Making a Better World: Student Learns to Link Theory to Practice to End Conflict

Posted: August 21, 2014 at 5:02 am, Last Updated: August 22, 2014 at 10:18 am

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By Kwaw de Graft-Johnson

Alexandra Schaerrer-Cumming developed a keen interest in learning about repres­sion, ethnocentrism and intolerance as a young girl in Switzerland. Now a doctoral student at George Mason University, she is learning how to help those who live in war-torn regions.

Alexandra Schaerrer-Cumming

Alexandra Schaerrer-Cumming

Even though Schaerrer-Cumming grew up in Switzerland, the atrocities of the former Yugoslavia were never far away. The fallout of that brutal period inspired her to pursue a career in helping those in regions of conflict and brought her to George Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution to learn how to influence policy, no matter where the conflict takes place.

“I became friends with a young girl who had managed to escape the carnage that was taking place in her country” of Yugoslavia, she says, “and the way she described the horrors and terror of war made me re-evaluate the direction I wanted my life to take.”

It was Mason that brought Schaerrer-Cumming to her mother’s homeland of Malta. She completed the dual-degree program offered by Mason and the University of Malta. Once she completed a double master’s in Mediterranean security studies she was keen to pursue the PhD program at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

A passion for linking theory to practice in the field of conflict resolution eventually led her to work with grassroots organizations in Tanzania and Mozambique after she com­pleted a master’s degree in international studies at the Swiss Polytechnic Institute of Zurich.

Alexandra with some kids in the community

Schaerrer-Cumming in Tanzania.

While working in East Africa, Schaerrer-Cumming had the opportunity to experience firsthand some of the region’s pressing issues, such as poverty, lack of education, lack of job opportunities, corruption, security concerns, tribal violence, HIV/AIDS and many more.

“This experience provided me with emo­tional and intellectual growth to allow me to garner a better understanding between the role of economic, social and polit­ical factors on the outbreak of conflict, security dilemmas and competition for scarce resource allocation,” she says.

This story appeared in a different form in S-CAR News, the newsletter of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

Write to Buzz McClain at

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