By David J. Smith, May 22, 2014

The 4th Annual Symposium on the State of Graduate Education in Peace and Conflict Resolution was held Monday, May 19 and Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at George Mason University in Arlington, VA and hosted by the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR).   The first day of the event brought together graduate program directors from around the U.S. to discuss issues relevant to their work.  The second day included a wider array of graduate academics  and students brought together to consider a range of issues impacting the field.

David Steele makes a point
David Steele makes a point

The second day of the event began with a welcoming by Kevin Avruch, Dean of S-CAR, and Ron Fisher from American University.  The first session was presented by Tatsushi Arai from American University who summarized the discussion points from the directors’ meeting the day before.   Among the questions raised were: Does the field have a center?  What are external and internal drivers for the field? How do we respond to challenges in the world day through our programs?   Arai mentioned the  fragmentization that exists in the field and the need to have more coherent and integrated knowledge as the basis of study.   Looking at the various issues, and considering the paradoxes presented by those issues was a major outcome from the previous day.  For instance, an issue was the “intersection between the conflict resolution and peacebuilding field and other fields” with the paradox of “defining core practices/knowledge yet keeping boundaries open and malleable.”

During the program a number of working sessions were held where attendees in smaller groups considered specific issues facing the field.

Mara Schoeny's presentation on compentencies
Mara Schoeny’s presentation on compentencies

The lunchtime keynote presenter was George Lopez, Vice President of the Academy for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).  USIP along with the Alliance for Peacebuilding, were co-sponsors with S-CAR of the event.   His talk was titled “Conflict Resolution at the Crossroads:Where Else to Be?”  Among the thoughts he raised were considering the field’s knowledge base and the ability for students to obtain marketable skills.  He urged a perspective that is “thinking and action” – thinking into forms of action, and acting in ways that allow for new thinking.  Regarding graduates, he noted that increasingly there will be 3 types of graduates: (1) the “professional peacebuilder;” (2) professionals who integrate the skills of peacebuilding into other fields, such as nursing, corrections, and education; and (3) those engaged in promoting  “peacebuilding enterprises,” often in post-conflict environments.

In the afternoon afternoon Craig Zelizer of Georgetown University talked about the role of conflict resolution education in the field.   He focused on  findings from a recent draft paper :”The Role of Conflict Resolution Graduate Education in Training the Next Generation of Practitioners and Scholars.” Mara Schoeny from George Mason University talk about competencies for the field and how we might take a more elicitive approach to developing them.

About 80 academics and students attended the symposium
About 80 academics and students attended the symposium

An afternoon panel was held that featured Sandra Melone from Search for Common Ground and Maria Stephan from USIP.  Facilitated by Craig Zelizer, they talked about launching a career and what is expected of graduate students.   Melone emphasized the need for young professionals to have their “heart in the right place.”  Stephan talked about the need for “soft skills” including the need to know “cultural languages.”  The day ended with closing remarks by Jeff Helsing from USIP who talked about some new initiatives at USIP including the Future Generations Program.

This event was part of the 2014 Alliance for Peacebuilding Annual Conference “Exploring New Frontiers in Peacebuilding” which continues on May 21 through May 23.