On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (10/10-10/11) I visited Austin Community College (ACC) in Austin, TX to meet with students, educators, and community members on peacebuilding and careers. This was my third visit to ACC, and I have been honored over the years to work with the founder of the peace and conflict program there, Dr. Shirin Khosropour. We started working together in 2007 after she attended a community college program I was running at USIP. She is a visionary and an heartfelt educator who everyday strives to promote peace with her students and colleagues.
My focus on this visit was looking at career preparation. As you might know, I work extensively with community colleges, often seen as the primary vocational educator for Americans. My book, Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016), examines the myriad of ways in which one can launch a career working on conflict across many fields. Community colleges are ideal settings to share peace-related career ideas.
A major theme that emerged during my visit was preparation for careers. Often young college students are eager to get at the work of peace. But to best set themselves up for a profession, there is much they can do in college.
I used the example of my son Lorenzo who is in the Peace Corps serving in Namibia. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 2016, but as a junior took a semester to study in an university in Istanbul, Turkey. As a family, we always traveled. And his awareness of living overseas might have started when we lived in Estonia when he was 9 and I was teaching in the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program. Having confidence building experiences through study abroad (and extensive travel) and other overseas opportunities is an essential part of preparing for working in peace.
In Austin, on the first night there was a reception that Shirin organized with students and colleagues. I met a number of community college students studying Arabic. Some were older, but most were younger looking to eventually transfer to a 4-year institution (the University of Texas was a major preference), and study international relations, culture, political science, and global security. They saw studying Arabic at ACC as an essential part of that process.
In our sessions at ACC, we talk extensively about experiences in college to better expose a student to global issues and cultures. Besides study abroad, which tends to be short term in community colleges, students can engage in taking courses that have global themes (like peace and conflict resolution), participate in clubs and other activities, engage with the local diaspora community (which might include refugees), and develop an awareness and resiliency which will serve them in their future peacebuilding ambitions.