Graduating Carter School student is trailblazing a new path to peace


Keil Eggers is the first to admit that his research methods are unique to the world of conflict analysis and resolution. But as he is hooded at the 2024 Commencement ceremony at George Mason, his unorthodox approach is becoming the standard for George Mason Peace Engineering Lab in the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

Keil Eggers
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Eggers, who is graduating from Mason with his PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, has been a champion of complexity-informed conflict transformation, futures, and SenseMaker: a technology that applies a quantitative framework to narrative data submitted and interpreted by the subjects themselves. 

“My professors have always been willing to let me experiment and have supported me in trying new things,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest strengths of the Carter School, how it allows people to explore unique combinations of scholarship, ideas, and disciplines.”

As a Kansas native with an interest in international politics, Eggers knew he wanted to be in the center of the action in the Washington, D.C., region when applying as an undergraduate. George Mason was the perfect fit. After a year in the international politics degree program, however, he took a course in the Carter School, and “it sealed the deal,” he said. 

“I found it to be a much more helpful approach to problem-solving. It’s less about protecting one country’s interests and more about building international relationships based on dialogue, mutual learning, and mutual respect. It creates much more fulfilling relationships.”

After graduating with his BA in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the Carter School and the Honors College in 2015, Eggers received his MA in International Peace Studies from the UN-Mandated University for Peace before returning to George Mason for his PhD. 

Eggers’ approach to research using sensemaking technology is unique, particularly in academia, and very few programs could accommodate it. The Carter School, however, was interested in Eggers’ methodology and had a fellowship with that topic in mind. He was the first to receive the Peace Engineering Fellowship, one of the Provost PhD Awards designed to support the creation of the Peace Engineering Lab, where conflict analysis and resolution experts would work with engineers to create innovative technologies for peace building. 

“More and more often, engineers are put on the front lines to solve social conflict through designing infrastructure or new technologies,” Eggers explained. “But their solutions also have social impact, which needs to be accounted for and considered during the design process. They need more tools to understand that impact and how it will affect peace, which we can provide. And, on the other side, we need support in developing and implementing new analytical technologies.”

Part of Eggers’ work with the lab included setting up internal and external partnerships, including with the Cynefin Centre for Applied Complexity: the creators behind the SenseMaker tool. The lab has used SenseMaker in local, national, and international research projects. 

“I saw my role as creating a strong intellectual foundation for the lab, trying to figure out what our unique approach as the only conflict analysis and resolution school in the broader peace engineering field could be,” Eggers said. “We were building the plane as we were flying it, so to speak. We had a strong belief that this is an emerging field and a gap that needed to be filled. We keep showing up, putting in the work, and we’re cementing our role in the field as being at the forefront of this.”

Through the largest grant ever given to Carter School, the lab recieved funding to expand into one of the university's research centers. It plans to relaunch in fall 2024. 

Meanwhile, Eggers simultaneously completed his dissertation, utilizing the same sensemaking technology he worked to implement in the lab. With the support of partnering organizations Horizon Project and Common Ground USA, “Us Against When: Futures and Complexity-Informed Conflict Transformation in the United States” looked at five states with higher risk of political violence, collecting data from 800 subjects. He presented his work at the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s PeaceCon2023, and used his research to build the syllabus for and teach Honors 360: "Us Against When: Exploring Peaceful Futures for the United States."

After graduation, Eggers hopes he can continue his work to develop complexity-informed approaches to research, sensemaking, and futures methodologies through a postdoc position. He also has a dream of putting together a music festival for peace at the Carter School's Point of View facility.

“Your destiny is in your hands when you enter a PhD program,” Eggers said, when asked what advice he would give to a first year PhD. “Explore what you like, craft the experience you want. Believe in your own power to be persistent and pave the path you want to see.”