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Today, I’m launching a new feature on the blog:  Five-Year Updates.  Think of it as a conversation among alumni at their five-year reunion.  I started with the class of 2007, though graduates from that year are, in fact, soon approaching their six-year mark.  The alumni writers were asked to describe their path, starting before Fletcher, then through the Fletcher years, and finishing with their post-Fletcher lives.  The first Update comes from Ben Micheel.

Pre-Fletcher Experience

Prior to Fletcher, most of my professional experience was in the private sector at consumer packaged goods companies.  Eventually I made my way back over to Berlin, Germany where I had studied as an exchange student when I was an undergrad at the University of Washington.  In Berlin I worked as a marketer for Coca-Cola, as an intern for the German Bundestag, and finally (after my acceptance to Fletcher) as a bike tour guide.  Many of my American co-workers at the Bundestag were enthusiastically applying to APSIA grad schools, and I was curious to look into what they were so excited about.  My undergrad degree is in business, so I didn’t have any interest in going the pure MBA route.  Once I discovered the resources available to me at Fletcher, I knew it was my logical next step.  So the week before Labor Day in 2005, I moved to Boston (sight unseen – I’m from a suburb of Portland, Oregon) and started my MALD.

At Fletcher

At Fletcher I focused my studies mostly on economics, although I found time to take some great classes in the Southwest Asia concentration.  I also cross registered for a couple of classes at Harvard Business School.  Although all the classes were great, the paces that Professor Klein, Professor Simonin, and Professor Schaffner put my brain through proved to be most valuable.  I still use the skills I learned every week in my current job.  I was equally active outside of class.  There are many highlights, but the annual Africana Night step show really stands out.

Post-Fletcher

Directly out of Fletcher, I joined the strategy consulting firm Simon-Kucher & Partners – a terrific place for Fletcher grads to advance their careers in the private sector.  I spent four great years there helping Fortune 500 clients improve their strategy, marketing, and pricing initiatives.  Eventually I was recruited by Forrester Research (a former client), where I still work today as the Director of Pricing & Packaging.  Each day brings something new, and I enjoy working through the puzzles that Fletcher so adroitly equipped me to solve.  Also, on the social side of life, the post-Fletcher wedding circuit is the best!

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An annual Fletcher tradition is the “Faculty and Staff Waits on You” dinner, which is pretty much what it sounds like.  And an annual tradition of the event is the auction of, well, all sorts of interesting stuff provided by the community.  And a tradition of the auction is to provide the funds raised to a worthy organization.  This year, the funds went to AYO, an NGO with which a 2012 LLM graduate, Sevan Karian, is working.  Sevan contacted me recently with information about AYO and the auction.  I asked him to tell me more.

AYO means “YES” in Armenian (and could also mean “Armenian Youth Organization”).  This is the new name we’ve just chosen on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of our organization.  Today, AYO’s mission is to help the unprivileged kids of Armenia through education programs, using sports and arts as tools for their development.

AYO builds or improves schools, orphanages, and kindergartens in very poor and remote villages of the country, as well as the infrastructure to practice sports and arts around these buildings.  In addition, AYO organizes summer camps every year in these villages, thanks to dozens of volunteers coming from France and elsewhere to spend a month with the children to teach them new skills.  This video tells AYO’s story:

I became involved in AYO after 2005, when I had lived with indigenous communities in southern Mexico (Chiapas).  I realized that I really wanted to be involved with a development aid organization in order to help people, and particularly children, in need.  Back in Paris, I met by chance with the former leaders of AYO.  They were looking for young people to revitalize this organization, which was falling apart.  With a few friends, I devoted my free time over the next five years — when I was a law student and then a lawyer — to restructuring the organization, restoring contact with local populations in Armenia, as well as finding and organizing new projects in poor villages, which have taken place every summer since 2007!

Originally a lawyer in the energy and business sector in Paris, I came to Fletcher in 2011 for the the LLM program and I took the amazing John Hammock’s class on NGO Management and Ethics.  This helped me a lot to frame my goals for AYO toward professionalization of the organization, and its expansion.  I am now working almost full-time with AYO, trying to find more funds and more projects.  Better organized and more efficient, AYO currently has an office in Paris with two interns, two workers in Armenia, and now a branch of the NGO opening in Boston!

With auction bids on prizes such as a dinner for two at Dean Bosworth’s house or a bow tie offered by Professor Henrikson, AYO collected around $7,000 and has new volunteers in the U.S.

I hope we will continue in this way and that AYO will be able to run several construction projects and summer camps in 2013 in Armenia, with the participation of French and also U.S. volunteers!

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I’ve been very pleased with my new-this-year Student Stories feature on the blog.  An attentive reader might ask, “Why so pleased?  They haven’t been writing much lately.”  True, critical reader.  But here’s why I’m happy.  When I asked each of the students if they wanted to inaugurate this blog theme, they all said yes.  I appreciate enthusiasm — this was my first team and I didn’t need to go to my bench!  When I met with each writer for the first time, I emphasized that there are plenty of places on the Fletcher web site to read interesting, but formulaic, student profiles.  My hope was that we would work together to develop ideas for posts, and I have basically gone along with any idea they’ve presented.  Overall, I didn’t know what the feature would look like when we launched it in October, but I knew that all would be clearer by the end of the academic year, in May.

But back to the fact that the writing tends to arrive in spurts (after winter break, for example).  In this case, the reasons why they’re not writing may be as interesting as what they would have written.  Let’s start with Maliheh.  She emailed me an apology last week for not having submitted a promised post, but she really needn’t have apologized — I know exactly what she’s up to.  She’s processing the bounty of acceptances she has received to PhD programs around the country.  Was I surprised to learn of her success?  No I was not.  Maliheh is amazing.  Don’t tell her I said that — she’s also humble.

What’s Mirza up to?  He told me late last semester that he took on a research project that was intellectually satisfying, but used a lot of his time.  Then, over the winter break, he and his musical partner revived their duo, Arms and Sleepers.  They played some local gigs, and planned an amazing tour for Mirza’s spring break. In Europe or Russia?  Don’t miss this opportunity to catch a performance — who knows whether this tour will be their last.

(I’d like to add a little practical note here.  One of the reasons Arms and Sleepers is back is that Mirza realized his earnings potential is greater building on a past success than taking a part-time campus job.  Many students are able to do something similar — consulting part time for a past employer, for example.  File that away in your mental financial plan!)

Back to the writers.  Scott has promised me a piece very soon.  Not much more to say there.  Roxanne continues to be very busy on campus with the Storytelling Forum (the website includes more and more content) and a new series of conversations about gender issues (curricular and more broadly) at Fletcher.  Nonetheless, I arrived at work this morning and found an email from Roxanne containing her next post.  I’ll share it as soon as I can.

Which leaves Manjula who, though an alumnus now, was the student who made me think that following students’ stories as they pursued their individual paths through Fletcher would be a good idea.  Manjula has a million things going on connected to his organization Educate Lanka.  A lot of them are in the “we’re a finalist” or “just need to sign the contract” phase, so we agreed to hold off on an EL update.  But the organization more than keeps him busy, and any free moments can be spent writing for a larger audience on topics such as Unleashing Potential Through Education.

As much as Educate Lanka fills Manjula’s days, he still sets aside time for other activities, such as getting married.  He shared some amazing wedding photos with me.  I would love to post every single one of them — they’re that beautiful — but I’ll settle for just this one.

Manjula told me that the wedding outfits that he and his bride, Chara, wore are traditional in Kandy, the region of Sri Lanka that Manjula comes from.  He explained that Kandy was the last kingdom in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the traditional wedding attire derives from royal regalia.  He said, “The outfit I wore is called the Kandyan Nilame.  And Chara’s jewellery and the ceremony that we followed are also according to the Kandyan traditions.”

So, blog friends, that’s what my writers are up to.  Given their interesting busy lives, I’m happy to wait a little longer for their next posts.

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A Fletcher PhD graduate, Patrick Meier, sent a note to some folks at the School recently about his work.  Included was a link to a television commercial for a U.S. insurance company that developed as a result of his work on crisis mapping, which he started at Fletcher in January 2010, following the earthquake in Haiti. You can read more about Patrick’s work on his iRevolution blog.  You’ll also want to check out his National Geographic Emerging Explorers page.

I suppose I should add that the Fletcher Admissions Blog isn’t in the business of selling insurance. But it’s certainly our business to reflect the cool stuff that our students and alumni are doing. I hope you’ll enjoy the video in that spirit.

NGC Patrick Meier – Crisis Mapper :30 from Evolve Digital Cinema | IMG on Vimeo.

 

Fans of the new House of Cards television series may be interested to know that the author of the book on which the series is based, Michael Dobbs, is a Fletcher graduate (class of 1972).  In between the book and the new series was a BBC series, which took place (as did the book) in the British House of Commons.

 

I hear about alumni and their activities in various ways.  There are always the official channels, and then there are the unofficial (email, facebook, etc.).  Lately, these media have directed a variety of information my way, and I thought I’d share what I know, partly because it’s such a pleasant hodge-podge.

First, there’s the update on Manjula and Educate Lanka.  They won the reader’s choice Millennial Impact competition on the Huffington Post!  Well done, Educate Lanka!

On a slightly related note (the connection being alumni who are already working with their own non-profits when they start at Fletcher), there’s Qiam and the Afghan Scholars Initiative.  While I don’t have any special news to share at this time, I might as well use the blog to help ASI, as well as your holiday shopping, by pointing blog readers toward Jawan — your source for scarves, with proceeds going to ASI.  Qiam is back in Afghanistan right now, but he left a team of scarf salespeople at Fletcher, who have fostered sales by telling the community that wearing a Jawan scarf will definitely increase your hipster cred.

A little PhD alumni news:  Maria Stephan, who also has a MALD degree, recently shared the World Order Prize for a study of civil resistance.

And then alumni news from a Fletcher friend.  Charles Scott and I got to know each other during my first (pre-Admissions) Fletcher career, when he was a MALD student.  After Fletcher, he worked for many years for Intel, but he left the corporate world a while back to pursue endurance athletics full time.  Now he has a book, Rising Son, which chronicles the bicycle trip he took across Japan with his son, Sho.  (He later biked with both Sho and Saya, his daughter, around Iceland.  Book to follow?)  While not signing books at some event, Charlie sends me regular updates on his activities (biking solo from New York to DC in 36 hours or less, running the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, and other crazy stuff).  And he writes for the Huffington Post, too.  Even if you’re not into endurance feats, you may relate to Charlie’s work on behalf of the environment and related organizations.

 

Some years ago, a Fletcher tradition emerged from a tragedy.  The annual Erica J. Murray Bone Marrow Drive, scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday) was the community’s response to Erica’s death in 2008, as a result of leukemia and the lack of a good match for a bone marrow transplant.

With each passing year, an additional degree of separation is inserted between Erica and current students, but the power of potentially saving a life, starting with a simple cheek swab, links each new Fletcher generation to the one before, and the bone marrow drive results in dozens of new donors for the National Marrow Registry.

Even as an annual event, there are special twists this year.  The first is that Mary, a staff member who is also an alum, has taken on the fundraising requirements for the marrow drive, and has done so with gusto!  Pre-drive Zumba, led a current student/Zumba-master!  Pre-drive pub night (with auction) at PJ Ryan’s (nearby Fletcher hangout)!

And before the pub night, a current PhD student who completed the MALD program narrowed the gap between Erica and current students when he transmitted a message to the community from a MALD alum — a message sure to inspire students to participate in the marrow drive, and also sure to leave few dry eyes.  Munish wrote:

You don’t know me, but if we run into each other somewhere, we’ll seem familiar to one another. That’s because, as you’ve no doubt learned, Fletcher is a family and you learn to recognize your own.  (If you come to PJ Ryan’s tonight, then we can meet in person!)

Four years ago, the extended Fletcher family lost a bright light in the form of Erica Murray.  She was like us, and, at the same time, not.  Let me start by saying that I did not know Erica that well — I only met her a few times — but her joie de vivre was apparent.  I’m sure you know her story — if not, here is the short film that was made about her.

As her leukemia worsened, Erica shined brighter.  She demonstrated to the rest of us how to handle adversity: with honesty, humor, and humility.

During the first bone marrow drive at Fletcher, there was record turnout; the local Bone Marrow Registry coordinator said she had never seen those numbers before.  Of course, many Fletcher folks knew Erica then, and were excited to support this direct effort to help a phenomenal classmate.  Sadly, our efforts did not result in a match for Erica, but in her memory, we continue the search on behalf of others.  It only takes a moment to swab your cheek and you could be saving a life — yes, it’s that easy.

You can imagine the sadness that settled in, just about four years ago, when Fletcher got the news that Erica had passed away.  This week, in between classes, finals, papers, and presentations, find friends who you’re going to miss when you leave Fletcher, and give them a hug.  Ask them if they want to do the bone marrow registry thing.  You’ll be channeling the love with which Erica led her life until the very end.

In memory of Fletcher family,
Munish

 

I’m going to be stuck in a meeting all morning, but I’m lucky again that students sent a blog idea into my inbox.  Not just any idea, but an exciting bit of news for lovers of competition!

The Huffington Post is sponsoring the Reader’s Choice Awards for the IGNITEgood Millennial Impact Challenge, described as “a nationwide search for ideas to make the world better through service.”  Among the 200 social innovators (under the age of 30) who submitted their ideas are TWO who are affiliated with Fletcher.  Wow!

The first is my good blog friend, Manjula and his organization Educate Lanka, already well known to blog readers.  Educate Lanka is competing in the competition’s Education category.

The second is that of PhD student Kartikeya Singh, affiliated with ENVenture, which he describes in an email as seeking “to empower youth to participate in the emerging energy entrepreneurship field, whilst simultaneously tackling energy poverty issues in the developing world.  Winning this award will launch the pilot in Uganda and will push us into being able to expand to India.  ENVenture fellows will create business plans and address the barriers to scaling of decentralized energy technologies in the developing world.”  ENVenture is competing in the Green category.

Lucky for Fletcher, you can vote in each of the two categories.  The competition ends November 26.  Good luck Manjula and Kartikeya!

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Those who have been reading the blog for a while and others who have scrolled through the archives may remember Manjula, a rock-star 2012 graduate.  When we talked in the spring, Manjula agreed to my request to follow his story a little further, especially since he is continuing work started at Fletcher (as described in the spring’s blog post).  Recently, he sent me the first of what I hope will be a series of updates.  He wrote, “My post-Fletcher life as a social entrepreneur dedicated to Educate Lanka has been a challenging journey, but a very exciting one at the same time.”  And he listed some of the highlights of the four short months since he left campus:

Manjula and Educate Lanka are still benefiting from the support of his former classmates. Last spring, Fletcher students, faculty, and staff recorded two videos to kick off the “It Only Takes Ten” campaign. The videos are similar, but I’m going to share both anyway.

Many languages, One Meaning

and Many Countries, One Meaning

Quite a few Fletcher students have a goal to establish a nonprofit, and it’s an inspiration to all of us to observe Manjula’s work.  He tells me that he has a few more projects lined up for the coming months.  I’ll be checking in with him so that I can provide an update toward the end of the year.

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It would be entirely frivolous for Admissions staff members to emphasize their role as match-makers.  First, making matches is not an appropriate use of our time.  Second, once we admit students, we can’t control who meets whom.

And yet…many students meet their spouses while at Fletcher, and I have decided to take credit for the happiness of two 2012 grads.  I first met Ho-Ming in 2007, when she visited for an interview before she applied to Fletcher and, later, deferred her enrollment.  Then, in the fall of 2009, I interviewed Aaron.  Probably, I didn’t have wedded bliss in mind as I spoke to them as applicants.  Probably.  But just maybe, I knew, in the depths of my subconscious, that here were two prospective students who were meant for each other.

I think it’s fair to say that Ho-Ming and Aaron left campus after graduation in May with a lot of balls in the air, creating some uncertainty in their lives, but one thing was clear — they were going to drive cross-country before embarking on the next phase.  So they bought an old van (Volkswagon Vanagon to be precise), adopted a puppy (Bean), and headed west.  Along the way, they eloped!

Here they are, with Bean and the van:

And here they are, in Chicago, looking all married:

And now they’re in Indonesia, where Aaron has a job and Ho-Ming (last I heard) seemed well on her way to landing one of her own.

After I emailed Ho-Ming to ask if I could write about her and Aaron in the blog, she gave me the o.k. and noted that she had recently seen a photo of Fletcher alumni in Washington, DC and that there were four Fletcher couples from her year alone.  “Definitely something about Fletcher,” she wrote.  But most of those couples, I’ll guess, didn’t elope and then travel halfway around the world.

If, like me, you have a soft spot for happy endings, you can read more about the elopement here.  And I should note that I borrowed the photos from that website, which credits them to “I Luv Photo.”

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