Spotlight: Erb Institute staffer using different skills
after years as a dog trainer

Dominique Abed went from one job — dog training — that is based on clear, simple and often nonverbal communication, to one that stresses the delivery of complex, nuanced verbal information.
(Photo by Austin Thomason, U-M Photo Services)

Abed is the marketing communications specialist at the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, where her core duties involve maintaining and developing the institute's Web site, and overseeing formal internal and external communications.

Born in France, Abed moved to New Jersey when she was a child. Growing up an immigrant, Abed says, "made me grow up as an anthropologist willy-nilly. One becomes attuned to cultural differences growing up with an outsider's perspective."

Her anthropological perspective continued with bachelor's and master's degrees in anthropology from U-M in the late 1970s. Abed says she liked the idea of a big university far from home. "Ann Arbor sounded very exotic to me at the time," she says.

After graduating and working for eight years at Borders Book Shop and Book Inventory Systems, Abed dove into the competitive nature of schutzhund, a sport involving the training of German shepherds.

"I became completely immersed in the training. I was hooked on the animals most of all, but also on the camaraderie that was a part of that very distinct subculture of professional working dog trainers," she says. "It was probably the most fun I've had in all of my life."

In schutzhund, the dogs are trained to compete in three events; tracking ground disturbances to recover evidence; obedience; and defending the owner from a hidden threat.

"It's like a big game to them," Abed says. "German shepherds are bred for obedience and for work. They like to be busy all the time. The good ones have solid, neutral temperaments. They love (schutzhund)."

Her dog-training expertise led to obedience counseling for dogs with aggression problems.

"Dogs tend to see the world in black and white and they usually respond well when they are presented things in a direct and unambiguous way." She adds, "The challenge is to help people change their behaviors in a way that allows the dog to see clearly how he can be successful."

After training dogs for 12 years, Abed returned to school for a certification in Web technology and worked in the Women's Studies program as an executive secretary before coming to the Erb Institute in August 2006. "I was thrilled to finally be working on a Web site," she says. "I still find it amazing what we can do with 0's and 1's."

The Erb Institute hosts a program through which students receive a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science in the Environment degrees, a "perfect blend between idealism and practicality," Abed says. Equipped with a deep understanding of both the science and the business behind an issue, Erb students are uniquely poised to tackle the seemingly intractable problems of our day, she adds.

Abed also works with the core faculty members to plan major events and colloquia. "How many conferences bring together representatives from Dow Chemical, BP, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network? How cool is that?" Abed says.

Most of her time spent at the university has been in interdisciplinary departments.

"I think I am most interested in issues of social justice, all of which ultimately hinge upon a healthy planet," she says. "I love working with smart people who have the talent and passion necessary to change the world."

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at urecord@umich.edu.