| by Jason Warburg

News Stories, People

Profile image of Nykeesha Damali Peterman, smiling with arms folded
Nykeesha Damali Peterman MAIPS ’02

After studying conflict resolution at the Middlebury Institute and launching a successful training, conflict resolution, and crisis management business, alumna Nykeesha Damali Peterman (née Davis) MAIPS ’02 recently became one of the youngest people ever invited to join JAMS, the global “gold standard” in the field of alternative dispute resolution.

Peterman is now available to serve as a mediator, arbitrator and ombuds through JAMS for matters including business and commercial, employment, education, and international/cross-border issues.

“I was told I’m one of the youngest people ever invited to join the panel of practitioners at JAMS,” says Peterman. JAMS, formerly known as Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, Inc., is the largest alternative dispute resolution (ADR) organization in the U.S., whose approximately 420 practitioners mediate and arbitrate an average of 18,000 cases annually. Most practitioners on the invitation-only JAMS “panel” are attorneys or retired judges with 30 or 40 years of experience in the field. 

“I haven’t had a 30-year career, but I bring a wide range of experience to the panel,” says Peterman. She came to Monterey after receiving her BA in English at Spelman College in 2000, and earned an MA in International Policy Studies and a certificate in Conflict Resolution. After graduating from the Middlebury Institute, she studied international mediation and conflict resolution at The Hague before earning her JD at Howard University School of Law, where she continues to serve as an adjunct professor and an advisory board member for the ADR Certificate Program. 

“Studying international policy and conflict resolution at MIIS was key to establishing my formal foundation for the work I do now,” she says. “The student body was such a wonderful, diverse, and eclectic group from all over the world. I met some really amazing people and was invigorated by the brilliance of the students and the professors, and their range of experiences.” Peterman has special memories of two professors, Peter Grothe and Bill Monning. “I ended up being a TA for Professor Grothe,” the former U.S. Senate staffer credited with naming the Peace Corps, “who when I met him had traveled to approximately 190 countries.” Professor Monning told her about the international mediation program at The Hague and wrote her a letter of recommendation for it. 

Another Institute professor recommended the Japanese language and culture program that Peterman pursued between her first and second years. “Language skills have allowed me to stand out in a crowded field, being a legal practitioner,” she notes. “It is not common for law students between their first and second year of law school to secure a paid summer internship at big law firms. My language skills and international experience really helped set me apart.” Peterman studied Spanish, Russian, and Danish prior to the Institute, Japanese at the Institute, and Mandarin later on. At the law firm, “I was brought in on a number of matters when both internal and external clients learned about the languages I spoke.”

To me, the MIIS community is a model for the world, because it’s a place where differences are celebrated.
— N. Damali Peterman MAIPS ’02

Peterman’s advice for students enrolling at the Institute is to “learn as much as possible from everyone there! From the students to the faculty and the staff, try to see all interactions as opportunities to learn and be very intentional about maintaining those relationships.” The Institute’s international character was a source of particular inspiration for Peterman. “I’m a Black American woman. I felt like the MIIS community was so diverse that it was one of the only times, outside of the wonderful communities at Spelman and Howard, when I didn’t feel different. I remember feeling like it was the way that society was supposed to function. To me, the MIIS community is a model for the world, because it’s a place where differences are celebrated.” 

Peterman notes the significance of diversity and representation in the context of her invitation to join JAMS, as well. “The mediation community, similar to the legal profession, is still not very diverse. Representation matters. Bringing me on to the panel at JAMS will hopefully attract more people of color, and more mid-career people, to our profession. It sends a very clear message to other people who are considering ADR that you don’t have to wait until you’re close to traditional retirement age, and you don’t always have to fit a certain profile, in order to be on the radar of an organization like JAMS.” 

Being a successful mediator requires, among other things, three essential skills, according to Peterman: active listening, so that participants feel heard and validated; effective communication, to move participants from focusing on what happened to exploring practical solutions; and managing the stages of the mediation process, so that the mediator is always conscious of where they are on the “arc of resolution” and knows how to generate movement when the parties get stuck. 

In addition to her work with JAMS and leading her training, conflict resolution, and crisis management company BreakthroughADR, Peterman focuses on training others, both directly and through media interviews and her podcast, in order to empower people to resolve their own conflicts. “I’m working to help people break through barriers—not just solving problems for them, but teaching them how to do it. I judge international mediation competitions and teach international students the basics of mediation all over the world. To me this is my legacy—much like the legacy of Professor Grothe—trying to help as many people as possible and make the world a better place.”