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I’m happy to introduce the first member of the Class of 2014 to report on his life after Fletcher.  Keith Magnam jumped back into the workforce quickly after graduation, and has settled into his new life in Burkina Faso.  Here’s his story on his first year post-Fletcher.

I remember the day that I received my welcome packet from Fletcher Admissions some two and a half years ago.  It was a scorching hot, dusty day in the lazy town of Bobo-Dioulasso.  Getting myself to the DHL office, which was tucked away on the edge of the city limits, was the first of many experiences that would show me just how unique a Fletcher education would be.  It’s fitting that I received my packet while living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso.  It was in the Peace Corps that I witnessed some of the deepest and most stagnant poverty that I had ever seen in my life.  It was in the Peace Corps where I realized that international development would be the focus of the rest of my career.  Being at the grassroots level, seeing the day-to-day lives of these amazing people and the struggles they encountered, I knew that I needed to go back to school in order to serve them in the ways they needed.  Fletcher’s values, amazing professors, and tireless network of passionate and supportive alumni called to me across the globe.  And so, in September of 2012, I had the immense pleasure of joining the Fletcher Class of 2014!

I spent my two years learning everything I could about development economics, the history and progress of international development, and the skills and techniques that would allow me to better design, monitor, and evaluate development interventions around the world.  My last semester at Fletcher really made it clear to me where I wanted to be and what role I wanted to play in the field of international development.  I took Econometric Impact Evaluation and Development Economics Micro Perspectives with Prof. Jenny Aker, and these two classes taught me how to approach developmental problems from a more efficient and multifaceted perspective.  Professor Aker is so passionate about her work and has an unmatched ability to make these lofty theoretical ideas easily accessible and increasingly enjoyable to learn.  I spent hours doing STATA work and reading econometric papers because I honestly wanted to.  How often does that happen?  Well, at Fletcher, all the time.  The environment at Fletcher makes students want to excel and strive to be a leader in their field of expertise.  It is a great combination of rigorous academics and a collaborative, convivial student body that creates the perfect little bubble in Medford/Somerville, MA where our world’s next leaders are created.

The summer between my first and second years was spent working with FINCA International in Kinshasa, helping them implement a nationwide household survey.  My time as their summer fellow taught me a great deal about managing the implementation of a household survey, training and supervising teams of enumerators, and managing data collection in infrastructure-poor areas.  This experience was made possible thanks to the generous financial and warmhearted support of the Blakeley Foundation, which sponsors Fletcher summer internships.  Without that support, I could have never made the trip to the DRC, nor would I have been exposed to what it’s like to work in a fragile country setting.  The experience had its fair share of challenges and security incidents, but Fletcher and the Blakeley Foundation provided me with overwhelming support and advice that helped make the trip a success overall.

Immediately after my time in Kinshasa, I took advantage of the flexibility within Fletcher’s curriculum to spend a semester abroad in Paris.  This experience was priceless in that it helped me broaden my perspectives on international collaboration and different developmental paradigms, and of course, to continue to perfect my French while eating the best bread and cheese you’ll ever taste.  It was a great opportunity to interact with some of the most influential actors in the development world and begin the work I needed to construct my thesis.  I believe it is the combination of my coursework and my practical field experience that helped me get to where I am today.

Keith, during field studyI currently work for the World Bank Group as an Impact Evaluation Field Coordinator, working on their governance-related impact evaluations in Burkina Faso.  I sit within a research group called the Development Impact Evaluation Initiative, whose goal is to increase the use of evidence-based policy-making through rigorous experimentation and evaluation.  On a daily basis, I am holding meetings with local NGO coordinators, managing our data collection team, and liaising with national ministries.  It is a never-ending whirlwind of project management and critical thinking that has allowed me to grow professionally much more quickly than I had anticipated.  As my position sits at the crossroads between the research team, operations, human resources, and finances, I am forced to manage a diverse set of work streams simultaneously.  I’m able to do so efficiently thanks to the breadth of skills I was able to acquire while at Fletcher.

In this role, I have had to adapt to a complicated political situation as tensions rose over the past several months related to the ex-President’s attempts to extend his rule past the constitutional limits.  After 27 years, the people of Burkina Faso had had enough and took a stand, demanding that Blaise Compaoré step down and allow a new era to be ushered in.  Living through this chaotic situation, as it went from lazy streets to blackened skies and burning buildings, I have been reminded about the importance of the work that we, as Fletcher graduates, are doing every day.  I have experienced first-hand a people’s frustration with the stagnation of their economy and the disparity that exists between the world’s richest and poorest populations, and their desire for change.  If I took away one lesson from Fletcher, above anything else, it is that we are all in this together.  Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to attend such a prestigious institution need to do our part to help the world move towards a better future.  Whether that be through domestic policies targeting the racial inequalities of our own country, through the concerted efforts of the international community to put an end to extremism and violence, or by helping women create income so that they can feed their children, Fletcher was there to teach me and my fellow classmates.  Fletcher will be there to continue teaching generations of bright, passionate leaders who will help drive our world to a better future.

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I had an idea last year but didn’t quite succeed in implementing it.  One major tweak later, I’m happy to write that I will soon start an occasional series of reports from members of the Class of 2014 on their life after Fletcher.  Unlike my (lack of) strategy for the Class of 2013, which resulted in only three posts, last April I snagged volunteer writers before they could leave campus.  Most have given me a date by which I can expect to hear from them, and I look forward to sharing these stories from our newest graduates about their move back into the working world and how they have applied their Fletcher educations.

The first report from First-Year Alumni will appear in the Blog tomorrow.

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In May 2014, the alumni attending their five-year reunion were members of the Class of 2009.  Today, Erin Clancy will kick off the Five-Year Updates from her class.  When I reach out to alumni for these updates, I ask them simply to describe their paths, starting before Fletcher and continuing through their graduate studies to their current career, as Erin does below.  I’ll also point out that Erin was included among Diplomatic Courier’s Top 99 Under 33 for 2013, a special honor.

Pre-Fletcher Experience

Prior to coming to Fletcher, I completed my undergraduate studies in political science at Whittier College and received the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which provided a commission into the Foreign Service upon completion of my studies at Fletcher.  I was drawn to Fletcher’s interdisciplinary take on international affairs, its academic rigor, and its place in history as the first international relations graduate school in the United States and the alma mater of many distinguished public servants from countries near and far.

At Fletcher

It did not take long until I hit my stride at Fletcher after finding my groove in a few Culture Night dance performances.  In the classroom, I reveled in Fletcher’s dynamic course offerings on the political landscapes of the Middle East with Vali Nasr, and the practice of international security — seated in the front row no later than 07:40 in the morning — with Richard Shultz.  I also benefited from the longstanding partnership between Fletcher and the Harvard Kennedy School where I studied national security management and negotiations.  Between my first and second year, I completed a summer internship in 2008 at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria as a political officer covering human rights issues and the domestic political opposition.  While working in Syria I began my thesis research on the unbreakable nature of the political-military alliance between Syria and Iran, and the impact of the Syrian-Iranian alliance on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.  At the end of two wonderful years in Medford, I graduated with concentrations in International Security Studies and Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization.

Post-Fletcher

After graduation, I accepted my commission into the Foreign Service in August 2009.  I arrived at my first diplomatic assignment as vice consul to U.S. Embassy Damascus, Syria in July 2010, where I witnessed the slow evolution of violent Arab Spring protests until security conditions forced us to close the embassy and evacuate the remainder of our diplomatic personnel in February 2012.  My assignment to Syria was quite an introduction to the Foreign Service and it profoundly shaped my personal and professional life.  From Damascus, I served briefly in U.S. Embassy Amman, Jordan to continue working on Syria, and transitioned to U.S. Embassy Muscat, Oman where I was the political-military officer responsible for counterterrorism, political-military, and Iran sanctions issues during the lead up to the breakthrough interim agreement reached by the P5+1 negotiations to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

These days I am happy to be back home in Washington, DC, working to coordinate U.S. policy on North Africa, Syria, and gender issues in the United Nations Security Council.  The highlight of my current role as a multilateral affairs officer is working closely with fellow Fletcherites throughout the State Department, USAID, and other government agencies.  Interagency policy committee meetings at the White House or working group meetings on Syria or Boko Haram have become informal Fletcher reunions.  Having so many Fletcherites around the table on the important policy issues of the day is a wonderful personal reminder of why this institution is so revered in the international affairs realm — Fletcher truly does create leaders with a global perspective.  Not a single day has passed since graduation and my five years in the Foreign Service when I have not felt the direct positive impact of my Fletcher education, nor been so grateful to find community among the talented and inspirational alumni we have all over the world.

Members of the United States’ delegation to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, London, UK, Erin Clancy class of 2009 (left) pictured with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Victoria Holt. June 2014.

Members of the United States’ delegation to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, London, U.K. Erin Clancy, F09 (left) pictured with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Victoria Holt. June 2014.

 

 

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Maki & MphoWhile I’m blogging away in my office pajamas, Boston Fashion Week is in full swing.  The arrival of troupes of designers and fashion writers might seem to have little to do with Fletcher and our admissions process, except for this:

Maki Nakata, a 2013 graduate of the MIB program, will be hosting a Fashion Week event with her new clothing firm, Maki & Mpho.  Along with designer Mpho Muendane, Maki’s objectives are that “Maki & Mpho’s designs will bring the delightful, positive, and exciting aspects of African experience to the global audience.”  More details on their philosophy, which goes well beyond design and includes a strong focus on development and cultural exchange, can be found here.

A group of current students is planning to represent the Fletcher community at the event.  While fashion/design is not a typical post-Fletcher path, creative implementation of concepts learned here definitely is.

 

I’ve recently written about members of the community who have turned up on NPR, and here’s a new one.  Prof. Henrikson sent me a note after John Stanwich, F88 was interviewed about the new White House Visitor Center.  John has been with the National Park Service for some time, including a stint as historian at the Adams National Historical Park right nearby in Quincy, MA, and he is currently Acting National Park Service Liaison to the White House.

On a somewhat lighter note, two Fletcher graduates have recently been on The Daily Show.  For those unfamiliar with the show, I should note that this satirical show includes language not appropriate for a family blog.  With that warning in place, first check out Amila Merdzanovic, a 2013 MALD graduate now working for the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.  She appears at about the 3:00 minute mark on this story about the resettlement of refugee children.

And Hassan Abbas, F02, F08, a graduate of Fletcher’s MALD and PhD programs, took part in a lengthy interview by Jon Stewart about the situation in the Muslim world.  Hassan is currently the department chair for Regional and Analytical Studies at National Defense University.

 

I had a surprisingly nice quick trip to Toronto.  I arrived yesterday morning, took a long walk around, and figured out where the APSIA fair would be taking place (down the street, behind the construction site — so I was glad I bothered to look).  The first visitors to the fair arrived as I was still setting up, well before the official start time, followed by three solid hours of talking.  Nice to meet some eager 2015 graduates of University of Toronto, as well as professionals in the area!

I was joined at the Fletcher table by an alum, Farrukh Lalani, a 2008 graduate, and she shared her perspective with the visitors interested in the student and alumnus experience.  As the fair wound down, and over tea after the fair ended, we had time to discuss her new start-up venture, Aria Gems, a non-profit that seeks to build a business, and a model that others can follow, in ethical gem mining in Afghanistan.  This led to a long chat about the non-traditional paths taken by many of her 2008 classmates.  Mining/gems/Afghanistan/start-ups are not concepts we usually weave together when we’re telling prospective students about typical Fletcher career paths, but the atypical path is, itself, somewhat typical.

Coincidentally, yesterday I heard from Farrukh’s classmate, Margherita Zuin, who was featured in a Foreign Policy career guide.  In a sense, Margherita’s career path has been typical for a graduate of an international affairs professional school, though perhaps still atypical in its intensity.

So all in all, a good trip — productive participation in the APSIA fair, and a great opportunity to get to know an alum I hadn’t crossed paths with when she was a Fletcher student.

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Remember how just last week I noted that I’m often visited (via NPR) by the voices of Fletcher community members?  Well, here are two more examples.  First, Dean Stavridis kept me informed when his interview was broadcast while I cooked dinner.

Somewhat more surprising, I heard a report from a correspondent with a name unique enough that I thought it had to be a Fletcher alum.  Karoun Demirjian graduated from Fletcher in 2006 and is a correspondent in Moscow for The Washington Post.  She also occasionally files a report for NPR, and writes for the NPR website.  I happened to hear one of her reports, but it was only while writing this post that I learned that her main gig is with The Post.

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Like many Americans, I’m a morning NPR listener, which means that I’ll often be joined over breakfast or during my commute by the voice of a member of the Fletcher community.  A week or so back, it was MALD (class of 2002) and PhD (class of 2005) graduate Maria Stephan.  With her research colleague, Erika Chenoweth, Maria spoke about civil resistance movements.  Take a minute (or 7, to be more precise) to listen to the interview.

The recent interview followed an article they wrote for Foreign Affairs on the same topic.

 

There have been several interesting stories this week about triple Jumbo Nahid Bhadelia, who completed her MA degree at Fletcher and her MD degree at Tufts University School of Medicine in 2005, after graduating from Tufts Arts and Sciences in 1999.  As she prepares for a trip to Sierra Leone to work with Ebola patients, Nahid has been profiled in the Boston Globe and on Boston’s local CBSNBC, and ABC, stations, as well as on MSNBC, WBUR, and in a piece in the Huffington Post that describes the disease in detail.

Though the current circumstances are extreme, Nahid exemplifies the professional profile of our MA-MD graduates.  Just as Emerson Tuttle wrote in the blog this spring about the MA-DVM dual Fletcher-veterinary degree, the relatively small number of students for whom the MA-MD is the right fit are seeking a particular path for their career — one where the international dimension is inseparable from the medical/veterinary core of their work.

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Remember last spring’s Fletcher D-Prize winners, Andrew Lala and Tommy Galloway?  Well, they’ve successfully converted their concept to a product and they are on the ground in Koudougou, delivering solar lanterns and electricity to rural communities in Burkina Faso!  For updates and details about their products, check out Clair de Lune’s website or follow them on Twitter.  As you read through the website, keep in mind that Andrew and Tommy only graduated in May.  It’s fantastic to see them turn an idea into reality so quickly!  I’m looking forward to reading more as their business gets rolling.

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