MURRAY, Ky. — Dr. Kala Chakradhar, associate professor of social work in the College of Education and Human Services at Murray State University, recently completed a three-month fellowship at a Rotary Peace Center in Bangkok, Thailand. This honor, awarded by Rotary International, was part of a professional development certificate program and focused on peace and conflict resolution.
From June 12 through Sept. 2, 2017, Chakradhar spent time at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, studying alongside Rotary peace fellows from 20 other countries. Participants came from a variety of professional backgrounds, including law, medicine, education, law enforcement and mental health. Some were also administrators and policy makers working with grassroots initiatives involving children, youth, women, immigrants/refugees and minority groups in vulnerable situations.
The typical day abroad consisted of teaching modules presented by expert international speakers. In addition to analyzing past and current conflict situations (both locally and globally), sessions involved hands-on activities, discussions and assigned group presentations to help process and comprehend the content being covered. The culmination of this overall exercise was reflected in a public seminar presentation and an individual conflict analysis paper, which was submitted by each fellow and tailored to their respective practice contexts.
“Passion, commonness of purpose and vision were languages we could all speak despite our multicultural origins,” Chakradhar said. “Yet we also had to struggle with our own values, thought processes and cultural backgrounds as we worked to create common grounds on various issues and possible solutions.”
In addition to classroom learning, the Rotary fellowship included two weeks of field study, which Chakradhar spent in Cambodia and Southern Thailand. Her study in Thailand’s Krabi Province focused on conflict created by a proposed coal-fueled power plant located near a seaside fishing community and well-established tourist resort. The study examined the environmental and socio-economic impacts of this proposal as well as the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, including the fishing community, businesses promoting ecotourism, advocates of alternative energy sources and the coal plant. Chakradhar’s study in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, centered around the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s and the post-genocide peace process and recovery.
While abroad, Chakradhar was also invited by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to participate in a peer-review panel analyzing the curriculum developed for training rural professionals in addiction treatment programs.
“In taking my fellowship experience forward, I am working on developing a course on peace and conflict resolution for Murray State students and am also exploring avenues to initiate trauma-informed care for the school community,” Chakradhar said. “I have acquired additional engagement- and skill-building techniques to use in the classroom as well. Furthermore, this experience has expanded my understanding of peacebuilding to include a wide array of possibilities in multiple settings and contexts, especially the local community and agencies with which I work.”
In addition to the aforementioned once-in-a-lifetime professional experiences, Chakradhar holds the privilege of serving a three-year term as a member of the Council on Social Work Education’s Council on Global Learning and Practice, whose focus is to enhance the international character of the social work profession. This sub-council is currently working to establish international faculty development trips, a multi-authored book to be used as a teaching resource and a panel presentation for this year’s annual conference. Of these efforts, Chakradhar is involved with development of both the book and the panel presentation.
“This is a prime example of a faculty member combining theory and practice to benefit both her expertise as well as that of her students,” said Dr. David Whaley, dean of Murray State’s College of Education and Human Services. “After such an intensive and extensive experience in professional development, Dr. Chakradhar will be able to provide a special focus in her teaching and research with regard to peace and conflict resolution. Not only will our students benefit, but the campus and community as a whole will prosper from her experience.”
For individuals considering study at a Rotary Peace Center, Chakradhar said, “It is a valuable complement to mid-career professionals who have acquired wisdom and insight through their work and life experiences but need sounding boards to take their careers and visions to the next level.”