A Note from Our Research Coordinator, Alessandra Radicati
Thanks for tuning in again to AC4
’s monthly newsletter. November is always a hectic month, but this year – between Hurricane Sandy hitting the East Coast and the US Presidential Election only a week later – it seems to me that November has already been exhausting and we’re only halfway through!
The events that have been on everyone’s mind the past few weeks have only emphasized the enduring importance of conflict resolution and the study of sustainable peace. As the late Geographer and Anthropologist Neil Smith noted in 2006 when discussing Hurricane Katrina, “there is no such thing as a natural disaster.”
What he meant by this was that even though we cannot control the occurrence of earthquakes, hurricanes, our response to such phenomena and the level to which different groups in society are affected, are always informed by pre-existing social hierarchies. Disasters do not simply flatten the landscape, they deepen already-entrenched divisions. Hurricane Sandy was no different. As I write, many low-income communities on Staten Island, the Rockaways, and elsewhere are still suffering without access to heat, electricity, and adequate food and shelter. It will be critical over the next few months for city and state officials to practice good conflict resolution skills and to be open to integrating the perspectives of these communities into future plans for managing crisis and disaster in the city.
Despite all the heartache and distress of the last few weeks, there are many signs that change is always possible, and there is a lot to be positive about. We at AC4
were delighted at the strong turnout for our November 7 event, Sustaining Peace: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
, which took place at Teachers College. In another example of New Yorkers’ resilience, students, faculty members, Columbia staff and members of the wider conflict resolution community joined us despite more inclement weather for an afternoon including an information share, workshops and keynote lecture delivered by Professor Peter T. Coleman, as well as a panel discussion in celebration of his newest book, The Psychological Components of Sustainable Peace
. The information share showcased tables from a variety of centers and institutes across Columbia, as well as giving our AC4
Fellows and sponsored projects the chance to shine by presenting their original research on issues ranging from interpersonal conflict resolution to terrorism to participatory action research. The workshops were another testament to the vibrant nature of the field of conflict resolution at Columbia; with topics including Dynamical Systems Theory, health and indigenous youth, natural resource management and communication strategies for sustainable peace, among others, the depth and breadth of Columbia’s expertise in the field was very much on display. We wish to thank all of you who attended and made the event a true success; without your enthusiasm and dedication, the day could not have been as rewarding and interesting as it was.
As we move into the holiday season in the coming weeks, our thoughts go out to everyone affected by the disaster that struck New York City and surrounding areas, and we hope that all of our readers, especially those who may have been impacted, will find the time for rest and reflection.
Interview with Nikolas Katsimpras, AC4 Dynamical Systems Theory Fellow
Can you tell us a bit about your background, and what got you interested in the field of conflict resolution?
I grew up in a military environment, where past conflicts were a significant part of the collective identity. Both as an adolescent and later as a young officer in the Greek Navy, I saw the toll that conflict takes on a society. Those early influences and experiences formulated my high sense of purpose. As a result, I found myself pursuing career paths that revolved around that elusive ultimate calling. However my perception shifted over time and my current meaning of “purpose” has a completely different shape, heavily influenced by the superordinate identity of humanity.
In 2004 I participated in the International Competition on Law of Armed Conflict for Military Academies, which was organized by the International Institute for Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy. I was awarded third place and the first seeds for my future career aspirations in the broader field of Conflict Resolution (CR) were planted. A few years later I realized the futile way conflicts were dealt with in my home country, and elsewhere, and at the same time with how conflict has been used as part of micro-political agenda instead of being a political priority. Public service, for me, now means something much greater and CR has a tremendous role in this.
What brought you specifically to New York and Columbia?
Since my wife is from New York, we decided to move back in 2010 and I started focusing on my career aspirations in public service and the broader humanitarian field. I wanted to invest in my self-improvement, knowledge and also in my individual skills and qualities. Columbia University was an obvious choice for me, due to the credibility and astuteness of the Institution itself. This is when I came across the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (NECR) program, which fit exactly what I was looking for.
What do you think of the conflict resolution community here at Columbia, and where would you like to see yourself next?
Studying CR in Columbia has been a remarkable experience. I cannot express how grateful I am for having studied under Peter Coleman and other brilliant scholars, while being part of such a diverse and bright cohort. Having access to these remarkable individuals and institutions such as AC4 and ICCCR has been truly a blessing, surpassing my greatest expectations. It is these experiences and resources that really helped me demystify a lot of my dreams. My current focus is to be able to translate all of these skills, knowledge and experience into a meaningful career in public service, may that be internationally or here in the US.
What advice do you have for students hoping to pursue a Master’s degree and develop a career in conflict resolution or related fields? What do you wish you had known when you began your current program?
A Master’s degree is an invaluable investment on your most valuable asset, yourself. However, the graduate program is what you make out of it. One can easily have a comet trajectory through the semesters but this way you are not taking full advantage of the most important asset of this university, its people. With the help of Peter Coleman and Beth Fisher Yoshida, I was able to reach beyond a traditional education setting and became a Fellow of AC4. With this, I pursued a dream of mine by traveling to Burma to research the mystifying challenges of one of the longest civil wars in modern history. With that said, I advise new students to seek for the opportunities CU gives you and be proactive, as this is what can make you gain the most out of the NECR program.
Each year, the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4
) funds as many as 11 Columbia University graduate students conducting interdisciplinary research in areas addressing conflict, violence, peace-building and sustainable development (such projects might include- but are not limited to- doctoral students’ dissertation research, master’s students’ thesis research, or capstone projects). This year we will fund 10 students for up to $3,000
and one team of students for up to $6,000
. Team applicants must present a truly interdisciplinary research proposal. Students may not apply to both. For application requirements and materials please check our website
The deadline for submissions is February 4th, 2013.
Fellows will be announced in March 2013.
Questions may be directed to Alessandra Radicati at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview with Michelle Jackson, former AC4 Fellow and Content Producer at Snap Indigo
What drew you to the field of conflict resolution?
I went to an information session that left me feeling that there was plenty of room for creative thought within in this relatively new, multi-discplinary field. In addition as a corporate advertising producer, I could see immediately how the field was applicable to my work and my life.
Were there any opportunities which you availed yourself of while you were a student that helped you find work related experiences post graduation?
Becoming an AC4 fellow had a huge impact on shaping what I am doing now. The fellowship money gave me a perfect opportunity to work on bridging my interests in urban development with design into an initiative that I call Seeds to Soil (SeedstoSoil.org). It also led me to more clearly define my business (www.SnapIndigo.com
) by teaching me to recognize my intent in working on creative collaborations, understanding. I’ve expanded my work outside of traditional advertising to include projects with a social mission; including work with the AC4, and Parsons PET Lab in conjunction with the UNISDR.
I understand you work in the industry of design, advertising and communications. How does this relate to conflict resolution? What advice can you offer to people interested in this industry?
Design, advertising, and communication provide innovative and interesting ways to understand highly complex issues through the use of experiential and visual design. If you are interested in these industries, consider your strengths. Try to figure out how you fit into the structure of the industry. Are you interested in strategy, research, facilitation, or negotiation? Why not look into becoming a social media strategist, a design researcher, an on-line community manager, or an advertising salesperson? Do not discard your interests and skills. Recognize that conflict resolution opportunities exist in every industry. It’s just a matter of communicating your skill set to that industry in a way that they will understand its value.