Social Work Undergrad Sees Major as Foundation to His Career Goals
Stone Stadium can be a battlefield: slide tackles, shoves, attacks and counterattacks. You might think that wouldn’t appeal to someone like Kevin Stam, who’s practiced nonviolence all his life. But Kevin’s a top competitor, a defender for the USC men’s soccer team, and doesn’t see it that way at all. Almost since he kicked his first soccer ball at age 4, Kevin Stam has loved the sport, especially the camaraderie of team play and the competitiveness of the game.
A junior, Stam found something else to love while walking on the campus’ historic Horseshoe his first year. “I was an undeclared major, but I knew what I wanted to do: international peace building,” he said. “One day I saw the College of Social Work sign on the Horseshoe and decided to take a couple of social work electives. I loved it, and declared it as a major.”
What Stam likes so much about social work is its parallels to peace building and conflict resolution. “The core values of social work integrate with peace building: integrity, social justice, the dignity and worth of people and so on,” he said.
Stam credits his family and upbringing in the Mennonite Church, renowned for its pacifist teachings, with fostering his interest in peace building and conflict resolution.
“My parents promoted the ideas of nonviolence, of community, of affection and accepting other people’s cultures,” he said. “The way they disciplined us, the way they talked to us, they set that foundation, and it seemed like the best way to live your life.”
“I was an undeclared major, but I knew what I wanted to do: international peace building. But USC doesn’t have that as a major,” he said. “One day I saw the College of Social Work sign on the Horseshoe and decided to take a couple of social work electives. I loved it, and declared it as a major.”
For Stam, there’s no disconnect between playing collegiate soccer — a virtual turf war — and being an advocate for peace building.
“Competition is paramount to sports,” he said. “I’m not trying to make your life worse by trying to win; there’s going to be a winner and a loser in every game. The goal is to keep my composure, to continue to try to play well even when my team is losing. When we’re playing well together as a team, that brings me peace.”
Stam, a member of the Honors College, has conducted undergraduate research on conflict resolution, surveying fellow social work undergrads about their views on conflict.
“What I wanted to find out is whether they view conflict constructively or destructively. It was alarming to me that 50 percent saw it as a negative thing,” he said. “Conflict is a good thing. We don’t want to avoid it, but we want to prevent victimization and other poor outcomes of conflict. The goal isn’t conflict prevention but transformation.”
After he graduates, Stam hopes to pursue a graduate program in peace building at Eastern Mennonite University. In the meantime, he’ll continue his role as the heart of the USC defense and pursuing his studies in social work.