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Joan Kathol MS '07

A little over a year ago, I ventured to Boulder, Colorado after earning my Masters from the Werner Institute. Shortly after arriving in Colorado, I began working with a small organizational development firm that strives to connect peers so that they can learn and benefit from each others? experiences. My work was dedicated to facilitating peer dialogues within the community healthcare system and improving communication within a group that manages logistics for Arctic science projects. I thoroughly enjoyed the clients, particularly when they learned a new way to make their work more efficient, effective, and meaningful. During my stint there, the strongest impact that I had was the direct result of Werner philosophy. That is, one of the most important services we as intermediaries can provide is to connect people and their stories. Ultimately, these busy and under-compensated individuals wanted to share their experiences with others and learn ways to improve their work. Unfortunately (for me and my professional desires), there were no disputes that needed resolving during these conference calls and meetings.

After nine months in that position, the call (that I not-so-patiently waited for) finally came. CDR Associates, a world-recognized leader in conflict management, resolution, and training, asked me to join their team. Dr. Bernie Mayer, a founding partner with CDR Associates, opened the door and the Werner Institute enabled me to have the confidence and skills-set to walk through that door. CDR is affording me great opportunities in the field. Our work in conflict management is focused in the practice areas of water, transportation, peace building, and sustainable development. They also reinstituted their training program, the very one that has influenced so many aspects of the Werner program. The learning curve at CDR is steep, but I am climbing as fiercely as I can. Note taking, logistics coordination, facilitation, and traveling take up most of my days.

A great fiancÚ and my consistent thinking that ?there has got to be a better way? brought me to the Werner Institute. Prior to moving to Boulder, I taught at an all-girls parochial school. There, I recognized three important things about myself and school systems: 1) to be a teacher and eat, I needed my masters?, 2) I had zero interest in pursuing a masters? that would put me into an administrative role in the school or assume the role of textbook author, and 3) problems within school systems often are handled in a way that does not promote positive citizenship or valuable learning to occur. My long-time search for a program ended when I came upon Werner. After viewing the course descriptions online, it was clear that I was at the crossroads of my interests, talents, and a masters? degree.

Soon after, I met the professors who not only served as outstanding tour guides into the world of conflict resolution, but would became mentors and even friends. The old adage, ?you get what you give? rings true when it comes to the curriculum and experience at Werner. Each class, I was prepared. During discussions, I was engaged and excited. After class, I visited with teachers and fellow students, did research, and contacted experienced professionals in the field. It was consuming in such a wonderful way. Without persistence and a fierce work ethic, you may trudge through the program. With these qualities, you might find yourself excited about topics that you never thought would have you reading past midnight. Also, you will become aware of just how supportive the professors and your fellow classmates can be as you maneuver your way through this fascinating field.

I also learned the power of asking, not waiting, for experience and mentoring. Each professor, if you make an effort, will spend time talking and developing your skills. Additionally, they are open to learning from the students. Never before had I experienced quite that level of concern and care as a student. A light bulb went off for me when I joined Werner? something I had never known academically before then. I loved and love learning.

What has developing relationships and asking for work gotten me? Amazing experiences. While at Werner, Dr. Mayer responded to my many requests for practical experience by allowing me to be his research assistant for a Child Protection Conflict Resolution Think Tank. He, by many standards considered the ?father of child protection conflict resolution?, facilitated a Think Tank to assess the current state of the field and articulate ways program administrators can improve their work on a national, possibly international, level. Not only did I get to interview and work with child protection professionals from all over the U.S. and Canada, I authored my first published article in the Family Court Review ? the Association of Family and Conciliation Court?s journal. In May 2009, I will serve as facilitator for the third Think Tank meeting. While many times a new mediator or facilitator is relegated to the role of observer or note-taker, the opportunities to facilitate are starting to come my way.

When working at a firm as established at CDR Associates, the desire to learn and the willingness to ask for opportunities is essential to success. Each day, I find myself requesting information that will help me understand our clients better and signing up for projects that take me into meetings I never imagined. With each new experience, I find that Werner taught me (and my peers) well. The work of intermediaries is important and necessary. Our work helps people find commonalities and enables critical actions to occur. Ultimately, Werner provides opportunities for its graduates to make real the principles of St. Ignatius. We do have the obligation and the privilege to create a better world.

As transparently amorous as I have already been with Werner in this article, I could go on for pages. If you want to talk more about Werner, CDR Associates, the weather in Boulder, or my new dog Blue, feel free to follow-up at jkathol@mediate.org