New concentrations will keep S-CAR master’s students on the cutting edge

Photo of student and mentor.

Justin Slick (left), a member of S-CAR’s incoming Fall 2018 master’s program cohort, chats with his faculty mentor, Daniel Agbiboa (right), an assistant professor at S-CAR, during S-CAR’s graduate student orientation on August 23, 2018.

When Justin Slick sat down in February 2018 for his first meeting with Charisse Cardenas, the Graduate Academic Advisor for the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, he was already “fairly set” on applying to the school’s Master of Science program.

Then he heard that S-CAR was planning to introduce concentrations for its master’s students.

“It definitely made me more excited about applying and made me want to get in that much more,” said Slick, who is now in his first semester as an MS student.

Starting in the Fall 2018 semester, S-CAR master’s students have the option to specialize in one of five areas of focus: 1) Social Justice Advocacy and Activism; 2) Dynamics of Violence; 3) Inclusive Conflict Engagement; 4) Conflict-Sensitive Development and Resilience; and 5) Media, Narrative, and Public Discourse.

MS students also have the option to create an individualized concentration to gain subject-matter expertise that does not neatly fit into one of the pre-designed concentrations.

The introduction of the concentrations is part of a multi-year effort to evaluate S-CAR’s master’s program and develop opportunities to equip students with the theoretical tools and practical training needed to help them push the field of conflict analysis and resolution forward.

This effort began with an updated curriculum that reduced the number of credits that students must take from 42 to 33. Agnieszka Paczynska, director of the master’s program, said that the reduction was meant in part to make the program more affordable in a time of rising student debt and wage stagnation, while still maintaining the program’s rigor.

Within this new curriculum, students take 15 credit hours of required courses, 9 credit hours of a concentration, and 9 credit hours of electives.

Students who wish to do so may theoretically use their final nine elective credits to declare a second concentration; S-CAR is currently working with the Registrar’s Office to confirm whether formal recognition of more than one concentration on students’ degrees is possible.

According to Paczynska, the concentrations will give students the chance to chart “pathways through the program that make the most sense to them.”

These formal concentrations also reflect a broader shift in the field of conflict analysis and resolution from generalization toward specialization.

“Although conflict resolution is more established now than it was previously, it’s still an emerging field,” said Cardenas, who is also an MS alumna. “Part of our responsibility as being the institution [that has] essentially developed the field of conflict resolution and analysis is…to understand where the field is going.”

The specializations offered by S-CAR were developed from a “juncture of the expertise that’s here and what we saw as student interest, based on conversations with alumni and students, as well as what we saw as really exciting developments out in the world,” said Paczynska.

One of these exiting developments is reflected in the Conflict-Sensitive Development and Resilience (CSDR) concentration, which arose in part from “the recognition that this is something that has become incredibly important across various donor agencies [and] nongovernmental organizations working on issues of peacebuilding and development,” according to Paczynska.

She said that the concentration will help students to engage with questions like what it means to do conflict-sensitive programming and how to translate knowledge from fields like peacebuilding and development to individuals outside of these fields, such as those working on anti-malaria campaigns or developing power grids.