Although many Masters Programs in Conflict Resolution offer top notch academic training, few if any emphasize the importance of practical experience. Program designers at the Conflict Resolution Institute at the University of Denver recognized the need to integrate theory with practice as well as the importance of creating opportunities that could be opened up to students through working with practitioners active in the field. It was for these reasons that the Conflict Resolution Institute implemented its first practicum module for students in the Conflict Resolution Master's program in the spring of 2010. Reasons to create the Practicum included developing opportunities to experience and engage in the integration of theory and practice, and providing students with apprenticing that goes beyond what is possible in the internships. As CRI Co-Director Dr. Tamra Pearson d'Estrée explains, "While internships expose students to actual practice settings, they are often more like observers, and the type of experience they obtain from these settings varies widely. In order to provide the experience students need to be employable when they graduate, CRI offers the practicum as an intensive supervised apprenticeship". The addition of the Practicum distinguishes the DU Conflict Resolution program from many others around the country and worldwide.
In addition to increasing the level of practical experience that the DU students will receive, the practicum experience is intended to improve the employability of the Master's candidates so they can make the transition from student to practitioner in the increasingly competitive field of Dispute Resolution. These goals are accomplished in two ways, first, by creating the necessary conditions for the students to further develop their dispute resolution skills, and second by connecting students to the larger professional community. In this way, the Practicum not only provides a unique and rich environment for participants to further develop practical skills but also ensures exposure to working professionals and programs so that the future practitioners will be better equipped with the skills, experience and connections that they will need to enter directly into the field of Dispute Resolution upon graduation from the Master's program. As d'Estrée explains, "the program provides practical experience, which improves the ability of students to apply theory and skills to real-time experiences."
The practicum program is broken basic and advanced phases. During the basic phase, all of the students participate in an intensive regimen of mediation practice as co-mediators. This phase integrates theoretical skills from course work with mediation training to both continue building a foundation in interpersonal skills and to gain experience operating in the conflict environment. The advanced phase of the practicum is intended to allow students to tailor their particular experience to best suit their future careers. It allows them to choose a specific area of focus, or "track" to follow through the duration of the practicum experience. Students choose a specialized track in either interpersonal, environmental and public policy, or International Conflict Resolution.
Students pursuing the interpersonal track continue to hone their skills in mediation and interpersonal communication. More importantly, this track allows them to connect with practicing professionals with advanced experience in specific areas in a mentoring relationship to more comprehensively synthesize theory and practice. For example, students have chosen to specialize in organizational, domestic and family mediation, organizational ombudsmanship and restorative justice. This approach provides participants with the opportunity to both meet and work with practicing professionals and experience the "real world" of interpersonal conflict resolution. Students in this track further develop and solidify skills that they will use when dealing one-on-one, or in small groups with their clients to manage and resolve personal conflicts.
Students pursuing the environmental and public policy track work with professionals who actively develop public policy or who intervene to help resolve contentious policy or environmental issues. Students pursuing this track gain hands-on experience working on the different stages of such projects including research, planning, execution and review of the project. This track provides the student with first-hand experience that will help them understand and address the many parameters that they will have to manage when working on contentious public issues.
Finally, students who want to work on international or intercommunal conflicts undergo intensive training with their peers from around the United States and the world. This practicum track has participants working with other students and practitioners to engage in international problem solving workshop training in Washington D.C. where they both receive hands on experience working at the international level, and network with colleagues working around the world in peace and conflict studies. These students also gain hands-on experience during all phases of planning, executing and evaluating an intergroup intervention.
Program Development and Evolution
Now in its fourth year, the practicum has proven to be a very educational and productive path for the Conflict Resolution Institute. The Practicum was implemented first raise the bar on the field education provided by the Conflict Resolution program at the University of Denver and second to give students a distinct advantage in creating a viable career in the increasingly competitive field of dispute resolution. From the beginning, the program designers have made every effort to ensure that their practicum experience is second to none. Former International Practicum participant Suzy Compton had this to say, "The practicum was the most educational experience in the program for me. Although I obviously wouldn't have been able to do it without all the other classes and experiences, it was the best chance to put everything I had learned into practice. For the first time, I was no longer a student learning theory; instead, I was treated as an equal, a colleague who helped plan and make important decisions."
Of course, developing a top notch practicum experience for students has been a challenging and evolutionary process. To ensure the highest quality, program designers receive feedback from faculty and participants before, during and after the practicum in order to make value added adjustments to the program. This continuous monitoring has resulted in numerous "tweaks" to various aspects of the program which have had various short and long term as well as indirect and direct impact on the experience of the participants.
This unique design approach, emphasizing feedback and reflection, has resulted in a "learning" program that can change and adapt with each cycle to improve the experience of the participants. This ensures that the practicum experience is always evolving and utilizing the best possible resources to adapt to an ever-changing field of practice, and also results in a program that can be more easily and effectively tailored to each student and unique group of participants.
For more information about CRI's Practicum, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.