Conflict Resolution Career Panel & Mixer
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: Alon Hillel-Tuch (NECR '11); "Rae" Yunzi Tan (TC '13); Enid Portuguez (NECR '12); Michelle Jackson (NECR '11); Francesco Mancini (SIPA '03); and Krister Lowe (TC '14)
Panel will be moderated by Jenny Besch (TC '98)
What life experiences or motivations led you to choose conflict resolution as a career path?
: The field of conflict resolution really became tangible to me out of a want to expand the tool-kit I have at my disposal. Unlike the traditional academic path, I worked in finance prior to attending graduate school at Columbia. I made the decision to return to school after realizing that most situations, not just within my professional field, but also my personal life, often originate or are built on some foundation of conflict. The understanding that conflict is not inherently a negative informs this. After pursuing studies in conflict resolution, I decided to become a co-founder alongside a fellow colleague from Columbia. Within RocketHub, I leverage the theories learned in tumultuous environments that are often fast-paced and involving huge groups of individuals with highly polarized views.
: My interest in the areas of conflict and its resolution or management could be traced back to my undergraduate experiences as a psychology major at the University of Southern California (USC). In my junior and senior years, I had to work on an independent research project that was required in my honors program. Because I had taken a previous course on social psychology and greatly enjoyed it, I asked to work with one of the social psychology professors in the USC psychology department. The professor whom I worked with, Dr. Norman Miller, was a prominent scholar in intergroup relations, and under his supervision, I completed an independent research study that investigated the effects of personalization on triggered displaced aggression. This study was eventually published in a prestigious academic journal.
After graduating from USC, I worked in a professional services organization for a couple of years. Working in a complex matrix organization often meant dealing with and observing conflict around me. It also quickly became apparent to me how complex, dynamic and multifaceted organizational conflict could be. With my early success in academic research and my subsequent experiences with organizational conflict, I was eventually compelled to pursue a doctoral degree in social-organizational psychology, with a research focus on organizational conflict, at Teachers College, Columbia University.
As a doctoral student, I began conducting research on organizational conflict, particularly on conflict and its productive management within organizational teams. Shortly after defending my doctoral dissertation, I was offered a full-time tenure-track position as assistant professor of Negotiation and Conflict Management in the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Needless to say, I could not have been more thrilled with this offer, given the timing of my Ph.D. defense, the ever-shrinking academic job market, and the opportunity to continue pursuing a research program on organizational conflict, a topic that remains as fascinating and intriguing to me as before.
: Professionally, I wanted to move into a career where I would be less of an observer and more of an active participant in addressing global issues. But before I was to take on that type of role for an organization or a movement, I felt I needed to understand the root of these pervasive issues, which inevitably evolve from some sort of conflict. I also found it to be a field that fosters extremely practical skills—conflict is found in every level of human interaction. I felt understanding how conflict develops, as well adopting skills to peacefully resolve it, would help me succeed in any personal or professional relationship I'd pursue.
: I wanted to learn how to be extremely adaptable across sectors and how to make a social impact.
: I entered the field of conflict resolution from an analytical angle. I was always interested to understand why violence is a choice to achieve a political goal in many societies. So, conflict analysis has been my motivation, with no presumption I could solve conflict since armed conflicts are generally solved by leaders of the communities/parties/states involved, and sometimes with the help of an intermediary (a mediator) who is also generally a high-rank leader of another country or of a significant power broker (UN, regional organizations, NGOs). But understanding conflict and its dynamics is the first step toward a successful resolution. Analysis leads to recommendations and, therefore, conflict analysis plays an important role in the resolution of conflicts.
: I actually stumbled into the field. I couldn't get into a course I wanted as a first year Master's student at Teachers College so I took the Basic Practicum in Conflict Resolution. The experiential and transformative training pedagogy really appealed to me and I felt equipped with a new set of powerful communication tools that I never had been exposed to before. I was hooked after that and did the full certification in the ICCCR as well as the Mediation certificate. I then worked through a mediation center in Washington Heights in New York City doing conflict resolution and peace building workshops in middle schools and that launched my career. So in short, the field somehow found me. Pretty much a Forest Gump type situation.
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Interview conducted by AC4 Research Coordinator, Nathanael Andreini