Who are PACS students?

student presenting at an event

What makes PACS different?  

In the Peace and Conflict Studies Program (PACS) we are committed to blending theory and practice so that you will have both the theoretical understanding of peaceful social change and practical skills to be an agent of change. We do this inside the classroom through the extensive use of role-plays and simulations, and through drawing on the expertise of the community practitioners who teach some of our specialized courses using insights drawn directly from field experience. We also have our internship program that exposes students to hands-on experiences locally, domestically, nationally, and internationally, and a conflict management skill training intensive course.   

Below are a few stories of PACS students sharing their unique experiences in the PACS program. These stories help highlight what might be expected in being part of the PACS community at the University of Waterloo. Click on each name to read their stories.

Robby Szolgyemy

Robby Szolgyemy is finishing his 4A term as a Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) and Anthropology student, but when he began studying at the University of Waterloo, PACS was not on his radar at all. It was not until he was searching for electives to fill his first-year schedule that the program caught his eye. He was drawn to the seemingly straightforward program name that described exactly what they would be studying: peace, and conflict. Robby enrolled in PACS, hoping that, if anything, he might be able to glean some wisdom from deconstructing past conflicts in his life. However, as he started taking courses like PACS 323: Negotiation Theories and Strategies, he was surprised to find just how useful these skills and concepts could be.

Robby quickly picked up Peace and Conflict Studies as his second major and began taking more PACS courses. He was impressed by the applicability of PACS courses to his professional life, especially as a co-op student. Robby has worked in several professional environments where concepts like negotiation and conflict resolution have proven useful.

Robby Szolgyemy

That’s what surprised me: Peace and Conflict Studies has such a wide range of courses and content that it can be genuinely applicable to some of the most corporate, least traditionally humanities-based environments.

From negotiating salaries to solving minor conflicts in the workplace, Robby has found ways to apply PACS concepts in his co-op positions at the University of Waterloo. Throughout his various placements, Robby has designed accessible LEARN courses, graded student papers, and collaborated with team members on tech-related projects. He noted that although he has been fortunate to work in social and collaborative environments, with minimal conflict, he still appreciates how PACS has taught him to approach conflict in such a way that “nothing spirals out of control.” His most recent co-op with Information Systems & Technology (IST) also brought in a new element of collaboration, as he was working with clients to assist them with technological difficulties and concerns. This role gave his conflict resolution skills, sharpened through the PACS program, a chance to shine through.

Tech issues can be frustrating, so it added the perspective of a client coming in, being agitated, and then you have to know how to resolve that conflict … How to smile at them and fix their issues as fast as possible if that is what they need. Or, if they just need some friendliness or a smile in their day, you can give them that as well.

As a PACS and Anthropology double major, Robby’s academic pursuits are not all PACS-related, but his studies in PACS, Anthropology, and Spanish have all complimented each other better than he could have imagined. In one of Robby’s favourite PACS courses, PACS 327: Cultural Approaches to Conflict Resolution, he really got to see how Anthropology and PACS crossed over with one another:

I took PACS 327 in my 2A term, and it was such an eye-opening experience. I realized: this is the direct link between my two programs! Cultural approaches … to conflict resolution. It was both of them intersecting.

Through the combined lens of his two majors, Robby has been able to delve into the distinct ways that people approach conflict within different cultures. “The way people reconcile, the way people are able to live together, the way people overcome their differences… it’s really fascinating.”

Robby has noticed the intersections between his majors not just in an academic setting, but also within real-world contexts. In a volunteer position at Reception House, an organization that helps with refugee resettlement in the Waterloo Region, he interacted with individuals from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, with varying degrees of English proficiency. This is where the skills and awareness he had developed proved especially useful.

Being able to have that intercultural awareness, to be able to adapt how you speak to someone, how you approach someone… that’s a perfect mixture of PACS and Anthropology.

Robby noted that in many ways, PACS even overtook his “original” major, simply because he enjoyed the sense of community within PACS. All the PACS courses he has taken brought something new to the table, whether it was analyzing war through literature and film, or learning about negotiation in the corporate world. The broad scope of the PACS program has reassured him that he does not have to limit himself to one career path as he looks to the future.

There’s a lot of different paths I could envision for my future… [PACS] has prepared me well for any avenue that I want to take.

In the future, Robby would like to explore the intersections of PACS and Anthropology through a participant observation approach to research. “I would be interested in living with a smaller, Indigenous group of people, and just learning the culture, learning the language, and analyzing their way of dealing with conflict. Because there are so many ways to engage with conflict, and our Western way is not the only way.”

Reflecting on his own experience in PACS, Robby gave this advice to prospective students:

Appreciate the flexibility that the program offers… Look at the PACS community and see if that is something you want to be a part of. Enjoy the flexibility, enjoy the community, and think about what future you can envision for yourself with PACS.

Selah Woelk

Selah Woelk is a University of Waterloo student with a passion for community-based peacebuilding and restorative justice. She is currently in her 4B term of the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) degree, with a Minor in Music. For Selah, her introduction to PACS came when she was researching Grebel as a residential space and exploring the courses offered there. Selah was not sure what she wanted to study after high school, but after reading what PACS was all about, she was struck by the realization that it was exactly what she had been searching for in a university program. The very first PACS course that Selah took immediately captured her interest.

We had a Zoom call with an Indigenous elder who talked about peacebuilding from an Indigenous perspective, and we had all kinds of cool readings about what peace looked like around the world, and I thought ‘Oh! I want to know about these things!’ The more courses I took, the more grateful I was that I was in this program.

Selah Woelk

Selah noted that one of the benefits of the Peace and Conflict Studies degree is how interdisciplinary it is: “You’re not just taking courses from Peace and Conflict Studies, you’re taking PACS-approved courses from all kinds of different faculties and disciplines to get that interdisciplinary lens.” For Selah, this meant she could pursue many other interests along with her PACS courses, including courses such as Environmental Law and Climate Change Fundamentals. This interdisciplinary lens has given her a skill set that has served her well in her academic studies and her work terms as a co-op student.

Through co-op, Selah has been involved in peacebuilding work on many different scales, from global policy-based peacebuilding to smaller community-focused initiatives. Her first co-op work term was in a communications position with Project Ploughshares, an organization within the Centre for Peace Advancement (CPA) that works to prevent armed violence and build peace. Although she was not yet doing the hands-on peacebuilding work that she was keen to pursue, this role gave her a chance to explore the many moving parts involved in peacebuilding organizations. Working as a graphic designer, Selah was tasked with making the organization’s projects more accessible to the public. Topics like nuclear disarmament and space security are not exactly common knowledge, but Selah read academic research on these topics and distilled it down to create engaging and accessible materials like animated videos. This experience gave her the chance to both learn more about these topics herself, and to share that knowledge with others. Selah also worked as a program assistant for the CPA, where she got to see the range of peacebuilding efforts made possible by the Centre’s Peace Incubators, which support peace and justice-oriented startup organizations within Canada.

Even though her heart was drawn to on-the-ground, person-to-person peace work, these communications roles gave her a chance to explore peacebuilding organizations and have important conversations with the people within them. This included people like Michelle Jackett, the Ontario representative for Just Outcomes, an organization which reimagines just responses to harm to help and heal communities and organizations. Speaking with and learning from people like Michelle gave Selah valuable insight into the types of avenues that might be available to her in the world of peacebuilding and restorative justice work.

I felt very supported, and like I got to have some mentorship and learn from other people’s journeys.

In her most recent co-op with the City of Kitchener, Selah was pleasantly surprised by how applicable her PACS skills were to her communications role within the Stormwater Management Division. When she began her role, the City had just received a grant that would support stormwater management adaptions which were necessary due to the impacts of climate change in Kitchener. These adaptations included the implementation of new stormwater management ponds.

In this role, Selah helped lead community open houses to talk with residents about construction that would be happening in their parks and neighbourhoods. Not everyone was welcoming to the prospect of new stormwater management ponds, and Selah was part of a team who fielded the community's concerns.

I learned that when you are influencing people’s community spaces … that can be contentious. It can lead to a lot of conflict.

Having learned about how to engage in advocacy work through her PACS courses, it was a shift for Selah to be on the receiving end of this advocacy from concerned community members. Selah rose to the challenge, applying her conflict resolution skills to diffuse these situations and foster productive interactions with the public.

Seeing climate change adaptation in action felt like a really fun intersection of some of my interests in the environmental sector with some of the things I’d learned in Peace and Conflict Studies.

Reflecting on her favourite courses throughout her PACS degree, Selah noted PACS 329: Restorative Justice as one of her most transformative learning experiences:

In [PACS 329], we talked a lot about seeing restorative justice as a philosophy and as a worldview, not just as something you can come in and 'do' when there is a conflict.

Selah reflected on how discouraging it can feel to see injustices happening in the world, including the harm caused by the justice system— especially because many of these injustices do not have a clear solution. PACS 329, she says, opened her eyes to new possibilities to move forward with seeking justice and fostering peace.

It connected with values and hopes I had for the world that I did not think were possible … It was so hopeful and so exciting, and it shifted my perspective on how we think about justice and how we can approach situations of harm.

Principles of restorative justice are now a critical part of how Selah views the world. They influence how she interacts with coworkers, how she viewed her responsibilities as a Residence Don, and even how she approaches her school assignments.

After graduation, Selah is not yet sure where she wants to take her next steps, but the idea of hands-on peacebuilding work and community mediation really speaks to her. Her experiences in PACS and co-op have shown her that her path does not have to be linear. She has seen people who have formed new peacebuilding organizations or carved their own path towards meaningful peacebuilding work; she has also spoken with supervisors who worked in many distinct positions before landing in their current roles.

[These experiences] taught me the skill of figuring out your path as you go, and taking opportunities and connections where you can find them.

Whatever path she decides to traverse, Selah will undoubtedly be taking the skills and lessons she has learned from the Peace and Conflict Studies program with her into the next chapter of her life.

Imogen Sloss

Imogen Sloss

For Imogen Sloss, the desire for peace has always been an anchor in her life; growing up, it was a central value in her family and her community. Throughout high school, Imogen fostered this desire for peace through her passion for social justice, and after graduation, she continued to seek out opportunities to make a difference. One such opportunity was a six-month learning service program that took her across Canada and then to Guatemala. During the program, Imogen spent a week in Saskatchewan with Mennonite Central Committee, learning about their restorative justice program and hearing from people who had previously been incarcerated; this experience was her first significant introduction to restorative justice and how it can be used to transform communities. As she searched for the right undergraduate program to further her studies, her passion for peace and restorative justice drew her towards the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) program at the University of Waterloo.

Going into university, Imogen knew she wanted to pursue a career in clinical psychology, so she planned to double major in PACS and Psychology early on in her degree. She credits the flexibility of the PACS program for giving her the freedom to choose courses outside of the PACS major, including those that fulfilled her Psychology major requirements. Imogen appreciated how easy it was to tailor her degree towards her interests and passions.

It’s been interesting to see, with my friends who are also in PACS, we’re both going to end up with the same degree, but we took such a different approach to it.

Imogen’s experiences after high school gave her an early introduction to the concept of Restorative Justice, and it continued to capture her interest during her studies in PACS. In PACS 331: Trauma, Healing and Social Transformation, a course she took with Professor Johonna McCants-Turner, she learned about restorative justice approaches to solving conflict, but also studied transformative justice, which takes restorative justice a step further and looks at the deeper, systemic issues at play. Imogen describes the concept of transformative justice as “the idea that we can respond to problems, but unless we recognize the root cause or the larger societal inequities, we’re not going to be leading to long term change. I think it was something I intuitively knew, but it was really great to talk more about it and really dive into it”.

During her time in the PACS program, Imogen has taken what she has learned about restorative justice and applied it not only in the classroom, but also within the University and local community. Inspired by the teaching of the PACS program, Imogen and a group of her friends, all residents at Conrad Grebel University College, sought to apply restorative justice concepts in a real-world setting. Their solution was to run a restorative justice workshop for a group of residence dons at Grebel, teaching them how to apply restorative practices in their work with students. "We were able to come together, put together what we had learned and put the passions we all had into action."

Imogen also volunteers with The Ripple Effect Education (TREE), a peace education program and core collaborator with the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement. TREE strives to equip as many people with the tools they need to transform conflict, seek justice, and build positive peace into their relationships, starting at a young age.

When I was learning about restorative justice, I wished that this had been something that I had been introduced to as a child. So, when I heard about TREE, I knew I had to volunteer.

In her work as a volunteer, Imogen visits elementary schools and runs conflict resolution workshops, helping students to grow their interpersonal skills.

As a PACS and Psychology double major, Imogen is also involved with Psychology research on the UWaterloo campus. She currently works as a Lab Manager at the FamilyPsycle Lab, where she helps to research how families respond to the complexities of trauma, adversity and mental health challenges. When families face war, natural disasters, and other traumas, there are numerous factors that impact their ability to recover and thrive. The FamilyPsycle Lab studies these intersections to improve the delivery of therapy methods like trauma-informed family therapy. Imogen has observed that her studies in PACS frequently intersect with her work in the lab, whether the concepts overlap with, compliment, or “fill in the gaps” in the field of psychology.

I think a lot of psychology focuses on the individual, so it has been cool to be part of a lab that takes the larger context into account. Then PACS goes even beyond that: it‘s not that psychology never looks at larger-scale issues, but that’s something that PACS does really well.

For Imogen, viewing the two disciplines together provides her more balance. “When I learn about psychology now, I am able to have that perspective where I’m taking issues like poverty and racism and discrimination into account— to understand people’s experiences better.”

Last year, Imogen undertook a directed studies project within the FamilyPsycle Lab. The study measured the intergenerational impacts of childhood adversity and the impact of social support on family functioning— a subject that was inspired by the PACS program’s focus on community and intergenerational trauma. Then, for her PACS capstone paper, Imogen built on her knowledge of restorative justice by looking at how restorative practices can be applied in schools, to help support youth who have experienced trauma. The research looked at restorative justice approaches through the lens of trauma— an area of study she had gained experience with while working in the FamilyPsycle Lab. The interdisciplinary nature of the PACS program enabled her to combine these two interests in a way that brought out the strengths in both fields. Reflecting on her experience in Peace and Conflict Studies, she notes that the program has allowed her to develop a more holistic understanding of people and the larger-scale societal injustices that affect them.

The biggest takeaway is just considering people’s backstories and their life experiences... recognizing privilege and how these factors might be impacting people.

Wherever the future takes her, Imogen strives to continue these endeavours: weaving together the strengths of PACS and Psychology to create meaningful change in the field of clinical psychology and beyond.

Liv Miller

liv miller giving talk

Olivia Miller (Liv) is a University of Waterloo student who doesn’t let challenges prevent her from pursuing the change they want to enact in the world. She is double majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) and Social Development Studies (SDS) and is set to graduate at the end of this fall term. However, Liv wasn’t always a PACS student. They started with SDS and added PACS as a second major later on. They credit this change to PACS 202: Conflict Resolution, a course she enjoyed after taking it on as an elective. Specifically, they appreciated learning certain concepts and techniques for resolving interpersonal conflicts: 

I really enjoyed that course. I remember learning about how to apologize properly, and a bunch of really  [meaningful] strategies for how to engage with interpersonal conflicts. It was a really cool area that my [then only] program, SDS wasn’t covering as much. SDS does a good job of covering a lot of ground, but that also means that it’s difficult to focus on things like interpersonal conflicts.

Looking back on her degree, Liv appreciates the variety of topics that she’s been able to explore through PACS ranging from the basic theory behind peace-and-conflict dynamics, to real-world examples and case studies of peace-and-conflict related issues that bring the theory learned in the classrooms to life. This helped Liv not only to navigate relationships with people that they frequently interacted with in her everyday life, but also to navigate the global, national, and municipal social issues that impact her in very real but complicated ways. She describes it as finding a direction on how to make the world a better place and make improvements regarding these issues. Liv tries to make an impact on the issues that they care about in practical ways, but this effort and involvement began for her before she was a PACS student – in fact, before she was an undergrad. 

She shares that when she was in high school, she was involved with an organization called The Umbrella Project on their very small team. The Umbrella Project works to create a curriculum of social and emotional learning skills, for students that range from kindergarten to high school. This would allow teachers at any school to teach these soft skills on a monthly basis, with the goal of creating a framework that allows for the prioritization of concrete interpersonal development and mental health education in schools. Liv adds that something like this is not standardized in school systems, or at least, was not at the time that they were involved in this project. It would have to be implemented by someone at that specific school or purchased from a specific school board. Liv’s specific involvement with this organization was to support the facilitation of workshops for the schools. Looking back, she observes that it was a great way to learn some PACS skills including facilitation skills before she was in the program. As a PACS student, she has had the chance to work for another organization called The Ripple Effect Education (TREE), where they facilitated workshops for Kindergarten and grade 2 classes. When asked about the lessons they were able to learn through working for TREE, she noted that children are a lot better at understanding and applying complex interpersonal concepts than is often assumed about them. 

It was really interesting to see how children grasp concepts about peace. They’re able to apply it to how they treat their peers in their classroom and their families at home. It’s so encouraging to see, and emphasizes my belief in the impact of this kind of work.

They also note that PACS courses such as PACS 313Community Conflict Resolution, made them more aware of the barriers to wellness that exist in our society, like oppression and marginalization that can affect people in ways that one normally wouldn’t know of as being related to mental health. They shared that they co-founded a mental health initiative called the Bridges of Hope project during their last year of high school and first year at the university. They observed that there was a shift in their thinking when they started learning more about things like intersectionality in PACS. They would be working with youths from all different backgrounds and identities with completely unique life experiences and traumas, and it was important for them to "recognize things like power and privilege dynamics", they said. Liv notes how PACS as a program and her experiences in the field have complimented each other. She values the framework laid out in PACS courses that allows her to practice the concepts they learned as she applies them in fieldwork. They also value the ability to reflect on fieldwork experiences in grounded ways through PACS course discussions, assignments, papers, and readings - especially on improvements that can be made if they were to start or participate in other initiatives or projects similar to the ones she’s been involved in. Reflecting on lessons learned from the field, Liv shared that:

As a PACS student, I have had the opportunity to not only learn formally from PACS professors but also from community leaders at Bridges of Hope. One of the leaders I have worked with taught me something that transformed my view of advocacy work. They said,  "Advocacy is like a soccer field. Sometimes you play center forward with the spotlight on you, running the ball up to the net to make a goal. Other times, you’re playing on defense and midfield, where your role is to support the other people that are front and center." They observed that these roles are all equally important when it comes to accomplishing the collective goal. It’s all about where you’re at, what [role you play], and what you’re called to do at that time.

When reflecting on her time in PACS, Liv noted some gaps she observed in some PACS courses, including the absence of queer theory, practices, and queer advocacy history in PACSHowever, Liv did note that she was able to supplement her PACS degree with some PACS-approved courses such as Political Science (PSCI) 370: Gender in PoliticsWhen forecasting her time after graduation, she surmises that PACS will have a very helpful and important role in how they support people of various backgrounds, identities, and experiences. As some closing thoughts she notes that it’s very important to know that, as an advocate, it’s not her role to have all of the answers, but to simply be there - to walk with people and create a stabilizing community environment - while the people that are being supported find the answer that’s always been within themselves. 

I’ll never truly know what someone’s going through, and how things that don’t affect me affect them. Listening to them and how various factors affect them is so important. While my role is not to have all the answers, it is my role to be there as a bridge to wellness.

This is one of the many lessons they walk away from studying PACS and SDS at the University of Waterloo. 


Yasmin Wallace

Yasmin Wallace

Working in social justice and anti-racism has been an interest for Yasmin since high school. Studying Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) has meant that she can study and take co-ops that are related to her passions and help expand her understanding of challenging topics

Yasmin Wallace entered her degree at University of Waterloo with a strong interest in social justice and advocacy work from high school. Since then, she has had the chance to study and work in related areas throughout her academic experience in Peace and Conflict Studies and a double major with Legal Studies. She has been able to apply what she has learned from both disciplines to interesting co-op positions, and this has given her opportunities to grow

This past summer Yasmin worked for Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in the International Network as part of the Wellness and Culture team. In this role she worked to help socialize new changes across national and international networks. She also worked on the team’s equity, diversity, and inclusion portfolio, and learned a lot about how EDI work looks different for international audiences with differing social issues and perceptions of equity. When the Ukraine and Russia conflict began, she helped distribute communication tools for Canadians travelling to Poland to help refugees from Ukraine. 

This position really opened my eyes to see the number of people that are involved in conflicts and the different supports that are necessary when conflict occurs. Furthermore, it really emphasized for me how trauma can show up in different ways, specifically vicarious trauma. 

Yasmin is also currently completing an 8-month position from September 2022 to April 2023 with the University of Waterloo as an Anti-Racism Project Coordinator in the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (EDIR) and has been enjoying knowing the work she is doing has an impact on students at UWaterloo. She comments on this role: 

I enjoy this co-op position. I am a student in the university community so it is nice to be able to be part of the change for other students. My role provides me with a lot of knowledge on advocacy work in academic institutions. There are a lot of roadblocks in institutions in with procedures and policies that make change extremely hard. I am more aware of how policy and programs are implemented now which will help me with my future work. 

In this role, she is working on several exciting projects including an initiative called The Sankofa Pathways to University. In consideration of the unique barriers and challenges faced by Black youth, this program intends to offer historically underserved/underserviced Black youth in Ontario the opportunity to earn a free and transferable University half-credit over the summer to increase the likelihood of participation in post-Secondary studies. Yasmin is also working on an e-module for responding to disclosures of racism. She reflects on the process for disclosures of racism and the knowledge needed for that project by connecting it back to some courses in PACS, such as, PACS 331: Trauma, Healing, and Social Transformation. 

PACS 331 really helps me while working as an Anti-Racism Project Coordinator. It gives me perspective and a trauma-informed lens when working with people. When receiving a disclosure of racism, it is also important to be cognizant of how the histories of racism impact current-day realities, and I appreciate how PACS 331 framed racism and histories of colonialism as sources of trauma, as well as avenues for healing. 


Yasmin also shares that the EDIR office has a lot of support for students and she encourages members of the university community to check it out for learning resources and support.

Another course Yasmin expects to make use of in the future is PACS 329: Restorative Justice. She notes that this course connects well with her double major in Legal Studies. 

The course connected well with the Legal Studies courses I take. I am very interested in researching the injustices and oppressions that exist within the criminal justice system, and this course helped me learn how to conceptualize justice with a peace-building lens rather than a traditional legal viewpoint. The ways in which the current criminal justice system functions is not peaceful, and I use my double major in PACS and Legal Studies to investigate ways to change this reality. The lessons learned in PACS 329 are also transferable outside of the criminal justice system. I have turned to restorative and transformative justice theories and practices throughout my academic and professional roles. 

It is because of these experiences as a PACS and LS student, Yasmine is thinking about either pursuing law school after she graduates or becoming more engaged in social justice and advocacy work in some form. She adds: 

For me, anti-racism is an integral component of Peace and Conflict Studies for a peaceful society to be achieved. Racism is violence. No matter how one defines peace, it is impossible for it to be achieved if racism still exists. We must work to dismantle systems of oppression for all people to be able to live peacefully. I cannot imagine a world that is peaceful if racism still exists. Anti-racism and peace work needs to work together. 

You can learn more about the goals and mission of the work Yasmin is doing with the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism checking out their website here.

Joshua Cheon

Joshua Cheon

This past term, several students had the opportunity to go to New York for a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) United Nations (UN) Office Seminar. It was a chance to connect with other students, hear guest speakers from all over the world, and tour the UN headquarters. One of the students who went was Joshua Cheon, a second year PACS (Peace and Conflict Studies) major, who came out of the trip reflecting on what he had learned and experienced. 


Over the few days he was in New York, Joshua learned from speakers from around the world, some working in Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and other in political diplomacy. Two of the speakers stood out for Joshua. A speaker from Myanmar and an NGO worker from Ukraine, reportedly declared that they were not pacifists, and linked this belief to the conflict and violence that is unavoidable in countries at war. Joshua found this perspective fascinating and he has continued to reflect and wrestle with what pacificism means for him and why other people might hold a different viewWhile studying PACS Joshua had wanted to articulate similar feelings about pacifism. It bothered him “like an itch that couldn’t be scratched” so hearing these opinions be articulated was an aha moment within his own beliefs on something he wishes was talked about more.

It is a privilege to think that we can prescribe pacifism to other people - people who  face the consequences we will never have to suffer. It sometimes feels as though most of these students at UW were privileged enough to be far removed from extreme forms of violence, and were seated atop a high horse looking at the world.

Growing up Asian in a predominantly White school, Joshua learned quickly that ignoring a bully or trying to talk things out will not work. He learned at an early age that a show of force can work as a deterrent.  

This background from childhood, combined with theory and learnings from PACS courses, led Joshua to come away from the seminar with some critical questions:  

  • How does our positionality as citizens of a privileged, powerful, and peaceful country allow us to trivialize conflict? 

  • How does our position as White and/or educated North Americans allow us to fall into a false sense of moral superiority when it comes to war/armed violence? He grapples with these questions. 

While international affairs are slightly different from a playground altercation, Joshua did take away from the MCC UN Seminar that, while it is important for foreign agents to be strictly non-violent, there needs to be an observation for how victims of conflict understand non-violence. Non-violent tactics should come from the victims of conflict themselves, Joshua reflects, rather than be demanded from an uninvolved third party. He adds that it is a privilege to think of pacifism as the only moral option.

Overall, the seminar was a good grounding framework of PACS ideas. A chance to see people use ideas and theories we learn in class and how they fit into national and international scales. You get a better idea of how it impacts people on a level you cannot really imagine.

Joshua shares that apart from speakers that were there sharing their experience and insight into United Nations and NGO work, it was also an opportunity to meet students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives.  

Despite the differences between many of the students from all over North America, there was a unified excitement and interest in peacebuilding and unity. Joshua looks back fondly on the rich connections that were built and the ability to come together even though there were so many unique backgrounds.

We were able to unify for peace in a grounded way, moving away from theoretical [frameworks], which was very special to me.

The speakers grounded a lot of theory and ideologies Joshua had learned from PACS courses into a cohesive worldview with practical applications, and the students were able to bring valuable perspectives and a feeling of community.  

I appreciate that there is a stark difference in talking with students in or out of Peace Studies. At the conference it struck me how open people were to hear about different struggles of ethnic [identity]; not trying to discredit each other's experiences but instead understanding the differences in experience.

Joshua grew up in a family that worked in an NGO and so hearing about the intersection of government work and non-profit and NGO work was interesting and personal for him.  

Overall, this experience challenged Joshua’s ideas of pacifism, privilege, and action, in a safe environment of like-minded students. He came back from the seminar wondering how to share these thoughts and experiences with PACS students and excited to keep expanding and shaping his own worldview.  

A Reflection on Peace by Victoria Lumax

Victoria Lumax was part of the MCC United Nations Office 2022 Student Seminar fall 2022. The theme of this event was Ukraine and armed conflicts: Pursuing justice and peace. Victoria is a fifth-year Honours Arts student majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies and English. Here are her words reflecting on what she learned about peace to kick off the winter term.

What is Peace?

By Victoria Lumax

People on UN MCC trip

"Peace is a struggle. It plays tug of war with darkness, and gets rope burns in the process. It scales insurmountable hills through negotiation and empathy.

Peace is a sacrifice. It requires extreme vulnerability. It is paired with unassaured outcomes. It is a close friend of loss.

Peace is a rigorous endeavour. Taking extreme energy and force, it stands in the face of ruthlessness and does not budge. Peace wipes its brow as it continues to take step after step towards justice.

Peace is a complex machine. It requires strategy, organization, and skill. Peace is tactical and requires unimaginable people power. All of its moving parts require regular inspection.

art on wall

Peace is an internal battle. It forces us to address our inner violent instincts and instead choose patience. We are prompted to look within and deal with impulses of fear, anger, and duty.

Peace is a saviour. A proponent of life, peace stands up for those experiencing harm, leading them to safety and flourishing. Saving can come with a cost, a cost that we mourn in community.

Peace is a means to understand. It asks, “What do you need?” and “How can I lighten your burden?” It tries to get to the heart of things–to determine interests, positions, needs, and values.

UN trip 2022

Peace is a lofty goal. A utopian place of harmony and belonging. Peace is both the melody that is too high to sing and the drum beat that keeps us all in tune. Peace fights for its place in the world, even if no one is on its side.

Peace is a way forward. It doesn’t allow us to stay stuck in spaces where we are demobilized. Peace helps us imagine a new world. Allows us to see beyond barriers such as veto power, hate, and bureaucracy. Peace is about seeing the humanity in the Ukrainian, the Russian, the American, the Canadian. It is about holding onto hope in an ailing world."

Nancy Williams

Nancy Williams

Nancy Williams is a fourth-year Peace and Conflict Studies major and is taking a minor in Philosophy. She studied at Waterloo in 1988 but moved out of the province and put her formal education on pause. Nancy describes the return to education as changing her life and after taking PACS 101 -Peace is Everybody’s Business, she knew it had to be her major. Since then, Nancy has taken full advantage of programs at the University of Waterloo that focus on community learning and engagement.  

One of these involvements is with The Ripple Effect Education (TREE) where she works as an educator, going into classrooms and working with kids in Grades 1-6. In these 5-week programs, she works on peace-based education - teaching peace and conflict resolution in age-appropriate ways. This includes teaching how to deal with bullies, teaching empathy, and with older children, she discusses land acknowledgements, heritage, and identity.  

It gives me hope for the future to know that children as young as 5 are being taught concepts like compassion, empathy, and mindfulness. Had I had that teaching when I was in school, I would have been a different person. 

Nancy reflects on the importance of the program. “Conflict is a big part of life,” she says, “we start with teaching different conflict styles. We explain what conflict is and how we deal with it with tools and strategies.” This is work that relates to Nancy’s education in PACS, and to her work at Wisahkotewinowak Indigenous Garden Collective.  

Nancy first found this work at Wisahkotewinowak through Beyond U, a program offered out of UWaterloo’s University College, St Jerome’s University College, which pairs students with a local non-government organization (NGO). She was paired with White Owl Native Ancestry and the Wisahkotewinowak garden, which is part of their outreach. She describes having an internship with the organization’s garden as “wining a lottery!” 

She started her internship in April, 2022, planting rows of crops. She shares that the garden grows all organic food, and what is grown is given to families in the region. Part of the garden’s focus is land-based learning. Anybody can access the garden and help, and there are outreach programs that school classes come and attend as well, such as seeing the sugar bush and how the maple trees are tapped in the winter, according to Nancy.  

Working at the Wisahkotewinowak garden has been healing and encouraging for Nancy. A large part of Metis belief is that there is a spirit in all living things and everything around us -in plants, rocks, and trees. Working in the garden is a way for Nancy to connect to the land while making an impact on her community. Peacebuilding and working with the land are also very intertwined.  

I cannot separate the Indigenous perspective from peace-building practices. I worry that I am not doing as much as I can do and not being the best steward I can be of what I can be given. With being Metis, we believe there is a spirit in all living things and in everything. I conduct myself with an awareness that everything around me is alive and deserves respect.  

Overall, Nancy expresses that she is forever grateful for returning to school. One of the courses that especially stood out to her was PACS 310 - Peace and the Environment, which she took with former PACS professor, Dr. Jennifer Ball. One of the assignments that resonated with her the most was finding a spot in nature and going there and learning the language of that spot. Nancy admits at first, she rolled her eyes at the idea, but over time connected with nature in a meaningful way, and found a calm feeling that she could not find elsewhere. “I realized land has trauma,” Nancy explains, “and we were able to comfort each other”. This is just one of many experiences that have impacted Nancy throughout her degree.  

My experience with PACS has been literally life-changing. It opened me up to experiences I didn’t know existed. Had I not come back, I would not have known about the PACS program, or TREE, or the Beyond U internship. When I began PACS degree people would ask what I wanted to do, and I always said I wanted to work with indigenous children. I imagined I would have to go way up north to work with Indigenous children and make a difference, but now I have been able to do that with White Owl and I feel as though my dreams have come true by coming back to school.  

Looking forward to after graduation, Nancy is excited to continue working with communities she belongs to and continue to work with Indigenous children. 

Where I feel I can help the most is at a local level. The schools I visit and the work that I do with the land are about building the local community I am in. It can get overwhelming thinking about the need for peace and environmental change in the world. If you start with where you live, you can deal with the problems that you are facing currently and not get overwhelmed.

There is a belief that if you complete a Senbazuru (Japanese meaning 1,000 cranes) - which is made up of 1000 origami cranes, you can get your heart's desire. Nancy loves origami and has completed several Senbazuru but chooses to give them away to other people and let them have their wishes come true instead. This craft is a simple act done a thousand times, but this is a poetic way of understanding the work that Nancy does and the change that she is making - at a community level through a thousand simple acts which are possibly making her heart's desires come true.  

Since this interview took place, Nancy has been chosen to be a part of a service-learning opportunity with SJU in Peru in spring 2023. 

Samuel Farkas

Samuel would work odd hours to get the job done – as he had to work outdoors when the weather permitted. He would work three days in a row, then receive one day off for three and half months. In May and June, his workdays start at 7 am and ended at 6 pm to accommodate the spring weather. In July and August, his workday would start at 4 am and ended at 4 pm to work through the scorching summer weather.

"The way the land got distributed varied a lot and was not something we could divvy up. Depending on the land, the number of trees that were contracted to be planted was different. The areas would be split up so that we would finish them with what was asked for us to plant in the area. The trees were not split evenly it was just whoever could get more in the ground. The foreman would simply give everyone a share of the land to plant the trees.  Planting a tree can take up 5-6 seconds which meant we planted about 2000 trees together."

He relates much of his experience to Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) courses, including, PACS 310: Peace and the Environment. He mentioned that his tree planting role was transferable to observations made in PACS 310 course - as both are nature-centered:

"Both are nature-centered. Both cover reducing carbon footprint, encouraging tree planting and offsetting destruction. When I think about tree-planting, I think about not only replenishing the earth, but changing my personal growth"

Samuel is a student with a major in Planning, with a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. Unlike the traditional co-op path, he set foot in his own route when he stumbled upon a new journey: Tree planting in British Columbia, in Western Canada.

Upon embarking on the Spring 2021 job search for a seasonal position, he managed to seize an opportunity with Summit Reforestation. He previously worked with the company in spring 2020 and was delighted to return there for a second season of tree-planting. Even though this was a venture in a different province, he found the job opportunity to be just as thrilling as the first season.

Samuel and his crew worked to replant the areas to replace the trees that had been cut down by the lumber industry. His crew had a goal of rebuilding areas that were clear-cut to help rebuild the environment. He shared that the crew would build across the Alaskan highway in St. John's. Specifically, the crew planted near Fort Saint John, Fort Nelson, Fort James, and Mackenzie in northern BC - sometimes 100km away in bleak areas as worked through on dirt roads.

The team worked individually, and Samuel had his own share of arduous work – as he put his own blood, sweat, and tears into the reforestation. He had to ensure that the saplings were up to par regarding standards. He would often get injured with the physical labor ensuring aspects like covering the sapling with a certain amount of soil, measuring to see if there is a meter distance from sapling to sapling, and verifying if the green collar is visible beyond the soil. He reflected:

"It’s peaceful to be in nature, as we learn how calming and in touch it makes us with ourselves and with the people around us. It is an internal experience that is hard to explain unless you experience it first-hand. When you work so hard at a job in nature - where you get in your head, it becomes a mind game to keep going even when you are hurt as you are stuck in your head thinking about what you said to your family. It is painfully therapeutic. There were moments where I broke down and cried terribly on the side of a mount that looked off to another where there was a beautiful lake - because I was in despair in my thoughts. We learned how hard life can be. We learned what it means to overcome hardship and keep going. I would plant in hail and freeze my hands, but for some reason have the strength to keep going and encourage my crew to work hard, while thinking “how crazy is this, I might die”. We work for the environment but we work to become strong, gritty, and tenacity – to recognize the power of attitude in life. We learned how it is like to be in nature and mend it but mainly build character in ourselves"

One aspect that he took away from the course was to aim at connecting with nature at a deeper level. He found that planting trees was his way of connecting to nature, and it really kept him rethinking the relationships, job prospects, and the places that he got to be in over the spring term in great appreciation.

Samuel was also able to connect his understanding of PACS 201: Roots of Conflict, Violence and Peace, and PACS 203: A History of Peace Movements during his time tree-planting in British Columbia. He observed that both courses had taught him concepts revolving around perspectives – with PACS 201 looking at how working on the reforestation industry has an impact on the greater good of the environment, and with PACS 203 on looking at what goes behind replanting to offset climate change.

Samuel believes that the greatest skill that he developed throughout this experience was a strong work ethic. He is confident that this is a skill that is transferable to many other aspects of life and is grateful for the experience that helped establish this skill. In addition, he developed perseverance skills. Tree-planting requires perseverance, he said. Samuel feels that this was an important skill to acquire as it goes together with an excellent work ethic. He said:

"Every challenging thing that you beat, makes life less scary - that perseverance and practice encourages you to live with tenacity"

To date, Samuels prides himself among environmental justice activists as he has a plant count of 120,000 trees and more. 

Elaina Mohr

Like many students before her, Elaina Mohr didn’t really know what she wanted to do after high school. What she did know was that she saw a broken world, and wanted to learn more about initiatives that tried to make it better.

So, Elaina enrolled in the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) program. At first, Elaina wasn’t sure how she felt about the program, but she was soon engaged by her classes and her professors, who served as excellent mentors.

She has found that:

“PACS engages whatever your passions are.”

Elaina’s favourite areas of study are conflict resolution, justice, and peace, and she has had the opportunity to explore those ideas in her classes. These include: PACS 331: Trauma and Healing which examines how the conflict resolution process can be impacted by trauma, and PACS 329: Restorative Justice, which investigates the history, theory, principles, practices, and how people engage with restorative justice. These classes were especially important classes for her, as they challenged her worldview and encouraged her to think about the ways that peace can be a transformative process.

Another class that has made Elaina’s PACS journey an impactful one was PACS 313: Community Conflict Resolution, which explores the significance of two themes, identity and community, in the development and transformation of conflict. In that course, which featured a class-discussion style, Elaina learned that:

“There’s so much to learn from the people sitting around you. Learning comes from everywhere you are.”

Outside of her academic efforts, Elaina was able to participate in Conrad Grebel University College’s residence Peace Society in her first and second years. She has appreciated the opportunity to informally discuss important issues and try to make a difference in the community. She was able to participate in efforts like the annual Make a Difference (MAD) Market, where local vendors come to Grebel and sell items, donating proceeds to various causes.

In her fourth and final year, Elaina served as Grebel’s PACS Live-Learn leader, a position where she met with PACS students in residence and helped them to build a community. She was excited to be able to pass on her knowledge and experience, learn about alumni, and encourage younger students to build relationships with their professors.

As well, in her final year, Elaina took part in PACS 401: Senior Research Seminar, where she completed a research paper in a chosen area of study. During this time, she took full advantage of the help offered to her by Professor Reina Neufeld, who encouraged her to submit her paper to several student conferences.

Elaina’s paper, “Living in Space of Reconciliation: An Analysis of the Role of Communal Living Space in Reconciliation Processes in Post-Conflict Northern Ireland”, was chosen for two presentations at student conferences. She will have the opportunity to present them for a wide audience, which will be an asset to her career development, should she choose to pursue academia further.

After her graduation, Elaina has plans to work for the Romero House for a year, where she can experience living communally and supporting people with her PACS knowledge.

For students looking to follow in her footsteps, Elaina suggest that you:

“Be curious! The most I’ve never gotten out of my undergrad [experience] was when I was curious. Take classes, talk to professors and fellow students, and don’t be afraid to do things that you may not be qualified for.”

Eve Astolfi

When Eve Astolfi initially came to the University of Waterloo, it was to study economics. She had felt like a business degree was one of the only ways to find successful employment post graduation. However, Eve soon discovered that her current academic plan was not well aligned with career goals. After that, Eve switched her area of study several times, in hopes of finding the one that best fit her passion for social justice. She then discovered the PACS program.

Since she was a late transfer, Eve started the first year of Honours PACS in her second year of studies. She has since taken courses in Spring terms so that she could still graduate with her class. She loved the program. Unlike her previous degree plan, Eve did not enrol in the co-op program for PACS. But, she discovered that, in her situation, co-op was not a necessity for her to succeed, and that it was more about doing what she loved long-term.

For Eve, part of falling in love with her education was letting go of her idea that she had to be enrolled in a business degree to be “successful”:

“Arts programs sometimes get a bad name for not being ‘elite’, but you should focus on what you’re passionate about. That’s how you’ll do well; when you’re not interested in a topic, you don’t apply yourself the same way.”

Over the course of her degree, her favourite classes have been PACS 331: Trauma and Healing, which examines how the conflict resolution process can be impacted by trauma, and PACS 329: Restorative Justice, which investigates the history, theory, principles, practices, and people of restorative justice. She mentioned that both of these classes changed her worldview in significant ways as indicated below.

“You don’t realize all of the areas for learning and unlearning in the world, until you are presented with a different lens. That’s what these courses have taught me. Along with that worldview change, you learn to see how people are impacted by their stereotypes and biases and grow to have great empathy for others.”

While taking classes, Eve had the opportunity to work with the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) committee at St. Jerome's University College. While there, she worked with the team to create a survey and conduct research for improving diversity and inclusion at the university. Since completing that role, Eve has worked with the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, which is in partnership with Lutherwood Employment and Housing Services. Eve was able to take on this position by enrolling in PACS 390: Undergrad Internship course, which allows undergrad students to seek internship placement opportunities with local community transformation organizations implementing work related to PACS.

Additionally, Eve is working to complete her Global Exchange Certificate, which, COVID-19 closures permitting, may take her to Northern Ireland for an exchange, as the area has been significantly impacted by conflict over the past several decades. There, she will be able to relate her PACS learning to the real life experiences of those who have lived in conflict zones.

In the future, Eve hopes to work in the fields of conflict coaching, restorative justice, or the humanities in some similar capacity.

Boushrah Fanous

Boushrah Fanous is currently a PACS student. When she was in high school, Boushrah had intended to enroll in a program like international development or political science. However, no program that she saw really seemed to fit what she was looking for. It was only when a high school teacher suggested that she look into the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the University of Waterloo that she felt like she had found something that fit. The program’s interdisciplinary nature and ability to cover a range of topics appealed from the get-go, and she’s been invested ever since.

Throughout her time in the program, Boushrah found it valuable to learn about systemic violence, racism, and the philosophy behind it all. Different PACS courses have allowed her to learn about a variety of concepts that other programs would not have covered the same way.

PACS 201 was my favourite class of first year, because it gave me a good idea of the big picture of peace work. Other classes were great, but the blend of history intrigued me because there was so much to learn from it.”

PACS classes such as PACS 331: Trauma, Healing & Conflict Resolution have also taught her to adopt a trauma-informed lens, and have helped her in her interpersonal relationships beyond the classroom. They have changed the way that she looks at and approaches the world ahead of her. Boushrah now looks at systemic problems behind everything she sees, instead of only glancing at problems on a surface level.

Since enrolling in her degree, Boushrah has been involved in a number of things on campus connected to the program. One year, she had the opportunity to be the Peace Representative for the Conrad Grebel residence body (PACS rep). Over the year in her position, she was able to teach people about the conflict between Palestine and Israel, which is a topic that she’d previously had conflicting feelings about. Through experiences like being the PACS rep, Boushrah has learned how to appreciate different perspectives:

“I’ve learned to see everything from multiple angles, and that everything is connected. There’s something deeper in every story.”

Currently, Boushrah is the Peace and Conflict Studies undergraduate representative for the department— a position that involves speaking for the students with the faculty. She is a voice for the students, and provides insights into the needs of the undergraduate population.

In the future, she’d like to focus on policy making and international law, but she doesn’t entirely know where this path will take her. Whatever she ends up doing, though, she hopes that she will be able to make a difference along the way with the help of her PACS degree.

For future students, Boushrah recommends that you:

“Don’t hold too tightly to your plans. Be willing to learn different things and be flexible— you never know what might surprise you!”

Brandon Gascho

Like many students before him, Brandon Gascho did not start his degree enrolled in Peace and Conflict Studies. He was initially interested in becoming a therapist, and decided to take the Social Development Studies program through Renison University College. One of his first classes through this program was social policy, which he found himself enjoying more than he expected to.

After a professor suggested that he look into the PACS program, Brandon took PACS 201: Roots of Conflict, Violence, and Peace, and PACS 202: Conflict Resolution the next semester. Based on the content he was learning in these courses, Brandon’s interest in PACS was piqued, and he soon switched into a PACS degree plan. Over the course of his degree so far, PACS 331: Trauma and Healing has been his favourite course, and he feels that he learned a lot from it:

"In the past I’ve felt very uncomfortable with conflict and had trouble being assertive- but PACS has challenged the way I think about it and taught me healthy ways of engaging in conflict."

Over the years, he has experienced paradigm shifts, as a result of classes such as PACS 313: Community Conflict Resolution. He learned how to engage with conflict in a new, healthy way. There are ways to do good through conflict that he would not have known about if not for PACS courses.

The most impactful experience that Brandon has had so far, though, was participating in the Conflict Mediation and Resolution workshops offered through PACS 391, including participating in the Peace Circles workshop. This was a four day workshop that he took while his mother was in hospice care. During that time, his mother passed on, and his perspectives on how to grieve and heal were changed by his experiences in this workshop.

“Everyone really came together in this class, which made it an emotionally impactful, life-changing experience. It impacted the way that I grieved my mom, and how I interact with my family.”

Participating in circle processes in PACS 391 gave Brandon the tools to process his grief, and showed him how to exist in the world in a new way — something he hadn’t had when he had lost his sister a few years before. The people around him might not have known exactly what he was going through, but he was able to learn from the situation and process his emotions through that time.

Brandon attributes some of the best things he's learned to letting himself not know when he was in the presence of other people. Being an older student, he often felt like he should have the answers, and it took some time for him to recognize that it was alright to just listen to and understand the perspectives of others.

As he finishes his undergraduate degree, Brandon has plans to move onto higher education with Grebel’s Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has a desire to enter the PACS field, and is excited to further his education this way.

Theo Wiederkehr


During his childhood, Theo spent 3 years living abroad in Cambodia with his family through Mennonite Central Committee. Theo reflects on his time abroad as a coming of age experience to be suddenly confronted of the implications of our North American life to people on the other side of the world. Inspired by the Cambodian saying, "When the elephants fight, the ants get trampled," Theo chose the PACS program to further explore his role and responsibility in the world.

As part of PACS 390, Theo undertook a placement with Global Youth Volunteer Network located on the UWaterloo North Campus. The project was partnering with Indigenous student groups from the University of Waterloo, Guelph and Laurier to teach about food sovereignty and participate in food canning workshops to learn food preservation skills.

"In Ontario we are unable to grow food for a large part of the year, because of our climate; therefore, being able to preserve food in the summer and fall to eat in the winter is a vital part of individual and societal health, sustainability, and food sovereignty."

For Theo, growing and properly preserving his own food is a lifestyle choice he makes as a commitment to living responsibly.  Two days a week, Theo’s role was growing the produce for these canning workshops in the North Campus gardens. The workshops focused on canning tomato sauce and salsa, as well as pickled carrots and beets. Theo notes that,

"Canning is only one of the skills that is important for food preservation, I would encourage everyone to seek out more information about how they can engage in food preservation at their own homes."

While tending to the garden Theo was grateful to meet gardeners of other backgrounds who were growing plants from their home countries.

"There was one man who was growing beautiful gourds or melons that I had never seen before. He didn’t speak any English but one day he brought along his son who could and I was finally able to compliment him about his garden."

The rest of the week, Theo worked with his family on their farm. At home Theo has a wide variety of roles to fill on their farm from planning and growing the family garden, to caring for livestock, and mending fences. This year Theo was able to plant a new type of heirloom seed of zucchini and use an indigenous technique from North Dakota to dry the zucchini outside.

Outside of the classroom Theo is involved in the Chapel program at Grebel, organizing services for students. Off campus Theo serves on Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Working Group for Waterloo Region, and the Brubacher House committee. This committee works to mediate between the University of Waterloo, Conrad Grebel, and the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, to ensure the needs of the museum are being met.

"As one of the youngest people in the room in a lot of these meetings, I feel that I am often looked towards to provide representation to the voice of students and our generation. I really appreciate learning from people who are decades older than me and hearing their experiences and journeys."

After graduation, Theo is trying to navigate the current economics of farming in order discover a path which would allow him to farm responsibly and try new seed varieties.

Taylor Legere

Taylor Legere is a fourth year Arts and Business student with a major in PACS and a minor of Fine Arts. She originally came to Waterloo to pursue Arts and Business with a major in Psychology, but after taking PACS 201 Roots of Conflict, Violence, and Peace she knew she had to make the switch. 

Now, Taylor has done it all during her co-op career from working at RBC, to the Communications Coordinator at the University of Waterloo Relations DepartmentThe Ontario Ministry of Children,  Community and Social Services, and her latest position at the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation. Her time at the Intact Centre has lead to a part time job researching flood prevention, urban heat, and wild fires where she is able to work at the intersection of PACS and the environment.

Through her role as the Communications Coordinator at the University of Waterloo Relations Department, she had the unique opportunity to interview students and staff about their research.

"What I loved most about this position was discovering the different ways people are advocating for equity either directly or indirectly around campus."

Outside of co-op Taylor has been heavily involved around campus. In her first year she was prominent in re-establishing the PACS Society and served as Co-President. In this role she ran various events for her fellow PACS students such as movie nights and panel discussions. Taylor was also a part of the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship (ICPF) Planning Committee which brought together students from thirteen schools for a three day conference on Restorative Justice. During the conference, Taylor served as a moderator for the alumni panel and wrote an article detailing the event for Waterloo Stories.

Taylor has spent multiple terms volunteering at the Women’s Centre at UW, has begun working with Fossil Free UW, has served food with Lawyers Feed the Hungry in Toronto and Social Bite in Edinburgh, and was a camp counsellor for Peace Camp. Peace Camp is a day camp at Grebel for youth aged 11-14 packed with activities and field trips with a social justice spin which encourages youth to inspire lives, strengthen ties, and make peace happen in the Waterloo Region.

"My advice to anyone in any faculty is to just take a PACS course, any PACS course. PACS 329, the Restorative Justice course, literally changed my life in terms of healthy relationships and perspective. You can’t go wrong with any course in PACS"

In the future, Taylor hopes to train in mediation at Community Justice Initiatives (CJI) in Kitchener, and to further her education to find a career path that allows her to work within the intersection of Peace and Environment.

Margie McCloskey

For Margie McCloskey, the PACS program was love at first sight when she found it at the Waterloo Fall Open House. Shortly after beginning at Waterloo, she discovered a natural commonality in Political Science.

"I always find that my Political Science comes back to PACS – Everything comes back to PACS"

Margie is currently enrolled in PSCI 494 Current Issues in Political Science and PACS 401 Senior Research Seminar, where she is researching Human Migration Patterns in Europe from Northern Africa and the Middle East and the impact of grassroot environmental activism in promoting climate action. Each course culminates in a large report which she hopes to submit for publication to an Undergraduate Journal.

Calling the Grebel residence home, Margie has served many roles within the Grebel and PACS community including serving as the PACS Undergrad Student Representative to the department’s administrative committee, working as the PACS Living and Learning Community Peer Leader at Grebel, and acting as the Peace Society Representative for Grebel Student Council.

During her third year, Margie took on a larger role within the Grebel Student Leadership Team as a Peace Society Representative. In this role, she ran weekly discussions with other students on peace related topics, and played a lead role in convening the Make-A-Difference Market, an annual event that features fair trade vendors as well as a bake sale and silent auction to Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support.

As the PACS Living Learning Community Peer Leader, Margie serves as a mentor for first year PACS students living in the Grebel residence program by hosting study sessions, helping with course selection, building relationships to help with the transition to university life, organizing group volunteer work, and fostering an environment for exploring the impacts of Peace.

When asked if she had any advice for first year students, Margie replied,

"Get involved! Whether it’s at Grebel, where the PACS program is based, or out in the Waterloo community, it is a great way to meet people and form a network of like minded people."

Now in her fourth year, Margie is pursuing a double major in PACS and PSCI with her sight set on a Juris Doctor Degree where she will be able to further her passion for social justice.

Cassie Myers

In her final year of Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS), with a powerful idea, a competitive start-up, and a fierce amount of determination, Cassie Myers is just beginning.

After volunteering last winter with an organization that ran all-female hackathons in elementary schools, Cassie was inspired by the possibility of using tech and innovation as tools to address social problems. In the following term Cassie became a part of St. Paul’s Greenhouse where she founded her start-up, SheLeads. At SheLeads they’re building a platform for educators, to encourage and assess leadership skill understanding in girls seamlessly. Through the platform, girls ages 6-10 go through story based games that focus on strong female protagonists leading adventures around various leadership skills including: risk-taking, responsibility, and communication.

"Where I really think the most value comes out of the program is that it is girls that get to write the content for the game. Using the SheLeads framework, they get to think creatively about what leadership means to them and use their own experience to influence younger girls."

Primarily it is girls ages 10 – 18 that are writing the content for the game, and girls ages 6 – 10 are using the platform through schools and community .

When asked if she had known she wanted to go into PACS at the start of her university career, Cassie gave a definite ‘no’. It was only after taking a PACS course in her first year that she got the initial introduction to PACS, and in second and third year when content became more challenging and dynamic to her did she really find her place in PACS.

Cassie Myers
"I think there is a huge misconception about PACS that there is some sort of limit of what you can do. I worked in tech for all of my Co-op terms, and it was only using what I had learned in PACS that I was able to really identify the problems people were facing. When I came into university I wasn’t sure what I could do with PACS that was tangible, but I found through my Co-ops that you can apply a PACS lens to any situation, come up with solutions and become very entrepreneurial."

Cassie Myers graduated from the PACS program, in June 2019. 

Majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies and Business, Cassie applied her her knowledge at the intersection of Peace and Business to launch her business: Lunaria Solutions

Lunaria Solutions helps companies, people and brands flourish through Diversity and Inclusion solutions that drive real returns. Lunaria pairs expert experience with a powerful platform to help companies manage all their diversity and inclusion needs. Through the platform employers can invest in employees through Education Units, track progress through Lunaria Surveys and build company culture through templated company statements and activities.

Kayleigh Swanson

From an out-of-province experience, to a summer in Uganda, and right back to the University of Waterloo, Kayleigh Swanson and her co-op positions have done it all. Kayleigh is a University of Waterloo student currently in Arts and Business, majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS). Having so many vastly different Co-op experiences has taught Kayleigh a lot, and having the two together has had a huge impact on her.

"I think PACS and Co-op is good because PACS can go in a number of different directions, there are number of different streams. And Co-op allows you to try out, like I have tried to do, a number of different types of positions, but in every one you see some of PACS. There are opportunities to travel abroad, and work directly in development, and at the same time there are options to work in an office and work with interpersonal dynamics and possibly conflict with your co-workers. It’s neat because you try out a number of things that are all relevant but in a number of different ways."

Kayleigh’s first Co-op job was with a business-consulting firm in Edmonton, where she worked as an analyst. She was able to work on a number of diverse projects, and learn about the interconnectedness of so many aspects of the business world and peace.

"Pairing PACS with studies in Business has been a very practical way for me to study the tension that exists between values of human security and then traditional dimensions of business. Where you come out with both a practical approach to understanding the traditional elements of business but then at the same time you have a background of understanding theory and understanding the opinions and approaches of experts and then you can incorporate those in your own view and so you can approach problems with that practical understanding but also using theory."

Her second Co-op term was part of the Beyond Borders program, and this also doubled as a PACS Internship. Kayleigh spent 3 months in Uganda working for a non-profit that was created to curve the spread of HIV/AIDS among vulnerable populations in Uganda. Opportunities within this position allowed for Kayleigh to experience the medical aspects, as well as the social services aspects of the work through difference services the organization had.

Kayleigh’s most recent Co-op position has been Donor Relations and Stewardship Assistant with the University of Waterloo Office of Advancement, where she worked to develop communications materials for donors to let them know where their money was going and how it helps the university.

"It was neat because I think I can see myself working for a non-profit, so to be exposed to the fundraising field and the entire profession was great. It was great to see what goes into raising money for a cause that you believe in and making sure that money goes where it is supposed to go."

Kayleigh and others standing outside

For her final Co-op position, Kayleigh is working with a law firm in Toronto, a position of great interest to her, and she is looking into pursing law school when she has completed her undergrad. While Kayleigh is looking forward to the next steps of her career, she feels that her experiences with Co-op where vital in preparing her for what is next.

"I think for me Co-op has been a great opportunity to try out as many things as possible. Because it teaches you not only what you do want to do, but also just as much about what you don’t want to do. It forces you to find where your actual passions lie, rather than just your interests."

"My advice for someone considering PACS and Co-op would be to try out as many different things as you can just because, I look at what I thought my interests were when I came to university and what they are now, they have narrowed so much and I can attribute that to the diverse experience I’ve had."

Anna Giesbrecht

What do Conrad Grebel, restorative justice, and Brazil all have in common? The answer is Anna Giesbrecht. An Arts and Business student with a major in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) and a minor in International Studies, Anna has taken full advantage of the incredible opportunities that co-op offers.

Anna’s most recent co-op position was with Community Justice Initiatives (CJI), a local organization that uses restorative justice to address conflict and crime. After taking PACS 329: Restorative Justice, Anna was very interested in the practices involved in restorative justice, and spoke to her professors about opportunities for co-op positions within the field. Anna landed a position in the Elder Mediation Services branch, working with older adults and running recreational programming to help CJI members build relationships so that they can better resolve conflicts that are faced by this population.

"This position had a clear relation to PACS related in the restorative justice aspect, but I think it’s always cool to see how different aspects play in. I took a trauma and healing course, and that played a lot into it too. Recognizing what people have gone through and how that affects them now. It’s amazing because PACS can really relate to absolutely anything."

Anna also spent a co-op term in Brazil, working with the organization Youth with a Mission. In Brazil school for children is a half-day, Anna worked in a facility that offered programs for school-aged children for the other half of the day that they were not in school. Children were able to receive help with homework, participate in music, dance, and math classes, as well as take part in lessons of values including things like generosity and respect. During her time here Anna taught English to the students, and they weren’t the only ones learning a new language!

"I didn’t speak any Portuguese, but I learned a lot when I was there and now I’m taking a class to learn more. I found that even with a language barrier, people just want you to be there, and they will find a way to communicate. I couldn’t use my words as much, so I found myself becoming so much more expressive and using my face to communicate so much more."

With just one co-op term left Anna is beginning to look beyond her undergraduate degree, something that co-op has helped her immensely with. Drawing on her co-op experience, Anna can pinpoint the aspects of the work that truly made a connection to her.

“In some ways I know better then when I first started and in some ways I know less, just because I’ve learned so much and there is so much to be interested in.”

Maria Oliver

Extremely motivated and passionate, Maria Oliver found her way to the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) world after spending summers participating in NGO work. Now in her final year of PACS, Maria has a keen interest in continuing this international development work.

In high school, Maria spent her summers working with an organization called D.R.E.A.M.S. (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support) were she and a group of students would help build homes with the local community. Maria was shocked by the inequalities that she saw and was quickly frustrated about how it seemed like no one was helping. As a result she decided to dedicate her life to doing development work and she saw completing a PACS degree as a step towards this.  

Since starting her studies at Waterloo, Maria has been working with the New World Community, an Organization that connects University students with experiences in community development. Maria brought the initiative to the University of Waterloo Campus and has organized regular trips to the Dominican Republic for students. This kind of engagement is a way for Maria to stay connected to her global community, involve others in work close to her heart, and to make a positive and sustainable impact. This is just one of the numerous ways she is involved on the University of Waterloo community as Maria is currently working at St. Jerome’s as the Senior Assistant Activities Coordinator where she helps guide her co-workers in regards with training, mentorship, feedback, professional development and evaluations.

Maria has also recently participated in a PACS Internshipsexperience through St. Jerome’sBeyond Borders program, an international service-learning learning experience through St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo. Maria has made her way to Haiti where she worked with the Haiti Partners Children’s Academy and Learning center teaching English to students. Some of the most valuable lessons Maria took away from doing a PACS Field Study was that her experience really solidified her passion for doing development. She was and still is inspired to create real change in the community that surrounds her.

The Peace and Conflict Studies program has offered Maria with theoretical tools and experiences that have sharpened her view and perspectives of the world of development. Now that Maria is coming to the end of her PACS degree, Maria is beginning to carve out her path and continue to explore what the world of development has to offer.

Maria is also a recipient of the Lina Wohlgemut award, which is given to a peace and conflict studies student who is interested working in service in the developing world.

Elle Crevits

Growing up on a small farm in Delhi, Ontario, food has always been close to Elle Crevits’ heart. But it wasn’t until her fourth year research seminar class in Peace and Conflict Studies that she really discovered what that meant.

Last fall, Elle devoted her final research paper to the topic of food waste and how we could reduce it.

"My research triggered this overwhelming need for a solution to this problem, because we waste 40 percent of our food between farm and fork."

While 51 percent of this is wasted by consumers, another 12 percent is discarded by grocery stores. And Why?

Because they want the best: the nicest, the freshest, and the cheapest. Anything that doesn’t meet their criteria is thrown away.

In January 2015, Elle joined St. Paul’s Greenhouse with an idea: Food Not Waste. Through this social enterprise, Elle hopes to reduce the amount of food waste coming from small businesses, and redistribute any surplus food that is still good to emergency food services in the Waterloo Region, which currently serve more than 34,000 people.

"To do this I would like to certify businesses as being food waste free, and using that as a tool to promote to customers the businesses that are making an impact and why that’s a valuable trait."

GreenHouse has been an excellent resource for turning her idea into a reality. With one-on-one mentoring and access to resources and professionals, they help keep her on track and setting achievable goals.  While so far she’s been mostly laying the groundwork, this August she plans to launch a pilot project with five local businesses, diverting food waste to one community organization once a week.  

Elle shows us what is possible. In PACS, it can be hard to know where to start: everyday students grapple with tough, challenging, and complex issues that don’t always have answers. But Elle shows us that all it takes is an idea and the motivation to see it through. While motivation isn’t always easy to come by, the most important thing is to just keep going, one step at a time.

Elle says: 

"My biggest challenge is getting the right people involved to move forward, I am currently working alone but with help from others Food Not Waste can really take shape!"

Rachel Urban Shipley

Rachel Urban-Shipley is a fourth year PACS student, with minors in Music and Psychology. She originally came to UW to study peace and conflict studies for her interest in mediation, but as she learned more about the field and other issues within PACS, her options and interests have also grown.

In January, Rachel began an internship with Project Ploughshares, an NGO that conducts research to inform and advance policies related to war prevention, armed violence, and peacebuilding.  During the winter term, Project Ploughshares offers an internship program to third and fourth-year UW or WLU students to conduct research on current armed conflicts for their annual Armed Conflict Report. For her first project, Rachel is researching the conflicts in the Central African Republic and in Mali. This is a great opportunity to learn more about all the conflicts (the ones she’s researching as well as the one’s other interns are working on). Each conflict requires different levels of research as well. Some conflicts, such as Mali, mostly require updating little details, whereas in the Central African Republic, there’s been more violence in the past year as well as more time for others to analyze and assess the dynamics of the conflict that now need to be reported.

close up of Rachel

Over the next 4 months, 4 interns will be covering 24-30 conflicts; Rachel hopes to focus on a couple conflicts at once for a little variety. In particular, she finds the conflict in the Congo fascinating but hasn’t yet had the opportunity to delve into the issue; this might be an opportunity to research the conflict more fully (or read a concise, in-depth report from one of her fellow interns). At 8 hours a week, Rachel finds the internship to be challenging but not overwhelming. It’s putting her research skills to good use, providing her with resources for researching conflict, experience in the NGO world, and network contacts. A key lesson that she’s learning in her internship is the ability to distance yourself from what you’re researching in order to not get overwhelmed. Rachel says,

"I think that’s a skill that’s really important in a lot of PACS-related fields: [the ability] to take a step back and be like this is work and if we know more about this we can hopefully make it better and trying not to think too deeply about the individuals behind the statistics."

 While subjectivity and individual cases are also an important part about PACS-related work, constantly reading about conflict can be paralysing without some emotional distance. The most important thing is to find a balance between the two.  

With graduation approaching, Rachel is starting to think about where to go next, and Project Ploughshares is a good stepping stone to exploring what’s out there and getting connected in the field of NGOs and advocacy.  The PACS program offered her a lot of flexibility, that on one hand was a great opportunity to explore her interests and ask a lot of questions, and on the other hand has left her with a lot of places to go, but no clear direction. She’s interested in engaging with numerous issues, including Aboriginal rights, disability rights, and mental health and sees herself working anywhere from in a women’s shelter to an advocacy organization or research organization like Project Ploughshares.

Looking back on her years here, she recommends talking with your advisor, especially in your first year, to help get a sense of what you’re interested in and what you want to gain while at UW. In addition, she always thought it might have been useful to take an economics, statistics, or research methods class; even though it’s not a required PACS course, it’s required for a lot of other programs and she definitely sees its value in the NGO-world. Overall, Rachel loved the flexibility of the program to explore different interests within a small group and she’s excited to see where it takes her next.