While many students were making their way through midterms and dreaming of tropical vacations or carefully building their Netflix queues the week before spring break, Nathan Grosch (JD ’16) and Sean Cruz (JD ’17) were putting their education to an entirely different kind of test.

Cruz and Grosch had instead taken their midterms early and traveled with Fowler School of Law Professor and
Mediation Clinic
Director David Dowling to help teach a weeklong course to 30 Ukrainian students, law professors and practicing professionals eager to learn about mediation, which is not currently taught or practiced in the country.  The experience offered both students a rare chance to put their education to use and gain some much valued perspective.

“We had some students who traveled hundreds of miles and stayed for the entire week, specifically for this class. It was incredible,” Cruz said. “These are students and professionals who are going to shape the country into what they want it to be. They’re trying to enact change while still students, and it was incredible to be a part of that.”

Professor David Dowling leads a class at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

Professor David Dowling leads a class session at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

Professor Dowling began working with Ukrainian students from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in 2013, first providing impromptu lessons and mentorship at an international student competition, and later
teaching a short introduction to mediation via Skype
last summer. Thanks to the success of that course, Professor Dowling was invited by the same students to teach a week of in-person training. He immediately began searching for two students to assist.

“I thought this was a fantastic opportunity to travel to another country that had virtually no exposure to mediation and to see how their education can help others understand the benefits of mediation,” Professor Dowling said.

big group shot of Law School students

Professor Dowling, Cruz and Grosch with their class of 30 Ukrainian students, professors and professionals

For Grosch and Cruz, the participants’ eagerness was a powerful lesson in the significance of mediation. The course, which was originally intended for 25 students, had 75 applicants.

“It was a really moving and humbling experience as a student,” Grosch said. “You can’t really put it into words. This group of students sees that there’s only one way to do things in Ukraine and they feel that is doesn’t meet the needs of the community. They were so hungry for new ideas, unbelievably engaged and passionate about learning the material.”

Cruz and Grosch have both participated in the Mediation Clinics directed by Professor Dowling. As part of Fowler School of Law’s Juvenile Hall Conflict Resolution Clinic, both students taught mediation techniques to at-risk juveniles, which provided a unique palette of mediation techniques they were able to use when training the Ukrainian students. While Professor Dowling provided lectures, both students were responsible for leading role-playing activities and providing feedback for the Ukrainian students.

Law students group shot

Professor Dowling (center), Cruz and Grosch with the two organizing Ukrainian students

One of the most telling moments of their success, Grosch said, was when a student asked to have another try at a role play activity that Grosch had provided feedback on the day before. After fumbling through a mock opening statement on the first try, the student took Grosch’s recommendations and returned the next day ready to try again.

“When he did it the second time, he was flawless. He had gone home and practiced. These people were all there voluntarily and all had school or work before our class,” he said. “They were just so willing to glean as much as they could from the material being presented. Every time I’ve traveled out of the country I come back with a renewed sense of how special it is to live in America where we have exposure to so many things, and these people are just so hungry to get parts of what we have access to all the time.”

Both students called the experience life-changing.

Grosch, Cruz and Professor Dowling in front of Kyiv building

Grosch, Cruz and Professor Dowling explore the city of Kyiv

“I would call it awesome in the truest sense of the word,” Grosch said. “To watch people start to glow with the idea that maybe they could adopt certain aspects of our version to benefit their system, and to realize that we really had an impact and the people we worked with will now take what we gave them and use our ceiling as their floor to build upon is a very unique thing to have been a part of.”

“It was just one of those things that you’re going to tell your kids about,” Cruz said. “I made great friends, I have an entirely new appreciation for mediation and it was my first chance to really travel and experience a different culture. This experience, and working with the Mediation Clinic in general, has definitely changed the way I look at the law.”

Learn more about the
Fowler School of Law Mediation Clinic
and the
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Board

Photos courtesy of Nathan Grosch and Sean Cruz