Human rights careers forum gives students a look at career options

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Passion and encouragement filled McCord Auditorium Thursday night as half a dozen SMU alumni gathered to talk to current students about how they can incorporate their degree in human rights into a career. With the central theme of “there is no such thing as a lesser person,” the alumni made it clear to students that human rights work is all about helping others.

“I remind you all that the most important right anyone has is not the right to life, but the right to life with dignity,” said Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights program, who led the discussion.

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Philip Haigh, Dallas Regional Chamber Director of Public Policy, sits with panel discussing human rights careers. Photo credit: Janelle Giordano

Amber Long, a sophomore environmental engineering major, came to the forum to find out how she could apply her interest in human rights to her engineering degree.

“The speakers were very helpful,” said Long. “I learned that human rights can be applied to anything, including my career path, and it’s all a journey waiting to be discovered.”

The six alumni sat at the front of the room answering questions from Halperin and several of the roughly 20 students in attendance. Through personal stories and experiences, the alumni showed that a degree in human rights can be taken into education, law, and even development work in third world countries.

Rachel Ball-Phillips, a faculty member in the SMU history department, reminded students that everyone is a global citizen, not just a national citizen, and that everyone has a responsibility to help other citizens of the world.

“When I look at my child, I want to be able to create a world that is a better place for her than what we currently live in,” said Ball-Phillips, who graduated from SMU in 2006.

The alumni were able to give students advice on career development and also refer them to specific networks to aid in job searching.

While the alumni explained the difficulty and emotional strain that comes from working in human rights, they also stressed the importance of students following their passions.

Ogulcan Kalkanli, a senior majoring in international studies and minoring in human rights, left the forum encouraged by what the alumni had to say about pursuing a career in human rights.

“They taught me to stick with my passion and to not let anyone steer me away from something I really want to do,” said Kalkanli.

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