We can help tomorrow’s peacemakers today


Grinnell has a Peace and Conflict Studies concentration (PCS) – a set of courses that is reflected in the student’s transcript along with their designated major. Beginning last year, I have worked with faculty, staff and a small number of alumni to supplement the PCS curriculum with conflict management skills training, information about potential careers, and an initial effort to establish relevant internships. We have achieved all three goals this year.

Last Fall, Grinnell hosted Ohio State Professor Emeritus Josh Stulberg to spend a few weeks on campus to teach a short course in mediation skills, and they are working to have him return in 2023. Earlier this month, on February 7th, PCS hosted a career day talk for students interested in conflict resolution. I was joined on campus by fellow Grinnell alumni Jed Melnick, a mediator with JAMS, and Amy Gernon, who serves in a special settlement role for class action and multidistrict litigation matters. Northwestern University Law Professor Alyson Carrel joined via Zoom. Our joint message had two parts: conflict management is an important life skill in any context – work, family, or community. And students can engage with the principles of dispute resolution or conflict management from nearly any academic discipline or type of career. We mentioned academic studies that could involve conflict management ranging from the obvious – law, political science, sociology, psychology to the less obvious like religious studies, linguistics, anthropology, education, or neuropsychology. 

See Alyson Carrel’s “ADR as a First Career” Video Blog

Careers in Conflict Management

Over the lunch hour talk, Jed, Amy and Alyson provided a mix of personal stories on how they each arrived, circuitously, at a career in dispute resolution. I gave the example of my involvement with ADR Notable, which provides software for dispute resolution case and practice management, to show how someone interested in technology could become part of the conflict management field. They offered inspiring descriptions of the satisfaction that comes from working to help others resolve conflicts or, in Alyson’s case, from teaching others the skills needed for the profession.

Their messages clearly resonated with the 30 or so students, all of whom seemed reluctant to leave to make their next classes. They asked thoughtful questions like probing the role of conflict management in international venues and sought practical advice on  how to get involved. We spoke with students from a stunning range of backgrounds, both in terms of nationalities and academic interests ranging from biology to political science and studio arts.

Help from NAFCM and CPR

In addition to the career talk, on Monday evening Jed bought pizza in the nearby campus hangout for a group of eight students where we had a chance to talk informally. While on campus I was able to watch some of these students in PCS classes taught by Profs. Dobe and Peter Hanson. I met with PCS faculty Brigittine French, Tim Dobe and Ross Haenfler, and campus ombuds Chinyere Ukabiala. I learned from Mark Peltz, the Dean of the Center for Careers, Life and Service, that PCS has so far placed two student internships this summer, one with a community mediation association in Washington state with help from D.G. Mawn, the President of the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM), and another with the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR). At least one more student is in discussions with D.G.

It’s up to us…
2/7/2023:  Amy Gernon, Jed Melnick, Alyson Carrel, and Gary Doernhoefer at Grinnell College

The overall impact of these few days has lifted my spirits immeasurably. These students are bright, thoughtful and articulate. Those we met were a diverse group yet functioned at ease both with us “adults” and among themselves. They have the energy and earnestness befitting their age and they care – they are motivated to live in a society less polarized, with greater mutual cooperation and peace than we Baby Boomers are handing to them. These students are guided by faculty and staff with equal energy, talent, and motivation in their roles as mentors, coaches and sometimes guardrails to keep students progressing safely on a course largely of the students’ choice. If we want our society to productively address the rising levels of conflict and polarization, we must support this next generation of leaders. It is up to us to help them find the knowledge, skills, tools, and experience that will ensure their success.

We can all help. Maybe your college has a similar program. Or perhaps there are programs in high schools or for even younger students.  When they succeed in building these life skills, we can look forward to a little more peace and cooperation among the citizens of our communities. Not only does the profession benefit, but so will our children and ourselves in our own later years.

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