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K-State Today

April 18, 2014

Conflict analysis and trauma studies minor grows in popularity

Submitted by Briana Goff

The conflict analysis and trauma studies, or CATS, academic undergraduate minor recently reached 100 students currently enrolled in the program after only a brief existence.

The minor opened for enrollment in 2010 and quickly grew as an interdisciplinary minor connected with the conflict resolution certificate programs in the College of Human Ecology's School of Family Studies and Human Services. This minor provides the only academic program in the nation that combines the two complementary areas of conflict resolution and trauma studies.

Conflict resolution programs primarily are combined with peace and conflict studies, while the trauma studies programs are often in clinical mental health and human service programs.

"In December 2013, 57 students have completed the CATS minor since 2010," said Briana Nelson Goff, professor of family studies and human services. Goff and Terrie McCants, instructor, are co-coordinators for the minor and are both faculty in the School of Family Studies and Human Services.

Devon Perkins, a senior in family studies, said she chose the minor because "it sounded like a great way to add an area of specialty to my education and a friend in the program told me the classes were some of her favorite at K-State."

Similarly, Brett Mallon, graduate student in political science and international relations said, "I was unsure what direction I wanted to take the remainder of my academic career. I still had a deep desire to make a difference in people's lives, but I was feeling lost in my pursuit of this goal. I decided to try out the program and fell in love with it immediately."

Though there is often a lecture format, the 18 credit hour minor takes students beyond expecting them to just absorb knowledge passively. Many of the core and elective courses also provide students the opportunity to actually practice the conflict resolution and mediation skills in live role plays; or to apply treatment techniques for trauma that they learn in class to case studies.

"My favorite part of the program is the focus on learning practical skills," Perkins said. "Every class has used role plays, case studies, or projects to enhance learning and make the material relatable to the students' lives,"

"What I've always enjoyed about the program is how each of the courses builds off one another, but at the same time, each course feels unique and exciting," Mallon said. "It creates this wonderful atmosphere where each new course not only helps you advance your knowledge, but also deepens your knowledge of the previous courses. Perhaps above all else, I love how useful the program has been, not just within my academic career, but also quite simply, in life. Every day I find myself using skills and concepts I've learned from the program in my daily interactions. Never in my academic career have I had a class or program with such an impact on my daily life."

Students agree that the program not only provides knowledge, but also practical skills that they can apply to their professional and personal lives. This practical application has been a main draw for students, especially when they are seeking knowledge and skills that will be helpful in their future.

"Because I am going into the mental health field, I will work closely with people who have faced a significant trauma and anyone who works with people will come across conflict," Perkins said. "The CATS minor taught me how to assess these situations and find the best outcome so I can better help others."

Though some students, like Perkins, will seek graduate training in marriage and family therapy or another mental health profession, the program provides a variety of professional trainings beyond the clinical field for post-trauma and post-conflict reconstruction.

Goff says, "The undergraduate minor in conflict analysis and trauma studies is intended for students who are interested in training in conflict resolution and those interested in the study of trauma. Many of our students are in social science fields, like psychology, sociology, and family studies and human services, but we also have students pursuing the CATS Minor who are business, premedicine, pre-nursing, education, political science and other majors. The content really complements a variety of academic programs."

McCants said, "In today's world it is imperative that conflict resolution practitioners know about the direct and indirect effects of trauma, and that trauma practitioners know about the skills and strategies used in effective conflict prevention and intervention. By exploring the combined theory and practice of these two interrelated disciplines, students recognize the many ways in which trauma influences conflict and conflict influences trauma. The CATS minor uses lessons learned from both fields to further one's understanding of the powerful effects of reconciliation and recovery on human potential."

Mallon said, "The program has opened up opportunities for me that I could have never imagined. The program has allowed me to travel the world from Northern Ireland to South Africa, as I pursue my passion for conflict resolution. It also has translated into incredible learning opportunities as I continue my academic career. I'm currently midway through a master's program in international relations. In the years to come I look forward to continuing in the field of conflict resolution, whether I land at the United Nations, the State Department, or any other organization. I can truly say that this program changed my life. This program gave me direction and allowed me to discover my passions."

Mallon is now a graduate teaching assistant for the conflict resolution certificate program. Questions about the minor can be addressed to Jessica High, graduate assistant and adviser, at jhigh@k-state.edu.