Colorado State University Unique in Offering Certificate in Mediation, Dispute Resolution Through School of Social Work

Colorado State University’s School of Social Work will be the first school of its kind to offer a certificate in mediation and dispute resolution when the courses become available this fall. The school’s certificate program is designed to train professionals to negotiate and resolve disputes and is similar to programs often available through law schools.

The university is teaming with the Institute for Advanced Dispute Resolution, based in Boulder, to offer the certificate through on-line and on-site courses beginning Oct. 9. The certificate is offered to anyone interested in completing the program and, while based in Colorado State’s School of Social Work, is not limited to people with a social work background.

Thirty-eight states either court mandate or require in some form that disputing parties – such as people getting a divorce – seek mediation before the courts will hear a case.

"Anyone can mediate by law, but not everyone who mediates has effective and helpful skills," said Deborah Valentine, director of the School of Social Work. "Mediation is the perfect skill to be taught in a school of social work, since social workers already help people solve personal, relationship and family problems. Mediation empowers people to approach conflict differently."

Mediation often solves issues such as neighborhood disputes; divorce issues such as child custody; workplace, healthcare and eldercare conflicts; and disputes between landlords and tenants, corporations, and businesses and consumers.

"People assume that there is only one way to resolve a conflict, and that is through force," Valentine said. "Mediation helps to equalize power, allowing for more effective negotiation."

Shauna Ries, co-founder of the Institute for Advanced Dispute Resolution, agrees. "Mediation can help both parties get more buy-in in a solution, because both parties are involved in determining the final agreements. They believe in the solution and are more invested in making it work than they may be with other forms of resolution. A key to successful mediation is reaching a consensus, and the people involved in the dispute are able to create the solution, as opposed to rulings that are handed down by a court of law."

Valentine and Ries list a skill-set that students at Colorado State’s mediation courses will learn such as negotiation, relationship-building, neutrality, fairness, problem solving, cross-cultural communication, value and ethics standards and facilitation techniques. Students must master those skills before receiving the certificate, which can be completed in one year. The course is applicable to people who wish to become professional mediators, but is also helpful to people in other professions. Ries cites successful mediators who have completed courses through her institute from fields as varied as construction workers to hair dressers.

Mediators charge about $50-$150 an hour, much less than an attorney but still resulting in binding contracts between disputing parties. Mediators take an ethical oath to do no harm.

People who are successful mediators have strong interpersonal skills, the ability to be directive, are comfortable with high emotions, imaginative in solving problems, patient, withhold judgment and are impartial, and have a low need for recognition.

To obtain certification, students must receive thorough training and do a practicum and pro bono work. As part of the program, students will take a team approach to mediating real-life situations including divorce and neighborhood disputes.

Courses include learning skills in core mediation, advanced mediation, divorce and child custody mediation, workplace mediation, healthcare mediation, construction mediation, collaborative law, organizational mediation and arbitration.

For more information or to register, visit or, or call 877-491-4336 or 303-433-7930.