Professor utilizes real world experience in conflict resolution studies

Has worked for U.S. government, United Nations, NGOs

Mary Hope Schwoebel, Ph.D., made a career of working overseas, but she draws upon that expertise regularly as an Assistant Professor in CAHSS’ Department of Conflict Resolution Studies.

Mary Hope Schwoebel

Schwoebel started her career domestically in social services, working with marginalized populations like migrant workers, the homeless, people with substance abuse problems, and delinquent teenagers. A college course in anthropology changed her trajectory, so she switched majors and joined the Peace Corps, which assigned her to Paraguay. She worked as an agricultural extensionist and lived in the country for five years. Schwoebel found that American agricultural techniques did not necessarily translate to Paraguay, and farmers could often fall into debt during bad harvests.

“There were a lot of reasons [the farmers] couldn’t sustain that type of agriculture,” she said. “There were a lot of cultural, economic, and political factors involved as well.”

After returning to the U.S., Schwoebel met her future husband, earned a Master’s degree in international agricultural development and went to Somalia to work with women on agriculture. Her time in Somalia ended with a helicopter flight out of the capital city Mogadishu as the central government collapsed in 1991.

“You could see how fragile in some ways societies are, and how fragile democracy is,” she said of the government’s collapse. “Somalia didn’t have a democracy, but I have seen now in so many countries how easily a country can fall apart.”

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In addition to consulting with USAID and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in multiple countries, Schwoebel worked with the U.S. government and the United Nations on reconciliation and economic/political development in Somalia. She made the nation the subject of her Ph.D. dissertation at George Mason University, where she studied conflict resolution.

“I was very interested in putting Somalia back together,” she said.

Schwoebel worked in multiple countries around the world during her five-year tenure at the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the US Institute of Peace. Eventually, Schwoebel made the switch to academia and taught at several universities before coming to NSU in 2013.

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“I wish I had come [to academia] a long time ago,” Schwoebel said. “I like doing research and writing and having academic freedom. I get to share my knowledge and experience with my students.”

The expertise of Schwoebel and other faculty members is one of the department’s strengths, said chair and Associate Professor Robin Cooper, Ph.D.

“Our faculty have one foot in the real world, and it’s an opportunity for students to get real world experience while they are in the program,” Cooper said.

Schwoebel’s writing includes the book chapter "The Evolution of Somali Women's Fashion During Changing Security Contexts" in the recently published The International Politics of Fashion: Being Fab in a Dangerous World. Schwoebel noted that in the male-dominated world of international affairs, fashion is often overlooked.

“It’s an amazing indicator of what’s going on in the country, not just in terms of women, but in terms of the state of the society or the culture,” she said.

Schwoebel’s chapter detailed how fashion had changed over time in Somalia due to the religious and security climate.

“We often think of ethnic dress as static, and it never changes, and it’s been there since time immemorial. That’s not true,” Schwoebel said.

Schwoebel recently lent her expertise as a guest on “Let’s Talk About It,” a radio show produced by the International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation. The show’s topic was “Violent Extremism: How, Why, When and Where do People Get Radicalized?

This semester, Schwoebel is teaching two courses and keeping busy as the interim director of the department’s undergraduate and Master’s programs. She also intends to write more book chapters and articles and has a long gestating book project that will examine statebuilding and peacebuilding in tribal Muslim societies.

Schwoebel also wants to increase the department’s community involvement.

“I really believe in the scholarship of engagement,” she said. “Our department is so well positioned to do more in the community. We’re the intersection of the national and global. You name the issue, and we’re on the front lines in Florida.”