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2014 recipient: Lisa Schirch

The Alumni Committee of Conrad Grebel University College is pleased to announce the selection of Lisa Schirch (BA 1990) as the 2014 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Service Award.

Lisa SchirchLisa came to Grebel in the fall of 1988 from Mechanicsville Virginia After two years studying at Goshen College in Indiana and a service trip to Central America, Lisa was looking for a bigger range of classes to take. She found a rich variety of courses at Grebel and the University of Waterloo, as she worked toward a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Political Science with a concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies. She describes the experience studying at Grebel as “taking courses that had a ‘heart’.” 

As an active member of Grebel’s Peace Society, Lisa began working on stopping NATO air flights from testing on Innu land in Labrador. A Mennonite Central Committee study tour to Labrador the summer after graduation led to Lisa’s first job as MCC Ontario's Native Concerns Coordinator. Lisa worked on First Nations land claims and toward building better relationships between Mennonites and Indigenous people.  “Strangely enough,” Lisa comments, “today I work closely with NATO to develop training for them on how they interact with civilians and the people indigenous to the areas where they work.  So I've come full circle from protesting NATO's action to directly engaging with NATO with the goal of fostering change.”

After completing a Master and Doctorate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, Lisa joined the faculty at Eastern Mennonite University where she is a Research Professor in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. She is also Director of Human Security at the Alliance for Peacebuilding. In this role, Lisa connects policymakers with global civil society networks, facilitates civil-military dialogue and provides a conflict prevention and peacebuilding lens on current policy issues.

A former Fulbright Fellow in East and West Africa, Lisa has conducted conflict assessments and participated in peacebuilding planning alongside local colleagues in over 20 countries in conflict prevention and peacebuilding including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Kenya, Ghana, and Fiji. She has published five books and dozens of chapters and articles on a range of themes including the design and structure of a comprehensive peace process in Afghanistan, civil-military relations, and the role of the media in peacebuilding.  Lisa is currently working with a global network to write a curriculum on security sector-civil society relations. Her most recent book is Conflict Assessment and Peacebuilding Planning: Toward a Participatory Approach to Human Security published by Kumarian/Lynne Reinner Press in May 2013.

Lisa works primarily with small local NGOs and civil society organizations. Helping large institutions begin their own peacebuilding programs, Lisa also has worked as a consultant on conflict assessment and peacebuilding planning for the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank, several branches of the US government, the US Foreign Service Institute, and many other international organizations. Lisa played a foundational role in starting up the organization 3P Human Security. 3P’s mission is to foster understanding and support for conflict prevention and peacebuilding in the US government, emphasizing the need for local civil society perspectives, principled negotiation, peace process support strategies, and sustainable development in security policymaking.

Lisa teaches regularly in the Sunday school at her home church of Shalom Mennonite in Harrisonburg and recently was the artist in Residence at the Center for Peacebuilding. During that time, Lisa created photos, paintings, and pottery that she shared in a show and discussed the interweaving of art and peacebuilding. 

Reflecting on her time at Grebel, Lisa believes that “Grebel was the perfect place for me, with professors like Ron Mathies and Dean Peachey, who provided not only the theory of conflict resolution and peacebuilding but also could share in class their real-life experience.” Lisa credits one of the many PACS guest speakers, John Paul Lederach, for remembering her 10 years later and extending to her an invitation to teach in EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

The Distinguished Alumni Service Award recognizes alumni who have made a significant and unique contribution to the church, community, nation, or world. “Grebel Graduates need to see alumni who follow their passions and volunteer their time in important social issues and for furthering God’s kingdom in the Church” said Wendy Cressman Zehr, who chairs the alumni committee.  Grebel Students will hear more from Lisa in the fall term when she will visit the College to present in some PACS classes, speak at the College’s Peace Day events, and attend Community Supper to receive her award.