The next in our series of Faculty Spotlight posts comes from Steven Block. Prof. Block currently teaches Development Economics: Macroeconomic Perspectives, Agriculture and Rural Development in Developing Countries, and Political Economy of Reform, Growth, and Equity.
My interest in economics came initially from outside the field. During my senior year in college, I took a class on the politics of hunger. I found the topic compelling, and after graduating volunteered at Oxfam America. A year later, I stumbled into a class on the “economics of the world food system” and I was swept away by the realization that the dry and seemingly counterintuitive theories that filled my introduction to economics curriculum could actually be applied to analyze and propose solutions to a real-world problem that mattered. My professor in that class would later become my PhD thesis advisor, and we still collaborate on research over thirty years later.
I hope that my own teaching at Fletcher has the same effect on my students. In my class on food policy and agricultural development, I try to demonstrate the value of applied economic theory as a tool to understand the complex and emotionally vexing issue of world hunger. The topics that I cover in that class include the design of policy interventions to protect nutritionally vulnerable consumers, as well as interventions to generate income for smallholder farmers. These challenges are magnified by the recognition that consumers and producers of food often have conflicting interests (that is, producers prefer high food prices, while consumers prefer low food prices). Resolving such conflicting interests among groups in society inevitably leads to issues of political economy – another core focus of my teaching and research.
These topics also motivate much of my academic research. In recent years (often in collaboration with colleagues at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy), I’ve investigated the measurement and determinants of agricultural productivity in Africa, the roles of maternal education and economic growth on child nutritional status, and the politics of agricultural trade policy in Africa.
My broader interest in development economics stemmed from my initial interest in hunger issues. Needless to say, hunger has its roots in poverty. But the relationship between poverty and hunger is complex, with causality running in both directions at once. I’m particularly interested in the potential for agricultural development to contribute to the broader process of economic development. Thus, core topics in my development economics class include poverty, equity, and the effect of economic growth on both. Since poverty in developing countries is disproportionately rural, development strategies that include agriculture have the potential to generate “pro-poor” growth.
While I take every opportunity in class to demonstrate the uses of economic theory in addressing these issues, I also stress the need for interdisciplinary approaches. Towards that end, I teach a class on the political economy of growth and equity in developing countries. Part of the motivation for the class is the recognition that while economic models can prescribe the “right” answers to policy challenges, politicians often make other choices — frequently to the detriment of a majority of their own citizens. In this class, we explore various paradigms that seek to explain the too frequent observation of politicians sacrificing social welfare for political survival.
Tagged with: Faculty Spotlight
One of the more commonly selected Fields of Study at Fletcher is International Environment and Resource Policy, which also has an associated research center. If you plan to pursue environment study at Fletcher, you’ll want to check out the CIERP website, which includes several profiles of alumni working in the field.
If you’re especially interested in the CIERP community, you’ll also want to read about the faculty and staff. It’s worth noting, too, that CIERP hires students for several research positions each fall.
Tagged with: CIERP
Last week I came to a sudden realization that I had never written anything, or had a student write, about exams. Neither midterms nor finals. Seemed like a major oversight, since exams certainly have an impact on students’ graduate school experience. Aditi has plugged that gap by writing about the most recent round of midterms.
Spring break this semester was a much-needed pause from our busy Fletcher lives. Between midterms and various internship and job applications, all of us at Fletcher were pretty much at maxed-out levels of exhaustion!
Midterms are usually a combination of exams, presentations, and papers, depending on the classes you take. For instance, my Econometrics class had an in-class, closed-book traditional exam, while my Financial Inclusion class had a group presentation. I personally found midterms to be somewhat more stressful this semester than in the fall, since one of my classes is at the Friedman School, which follows a slightly different schedule than Fletcher. Although the advantage of the mismatched schedules was that my exams and papers were spread out over two weeks, the downside was that my “midterm week” lasted twice as long.
In addition to midterms, if you happen to be taking half-credit courses, then those classes are either beginning or ending (depending on which half of the semester they are scheduled for) while you’re trying to focus on exams. In my case, I am taking Advanced Evaluation and Learning, which takes place over the second half of the semester, so as we were studying for midterms and preparing for presentations, those of us in this class were also trying to keep our heads above water with all the assigned reading.
But of course, midterms come and go. The major stress during spring semester midterms is related to the internship and job hunt process, since everyone is trying to balance applications and interviews with their coursework, other activities, and campus jobs. It definitely began to feel like the universe had conspired to make sure all deadlines fell into the same two-week period.
In the middle of all my stress and exhaustion, a friend said something that both made me laugh and also gave me a lot of perspective, when I complained to her about how hard grad school is. “Yeah, it’s hard — but it’s hard in a really easy way. Exams, papers, and presentations…let’s compare that for a second to the issues we’re trying to learn about: Poverty, terrorism, malnutrition…. Give me grad school any day!”
So now you know why I’m complaining about midterms on this blog instead of by talking to my friends.
Ten days have passed since we released admissions decisions and it has been pretty much nonstop email since then, punctuated only by phone calls. With spring break over, there will be a return to other commitments that take our time.
I worked quite a bit beyond my usual schedule last week, and I’m proud to say that I am caught up with my email! As of Wednesday, that is. I still have a batch of outstanding messages from Thursday through the weekend. Yikes.
At the same time as we strive to help you gather information about Fletcher, I hope that you’ll understand if there’s a delay in our response. I try to answer quickly the emails that only contain a simple question. The messages that require chasing down information or creating documents definitely take longer. Please be patient with me and my admissions pals. We’re running/typing as fast as we can.
We’re looking forward to a busy Open House next month, but many admitted applicants can’t attend at that time and would like to visit on another day. Of course! Come over! But just understand that the Admissions Staff won’t be here on weekend days. We try to line up student volunteers, but sometimes there is so much going on here that it’s hard to find someone. If you can be flexible in your timing, it’s a big help. Sometimes we can even group a few visitors and put together an information session for you. Again, we’ll do everything we can to facilitate your visit, but some requests are harder to satisfy than others.
Have you decided to accept a place on the waitlist? We welcome your visit, too. We’ll be able to give you a little extra attention if you wait until April 15. Meanwhile, feel free to call or email.
Back to my inbox. My goal for the day is to catch up on all the messages that arrived by yesterday. With two long meetings today, that may still be too ambitious, but I’ll do my best!
Continuing to feature alumni who, last May, marked five years since their graduation, today we meet Jessica Farmer F09. Jessica pays tribute to Prof. Alan Wachman, who was himself a Fletcher grad and whose presence at Fletcher is still missed.
I went to Asia on a backpacking trip with college friends in the early 2000s and was absolutely hooked. The noise, the bustle, the food — there was something electric about this part of the world. I decided if I was going to come back long-term, I had to pick a country where learning the language would make sense for my career. I chose China, and spent a year living in a small village in Hunan.
From this time forward, for me, China’s rise was up close and personal. My village was eventually bulldozed to make way for a high-speed train station. I came to Fletcher to help put it all in context, to understand a bit of the history of this place, to read, to think, to reflect. I had the distinct honor to study under the late Alan Wachman, who I believe was one of the best minds of his generation on Northeast Asia issues. I try, and usually fail, to emulate his meticulous attention to detail, to listen for what is not said but implied. As a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, posted first to Beijing and now Tokyo, his guidance continues to edify me daily. For his tutelage and for Fletcher, I shall always be grateful.
The blog has some new readers, so I wanted to introduce you to the writers in the Student Stories feature. This is the third year for this feature, which aims to highlight the path through Fletcher of a few of our students. I try not to assign subjects for their posts. Rather, they write about topics of importance or interest to them, and some are able to write more than others. Let me, then, introduce each of them.
This year’s writers are:
Aditi: first-year MALD student from India
Alex: first-year MIB student, with a focus on clean energy
Ali: first-year MIB student, who originally applied through Fletcher’s Map Your Future pathway to admission
Diane: second-year MALD student from Australia
Liam: second-year MALD student, taking time out from the U.S. Army
Mark: second-year MIB student who has also completed a degree at Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy program
Previous year’s writers were:
Maliheh F13, MALD
Mirza F14, MALD
Roxanne F14, MALD
Scott F14, MIB
And in the first year of this fledgling effort, I also included a first-year graduate, Manjula, who gave me the idea to create Student Stories, which then led to the posts from First-Year Alumni. I hope you’ll enjoy scrolling through and reading about their Fletcher experiences.
Tagged with: Student Stories
One of the Ginn Library research librarians, Ellen McDonald, asked members of the faculty to tell her what they have been reading in this snowy winter. This is not an assignment for students (current or incoming)! But if you happen to be curious about what they recommend, feel free to peruse the list.
From that page, you can also click through other Ginn Library resources, which will give you insight into what students consider important in their academic work.
Tagged with: Ginn Library
I always prefer sharing a student perspective on Fletcher life, rather than writing myself. Today I’m sharing a post Alex sent along last week about the new Strategic Plan. When I say “new,” I mean newly completed. It has been in the works for more than a year. Let’s let Alex tell you about it.
Luckily, the administration is thinking a little bit more long-term, and has recently developed a new Strategic Plan for The Fletcher School: To Know the World. The five-year plan’s vision is to go even further to make Fletcher the “premier institution for preparing a highly selective and diverse network of global leaders, whose influence is felt across the public, private and non-profit sectors.”
The plan includes four overarching, mutually reinforcing objectives:
- Relevance: enhance professional and academic preparation of students as problem solvers, future leaders and agents of change;
- Reputation: bolster the School’s reputation by increasing research productivity and impact on decision makers;
- Resources: ensure a robust and more diversified revenue stream to support pursuit of School’s mission;
- “Right Stuff”: maintain a sustainable, diverse and high-quality student body across all our degree programs.
These objectives are supported with myriad initiatives, from strengthening research centers and enabling professors to do more research, to upgrading facilities and leveraging technology to enhance learning. I would highly recommend looking through the plan, to see where Fletcher will be going in the next couple of years.
Of course, I was most curious about what the immediate impacts of the plan will be for current, admitted, and prospective students. How will Fletcher actually be different in the Fall of 2015? So I went right to the source, and met with Dean Stavridis.
The Dean mentioned a number of exciting plans, but a couple stood out. The administration is in the process of hiring a professor with expertise in cyber, to help keep Fletcher on the cutting edge of this growing field. They are also building a television studio on site to help facilitate media appearances by the faculty (Dean Stavridis, alone, has done over 160 in the last 12 months!) and for use in classes such as The Arts of Communication (one of my favorite last semester). Finally, one of the most exciting plans in the works is establishing a strategic partnership with a globally-focused think tank in Washington D.C.; this will provide an opportunity to collaborate on research, participate in exchange programs, obtain internships, and in general serve as a home base for Fletcher in the nation’s capital.
At a school known for producing exceptional strategic thinkers, it is fitting that Fletcher should have such a stellar Strategic Plan. I look forward to seeing it in action.
Yesterday brought us the full range of late winter weather — from mild and dry in the morning, to mild and raining in the afternoon, to cold, windy, and snowy in the evening. What’s important is that we have set a new record for annual snowfall, all the more remarkable because December and the first half of January and of March have been pretty much snow free. Boston is such a competitive sports town that I was hardly the only person cheering for the record to fall. All this winter hardiness must not be for naught!
This is spring break week, and most Fletcher students are not in the building today, though there are a few thesis writers in the library, and I chatted with a PhD candidate on our way in by bus this morning. In the lead up to vacation, I heard about plans ranging from a relatively restful week near campus to hiking trips, to a few days on a beach somewhere. And then there’s a group of 55 students who are traveling together in Israel and the West Bank to meet with prominent Israelis and Palestinians in the political, business, and security sectors. (I hope to share photos when they return.)
As for the Admissions Staff — we’re all here, answering questions from applicants and reaching out to admitted students. It’s both quiet and busy in the Office — not a bad combination for spring break week.
On the morning after we released our decisions, thank you to everyone for your interest in Fletcher throughout this past year! Congratulations to those who were admitted! And for those who were not, please stay in contact with us. Our door is still open!
Once we had the packets in the mail, yesterday was a day of quiet desk- and inbox-clearing. We know that today starts a new phase of the admissions cycle, and one of particular frenzy. We’ll be reaching out to, and hearing from, our admitted students; the emails will fly.
Just as the coming weeks will be hectic for the Admissions Staff, they should also be busy for most of the students who were admitted yesterday. Doing the research that results in the right decision for graduate school takes time. You did your preliminary research before applying, of course, but now is when you make doubly sure that the program in which you enroll best matches your academic and career objectives. Explore the course offerings in detail. Learn about the student community. You have a little over five weeks to gather information about Fletcher and other schools, and then to make a well-considered decision. We’ll do our part to provide you with details by mail and other media, along with opportunities to visit the School, to help in your decision making. And the Admissions Blog will continue to supply information about our wonderful community and rich intellectual environment.
Speaking for everyone on the Admissions Staff, we encourage you to learn as much as you can before making a final decision. Of course, we hope you will choose Fletcher, but it’s even more important that September finds you in classes that move you toward your goal. We welcome your questions! And, congratulations, once again, on your admission!
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