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Friday, April 26, 2019

From Student to Alumna to Employee: My Path Around the World and Back to the Kroc School

Written by Kroc School

Student to Alumna to Employee: My Path Around the World and Back to the Kroc School

Friday, April 26, 2019

begin quoteAs part of the MA in Peace and Justice program, I had several professors who presented me with new concepts, situations, and opportunities that expanded my understanding and approach to peacebuilding.

The following post was contributed by Marissa Newman ‘16 (MA), the Kroc School's Coordinator of Student Success and an alumna of the Kroc School's Master's in Peace and Justice program.

As someone born and raised in San Diego, USD had been on my radar for a while, but my path to get there wasn’t a straight line. After completing my BA in Philosophy at UC Santa Barbara in 2007, I posed an all-important question to myself: What do I want to do with my life? Interestingly, in answering that question for myself, I also developed a passion for helping others answer it for themselves as well.

After graduation from UCSB, I spent my 20s working for a nonprofit where I mentored undergraduate students and directed international internships where the students partnered with INGOs in megacity slums. My work took me primarily to Bosnia, Croatia, Mexico, Thailand, The Philippines, and India. In traveling to these places, I gained a new perspective on the hardships and challenges that many individuals face today, and in particular, I was able to see firsthand the impact of global corporations on people living in global poverty. It kindled in me an even stronger desire to be a force for good in the world.

Marissa Newman in Teotihuacan, Mexico City, in 2013.

As much as I enjoyed learning through experience and by walking, talking, eating, and sleeping in the realities that billions of people live in today, I eventually needed to make a vocational change. By the time I hit 30, I was ready to slow down my travel and go back to school to put theory to my practice. I longed to learn, think, engage, and wrestle with the big ideas that I had experienced around the world. I’d been thinking about questions like, Why do nearly 2 billion people live in extreme poverty today? What effect has globalization had on developing countries? Is it more helpful or harmful for me and my students to attempt to partner with these INGOs? Am I as powerless as I feel against the tide of injustice?

I was eager to interact with professors and peers from around the world, all with a diverse array of expertise in peacebuilding, who could help me seek answers to these questions. And I knew just the place to find them. I applied to the Kroc School’s Master’s in Peace and Justice program and started in Fall 2015.

My time at the Kroc School was incredibly full in the best way. As part of the MA in Peace and Justice program, I had several professors who presented me with new concepts, situations, and opportunities that expanded my understanding and approach to peacebuilding. Dr. Sharp’s human rights and advocacy classes challenged me in myriad ways, most notably as I learned about how difficult and complex it can be to get humans from different walks of life and with different beliefs to treat each other with basic dignity. I got to continue feeding my interest in learning about global justice by taking on projects on human rights in El Salvador and refugee human rights in Denmark. The course material was extremely engaging — I got so sad reading one of the required books, “King Leopold’s Ghost” by Adam Hochschild, that I had to read “Harry Potter” to compensate (it helped – I highly recommend it!).

Dr. Ami Carpenter’s international negotiations class taught me to be a more skillful communicator. I’ve used the negotiation skills I gained and refined during that semester in many scenarios since then, in both my personal and professional life (including salary negotiation several times!). One fascinating exercise from that class that stands out is a 3-hour simulation of Israel and Palestine negotiations, in which I played a member of Hamas. The simulation completely changed the way I viewed terrorists and exposed me to ideas and perspectives I otherwise wouldn’t have known or fully considered.

I also had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Ev Meade as I participated in human rights workshops in Mexicali, Mexico. Even as a local to this region, these workshops proved incredibly formative as I saw and learned a lot about an area that I thought I knew well — in reality, I’d only been looking at the area through the lens of my upbringing as a San Diegan, and not the lens of the peacebuilder.  

In short, it seemed like every class session, every discussion, every homework assignment, every event at the Kroc School was an incredibly rich opportunity for me to process and make progress in understanding the answers to my big questions about the world. In addition, the environment of USD taught me how to be a professional – how to engage in workshops and events with active peacebuilders, how to network and communicate effectively in formal business settings, how to present myself, and how to be diplomatic while engaging with many different types of people. I learned that it is possible to be committed to social justice and global development while also having a great job in San Diego.

Marissa Newman with other graduates from her Master's in Peace and Justice Cohort in 2016.

With my Master’s degree in hand, I advanced my career with the National Conflict Resolution Center as their Data and Evaluation Manager. My role entailed managing all data from their conflict resolution trainings, which encompassed a variety of audiences both domestically and internationally, including companies, refugees, nonprofit leaders, HR managers, and others.

My only “complaint” about my time at the Kroc School was that it did not last longer. Fortunately, since my graduation in 2016, I’ve been able to return regularly as an alumna, and also, as of March 2019, I’m now the Coordinator of Student Success. I help Kroc students with career development, internships, mentorship, and all other aspects that contribute to a successful experience in their master’s program. I am very excited to be in this role, as it combines my experience in student advising, international development, and making the transition from graduating to gainful employment. I love sharing my experiences with students and helping them figure out their next steps in a way that is strategic and beneficial for both the world and their own wellbeing.

Several pieces of my heart will always be scattered around the world, and that is why I do what I do: guide, coach, and advise Kroc students on how to go out into the world and leave it better than before.

At the Kroc School, we are educating for peace. Ready to join us? Learn more about the Kroc School and its graduate programs.


Justin Prugh
(619) 260-7573

Kroc School

About the Author

Kroc School

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies' mission is to equip and empower innovative changemakers to shape more peaceful and just societies.