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Thanks to practicum, graduate wages peace through police reform project in Guatemala

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Kelly Mitchell, SIS/MA '15

The Practica Program at the School of International Service is designed to give second-year master’s students real-world experience in project management and consulting while preparing them for post-graduate service. Kelly Mitchell, SIS/MA ’15, participated in the Conflict Transformations, Peacebuilding, and Human Security practicum in Fall 2015. Led by Professor Hrach Gregorian, the program allowed students the opportunity to consult for Partners Global on multi-stakeholder dialogue approaches to security sector reform. Mitchell told us more about her experience and how it led to a career opportunity in Guatemala after graduation. Through her work, she has carried on SIS’s vision that service isn’t a moment—it’s a mindset.

First, why did you decide to attend the School of International Service?

I was attracted to SIS for its International Peace and Conflict Resolution master’s program. SIS caught my attention for its stellar professors, welcoming and liberal environment, network, and flexibility—I was commuting from Frederick, Maryland. I should also mention that I had my eye on AU for years: my father received his master’s degree at SIS in 1982 and my mother received her bachelor’s degree in political sociology in 1984. Finally, I really admired the program’s philosophy of balancing practice and theory.

What motivated you to join the SIS Practicum Team on Conflict Transformations, Peacebuilding, and Human Security?

It was a tough decision between the practicum and the significant research paper (SRP). On one hand, the SRP would have been an opportunity to move forward with individual research that I hadn’t previously had the opportunity to pursue. But on the other hand, the practicum was a once in a lifetime opportunity to put skills to practice and to work alongside a stellar team.

I participated in Gregorian's Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding practicum in Fall 2015. For me, this was an opportunity to do research and apply it. This wasn't just research and a class presentation—the research could potentially impact the programs and projects of our host organization's work.

Can you tell us more about the research, fieldwork, and clients involved?

Our team consulted for Partners Global, previously known as Partners for Democratic Change, in Washington, D.C. Overall, our research was based on multi-stakeholder dialogue approaches to security sector reform. We essentially delivered our research in four components:

1. We analyzed the existing multi-stakeholder dialogue approaches in the field and found where Partners Global's approach fit into the spectrum with its strengths and weaknesses;
2. We did an evaluation of the organization's pilot program in Nigeria and Sierra Leone through qualitative interviews and literary analysis;
3. We performed a stakeholder analysis and made recommendations for the client to implement the pilot program in Honduras and;
4. We created a marketing tool for the client to use with new potential partners.

How would you describe your practicum experience?

I had a very positive experience with an incredible team. We had a really healthy work dynamic and everyone had something valuable to add to the team. I loved that each team member could focus on an element of a deliverable, yet everyone was aware and informed of the project as a whole. Additionally, our client communicated very well with us and was very clear about our goals, which fostered a great relationship. I enjoyed being able to work directly with the client, produce raw and usable content, and develop professional skills.

Tell us more about how this experience led to additional opportunities.

After graduation, I was hired for a contract that had very similar themes as my AU practicum. I participated in the preparation, implementation, and reporting of a police reform workshop in Guatemala City, Guatemala, which brought together police officers from the Northern Triangle that had implemented community policing approaches in their precincts. The purpose of the project was to foster a dialogue from officers on the ground in order to evaluate this new community policing philosophy. I prepared Spanish translations of workshop materials, acted as rapporteur, assisted with dialogue facilitation, and ran logistics.

How do you feel your practicum prepared you for this service endeavor?

The practicum gave me an opportunity to unite research and practice. In the practicum, I was able to research and create academic content. However, I could also make the content practical for an organization active in the field. To be more specific, my practicum allowed me the opportunity to deeply research the conflict and issues in Central America, to practice making an evaluation based off of qualitative material, and to implement principles of dialogue as a practice.

What advice do you have for other students who might want to join a practicum?

Do it! It is truly a valuable experience and you will learn a lot. You may not learn what you expect, but you will learn more than you imagined you could. The fact that I became a specialist on security issues in Central America, which I had not planned on in my graduate career, gave me what I needed to receive a great contract and a new network of contacts.

Interested in pursuing a graduate practicum? Learn more.

Read Kelly Mitchell's blog here.