By David J. Smith, October 17, 2016
Last week I had the opportunity to speak to students at New York University and Pace University about careers in peacebuilding. I welcome the chance to meet with students considering careers that promote peace and the resolution of conflict.
At Pace University, I met with students in the peace and justice studies program. Pace offers both a BA and minor in the field: the only institution in Manhattan to do so. An important advantage of Pace’s program is its proximity to the United Nations and agencies supporting international work. This gives Pace students an opportunity to learn from diplomats, policymakers, and NGO practitioners working in the field. The audience consisted of students in the program, including those in their senior year. In addition, staff from the career office were present. I appreciated their presence. Often career counselors have little awareness of peacebuilding opportunities. During my presentation, students had a chance to ask questions. A number were interested in how to gain experience working in the field as interns and volunteers. This is a critical concerns of students in that employers are often reluctant to hire a graduate if they have no experience. I reminded them that taking advantage of the range of opportunities in New York City was important, and that an employer would be less concerned about whether they got paid, and more about the experience they had. The program director, Emily Welty, PhD, has been using my book, Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace, in the senior capstone course.
At New York University, I was hosted by the liberal studies program and Joyce Apsel, PhD. Apsel’s work has focused on peace museums and she recently published Introducing Peace
Museums. The liberal studies program has various emphases including politics, rights, and development which examines issues of war and peace. I had a large audience of students from the program, including a number of international students. I appreciated their coming out on a Friday afternoon! Students’ questions were wide ranging and focused on the need for graduate school (I said “eventually” but not “immediately”), the benefits of study abroad and gap years, the intersection of “peacebuilding” fields, and the impact of coming “gig” economy. I shared with them that in the next 10-15 years, 40% of the work force will be in the gig economy and peacebuilding work would not be an exception. As such, recognizing that work might be intermittent and require flexibility was important.
My main message to both groups was this: You should not consider your passion and interests in peace in college has something that needs to be discarded once you graduate. Getting a “real” job can and should include working for peace. I reminded then of what Eleanor Roosevelt (my favorite New Yorker!) once said:
“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. Once must work at it.”
And by work, I would like to think she was meaning a peace job!