Suveges' primary faculty adviser, said she came to Johns Hopkins early in the decade, took her comprehensive examinations about two years later and worked with Blyth for about two years as managing editor of the Review of International Political Economy.

At first, he said, she planned to write her doctoral dissertation on how ideas move across borders from society to society, exploring how radical Islamic ideas filtered through Western European mosques and how, in comparison, free market ideas filtered through Eastern European think tanks into policy-making.

After the outbreak of the war in Iraq, however, Suveges changed her plans, Blyth said, switching to a topic that had interested her since her experience in Bosnia, where she worked in the multinational SFOR/NATO Combined Joint Psychological Operations Task Force. Her new research focus, Blyth said, was the process of transition from an authoritarian regime to democracy, and especially how that process affects ordinary citizens.

In about 2006, Blyth said, Suveges spent a year in Iraq as a civilian contractor and social science adviser to the military and came back with public opinion data to analyze for her dissertation. Her current tour was expected to provide the final data she needed to begin writing her thesis. Blyth said he did not know how long she had intended to remain in Iraq this time.

"She was a very bright, engaging, sweet person, very intellectually curious," Blyth said shortly after learning of his student's death. Like others in the department, he was stunned by the news. "Two hours ago, I thought she was fine, and I thought she was going to come back and defend" her dissertation, he said.

Other members of the Political Science Department also described Suveges as extraordinarily bright, kind and outgoing. She also was known as an active citizen of the department, regularly attending seminars and — in the words of one faculty member — acting as a "magnet" for other graduate students and helping to organize their activities. As a former Army Reserve soldier and an older student, she brought a different and valuable perspective to the intellectual life of the department, faculty members said.

Suveges grew up in Illinois, where reportedly she attended Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and Mundelein High School in Mundelein. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1992 and earned a master's degree in international affairs in 1998 from George Washington University.

Suveges' death was the third in a little over a year of a member of the Johns Hopkins community serving in Iraq. In the spring of 2007, Lt. Colby Umbrell, a 2004 graduate, and Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh, class of 2003, both of the U.S. Army, were killed in action there.

"Their deaths and Nicole's diminish us all," Brody said. "But their lives — lives devoted to service to others — honor us and our university. We are better for their having been among us."


Related Web sites

BAE Systems news release
Human Terrain System report


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