Why would an educator with a mile-long credentials and awards in the field of education and communication/mediation agree to become Senior Assistant Ombudsman at the U. S. Department of Homeland Security? The job requires serving over 45,000 federal employees with issues ranging from workplace harassment to job-related grievances.
"I have always been motivated by a sense of fairness in relationships, employee issues, personal concerns, and other interpersonal matters," said Dr. Melinda Lincoln-Richardson, in a recent interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette. "Representing those whose voice was not being articulated but needed to be heard was of immense importance to me."
Now retired from her job at Homeland Security, she could hardly be called idle. She is currently an adjunct professor of communication at the University of Maryland, and at the Thomas Nelson Community College, a job, she said, that "simply makes my heart smile on a daily basis."
Her previous federal positions have not always provided similar contentment. As Senior Policy Adviser at the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, she had to deal with discrimination cases involving national origin, age, gender, parental status and other issues. Many of the cases required detailed investigations and dealings with members of Congress. "Even though both positions were often challenging and difficult, I found my motivation to resolve issues and altercations effectively to be very gratifying," she said.
She recalled the case when a passenger traveling through checkpoint-screening at an airport felt discriminated against due to her ethnicity. She alleged that she was profiled by the Transportation Security Officer because she was wearing a jihab, the Moslem women's religious headscarf.
Dr. Lincoln-Richardson explained that the key to effectively resolve such situations is to identify the issues, separate emotions, effectively listen and analyze the needs of the participant. "Critical analysis, open-ended questions and exchange of effective communication promoting the interaction of ideas and the introduction of mutually supported agreement is recommended for maximum benefit and satisfaction"
She emphasized that an important part of resolving a dispute is to be able to understand the issues, acknowledge the parties point of view and analyze their perspectives. "Acknowledging the victim's voice of abuse of authority makes me an effective intermediary without compromising the impartiality of the mediation precepts."
As a professor, Dr. Lincoln-Richardson utilizes her accumulated experience in conflict resolution and communication, in the classroom. "My aim is to spark my student's capacity for applying critical thinking and reasoning. Every exchange I have with them is directed to enhancing their ability for deeper analysis. I want them to begin thinking 'outside the box'."
Although, she worked for years for the federal government, teaching students in a learning environment, "has always been a part of my life and helps to define who I am," she said. ."Touching minds and recognizing creativity and ingenuity in a student as they gravitate toward a concept or an idea for the first time, is an amazing experience."
She believes that teachers reap enormous benefits when they give their best to their students and inspire them. "For me, helping students to built self-confidence and find their voice in a learning situation is always a remarkable experience. My method of teaching involves relevancy, sharing of ideas, feedback, interpretation, discussion, application of theory by the student, and, of course laughter in the classroom."
Dr. Richardson's classroom performance apparently is appreciated. She was twice invited to address students, magistrates, judges, and mediators at the Graduate School of International Law in Oxford, England. She lectured there about the American perspective of 9/11, and talked about her program focusing on Conflict Resolution Communication.
Just as when she was eight years old, Lincoln-Richardson is still being overwhelmed with the hallowed halls of education.
"Since I am a natural teacher-at-heart and love working with students, my never-ending experience teaching and touching minds gives me the greatest satisfaction," she said.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.