At career intensive seminar, S-CAR alumni help grad students prepare for careers in peace and conflict studies

By David J. Smith (Adjunct Faculty, MS ‘09)

Earning a graduate degree in a field doesn’t necessarily mean professional opportunities will immediately follow. Looking for work requires thoughtful preparation, honed networking skills, and a good sense of what the market looks like. This is especially true for graduates of conflict analysis and resolution, a whole-of-society, multidisciplinary field that offers a dizzying array of possible career paths.

For students at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University, navigating these possibilities is made easier by learning from the experiences of the many S-CAR alumni working in a range of conflict-related settings in the Washington, D.C.-area and beyond.

This past fall, with alumni support, S-CAR offered a Career Intensive Seminar for master’s, certificate, and PhD students to guide them as they envision their post-S-CAR careers. 

The seminar consisted of six sessions at S-CAR’s office in Arlington, Virginia, as well as four site visits to organizations and agencies in the Washington, D.C.-area. A total of 12 students participated in the free seminar. Students who successfully completed the seminar were awarded a stipend to support participation in conferences or professional development.

As the oldest graduate program in conflict analysis and resolution in the world, S-CAR offers a formidable network from which new graduates can seek mentors and have doors opened to career opportunities.

As such, an important goal of the seminar was to provide the opportunity for alumni to talk with students about their work and discuss strategies for getting their first job following graduation.

During the sessions, students were introduced to strategies for networking, techniques for drafting a competitive resume that reflected their S-CAR experiences, and approaches to using social media, such as LinkedIn, for career-building purposes. 

Students were also coached in interviewing skills and salary negotiations. Jane Walker, director of undergraduate student services at S-CAR, provided a session on what to expect in an interview. Students were then able to participate in interview simulations with the guidance of S-CAR alumni Colette Carmouche (MS ‘17), who is a conflict management specialist at the U.S. Department of Interior, and Justin Fogata (MS ‘19), who is the volunteer recruitment and training coordinator at CASA for Children of DC.

In addition to equipping students with job-searching skills and strategies, the seminar sought to provide students with the opportunity to envision the various forms that a career in conflict analysis and resolution can take. Hearing directly from S-CAR alumni was critical toward this end.

During seminar sessions at S-CAR, students had the chance to hear from Kathryn Koziol (MS ‘19) and Aaron Ziglar (MS ‘04), who work in the Consumer Protection Section in the Dispute Resolution Unit of the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, as well as Rachel Barbour (MS ‘95), who works as a political consultant.

In addition, students participated in site visits to the workplaces of various S-CAR alumni in the D.C. area, which were among the most informative and beneficial aspects of the seminar. 

During these visits, S-CAR alumni were eager to speak to students and share about their work. The students were hosted by Kristen Woodward (MS ‘09) and Chris Eichmann (MS ‘15) at the Fairfax County Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) office, as well as by Gina Cerasani (PhD ‘15), Acting Director of the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Students also visited the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) at the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and FEMA’s ADR office. At these offices, S-CAR alumni shared about their work.  

Seminar students found the experience valuable for understanding the vast opportunities in the field.

“I learnt that S-CAR alumni and current students can use their training in various professions in the corporate, government, and nonprofit sectors,” commented PhD student Mathieu Bere. “This seminar was a great opportunity for students to connect with the professional world that needs or employs their skills in the DMV area.”  

The sessions on job-seeking techniques and best practices were especially useful for the students.

"The seminar gave me insights about the crucial role of effective networking in the job search process,” said master’s student Anjali Mishra. “Good networking pursuits make you more visible and can give a future employer a quick glimpse into your ambitions, working style, and human qualities." 

Alumni appreciated being able to support current S-CAR students as they prepare for their post-S-CAR careers.

"I enjoy[ed] meeting with students and helping them the way alumni helped me when I was starting out," said Barbour.

Beyond passing along insights, some alumni also hoped to be able to connect directly with S-CAR students about opportunities in the field.

 “We had hoped the visit would provide an opportunity for us to recruit an S-CAR student interested in environmental conflict resolution to intern in our office,” said Cerasani.

The next career intensive seminar will be offered in the spring of 2020, with sessions set to start at the end of February and run through the first week of April.

Applications for the Spring Career Intensive Seminar are now open, and students are encouraged to apply by February 17, 2020. To apply, please email S-CAR Advising at