As a high school student in Pittsburgh, Michael Venetti was always thinking about how to bring peace to war-torn countries.
Then he joined the Marine Corps ROTC as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, where he majored in international relations and English literature.
“I wanted to understand peace as much as I could,” he says. “I felt like I couldn’t fully understand peace unless I understood the war side as well, so that’s a major reason why I decided to join the Marines.”
After graduation, he served six years on active duty. He was deployed as a platoon commander, first with an infantry unit that traveled throughout Asia and next with an anti-tank unit that trained with allied military forces throughout the Middle East.
During his final deployment, he was based at the U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, as an embassy inspection officer. He traveled to a different U.S. embassy in the Middle East and South Asia every few weeks to interview the Marines guarding each embassy and advise the ambassadors on security.
When he got engaged to be married, he decided to go on reserve status and search for a graduate school near his fiancee’s job as a biomedical engineer in Massachusetts. Although he looked at several universities with strong graduate programs in international relations, he decided UML’s Peace and Conflict Studies program was a better fit.
“Nobody else had anything like it. In the Peace and Conflict Studies program, you could study high-level things like diplomacy, but you could also study person-to-person, on-the-ground situations and how you could bring peaceful solutions to them,” he says.
He also appreciated the personal feel of the program. Research Prof. David Turcotte, the director of the program, took time to talk with him about his interests and goals. Janine Wert, director of Veterans Services, reached out and made him feel welcome.
“At the other universities, I felt lost in the shuffle, but UMass Lowell made me feel like I was already part of the university family,” he says.
The program also allowed him to choose among courses in multiple areas, including security studies, psychology, history and diplomacy – whatever suited his interests. The core curriculum is designed to help students analyze the underlying reasons for a “surface” conflict, whether international or internal, and then address them to bring about a resolution, he says.
That was one of the biggest benefits of the program for Venetti. Another was studying with a small but diverse cohort of American and international students.
“The military is a more conservative organization, and coming into a university where not everybody is that way and hearing from people with diverse opinions and backgrounds, my world view expanded greatly,” he says. “We all got so close and involved in each other’s lives, and we had so much mutual respect, and we cared for each other, although there were vast differences of opinion.”
He found plenty of internship and job opportunities, too. During a campus career fair, he landed a summer internship with the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General, investigating corruption in government and law enforcement agencies. In his second year, he applied for and won a Presidential Management Fellowship, which pays recent graduates to work for the federal government for two years.
The fellowship award allowed him to apply for any open jobs that interested him. Venetti was hired as a foreign affairs officer in the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, working on programs for Africa and the Middle East and occasionally traveling to those regions, starting in July 2020.
As a fellow, he was assigned a formal mentor, undergoes additional leadership training and rotates through two other government agencies or different branches of the State Department. Upon successful completion of the program, he will transition into a permanent position.
Venetti also hopes for a future assignment in the Marine Corps Reserve as a civil affairs officer, whose role is to work with civilians abroad in order to analyze the underlying reasons for a conflict.
“I think that will complement a career in the State Department and build on what I learned at UMass Lowell very well,” he says.