Michele Gregory oversees 500 cases as a Spanish-speaking Medicaid case worker. In UNC Greensboro’s online MA in Peace and Conflict Studies (PCS) program, she’s gaining not only knowledge that will help her on the job and beyond, but also an understanding of the families she serves.
The Peace and Conflict Studies program helps Gregory feel empowered during a time in her life when she’s not looking for a major career change. Though she loves her job, she’ll be eligible for retirement in six years. With this degree, she may consider a facilitator role or possibly pursue a volunteer position in mediation, something to expand her mind beyond the role she’s held for the past 14 years.
“I try to be an ally”
In the program, Gregory has learned mediation models and methods that help on the job and in her colloquium at her county’s mediation center. She has learned the importance of active listening and repeating back to her clients what they have said.
The program helps her distance herself and understand her role as a neutral third party, for example when a neighbor’s barking dog is affecting one’s mental health or when a child worries a parent won’t come home because of immigration enforcement.
“Peace and Conflict Studies has taught me that we’re not problem solvers as far as mediation and facilitation is concerned,” she says. “We’re not there to solve the problem. We’re there to move along to possible solutions, to encourage parties involved to work toward solutions.”
“This makes a lot more sense in my job”
Gregory says she has a deeper understanding of her clients because of the program. PCS 608 Topics in Peace and Conflict Studies, which is a course with rotating topics, focused on the Food-Energy-Water Nexus. She wasn’t sure how issues like NAFTA tied into Peace and Conflict Studies.
“What I thought were irrelevant topics turned out to be extremely fascinating,” she says. And they made a lot of sense to her work.
The passing of the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in 1994 affected Mexican farmers, who lost their farms as a result of competition with the U.S. agricultural industry, sending many to the United States looking for work.
“They’re migrating north to support their families,” she says. “That was a backstory that I’d never really thought about as I work with my clients.”
“I’ve never felt disconnected”
Gregory, who will graduate in May, says the online format of the PCS program has connected her to a diverse group of fellow students. That’s given her perspective as well. Living in Asheville, she feels like she has gotten to know them well through discussion groups and videos.
“We started off together and the majority of them are much younger than I am. But that’s been refreshing for me to interact with people in their 20s, to hear their perspectives on things,” she says. “I love the diversity of the program. It’s given me such a great new perspective of what their journeys have been.”
Want to Know More?
For details about the online MA in Peace and Conflict Studies, download a brochure.