• Catherine Cousar

Interview with William Muehl

Will Mueh first participated in Coastal Promise in Spring 2014 and returned in Spring 2017, Spring 2018 and Fall 2018 as a Controller/Evaluator (CE). He

is 29 years old and currently lives in Winston-Salem, NC. He graduated with a double BA in Anthropology and History in 2013 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He earned his MA in Peace and Conflict Studies with a concentration in International Peace Development in 2015 and as of Fall 2017 is pursuing a Ph.D in Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations, from the same institution. Here, he reflects on his experiences in conversation with Forage Center Administrative Specialist, Catherine Cousar.

Q: What are you doing nowadays?

Currently I am the Wellness Graduate Assistant for Peer Health Education in the Department of Recreation and Wellness at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I am responsible for teaching two undergraduate classes per semester, Introduction to Peer Health Education and Advanced Peer Health Topics. I also oversee the certification course for Peer Educators across other aspects of life besides Health. I am a rising third year doctoral student who will hopefully graduate in 2022. My research interests revolve around queer education policy, environmental justice and phenomenology.

Q: How did experiencing in the Coastal Promise exercise as a participant impact you?

At the time, going through the exercise as a participant was very stressful and it was one of the most rewarding and real-life experiences I could ever ask for. My master’s program was designed to build and create peace practitioners vs academics and I was able to use those skills to my advantage during the exercise. In classes we tended to only discuss disasters and the people who lived through them in terms of historical victims to violence and civil unrest and the simulation provided the reality of seeing those victims in real time. For me, it brought the humanity and the urgency back into the equation. The exercise made me empathic towards humanitarian workers who are on the front lines during the assessment and recovering stage. Lastly the exercise pushed the importance of a strong team with open communication and group cohesion which showed that when in the field we have to act together as a team rather than as individuals.

Q: How has returning to the Coastal Promise exercise as a CE impacted you?

The past three simulations as a CE have each been different and each have brought out a different skill in myself. Looking at the participant teams from the outside, I was able to see where the participants themselves needed mentoring to figure out how to make the ‘right’ choices. Being able to go through the simulation with some of the same staff has created this friendship group that I enjoy reconnecting with and seeing even though it is only for roughly 144 hours a year. I thrive the best when I am on a team and having the ability to be a CE helped me to bridge the gap between peer and staff. There was also comfort in the sense that I have gone through this exercise before and I can model how one should respond when in role. I appreciate coming back to the simulation because I don’t have to focus as much on the storyline or the lanes and am able to focus on the participants and evaluate what they need to be successful.

Q: Can you recall something about the exercise that has helped you in your studies?

In many ways I used the skills I learned as a CE to mentor and guide my peer education students. If I had to pick one thing about the exercise that has helped me in my studies I would say it helped me to discover how my strengths are tied to my passions. I have chosen to get into peer education and student affairs because I can guide those students towards the goal of creating awareness and resources for all to obtain knowledge about a wide variety of mental health, sexual health and drug/alcohol topics. For my job I have to do a semesterly needs assessment of the community to gage what the community needs from the peer educators and I gained how to do that skill from the simulation. The simulation has taught me how to work with a small team to assess, implement and evaluate the health needs of our student population. Without a strong team in place, my work wouldn’t be possible and if we aren’t all on the same page then we aren’t being the effective machine we need to be.

Q: What are your future plans?

As of right now I plan to stay in my graduate assistant position until I graduate. I am still trying to narrow down what I would like to do as my career. I am currently in the process of studying German and Swedish with a long range dream of living abroad and doing peer education work with a local university. I plan to go back abroad over this summer to see a few friends and recharge before the fall semester begins. I would also love to return to Coastal Promise as either a CE or in another role.

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