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Keene State Grad Supporting International Peace Efforts

Matthew Parkes ’13 in Uzbekistan

Keene State alumni regularly contribute to positive change in the communities surrounding campus, and there are also grads moving the dial in communities across the globe.

Matthew Parkes ’13 came to Keene State intending to become a history teacher, but after taking a history class with his future advisor Dr. Paul Vincent, he decided to change his intended trajectory and pursue a career in conflict resolution after majoring in political science and Holocaust and genocide studies.

“I feel grateful to have gone to Keene State and found my passion when I did, and to have incredible teachers who were so supportive in such a great environment,” said Matthew.

Matthew, a program specialist for the Afghanistan and Central Asia Programs at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) in Washington, DC, helps to oversee the day-to-day coordination of the programs, which includes the team in DC, a field office in Kabul, and dozens of on-the-ground activities throughout Afghanistan and Central Asia.

USIP is a congressionally mandated nonpartisan institution created in 1984 to mitigate conflict in regions around the globe. Given the role of the U.S. in the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan, supporting the ongoing efforts to bring a political end to the conflict is one of USIP’s core priorities. In this capacity, they support the U.S. government’s efforts to bring an end to America’s longest war and enable sustainable peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. USIP achieves this through research and analysis on the key drivers of conflict and the issues that need to be resolved in a successful peace process, advising the U.S., Afghan, and international stakeholders directly involved in Afghanistan, and implementing field programs such as peace education and grassroots peacebuilding projects.

“For me, as someone who is interested in the hard academic experience but also the programmatic side, it’s been very fulfilling because you get a taste of all of it, which is the most exciting but challenging part of my job. It’s been very interesting to play a small role and be fly on the wall for high-level advisory discussions on U.S. and international policy toward bringing peace and greater stability to Afghanistan and the region,” said Matthew.

Matthew began his work at USIP after completing graduate school at Georgetown University where he earned a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution. He characterizes himself as the primary coordinator for the Afghanistan and Central Asia programs, ensuring timely organization and implementation of their work in DC and the field. Though COVID-19 has brought travelling to the region to a halt, Matthew previously travelled abroad to support USIP-funded activities every three to four months, primarily to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

“Getting to know and work with peacebuilders and activists across Afghanistan, and seeing how they engage in direct action for peace, never fails to keep me inspired and motivated. Given the more than four decades of ongoing violence, many Afghans have never lived a day not in conflict, yet many continue to push for peace and inclusivity despite the significant challenges. I can never understate how much their dedication and resilience moves me,” he said.

Matthew works alongside colleagues both at home and abroad who share decades of experience in the fields of conflict resolution, international relations, and development. He takes pride in the work USIP does in building structures for fostering peace in regions struck by instability, yet he doesn’t forget where his passion for conflict resolution began.

“I take such immense pride in the fact that I went to Keene State while working alongside people who went to private institutions. That’s a testament to the great quality of the education at Keene State,” said Matthew.

Matthew’s recommendation to Keene State students is to find the thing that they’re passionate or curious about and run with it. “My advice to students who have that curious streak is to do what you can to find those experiences where you get a taste for the work,” he said.

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