Jim Bernat, MA ’00
For the last 25 years, Jim Bernat has worked in Culpeper, Virginia, a town that is mid-way between the two universities in his state that offer master’s degrees pertaining to conflict transformation: EMU and George Mason University (GMU). Jim holds an undergraduate degree in counseling from GMU. But he passed up a chance to get a master’s degree at his alma mater “for a fraction of the cost of going to EMU,” because he preferred the practice focus of EMU’s program and because he felt more welcomed by EMU.
Jim started his multi-decade career with the Rapidan-Rappahannock Community Services Board as a substance abuse counselor, working with lots of people who had criminal records. Today he is an administrator, charged with supporting and improving the work of 300 employees in three clinics serving thousands of people with mental health problems.
He calls Howard Zehr his “most quoted person” and only wishes CJP had offered courses on organizational development when he was a student. (It does now.) On a sobering note, Jim says: “Our system is clearly broken, because we’re seeing the second generation of people we saw when we first came here. The cycle is continuing.”
Jim had to hold onto his job while he was taking CJP classes – his income was needed for his family of four – so he commuted 90 minutes to class and home immediately afterwards. “As a commuter, there is something you do lose,” he says, referring to his absence of bonds with his fellow classmates. He would recommend that commuting students try to do at least one semester in residence or live on campus for the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.