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2009 News Releases

2007 Longwood graduate receives award for master’s thesis from Dutch university

January 14, 2009

Michael Coles

Michael Coles, a 2007 Longwood University graduate, recently received the award for the best thesis among graduates of a master’s degree program at a university in the Netherlands.

Coles, one of 28 graduates of Leiden University’s European Union (EU) Studies program in October 2008, was awarded the Jan-Willem Beyen Prize for the best thesis completed within one academic year. His thesis was "Biometric Security within the European Union: Balancing Individual Liberties with Collective Security." Coles, who lives and works in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, received an M.A. degree with "Merit," the equivalent of honors in the United States.

At Longwood, he majored in political science, minored in history, and was a member of the history and national leadership honor societies, Phi Alpha Theta and Omicron Delta Kappa. He did an independent study in Italy during the second semester of his junior year in which he studied Italian at the European Institute of Florence and trained with a semi-professional soccer club, A.S.D. Cerbaia. He is the son of Dr. David Coles, associate professor of history at Longwood and chair of the Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy.

The program from which Coles graduated is an interdisciplinary 12-month program taught in English. "I chose this program because it combined my background and academic interests at Longwood while also focusing on economics and law," he said during a visit to Farmville over the recent holidays. "Leiden is the oldest Dutch university (1575) and is prestigious; Einstein was a frequent guest lecturer there in the 1920s. It’s known in particular for its law school. The city of Leiden has a population of 120,000 and is very international."

"My thesis at Leiden pertained to recent developments in biometric technology – fingerprints and facial scans – as a tool in enhancing security throughout the EU," he said. "In particular, it examined EU attempts to link their primary databases on foreigners to enhance police cooperation and investigations, which consequently has a significant impact on privacy and the protection of personal data. It analyzed the effectiveness of these European-wide biometric databases and provided some policy recommendations on how to increase data protection within the EU…I’ve been asked to write a condensed version of my thesis for the Journal of Contemporary European Research. If it’s accepted by the editorial board, it will appear in an issue in the summer of 2009."

The winner of the Jan-Willem Beyen Prize – named for the late Dutch minister whose persistence in the 1950s ensured a common market for Europe – was chosen by Dr. Jean Penders, a faculty member in the EU Studies program. "Is this not a very technical subject, digging into fingerprinting and facial scanning?" he said in presenting it. "Forget it. Michael demonstrates very convincingly the lack of balance between the enhancing of security and the protection of individual privacy…He describes (the subject) fascinatingly in a well-researched and well-written thesis. 

Coles was one of only two Americans among the 28 students in the program, most of whom were from European countries. Interestingly, the other American was a University of Virginia graduate. "The first semester consisted of basic courses focusing on the EU’s core institutions and the history of European integration," Coles said. "In the second semester, there were more intensive seminar-style courses in specialized fields, many of them taught by such experts as former parliamentarians and government ministers."

Since graduating from Leiden, Coles has been working in Amsterdam as order account administrator for Expereo International, a wholesale Internet provider for businesses. He plans to stay in Amsterdam for at least another year. He would like to pursue a Ph.D., either in Europe or the U.S., and teach political science, or he might pursue a career in diplomacy.