School of Peace Studies
Contact: Megan Theriault
Phone: (619) 260-7618
Fax: (619) 849-8109
Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110
Students and Alumni
José Bayardo Pérez Arce (Pepe) was born in Guadalajara (Jalisco), Mexico, and holds a B.A. in theology from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Colombia, focused on the relation between psychoanalysis and theology. He has also studied critical theory, philosophy and theology in Italy and Mexico. Bayardo’s work has been primarily with youth, the LGBT community and the reconstruction of the social tissue in poor and violent areas of Mexico. In one community, he opened a space of Christian-Zen meditation and started workshops in peace education. In addition to English and Spanish, he speaks Italian and French.
Ashleigh Becker was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but grew up in Las Vegas, Nev., and graduated from the University of San Diego (USD) in 2011 with a B.A. in international relations and a minor in peace and justice studies. At USD she served as president and vice president of STAND, Students Take Action Now Darfur, which educates students on issues in Sudan and raises money for nonprofit organizations working for justice in Darfur. After graduation, Becker joined AmeriCorps in San Diego and worked on reducing youth violence in underserved middle schools. She has traveled to over 15 countries including Italy, where she studied abroad in Florence. In the master’s program, she will specialize in human rights and conflict resolution.
Ashly Bloxon is a native of San Diego and received her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Riverside. In 2010, Bloxon founded the transnational human rights organization Voice For Human Rights and now serves as executive director and editor-in-chief. She has been involved in numerous organizations advocating for human rights, including World Pulse and Humanium. Most recently, Bloxon spoke on human rights and policing in a series of forums held at UC Riverside, and explored peaceful methods of conflict resolution and dealing with violence. She speaks French, Arabic and Spanish. In the master’s program, she will focus on human rights and practices of peacebuliding, restorative justice and reconciliation.
Gerard Brown was born and raised in San Diego and graduated from San Diego State University (SDSU) in 1977 with a B.S. in business management. At SDSU he was president of a political club that grew to one of the largest college political clubs in the nation. While starting and running a construction company, Brown became involved in community and political activities, business groups and Rotary, and volunteered at Children’s Hospital. Brown was communication liaison to the Rotary Club of Kabul, Afghanistan, and participated in the Rotary Peace and Micro-credit Committees. He also serves on the board of the San Diego-based Foundation for Women, which seeks to eliminate global poverty through micro-credit.
Cindi Cassady was born and raised in San Diego and attended secondary school in Yokohama, Japan. She holds a B.A. in social psychology from Whittier College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the California School for Professional Psychology (now Alliant University) in San Diego. After seeing disparities in the local and national delivery of mental health services for deaf individuals, Cassady devoted her work in the nonprofit sector to developing direct, culturally appropriate mental health and domestic violence services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. She recently founded TIDA, Tanzania International Deaf Academy, a private school for deaf children in Arusha, with the goal of empowering marginalized deaf East African women and children through education to become brokers for changing stereotypes about disability in their communities. In addition to American Sign Language and Tanzanian Sign Language, she speaks Kiswahili and is learning Burundian Sign Language. In the master’s program, she will specialize in human rights and conflict resolution.
Afarin Dadkhah Tehrani was born in Tehran, Iran, and as a teenager was part of the organization Dialogue Among Civilizations (DAC), which promotes understanding between cultures. She also worked with the organization Mahak, which assists children suffering from cancer, and taught English as a second language to high school students. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Islamic Azad University of Tehran Central Branch, where she also worked in the international affairs department. In addition to Farsi and English, Dadkhah speaks Dari/Pashto and some Arabic. In the master’s program, she will specialize in human rights, with an emphasis on the rights of women and children.
Grace Ezeonu is a Catholic nun from Nigeria and belongs to the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Nigeria Province. She was born and grew up in the city of Jos in the Plateau State of Nigeria, a city once known for its natural beauty and serenity, but is now in a state of near ruin because of incessant ethno-religious violence. Ezeonu has worked in a variety of ministries, including education for mentally and physically challenged children and young adults, pastoral ministry, HIV/AIDS education for women and youth, and the formation of young women aspiring to become Sisters of Notre Dame. She has also served as a member of her Province Leadership Team. Ezeonu obtained the Nigerian Certificate in Education from the Federal College of Education in Oyo. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, in Kenya, and an M.A. in social justice ministry from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Ezeonu speaks Igbo, Hausa and English.
Julie Lillian Gehrke is from St. Paul, Minn. She holds an R.N. license, but spent most of her career in business development as co-owner with her husband of a residential painting company. She has held volunteer board positions in the painting trade and the co-op financial services industry. In 2006, she spent time in Puebla, Mexico, in Spanish language and culture immersion study, and recently graduated from Bethel University with a B.A. in organizational leadership. During her studies, a service trip to the Cree Nation in Manitoba, Canada, peaked her interest in truth and reconciliation initiatives. She wrote her literature review for her B.A. on the role of blame and the benefit of storytelling toward shifting public sentiment on Mexico/U.S. immigration policy reform.
Jennifer Gigliotti is originally from Tucson, Ariz., and received a B.A. in psychology with a minor in creative writing from the University of Arizona. She has been involved in case management and rehabilitation services for people with severe mental illness in Tucson and San Diego. Gigliotti planned to pursue psychology or social work, but her interest in peace and justice studies was sparked by travel and learning about the Peace Corps while still at the University of Arizona. In the master’s program, she will specialize in human rights and advocacy.
Kassi Grunder is from Anchorage, Alaska, and holds a B.A. in art and a minor in community development from Portland State University, in Oregon. She has worked with a variety of nonprofit organizations, including as an advocate at a rape crisis center and a program manager at a regional food bank. Most recently, Grunder worked at Anchorage Community Land Trust and collaborated with residents to craft a new neighborhood plan in an underserved community. She has held office on her neighborhood community council in Anchorage and co-facilitated a bi-weekly artists talking circle, which inspired an interest in restorative justice and its application in indigenous communities. In the master’s program, she will specialize in conflict analysis and resolution
Mary Harmer grew up in Bridgewater, N.J., and graduated from Messiah College with a bachelor's degree in history, a minor in sociology and a certification in secondary education. She studied abroad in Athens, Greece, and has traveled across Eastern Europe, Egypt and Peru. For the past five years, Harmer has been living and working in Philadelphia, Pa., and worked in development at the Salvation Army of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. She was a member of Impact100 Philadelphia, philanthropic women collectively funding high-impact grants that alleviate unmet needs of underserved populations.
Cynthia Kane, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and naval chaplain, studied religion at the University of Bristol in the U.K., Tulane University and Harvard Divinity School, where she earned her M.Div. Her early ministry began as a hospital chaplain, and her military career includes Arlington National Cemetery; the USS John C. Stennis; Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; Navy Region Southwest Spiritual Fitness Division in San Diego; and the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Northern New England in Portland, Maine. Kane received the 2004 Harvard Divinity School Distinguished Alumni First Decade Award and the USMC Martial Arts Tan Belt.
Sloane Keller grew up in Encinitas, Calif., and has a B.A. in international security and conflict resolution, with an emphasis in global systems and a minor in marketing, from San Diego State University. She studied abroad at one of the top business schools in France, Euromed Marseille Ecole de Management, and interned at the World Trade Center in San Diego. Keller worked at Randahl McKenzie Associates as a marketing consultant for various local and international companies. For nine years she served on the board of directors and as event coordinator at the California Surf Museum. She speaks Spanish and intermediate French. In the master’s program, Keller will specialize in human security and development.
Tina Medina is a San Diego native but spent much of her childhood in Budapest, Hungary. She participated in Semester at Sea, traveling to and learning about 10 countries on four continents. Medina studied at Loyola Marymount University and did service work as a mentor to underprivileged youth in the largest housing projects west of the Mississippi. She became a facilitator to middle and high school students for a national dialogue on race and racism. As a public school educator, Medina has spent the last seven years developing a youth-led curriculum that focuses on conflict resolution, violence prevention and intervention, and community building.
Grace Michel grew up in Auburn, Calif., and received her B.A. in international relations from Claremont McKenna College. Most recently, Michel worked as an advocate for Latina survivors of sexual and domestic violence at Consejo Counseling and Referral Service in Seattle, Wash. She served for several years in Lima, Peru, with Paz y Esperanza (Peace and Hope), partnering with local church leaders in marginalized urban neighborhoods to promote holistic, transformational community development projects. Michel comes from a multiethnic family, which includes being Karen, one of the ethnic minority groups in Burma. She volunteers with the Karen American Communities Foundation, a networking and capacity-building organization for Karen refugee communities in the U.S., and has worked with the U.S. Campaign for Burma and spent time on the Burma-Thailand border as an educator for Karen refugees.
Munira Shemsudin Mohammed is from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and graduated with a B.A. in history from Haramaya University in 2002. She also received a M.A. in social anthropology from Addis Adaba University in 2004. She has worked as a culture and gender expert for various organizations, including Harari Culture Bureau, Haramaya University, Self Help Africa and the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency. As a development practitioner, she was able to meet with diverse ethnic groups and communities affected by conflict. Her inspiration to apply to the M.A. program comes from her desire to support and empower local communities’ capability in peacebuidling. Munira speaks English, Amharic and Guragegna.
Isidore Niyongabo is originally from Muyinga, Burundi, and has resided in California since 2005. He earned his B.A. in psychology from San Diego State University (SDSU), where he founded the American Sign Language (ASL) Club to provide support to undergraduate ASL and Deaf Studies students, whose program had been placed on hiatus at SDSU. Niyongabo also served as co-chair on the student advisory board for SDSU’s Student Disability Services from 2010-2011. His experience of becoming deaf at age 10 and growing up as a displaced person in post-genocide Burundi strongly influenced him to become an advocate for the educational and social rights of Deaf children and women in East Africa and other developing countries. He is currently establishing a nonprofit organization, International Deaf Education, Advocacy & Leadership (IDEAL). In addition to his native languages, Kirundi and Burundi Sign Language, Niyongabo is fluent in French, American Sign Language, Ugandan Sign Language, and is learning Spanish.
Alexandria Nylen was born and raised in San Diego and earned a B.A. in communication studies with minors in peace and justice studies and classical studies, from the University of San Diego. Her capstone paper in peace and justice studies explored the effect of new international media in conflict situations, focusing primarily on Al Jazeera English's coverage of the Arab Spring. Nylen became involved in USD STAND during her freshman year, an organization that focuses on refugee relief services in Darfur, Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She has also volunteered at the San Diego Southern Sudanese Community Center in their afterschool homework program, and interned at the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Onyekachi Obi-Okoye is a Nigerian attorney with LL.M and M.S degrees from Missouri and Bradford (UK) respectively. He worked as legal draftsman for Akoko North-East Council (Ondo State) before joining the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center (CIRDDOC) as Program Officer in 2006. In CIRRDOC, Onyekachi was responsible for several development programs concerning gender mainstreaming, civic education, conflict resolution and human rights advocacy/ legal aid. Agencies he collaborated with include Heinrich Boll Foundation (Berlin), MacArthur Foundation (Chicago), UNIFEM (now UN Women) and the UK Department for International Development. Onyekachi became a volunteer mediator for the Citizens’ Rights and Mediation Center (Enugu State Ministry of Justice) in 2006. He taught Corporate Law in Nigerian Institute of Management between 2009-2010 during which time he doubled as adjunct lecturer and examiner at the Nigerian Law School. In 2009, his law firm established a center for industrial and commercial dispute resolution, which he headed briefly before relocating abroad for capacity building.
Alyssa Patterson grew up in Makakilo, Hawaii, and San Diego. She graduated from Loyola University New Orleans in 2012 with a B.A. in English writing and minor in sociology. She has volunteered with many organizations, including the St. Bernard Project and Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans, and St. Vincent de Paul and the Tomorrow Project in San Diego. Patterson worked as a research intern at the Women’s Resource Center, as well as a project leader with Habitat for Humanity in post-Katrina New Orleans. As the president of the Loyola University Sociology Student Organization, she participated in two peace conferences and won an award for Outstanding Paper for her 2011 research in human trafficking. Patterson has spent time in China, Vietnam and Thailand. In the master’s program, she intends to pursue social entrepreneurship and development through private enterprise with a concentration in girls’ issues and education.
Nicky Riordan was born and raised in San Diego, and received her B.S. in political science, with an emphasis in international relations and a minor in journalism, from Southern Utah University in 2011. She served as the vice president of the National Political Honors Society, Pi Sigma Alpha, helped organize events on campus that encouraged civic engagement and political discourse, and was a student reporter for the University Journal. Since graduating, she has been working and volunteering as a mentor to young children. Riordan attended the Education without Borders Conference in Dubai, working with students from around the world to brainstorm solutions to the most pressing international issues.
Lauren Schade has lived in three countries and six states, but claims New Mexico as home. She received a B.A. in literature with a concentration in English education from Point Loma Nazarene University in 2009. Schade has volunteered with Big Brother, Big Sister; the African Alliance of San Diego; and served as student director and tutor for her campus’ Writers’ Studio. She has traveled to 19 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, many of which included volunteer work. In 2010, she moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and volunteered as a full-time English teacher to grades 1-6 at a school for orphans, and lived at an orphanage as a mentor.
Adam Schwab was born in Burlington, N.C., and grew up in San Diego. He received his B.A. in religious studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2011 with an emphasis in Christian, Mediterranean and European traditions. At UCSB, Schwab worked as program assistant for the Housing Department and the Living Learning Communities to promote diversity within the residence halls through student-run programs and events. Most recently, Schwab worked at the Camp Pendleton Marine installation in San Diego, helping traveling active-duty military personnel and their families with accommodations for permanent change-of-station orders.
Ananicola Allegra Sonza was born and raised in El Centro, Calif. She received a bachelor’s degree in English literature, mass communications and political science from the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. While in college, she was an active member of Hannah and Friends, a nonprofit organization based in South Bend for children with special needs. Sonza has volunteered at a Migrant Children Development Center in the Imperial Valley and at an orphanage in Costa Rica. She recently completed the Paralegal Program at the University of San Diego, while interning with the Low Income Tax Clinic at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. Sonza is fluent in Spanish.
Anna Taylor was born in San Diego to a military family who later moved to Washington, Iceland and Hawaii before settling in Novi, Mich. She has a B.S. in international relations with a minor in Russian language from the U.S. Naval Academy. While there, she spent two summers studying abroad in Vladimir, Russia, and participated in a Bridges to Community sponsored homebuilding project in Nicaragua. Her capstone project examined the efficacy of war crimes tribunals. After graduating, Taylor completed flight training and qualified as a Naval helicopter pilot in August 2010, then later transferred from active duty into the Navy Reserve. She volunteers at Survivors of Torture, International, a nonprofit organization which provides specialized care and social services for refugees and asylum seekers living in San Diego County.
Hayley Umayam is from Seattle, Wash., and completed her B.A. in French and international studies, with a concentration in post-colonial African studies, at Humboldt State University. She became involved as a student researcher on sovereign wealth funds and in the leadership of the Arabic Peace and Culture Club. She did a year-long research project and internship at the UNESCO Chair on Women’s Rights, in Morocco. Umayam’s research, which focused on women’s marital rights in Morocco, has been presented at conferences and international colloquiums.
Heidi Van Denburgh is from Phoenix, Ariz., and graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, in 2010 with a degree in global studies. She is currently pursuing a professional certificate in fundraising and development from the University of California, San Diego Extension. Van Denburgh has worked for the Refugee Resettlement Department of Jewish Family Service of San Diego in various capacities. In her current role, she is designing and implementing career and personal development programming. Van Denburgh is co-chair of the San Diego Refugee Forum Employment Taskforce, and collaborates with local organizations to assist and advocate on behalf of refugees from around the world. She founded Koru Community, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving refugees living in the Mid-City area of San Diego.
Jessica L. Watson was born in San Diego and later moved to Minnesota. After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps, she lived and traveled to many parts of the world. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the College of William and Mary, where she double majored in Government and International Studies: Middle East. Watson’s career objective is to establish an international nongovernmental organization specializing in the extraction, rehabilitation and facilitation of a lasting stability for human trafficking victims. In addition to the master’s program of peace and justice studies, she plans to pursue a J. D. and a master’s in public administration in international development.
Audrey Wolffe grew up in Pasadena, Calif., and graduated from the University of San Diego (USD) with a B.A. in psychology and international relations with a minor in women and gender studies. She studied abroad in Cork, Ireland; attended a USD-sponsored seminar on “Obama and the EU” in Strasbourg, France; and backpacked through 11 different countries in Europe. Her honor’s thesis was entitled, “International Reproductive Rights of Women,” which focused specifically on women’s healthcare internationally. After graduating, Wolffe began a post-baccalaureate medical program at the University of Southern California and interned at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, a Catholic-run hospital that assists low-income families, working on both the Med-surge Trauma and the Post-Partum floors. She volunteered with the nonprofit Wounded Warrior project, which works to help rehabilitate service men and women as well as their families who have been injured while serving. In the master’s program, she will focus on conflict analysis and resolution with an emphasis on women’s rights.