2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Peter Coleman: From Actor to Graduate Student to Scholar

Peter T. Coleman started his career as an actor, not an academic. Beginning in 1987, however, he gradually shifted his professional interests from stage and screen to conflict mediation and psychology.

Eleven years after his initial interest in the field, he is co-director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at TC.

"In the 1980's, I worked as an acting teacher and as a professional actor in television, theater and film," he explained. "My interest in conflict resolution began in 1987 when I worked as a mental health counselor with violent inner-city youth at The Regent Hospital in New York City."

Two years later, he was named marketing director for the hospital. Still, his interest in conflict resolution continued to grow. He chaired the Yorkville Civic Council's Task Force on Youth Violence in 1989. In those days, he said, "I wasn't trained in conflict resolution. I was just working from my gut."

His acting career was long behind him when he began training to become a mediator for the New York State Criminal Court system. Then, in 1992, he began work on a doctorate in social and organizational psychology at TC. During his last two years as a graduate student, he was consultant/trainer at the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution. He completed his Ph.D. in the summer and assumed his new role as co-director in the fall semester.

In recent years, the Center has provided training for organizations from the administrative offices of the United Nations to New York City schools.

For the United Nations, for example, the Center taught the staff of the secretariat negotiating skills and how to work collaboratively. Working at the UN can be stressful and the training "puts people in a more cooperative mode," Coleman explained.

The Center also has had a major contract with the New York City Board of Education. "We trained two people at each high school in the city," Coleman said.

"One would set up peer mediation programs in the school. The other one would integrate conflict resolution into the curriculum."

Rather than continue to expand the range of programs offered by the Center, Coleman would like to see the Center maintain relationships with organizations after doing training.

He wants to include a research component when the Center does training, as well as engage in theoretical research.

In short, as the co-director of the Center, he wants it to concentrate "less broadly, but more deeply" on projects.

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