In search of common ground
There’s absolutely no doubt about how Claire Turpel ’10 feels about her job in public policy consensus building. Even in a cross-country phone conversation from Seattle, excitement and commitment resonate in the French and Political Science major’s voice.
She talks about bringing together tribal leaders, government officials, landowners, environmentalists and timber-industry representatives to help them find common ground for statewide forest management – and vivid images emerge of lush Pacific Northwest forests and rivers alive with fish fighting their way from ocean to spawning grounds.
Easily pictured too is the diversity of people and interests seated at the typical table, there with Turpel as the neutral third party – the only one without a stake in the outcome. She’s with Triangle Associates, a Seattle-based dispute resolution firm dedicated to supporting public policy resolutions through collaborative governance and public engagement.
By the time the group comes together for meetings, much of Turpel’s work has happened behind the scenes.
“My job is to help people feel empowered to make decisions that everyone is comfortable with at the end of the day and to make sure everyone understands that decision,” says Turpel, who was a member of the Maryland Student Legislature, French Club, Vagina Monologues and founded Justice Week during her years at McDaniel. “That means I am communicating with everyone between meetings.”
She rates that communication as key to resolving issues and integral to the work she relishes.
“The best parts of the job are interacting with people – I love that I jump from talking with a property owner on one of the most remote lakes in western Washington to a city mayor to a county commissioner to the leader of a federally recognized Tribe,” she says, adding that off hours finds her hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and kayaking amid the same spectacular terrain that often factors into her work.
In three years at Triangle, Turpel has facilitated projects as varied as opening development on a tribal reservation with no water or electricity, siting k-12 schools in rural areas outside the Urban Growth Area, designing a sewage storage tank under an urban park, forest management across the state of Washington and recovering a portion of the Puget Sound that has been devastated by pollution and development over the past century.
“Every day is different than the last, I work with a big variety of people so every interaction feels different, and I am taking on more responsibility as my clients increase their trust in me,” says Turpel, who won the Mary Ward Lewis Prize for outstanding female senior at graduation.
Still, when she graduated from McDaniel, she didn’t see a particular career path, so she looked at various programs. Turpel scoured the Internet for interesting graduate programs, applied and was accepted to several. But her aha moment came in a casual comment from her uncle.
“He asked me which of the programs I’d been accepted to would be the most applicable,” says Turpel. “At first I didn’t know what he meant. Now I can really see clearly that what he meant was which of the schools would give me the most skills to transfer to a job – not knowledge, but skills.”
She entered the University of Oregon’s Conflict & Dispute Resolution master’s program at the School of Law. The differences between UO and McDaniel were many: the university is huge and about 3000 miles closer to her hometown of Portland. She chose the Conflict and Resolution (CRES) program to complement her academic experience at McDaniel, but also found that she benefited personally in challenging herself in different ways.
All that academic and personal growth built upon the variety of coursework at McDaniel, where each semester looked different than the last.
“At McDaniel I gained a working knowledge of many concepts which helps me today in my work with a variety of people on a range of topics,” she says. “McDaniel empowered me to do what I want and to follow what I find interesting.”