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The Kroc School Is a PhD and Career Launch Pad

Monday, May 27, 2019TOPICS: AlumniChangemakerYouth and Peacebuilding

begin quoteNot only did the Kroc School plant and cultivate my love of teaching in higher education, it also provided a rigorous academic experience that prepared me for my PhD.

As an undergraduate majoring in Psychology at the University of San Diego, I was always drawn to the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. I had the opportunity to be a Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (Kroc IPJ) intern as a Senior at USD, and I documented the Ugandan conflict over the 2007-2008 academic year. I thought of myself as a Kroc IPJ groupie, hanging out in the building to study and attend many social justice-oriented events.

Following my college graduation, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and moved across the country to Newark, New Jersey to work at a homeless shelter for youth called the Covenant House. I felt frustration there as a GED teacher and legal advocate trying to support youth undergoing an immense amount of trauma to pass their GED test and reduce their legal struggles. Despite the youth passing their GED tests and clearing most of their warrants and court fines, it was doing little to save them from the cycles of poverty and violence they faced. I witnessed how the shortcomings in our education and criminal justice systems were fueling a cycle of youth dropouts and criminality. I witnessed the school-to-prison pipeline firsthand and was left with the feeling that my efforts were well-meaning, but futile. The Band-Aid I was applying was not working, and I made a promise to myself to find sustainable solutions for the future when I left my service post. 

That promise led me back to the Kroc School’s MA in Peace and Justice program in 2010 to help me make sense of what I experienced. Following my service, I felt lost, broken-hearted, and hopeless, and coming back to USD was the best decision of my life. I found healing, support, and clarity in my life’s purpose through my time in the program. The MA in Peace and Justice saved my life and launched me into the career of my wildest dreams.

The Kroc School Introduced Me to Restorative Justice Practices, My Peacebuilding Focus

Justine Darling with students from the Kroc School's Master's programs in Peace and Justice and Social Innovation.

Two weeks into the Master’s program, I was introduced to restorative justice practices (RJP) and I spent the following 18 months cultivating a deeper understanding and passion for RJP, which was only possible through the support of Kroc School staff and faculty. Although none of my classes focused exclusively on RJP, there were related threads woven throughout my coursework. I also had the support of an incredible advisor, Kroc School Associate Professor Ami Carpenter) who met with me regularly to discuss RJP ideas. She shared books, professional contacts, and trainings I could attend to expand my knowledge and experience. The Kroc School provided financial contributions to my RJP training and to travel to international conference on the subject. The Kroc School staff and faculty became my extended family who committed to my personal, academic, and professional growth.

For instance, during my summer internship in Northern Ireland, I learned how restorative justice was being implemented in a nationwide program for minors at the Youth Justice Agency, and I witnessed the impressive results. Thanks to the global opportunities offered by the Kroc School, I was able to travel to Guatemala and Haiti as part of my Master’s curriculum, and also to New Zealand and Rwanda to present at conferences. Through these travels, I developed a more international understanding of RJP in many contexts. These academic opportunities allowed me to share my expertise in educational settings, expanded my knowledge of other related subjects, and created many spaces for celebrating cultural, physical, gender, and religious uniqueness around the world that have influenced my personal and professional life in profound ways. 

The Kroc School Opened the Door to a PhD and a Career Teaching in Higher Education

Justine Darling received her PhD in 2019. 

This restorative journey transformed into a workshop I designed and offered to other students in the Master’s program. I was able to combine my love of RJP and share that knowledge with other peacemakers. It lit my heart on fire to have an offering that could further propel fellow students to follow their own peacebuilding passions with the lens and tools of RJP under their belts. That workshop continues — Fall 2019 will be my sixth year facilitating the RJP workshop at the Kroc School. Now two of my favorite days each year take me to the USD campus to join other peacemakers in exploring restorative concepts and finding healing and inspiration together. The RJP workshop is a precious, priceless slice of peace on earth that brings me a deep sense of fulfillment.

This workshop opportunity planted a seed in my heart: teaching in higher education. Eight years later, this little teaching seed flourished into a PhD in Education and my ability to teach full time in higher education. Not only did the Kroc School plant and cultivate my love of teaching in higher education, it also provided a rigorous academic experience that prepared me for my PhD. It was helpful coming from such a well-respected Master’s program where I was able to use all of my credits towards the PhD degree to reduce the number of years it would take me to graduate. More importantly, my time at the Kroc School allowed me to feel instantly prepared for and comfortable with the rigors of a PhD program.

Without the support and knowledge the Kroc School provided me, I would not be fulfilling my purpose as a peacemaker in the world. If you feel lost and hopeless as I did when I arrived to their doors or if you are full of excitement and wonder for the possibilities of creating peace in the world through your unique gifts and talents, I am confident you will find more than a great program in the Kroc School — you will find a peacebuilding home and family for life that will hold you in a loving embrace as you contribute to peace in the world!


Justine Andreu Darling began her journey as an educator as a GED teacher and legal advocate for homeless youth at the Covenant House in Newark, New Jersey. Her passion for addressing the school-to-prison pipeline then led her to pursue an MA in Peace and Justice Studies at the Kroc School and a Ph.D. in Education from San Diego State University and the Claremont Graduate University. Before starting her PhD program, Justine was a higher education administrator at the University of San Diego (USD), where she co-founded USD’s restorative justice program. She then worked for five years as the Director of Restorative Justice Practices at the National Conflict Resolution Center, where she designed and led programs to provide restorative training, curriculum development, coaching, and circle facilitation for school districts, institutions of higher education, criminal justice partners, and community groups. She currently teaches in USD’s MA in Peace and Justice program, in the online MA program for trauma informed care and restorative justice practices at San Diego State University (SDSU), and is a Faculty Fellow in the Honors College at SDSU. She has had the honor of learning global restorative justice practices firsthand in her work with the Youth Justice Agency in Northern Ireland, the Gacaca Courts in Rwanda, and the Maori Family Group Conferencing in New Zealand.

Ready to advance your journey as a peacebuilder or social innovator? Learn more about the Kroc School's Academic programs.


Justin Prugh
(619) 260-7573

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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