To characterize Mike Niconchuk ’07 as a transformative force for good in the global mental health space doesn’t adequately capture his transcontinental impact as someone who helps people understand and address the costs of psychological and emotional pain. Formally recognizing him as our 31st annual St. John’s Prep Distinguished Alumnus, however, is a wholly appropriate tribute to the fact that his lived experience exemplifies the spirit and values of the Xaverian Brothers and inspires current students to be change-makers and warriors for the common good.
While this past year’s Distinguished Alumnus, Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Needham ’60, endured one of the 20th century’s most profound traumas, the Vietnam War, and emerged as a prolific servant-leader on the international stage, Niconchuk is actively confronting many of the 21st century’s human traumas via his work with forced migrants and people affected by conflict in the Middle East, Central America, and Central Asia.
Niconchuk, who is the first alumnus of color to be recognized with this award by the School, is currently serving as the Program Director for Trauma & Violent Conflict (TVC) at Beyond Conflict, a non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO) headquartered in Boston. Beyond Conflict applies brain and behavioral science to the design, promotion, and execution of new tools and programming that reduce conflict, increase tolerance, and facilitate positive social change.
Niconchuk oversees the organization’s research, intervention design, and policy work that address the role of chronic stress and trauma in the origins and escalation of violent conflict as well as the role of trauma-healing in conflict-resolution efforts.
“Of course, it feels overwhelming and humbling to even be considered for this kind of recognition,” he says. “I think I’m most excited about being able to visit campus next month and speak to students. Obviously, I’m not going to give them a lecture on the neuroscience of trauma. But, I’ve spent most of the past 10 years actually living with my refugee friends, and I want to talk about the relationship between science, servant-leadership and faith. This isn’t about prioritizing or praising living near war zones. Having privileges and comfort doesn’t shield you from trauma. In all cases, we have an ethical and spiritual mandate for us to have hope and to confront our pain.”
Niconchuk and his colleagues build training programs, courses, and community activities to address issues such as refugee integration, violent extremism prevention, community violence, and even combatant reintegration, all with an emphasis on the science of trauma and recovery. The author of “The Field Guide for Barefoot Psychology,” a trauma education program that has reached more than 40,000 learners across the Middle East, he is also a Fulbright Scholar and holds degrees from Tufts University and University College London.
Prior to joining Beyond Conflict, Niconchuk worked for various non-governmental organizations, serving children in conflict with the law in Jordan, building violence prevention workshops in Nairobi, supporting non-violent communication work in Tajikistan, and spending years working with former combatants in Guatemala, which is his mother’s country of origin. Fluent in both Spanish and Arabic, he began working with Syrian refugees in Jordan in 2012, and currently splits his time between living in Amman and Albania.
Niconchuk’s view of his own work and that of Beyond Conflict is as elegant as it is elemental: “I love my friends, and my friends have suffered too much. It makes sense that I work in this field. For them, for family. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to try to help.”
That perspective is closely aligned with Xaverian Brothers’ founder Theodore Ryken’s vision for a community of laypersons committed to living lives of service. It also echoes the core of our School’s Xaverian Catholic Identity, which is to confront social, economic, and environmental injustices, and to pursue prophetic lives of joy, justice, charity, and solidarity.
When it comes to the Prep, Niconchuk is also part of a legacy family. His father, Robert, graduated in 1965 and his brother, Jonathan, is an ’05 alumnus. Uncles William ’72 and David ’82 Niconchuk are also graduates.
The Prep’s Distinguished Alumnus Award was established in 1993 to celebrate individuals who demonstrate a commitment to faith, family, and service; who have achieved professional success; and who have made significant contributions to society as volunteers, mentors, or benefactors. Niconchuk joins an impressive group of change-makers and forces for good in the world who have earned the honor, including recipients like Bishop Robert Reed ’77, president of The CatholicTV Network, Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy ’86, Paul F. Niehaus ’00, co-founder of GiveDirectly and Segovia, and University of Alabama Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien ’88.
Please join us in celebrating Mike Niconchuk’s extraordinary leadership and service to humanity as we congratulate him on this honor as our 2022-23 St. John’s Prep Distinguished Alumnus.
My early work in the field opened the door to a lot of continued questions on the central role that psychological trauma plays in conflict, violent behavior, aggression in family breakdown, intergenerational violence, and in decisions to hate other people and other groups of people. The role of trauma is central there, and the lack of resolution of trauma at the collective level, to me, offered a clear and clearer picture of this as a central question. How do we be stewards of our own pain? What does stewardship of our pain look like? And how do we balance the need for social justice with the individual responsibility to heal?Mike Niconchuk '07