Alumni at Work
Keenan Powers ’11
Major at MMA: Marine Transportation Operations
Extracurricular involvement while at MMA: Writing Tutor, Outdoors Adventure Club, Blueberry Picking…living in a canvas wall-tent…
Employer: Karuna Center for Peacebuilding
Where has your career taken you since graduation?
After I graduated I hitch hiked from San Francisco to Canada with my best friend and then drove back across the country. When I got home I joined MM&P and eventually got a permanent gig with United Ocean Services where I was quickly promoted from AB to Chief Mate aboard the Integrated Tug & Barge Barbara Kessel/Gayle Eustace, now called the Coastal 202 and owned by International Shipholding Corporation. The Kessel is a 700 ft self discharging unit that mainly runs between the Lower Mississippi River and Tampa Bay carrying coal to Tampa and raw phosphate to Louisiana. We did all our own pilotage on the River and in Tampa Bay, including docking and undocking, which was a great and unique learning experience–I had two incredible captains and great crews and it was thrilling to work on what was basically a ship, but only had a crew of 11 including the cook! It was two months on two months off and in my shore leave I lived out of a backpack in primarily Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua learning Spanish and exploring the violent history and current realities of Central America. It was an eye-opening experience to explore the negative and positive effects of US engagement around these histories of violence and migration in Central America, it is all a story that is not well taught in our schools, but in which our society holds great responsibility for both terrible atrocities and injustices as well as incredible and positive transformations. These explorations led me to leave my shipping job and pursue a Masters of Arts in Peacebuilding & Conflict Transformation at the School for International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute. I completed this degree in December 2016. Before graduating I was hired full time by the organization through which I was completing my final Practicum phase of my Masters degree. I continue to be employed by this organization which is a 501(c)3 non-profit called the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding.
What is your current title and what are your responsibilities?
My current title at the Karuna Center is “Program Associate” though my maritime self likes to think of myself as a “Program Officer!”
The Karuna Center works to bridge deep and often long-standing ethnic, religious, and political division through deep dialogue, joint conflict analysis, and collaborative action and advocacy towards peace and healing. Over the past 22 years we have worked in over 25 countries, including at home in the United States, to leverage “Whole-of-Society” approaches to building “Peace-Writ-Large”. We partner with Governments, Intergovernmental Bodies, Civil Society and Private Sector Organizations, Secular and Religious Communities, and Individuals to build durable and sustainable relationships, strategies for conflict management and conflict transformation, and implemented processes that strive for and move towards peace.
I do a little bit of everything at Karuna by supporting program development, implementation, and management, research, reporting, budgeting, contracting, and logistics, as well as organizational performance, development, and overall strategy building and implementation. I think of Karuna a little like a ship–it is a small organization with large responsibilities and, like a ship, if there is a fire it is only our little staff that is going to respond so we all have to know at least a little about a lot, be cognizant of our shared and individual responsibilities, and super have each other’s backs!
What piece of advice would you give to a student going into your field?
Be creative and follow your dreams! If you spend six months out on the waves, make sure when you come home you are active in your community! Get out there and help people out, as mariners you likely have the great privilege to be financially solvent as well as have free time to yourselves. I urge you to, of course, take care of yourself and your families, but I also urge you to devote as much of that free time as you can to getting involved in taking care of folks who are struggling in your communities for whatever reasons! The more you get out there and lend a hand the more your life will glow with goodness, and the more your families will be shining lights in your community:) We all need those shining lights to stand up!
How did the MMA experience prepare you for both your prior positions and your current career focus?
I thought my Maine Maritime schooling and my shipping experience would not translate into my new work. I was so wrong. MMA and shipping focus on team building, on safety, on situational awareness, and on shared leadership. Hierarchical structures can sometimes seem to centralize leadership, and we’ve all had Captains (and teachers) with way to big egos, but we can always figure out how to work with one another, support each other, and create teams and environments of inspired and shared leadership. I’ve found that the more we collaboratively and honestly do this the more we will get done and the more we will enjoy it!
What are your goals for the future?
My goals are to never stop learning, never stop challenging my assumptions, and always envision and strive for a world where we all are free to be ourselves and support others in that endeavor, especially folks who are different from me and who may be the recipients of social marginalization and negative societal judgement or any other negative structural factors making life difficult for them. My philosophy is pretty basic: if you help out with a smile you’ll get help and smile in return:)