Cooley professor wins fellowship

By Roberta M. Gubbins
Legal News

 Rotary International awarded Thomas M. Cooley Law School Professor Nancy Wonch a 2010 Rotary World Peace Fellowship, which will allow her to travel to Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand in June to study peer mediation and conflict resolution programs. She is one of only five people from the United States to be selected for this three-month program.
At Chulalongkorn University, Wonch will study mediation programs representing different countries and cultures. “I hope to learn from these programs to make our program better and to promote building conflict management skills into high school curricula everywhere, thereby taking a viable step toward a more peaceful world,” she said.
“One of Rotary International’s central missions is to promote world peace, which Nancy does through her work teaching conflict resolution skills to Lansing public school students,” said Mark Henne, a member of the East Lansing Rotary Club and Assistant Governor for the Lansing area, who nominated Wonch for the fellowship. “I know Nancy will contribute much to the program in Thailand and help in creating mediation programs across the U.S. and the world.”
Wonch estimates that she has taught peer mediation skills to more than 2,000 Lansing public school and Cooley students in a volunteer capacity since she first began teaching conflict resolution in 1994.
She was instrumental in developing the Cooley/Lansing Schools Peer Mediation Partnership, which teaches about 70 Lansing High School students conflict resolution skills during a two-day-long program every year.
The program is implemented with the help of Cooley Law School students.
Jess Ransom, second year Cooley student, was a peer mediator when she was in high school and has carried that interest to Cooley where she works with the Lansing students helping them learn the skills needed to mediate.
She is also active in the Alternative Dispute Resolution section of the Student Bar Association.
“I really enjoy working with the students,” she said. “We go back to the schools periodically to see how they are progressing and if they have used their new skills.”
“Professor Wonch is able to get her point across without lecturing,” said Kathy Lawrence, Wonch’s assistant.
The problem for the group on Friday, May 7 was the conflict between the Nazi party who wanted to hold a march on Saturday and the city council who didn’t want them at all but particularly didn’t want them marching on Saturday because it is the Jewish Sabbath and they have a high population of Jewish residents.
Students were given roles to play and guidance on how to work out a solution that met the needs of both parties.
After meeting in a large group, they were off to smaller groups where each side presented its position.
The mediator was not to create the solution, but was to lead the parties to a resolution that met the needs of the groups.
In this way, they learn the skills they need to be peer mediators in their high schools.
Statistically, fights and behavioral problems decrease when a fully supported peer mediation program is in place because students learn ways to achieve productive, peaceful conflict resolution that preserves the dignity, respect and relationship of those involved.
“Students are afraid of violence and they want to learn how to solve problems without it,” Wonch said. “If you give students the framework for how to peacefully resolve conflicts, they will take what they learn and put it into action.”
“Students are selected by their teachers and principals to participate in the program and some volunteer for the program,” said Christine M. Richardson, Restorative Justice Practitioner, and Coordinator of Peer Mediation for Eastern High School.
Wonch first began developing a mediation program for Lansing students in 1994, which was initially funded by a grant from the State Bar of Michigan Foundation.
When Wonch began teaching at Cooley in 2002, she was able to further develop the program with the support of Cooley President and Dean Don LeDuc, Cooley Professor Anne Smiley and Cooley students. Grants from the Ingham County Bar Foundation and the Capitol Region Community Foundation as well as funding from Cooley have supported the program through the years.
The program received the Nanci Klein Award from the State Bar of Michigan Alternative Dispute Resolution Section in 2006.
The Rotary Peace Fellowship will fund Wonch’s participation in a 90-day professional development certification program at the university, which costs approximately $10,000 per student.
She will study youth conflict resolution programs offered in other countries and write a comparison of the programs and detail their success.
A total of 50 scholars from 40 different countries across the world were selected for the Rotary World Peace Fellowship certification program.
Each year, a limited number of Rotary World Peace Fellowships are offered on a competitive basis with the goal to support and advance research, teaching, publication and practical field experience on issues of peace, goodwill, causes of conflict and world understanding.

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