COEX At Work

Head shot of COEX student Peter Ter

Alumnus career profile: “Lost boy” of Sudan finds his way

For Peter Ter, attending the Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution and Coexistence programs was a way to show gratitude for the United States, his adopted country. Peter was born in war-torn Sudan during its civil war. Separated from his parents, he lived in refugee camps in Kenya and is one of the cohort known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. Sixteen years ago he moved to the U.S. and began a long journey in which education was essential to his development. 

After graduating from the University of Florida, Peter joined the Peace Corps and worked in Azerbaijan for three years. It was through a Peace Corps newsletter that Peter formulated the idea of applying to the Heller School. Heller’s social justice mission sang to Peter, as dignity, fairness and social justice are values that echo loudly in his ears.

Peter values the theoretical and practical skills he acquired as a Heller student. “We go through simulations that relay real-world experiences. Our professors are respected international experts in their field — and we learn the word is mightier than guns, and that by bringing people together, they can work through their differences.”

Peter Ter is currently a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in the Republic of Georgia. In an article he wrote, titled “Why I love serving in the Peace Corps,” Peter says, “My next assignment will be working as an Azerbaijani-Speaking American English Teacher with Peace Corps Response in the Republic of Georgia. It will be challenging, but I am more than ready.”

Head shot of COEX student Tessa Tompkins Byer

Alumna career profile: Mediating housing crises in Cambridge

In her job as a mediator and housing stabilization coordinator at Just-A-Start, Tessa Tompkins Byer, MA COEX’16, NGF Fellow, can usually be found in Malden, Chelsea or Woburn district courts or in Cambridge mediating conflicts between landlords and tenants. She says her role can be challenging, yet rewarding. Just-A-Start is dedicated to building the housing security and economic stability of low- to moderate-income people. 

While attending the Heller School, Byer was inspired by the mediation role-plays she witnessed in professor Ted Johnson’s class, so she searched the local area for volunteer opportunities with a strong desire to apply her new skills. In February 2015, she was trained as a mediator through the Harvard Mediation Program, a group made up of community members and Harvard law students. After completing the program, she had the opportunity to train the next group of mediators and also joined the Harvard Mediation Program’s board.

At Just-A-Start, Byer was hired for her conflict resolution skills. Her work in Cambridge can be the most difficult. Conflicts regarding housing can be between tenants and landlords, family members, neighbors and even the housing authority. She helps residents receive federal funding if they are in the process of being evicted or need back-rent or security deposits, and prevents people from being homeless. The hardest part of her job is knowing that her clients might lose their homes in a few days.

What’s her advice to young professionals? Be confident and stand your ground, no matter who you’re working with, be it lawyers or local residents. The reward of helping someone keep their housing motivates her every day.