Interview with Jeff Newcomer Miller

Major

Peace, Justice, & Conflict Studies

Current Position

Mediator

GC Graduation Year

2000


Why or how did you choose your field? Were there specific experiences that influenced you?

I stumbled upon mediation during my undergraduate studies at Goshen, and it became clear to me that I wanted this to be a part of my life in some fashion. I did a few internships (Center for Community Justice in Elkhart, Indiana and Corrymeela in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland) during my studies, and soon after I graduated I became a Project Director for the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program of Douglas County, Inc. I was strongly encouraged to pursue the mediation and restorative justice fields by my professors, family, and some influential co-workers. I had always planned to be a pastor of a Mennonite church, but I felt like mediation work more closely fit with my interests and abilities.

What’s exciting about your job or this field?

Everything, as far as I’m concerned. I enjoy the initial conversations with clients who are seeking mediation and, if a case can get to the mediation table and reach some form of agreement, I feel as though I have changed peoples’ lives. In mediation you need to constantly be thinking about not only the circumstances of the case, but also the personalities of the people you are dealing with. No problem is the same and everyone deserves your full attention. In mediation, I have the opportunity to provide a healthy conversation for people in dispute. This is often- times the first healthy conversation between the parties and inevitably it leads to a resolution. From divorcing couples to neighbors in dispute, all conflicts are difficult and it often requires the help of someone from the outside to illuminate any possible solutions.

What has been a challenge in your career journey?

Mediation is still a relatively small field. Few people know about the benefits of mediation and our current judicial system does not have time to help parties in dispute to find alternatives. Once people are in conflict, of any sort, they often look to peers for direction and very few people have experienced mediation. It takes a lot of effort to get people to a mediation and even more work to make people aware of mediation. As a mediator I need to spend a good portion of my time simply advocating for the use of mediation.

Looking back, would you do anything differently?

I wish I would have been a student at Goshen when Carolyn Schrock-Shenk and Joe Leichty began teaching. I was the first graduate with a peace, justice, and conflict studies major, so I had to create a lot of my own courses my senior year. It meant a lot of exciting experiences, but also posed some challenges. The resources at Goshen now are incredible, and I am jealous of the students who are there now. I am lucky to consider the professors in the PJCS department my colleagues and this has provided me with a number of opportunities.

How did your liberal arts education assist you in your journey? Are there specific examples you can offer?

Since I attended seminary and received an MATS from AMBS, it was great to have a broader course-load during undergraduate. It seemed as though most of my peers ended up doing very different work than what they graduated with from Goshen. Having a liberal arts education meant that I dipped my feet in environmental biology, psychology, world economy, and a myriad other fields. I saw lots of interconnections, but I was also stretched to explore fields outside of the peace and justice world. I would have never chosen to take an economics course, but that turned out to be one of my favorite courses during my time at Goshen.

Did anyone offer you some memorable advice that you’d like to pass on? Or…what advice would you give to a young person just starting out?

Take advantage of the resources you have at Goshen. I did not realize how much I had taken for granted in terms of internships, connections, and traveling opportunities while I was at Goshen. Once I was in the working world and paying for rent and food, it became clear that my options were severely limited. I loved how much traveling I was able to do during my studies at Goshen, and I would love to travel more, but with my current responsibilities that is not as much of an option.

Ask questions; find out how to work at a place that you feel terrifically under- qualified for and dive in.