As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently running a class at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University for graduate students exploring careers. A few weeks ago we visited the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Yesterday, 4/10/19, we visited FEMA headquarters and were hosted by Cindy Mazur, a S-CAR graduate, and director of the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) unit (part of the Office of Chief Counsel) at FEMA. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Cindy as a colleague and friend, particularly through my work at the Forage Center.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the federal agency that since 1979 has “supported survivors and communities through more than 3,000 emergencies and disasters.” With headquarters in Washington, DC, it has 10 regional offices throughout the U.S. staffed by nearly 10,000 employees.
The ADR office at FEMA was started by Cindy in the 1990s with 2 employees. Today there are 70 employees working to reduce conflict, improve communication, and advance conflict resolution with FEMA staff. The ADR office does not work directly with survivors of disasters.
A number of ADR office staff members shared about their work experiences and how they arrived at FEMA. For students aspiring to careers in conflict fields, learning first hand about the journeys of professionals is an important way to develop ones own strategy.
Patrick Chapman shared his work at FEMA and focuses on coaching. He has obtained executive leadership coach training. He started his career pursuing law, but soon realized that wasn’t the best fit for him. He has received certification from Coach Training Alliance. He loves to see people grow and develop their potential.
Rea Wynder is a graduate of George Mason University. She first got involved with ADR work while working with the Northern Virginia Mediation Service (NVMS). She has worked in private practice. She is currently an ombuds, working with Vik Kapoor (who met us when we arrived).
Linda Baron has a long career in the ADR and conflict field. She has served as executive director of NAFCM (National Association for Community Mediation) and ACR (Association for Conflict Resolution). She was also the director of NCPCR, the National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution (which no longer exists). She felt that there was no direct path to a career, and viewed a career journey as moving through a “jungle gym.” She has worked in a range of fields including urban planning and with special interest groups. For her, it’s been “an interesting ride.”
Susan Bartlett is a Towson University graduate and a certified Virginia mediator. She has worked in private practice and worked in restorative justice. She believes that mediation is a better way to deal with differences. She is getting ready for deployment to Iowa (as a result of the flooding crisis).
Loretta Vardy has a law degree and PhD. She also received training from NVMS. After her NVMS training, she developed a private practice and focused on family law issues (as an attorney). As a FEMA worker, her first deployment was after Katrina.
There are several approaches to working for FEMA. Cindy Mazur provided us with a FEMA ADR Advisors packet, which is attached below. This provides the best information on working in FEMA’s ADR office. There are positions, generally referred to as “advisors,” that work in the DC office full-time. The ADR office also has employees working out of Winchester, VA and Hyattsville, MD. There are also full-time jobs in the field, where workers are deployed for several weeks or months. Finally, there are intermittent employees called “reservists” who are called upon to work when needed. Right now there are about 40 reservists used by the ADR office.
The ADR office has worked to expand its offerings and conflict resolution strategies to include conflict coaching, facilitation, and advising in other conflict-related capacities. The ADR office focuses much on training its own staff and has been looking at issues such as anti-harassment and unconscious bias training.
Cindy mentioned that other agencies including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and Department of Defense have in-house robust conflict resolution efforts.
The best way of getting a job at FEMA (and the ADR office) is through USAjobs. Taking a detailed approach is important in the application process. Make sure you use the “buzz” words in your application that appear in the job notice. And it always helps to know someone in the agency you are applying for before you apply.
If you are following my other “Event Reports” go here. Recently I have visited the International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education, the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute, CSIS, World Bank, Johns Hopkins University/SAIS and the SIDW career fair at George Washington University.
David J. Smith is a career coach, speaker and consultant based in Rockville, Maryland, USA. He is the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace(IAP 2016). He is an official member of Forbes Coaches Council and member of the PCDN Career Advisory Board. David is also the president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, Inc. and teaches at School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and the School of Education at Drexel University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.