Alumni Spotlight: Melinda Ward, BA in Sociology '12

ALISON JURAM D'ADDIECO - May 20, 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth…and Let it Begin with Melinda Ward

How do you create harmony in the world-bring about peace and advocate for change?

Melinda Ward wants to know.

A 2012 Carlow graduate with a BA in sociology and a minor in political science, Ward is antsy, filled with positive energy, and ready to change the world. Now.

Ward has sought and embraced every opportunity that has come her way in her quest to foster peace. This past November, 2013, she spent two weeks in the war-torn West Bank as part of an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation, observing conflict from both sides.

She had the chance to meet with Palestinian and Israeli activists, leaders, and officials and stayed with Palestinians in their village homes—including a night spent in Bil'in with the producers of the Oscar-nominated and Emmy award winning 5 Broken Cameras, a documentary chronicling nonviolent resistance to the actions of the Israeli army.

Alumni Spotlight: Melinda Ward, BA in Sociology, '12 
Melinda Ward amidst Palestinian, Muslim students in the mosque in Hebron.

"I knew this trip would jump-start anything I would do regarding Middle Eastern affairs," says Ward, who spent months fund-raising in order to take the trip. "I want to learn about justice issues on both sides of an ongoing conflict, with an open mind."

She also got to experience life under military occupation—as an unintended recipient of a tear gas attack.

While touring Bethlehem's Lajee Center, which provides educational programming for young refugees, Ward and the rest of the delegation were hit with tear gas that was initially aimed at children playing in the street.

It's a way of life that few can comprehend, says Ward. "A kid can just throw one little rock," she says, "and all of a sudden, soldiers fire tear gas."

The children took it in stride and were back out in the street playing 10 minutes later. But Ward was panicking.  

"Tear gas doesn't just make you cry. It chokes you up. I freaked out, but those kids on the street, they're used to it."

Alumni Spotlight: Melinda Ward, BA in Sociology, 2012 
The Key Of Return stands atop the 12 meter high Gate of Return at the entrance to the Aida Refugee Camp, symbolizing the dreams of many to one day return home.

"It allowed the reality to set in of what happens every day in the Middle East," she says.

She calls the trip the most moving, emotionally-stirring experience she has ever had. And she vows it will not be her last. "Somehow, I will go back there," she says.

Ward's passion for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was first fueled by a policy course she took with Carlow's Jessica Friedrichs, assistant professor in the School for Social Change, coordinator of Service-Learning, and co-director of the Honor's Program.

Friedrichs is thrilled by Ward's recent efforts—and by her never—waning desire to advocate for peace.

"Melinda Ward is a great example of a Carlow student who developed her passions here and then took them out into the wider world, says Friedrichs. "She is truly committed to making a more just world, and I have no doubt she will make an impact."

The recipient of the 2012 Political Science Department leadership award, Ward excelled as a leader while at Carlow and, in the spring of 2012, she was selected to part in Pittsburgh's Mayor's Civic Leadership. After graduation, she was an AmeriCorps member, serving as a liaison between Public Allies Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh's uptown community, was outreach coordinator for Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh and served as a community crew leader guiding high school students in trail work and environmental education lessons in Pittsburgh's Emerald View Park.

Today, Ward is a youth counselor with Holy Family Institute, working with at-risk teenagers and Haitian refugees. Her goal? Graduate school to study public policy and international affairs, of course.

"I want to work on policy issues," she says. "I want to educate people. Even if I can just get a few people to change their minds, it will be worth it."

Alumni Spotlight: Melinda Ward, BA in Sociology '12 
Melinda Ward and two Samara girls during her overnight stay with a Palestinian family.

Ward also describes her decision to transfer to Carlow—which she did her junior year—the best decision she ever made.

"It's a great place to let your voice be heard, to be comfortable, and to have open dialog," she says. "The professors come from so many amazing walks of life, yet they are dedicated to serving the under-served. You can really draw a relationship between what you learn at Carlow and what is actually happening in real world."