"Students in the Master of Arts in Peacebuilding and Collaborative Development (MA-PCD) program are a diverse group. They come from around the world, and they bring a wide variety of educational, vocational, and life experiences," says Associate Registrar for Graduate Studies, Valerie Smith.
Smith has firsthand experience working with nearly everyone who enters the graduate programs at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) and says, "this diversity creates a rich learning environment as students learn from the experiences and questions of other students."
The MA-PCD program bridges peacebuilding and conflict resolution with international development studies to promote multiple levels of competencies for professionals and those feeling called to respond to the needs of world injustices. The program's theological components reflect the variety of students' interfaith experiences.
MA-PCD Program Coordinator Jobb Arnold says CMU's commitment to being an innovative Christian university allows for deeper, more holistic conversations about growth. "Students engage with faculty on a wide range of topics, having diverse forms of radical dialogue, while thinking critically about the very complex and emotionally intense realities of the world today," says Arnold.
The interdisciplinary focus "gives students the opportunity to engage pressing practical questions such as war, climate change, and forced migration, while simultaneously deepening and pursuing their own faith," says Arnold.
First-year MA-PCD student Valeen Williams-Walters says the multifaceted direction of the program inspires her studies. Williams-Walters has a particular affinity for the conflict resolution courses, saying, "it opened my eyes to many issues worldwide."
Having been a teacher in Jamaica for 12 years before entering the MA-PCD program, Williams-Walters contextualizes what she learns from the courses to her work with youth.
"Back in my country, we have a high rate of violence, and [I would like] to be a part of a program that can curb that," says the mother of three. "I want to change the direction of certain lifestyles for young people."
Aside from her studies, Williams-Walters currently works as a support worker with youth, where she says she practically exercises what she has been learning in classes. She tries to help the youth nullify their issues and create space for meaningful dialogue.
Williams-Walters says that even though she has only been a part of MA-PCD program for a couple of months, the experience has been "life-changing."
The coursework and practicality has not only motivated Williams-Walters but has also affected fellow student Tara Sheshangosht.
Sheshangosht has a background working with international organizations, such as United Nations (UN,) and says the diversity of courses offered by the MA-PCD initially attracted her to CMU.
Sheshangosht says the program's design allows her to draw from experiences at the UN, making it easier to complete projects and assignments. She brings particular attention to classes focused on program planning and conflict resolution in the workplace.
"You can really link the theory you have learned to practice," says Sheshangosht.
Sheshangosht's thesis, which explores the theological and practical contributions migrant and refugee women have made to peacemaking, has given her time to study social injustices and think about how to transfer that knowledge to work environments.
Sheshangosht says CMU's methodology and course structure is nothing like what she has experienced before. As an international student who already holds a master's degree in human law, the Iranian student says the MA-PCD program helps students succeed. "In my country, [the courses] are just final exams and final papers, but at CMU, you receive a lot of feedback from professors... They are in touch with you, and It is nice to not have a huge burden at the end [of the semester]."
Smith reflects a similar sentiment. She says, "The MA-PCD program is flexible, designed with practitioners in mind."
Smith says that flexibility gives students the freedom to shape their learning to achieve their goals. "Whether that means returning with new skills to work they had been doing previously, or it means pursuing a new vocational direction," says Smith.
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