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Every now and then I see a reference to a Fletcher student or graduate in The Boston Globe and I save the link for a future blog post.  Today I thought I’d mention two stories, both from a Sunday paper, but on different topics and spaced about four months apart.  The first story chronologically was about Mariah Steele, class of 2011, who has melded her Fletcher education with dance in her work as founder of the Quicksilver Dance Company.  And she didn’t make these connections in a haphazard way — she even had it all figured out for her thesis.

More recently, there was the Globe front-page story on Joseph Dunford, class of 1992, who is among the military leaders charged with wrapping up U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in the coming years.

You may have seen mention of these articles previously through other Fletcher communications (also including Twitter, etc.), but I like the effect that’s created by pairing them together.  It’s hard to imagine a master’s-level program that could produce two graduates who go in such dramatically different directions, but that’s what Fletcher is all about!

 

I’ve written before about my friend Charles, an alum dating back to my first (pre-Admissions) Fletcher career.  There was his 2009 bike trip across the length of Japan with his son, Sho.  And there was his 2011 trip around Iceland with both Sho and his daughter, Saya.  I didn’t get around to profiling his lower-key trip over the Alps with extended family last summer, but they’re on the road again now.

Charlie, Sho and SayaFollowing a drive from New York to St. Louis — where Charles, his wife Eiko (Fletcher graduate working at the United Nations), Sho and Saya explored the starting point for the Lewis and Clark trek to the Pacific — and then a further drive to North Dakota, where Eiko turned back toward New York, Charles, Sho and Saya started cycling along the Lewis and Clark expedition route.  They’re chronicling their adventure, which has also been featured in publications as diverse as Outside MagazineNational Geographic online, and a blog for Capital C, a documentary about crowd-funding.  (In one of the better, but also stranger, areas of recognition, for Father’s Day a New York family-oriented website selected Charles as one of “New York City’s Coolest Dads.”) Connected with follow-up to the trip, Charles launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to write and lecture about their travels.

I should also provide the Fletcher context.  Charles and Eiko met here at Fletcher and then moved off to New York to start their careers, Eiko with the UN, and Charles with a business association, followed by an extended stint with Intel Corporation.  (All fairly Fletcherish up to that point, and we all love Fletcher couples!)  But then, in July 2011, Charles decided to dedicate himself to promoting family adventure travel.  One book, many talks and the bike trips mentioned above later, and he’s on his way to the Pacific Ocean.  Eiko, meanwhile, continues to do serious work in peacekeeping for the UN (including an half-year stretch in Libya in 2012), while supporting the cycling adventures of her family.

I hope you’ll enjoy following the ride over the Rockies for Charles, Sho, and Saya!

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At most times of the year, I would count on Fletcher to help me interpret an important international event.  Even during this summer break, there have been comments on the Social List regarding the situation in Egypt — but not nearly as rich a discussion as I would expect in, say, October.  Still, as events there play out, I thought I’d bring to your attention two Fletcher-connected sources of analysis.

The first comes from 2009 grad Zach Gold, who was interviewed recently by the University’s communications staff and offered his take on the situation.  (Zach, I might note, was a real friend to Admissions and served on the Admissions Committee for a year.  We remember him fondly!)

The second piece of analysis also comes from an alumnus, this time a freshly-minted graduate, Albert Trithart, who offered his views in a new piece on the Fletcher Forum website.

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Just over one year ago, Manjula Dissanayake graduated from Fletcher and I’ve been keeping up with him since.  We recently exchanged emails and decided it’s time for a spring/summer update.  Pulling together this blog post will require reaching into many websites and other sources, because Manjula has been a busy guy.

To recap:  After graduating, Manjula decided to focus full-time on his non-profit, Educate Lanka, from his base near Washington, DC.  Pushing Educate Lanka forward has required a combination of on-the-ground work in Sri Lanka, along with nearly continuous efforts to draw attention to the organization, in hopes funds would follow.  Manjula’s work, inseparable from the organization, has been recognized in so many ways!  Back in April, I was fortunate to grab a few minutes with him during his visit to the area when, over the course of three days, he spoke at the Tufts Social Innovation Symposium as well as at the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition (as an alumni competitor), and also attended a research presentation, exhibition, and silent auction benefiting Educate Lanka at Harvard.  Between events, he packed in visits to staff and faculty.  During our conversation, he gave me a sense of the activities he had in front of him.  Here’s what has kept Manjula busy during the past few months:

Even while I was compiling the list of all these activities, I learned of yet another new one.  This past Sunday, Manjula spoke live (via Google hangout) at the Social Media Day in Colombo, Sri Lanka about using “Social Media for Social Good.”

Throughout the past year, Manjula told me, he has developed plans to grow Educate Lanka and possibly to carry the concept beyond Sri Lanka.  He has put together a Board of Advisors on which Fletcher is well represented, and he continues to promote Educate Lanka’s work.  From my outsider’s vantage point, I can see the extraordinary effort that has brought Educate Lanka to where it is today, but the results have been impressive!  I’ll continue to follow Manjula’s path and report back again in the coming months.

Manjula at CGIU

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Like Jason Taylor, Katy Bondy is an Admissions Office favorite.  I can still picture her working at one of the computers.  Katy’s story will most likely be the last for the 2007 class (unless one of her classmates surprises me with a post) and I’ll be moving along to the Class of 2008 soon after their five-year reunion next weekend.  But first, let’s hear Katy’s story:

Katy Bondy, 2Before arriving at Fletcher, I worked in Washington, DC for a few years at a think tank where I focused on the Balkans and Eastern Europe.  It was an interesting job where I learned a lot about the former Yugoslavia, but it was primarily administrative and I was looking for something more.  Fortunately, a good friend at work, who happened to be a 2000 Fletcher grad,was patient about answering all of my questions about international relations graduate schools.  It didn’t take me long to decide that Fletcher was the best fit for me, particularly after I visited the school and was interviewed by a Fletcher-student, Nirmalan, who received his MALD in 2006 and is now completing his Fletcher PhD.

While at Fletcher, I dove into my studies and the Fletcher community.  I naturally gravitated towards courses on International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, and I still use the skills from those classes today:  Focus on interests, not positions!  I also created my own Field of Study by performing analyses on post-conflict countries, such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Somalia.  My favorite classes were with Professors Drezner, Martel, Babbitt, Shultz, and Chayes.

I received a great education at Fletcher and I believe it’s where I learned how to think more independently and more broadly.  But what stays with me as much as what I learned in my classes are the bonds and friendships that I formed with members of the Fletcher community.  I fondly remember the late night partying, greasy spoon breakfasts near the Tufts campus, and spending my days studying or writing papers in Ginn Library.

After Fletcher, like Jason, I was also selected to be a Presidential Management Fellow and I joined the Department of State where I worked on reconstruction and stabilization issues.  After spending a few months in Dhaka, Bangladesh for work, I decided to join the U.S. Foreign Service.  My first assignment was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which I loved, and my present assignment is in Manila, Philippines.

But no matter where I am in the world, the Fletcher network serves me well.  I maintain strong ties with many of the friends I made at Fletcher, but I’m also constantly forging new friendships with other alums I’ve met since graduating.  For me, the connections and bonds you make while at Fletcher are the most important (and the most fun!) aspect of your Fletcher education.

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Time for another round of thanks and farewell to a graduating student.  Maliheh contributed several posts to the blog this year, despite a heavy in-class and out-of-class workload, and a PhD admissions process that involved twenty schools and one lucky program that she has chosen to attend.  I first “met” Maliheh more than a year before she enrolled in the MALD program, when she first corresponded with our office.  Once I met her, I became a huge fan.  As much as I’ll miss her at Fletcher, I wish her the very best in her coming years of academic toil.  But before Maliheh leaves Fletcher, she offers this last post.

malihehIt is just that time of the year when everyone at Fletcher is finishing exams and preparing for their upcoming internship or new job.  I was preparing for my own internship last year at this time.  Everyone would tell me about Fletcher’s incredibly rich alumni network, but before experiencing it myself, I had no clear idea what a valuable resource this network can be.

From the first day I started my work at the World Bank, I tried to expand my professional connections by networking with people in other departments at the bank.  To my surprise, in almost every department I could find a Fletcher alum with whom I could meet and talk.  Even non-Fletcher people knew very well about Fletcher and would remind me that two current World Bank vice presidents are Fletcher alumni.

Working in the MENA region at the bank, it was not uncommon to hear people speaking in Arabic or Farsi, which I also used in speaking with my supervisor most of the time.  You can imagine that it is not easy to pick out English words exchanged in the middle of a conversation that is not in English, but “Fletcher” is a different kind of English word!  One day, in the midst of a long conversation in Farsi with my supervisor, and in a quite crowded venue, I said “Fletcher” to refer to a specific theory I had learned in one of my classes, and then returned to Farsi for the remainder of the conversation.  The woman sitting next to us picked out that one word and turned to me.  She asked, “I heard you say Fletcher.  Are you a Fletcher alum or student?”  And a very nice conversation followed from there!  Later I thought again about what I had heard before coming to the World Bank about Fletcher’s network, and felt very proud to be part of this extensive and supportive community!

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Our next Five-Year Update comes from Amlan Saha, who demonstrates true Fletcheresque qualities in a first sentence that includes words from Serbo-Croatian and Arabic and references to three geographic areas.  His photo adds a third geographic area — it was taken in Guatemala.  Here’s Amlan’s story:

Amlan SahaPre-Fletcher Experience

It all started in 2001, when, over some Slovak slivovica on a felucca in the Nile, a fellow traveler who had just finished work in Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer enthused about her plans to study public policy in graduate school.  I was already thinking about going back to school, but until then had spared no thought for anything other than an MBA.

Since graduating from the National University of Singapore with a degree in engineering in 1998, I had worked at a national research laboratory, set up an internet/telecoms company, which went bust in 2001 along with the collapse of the dotcom bubble, and then worked for the German engineering giant Siemens.  In short, technology and business summed up my pre-Fletcher professional experience.

But I was also a nerd (still am!) who loved politics far more than sports.  At around the same time that I was giving shape to my graduate school dream, oil prices hit $35 a barrel, climbing about 300 percent in just 18 months.  Listening to the talking heads in the following weeks provided a timely reminder that in the business of energy, geopolitics and regulation were never far away.  I was onto something.

Because my undergraduate degree was in engineering, I still wanted to do an MBA, but the conversation on the boat in Egypt led me to explore programs that brought together public policy, business decision making, and national security.  The possibility of shaping political processes that create rules, regulations, and programs to impact society was exciting.

In 2004, I started attending the Fletcher (MALD) and HEC Paris (MBA) dual degree program.

At Fletcher

The MBA part of my program, which I completed before arriving in Medford, focused on economics and finance.  At Fletcher, therefore, I dived headlong into public policy and international security.

Fletcher’s MALD curriculum was flexible enough to let me to create my own “Public Policy Analysis” Field of Study from the long list of courses on offer.  In fact, the list was so long, all incredibly good and tempting, that letting me choose my own classes was a bit like giving a kid the key to the candy store.  I also cross-registered at the Harvard Law School.

I found Prof. Gideon’s classes particularly valuable.  Skills I picked up in her classes have been extremely helpful in modeling real-life policy conundrums at work since graduation.

Post-Fletcher

After graduating from Fletcher, I joined the strategic energy/environmental consulting firm M.J. Bradley and Associates.  At MJB&A, I assist energy companies to navigate regulatory and market issues, assess economic implications of environmental regulations, and drive wholesale electricity market development.

Uniquely satisfying rewards at work include, among others, having the Chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee in the U.S. Senate refer to my analysis when discussing energy legislation and a Congressman use my work as a prop to explain to constituents his support for an energy bill.

I am currently a Vice President at the firm.

I also write (less frequently than I would like to) a blog.

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I’m going to kick off the week with a new Five-Year Update.  Jason is a thoroughly memorable member of the Fletcher community, and particularly of the Admissions student staff.  He both worked in the office and also served a year on the Admissions Committee.  Here’s his update.

I was still in the Peace Corps when I first visited the Fletcher website.  On it was a short account of one student’s Fletcher summer.  I remember reading with a mix of envy and awe.  The student had done seemingly everything — traveling to several Asian countries doing development work, thesis research, and some other adventures on the side.  She seemed to embody everything I hoped to be: a restless mind in the thick of it, who was using grad study to actively and deliberately lay the groundwork for a future career.  From that point on, Fletcher became my first choice in graduate schools.  I wanted to be surrounded by students like that person.  Heck, I wanted to be that person.  Every Fletcher interaction that followed confirmed that Fletcher was where I wanted to be.  My communication with the Admissions Office.  My first visit to the Hall of Flags.  I was so sure about Fletcher that it ended up being the only school I applied to.  If graduate school isn’t Fletcher, I thought, then I don’t want graduate school.

Not long after, I was in the thick of my own Fletcher summer.  I did project work in the bush of Uganda, followed by refugee thesis research in Central America.  I finished with a leadership conference in France.  I’d visited three continents in three months and got to focus on everything from activity design, to policy formation, to the dynamics of international negotiation.  I’m not rich.  All of this was mostly funded by Fletcher-related sources.  That summer was a microcosm of the Fletcher experience itself.  It’s as diverse as you want it to be.  There are no limits.  Fletcher gave me the freedom to mold my degree as I went along; my degree, rather than feeling like an exercise in path dependence, felt like it was in a constant, enthralling state of becoming.  The rigor of study exposed my weaknesses, and the support of the School and community gave me the confidence to address them.  I left Fletcher with a clear vision of the impact I wanted to make and the confidence that I had the skills to be successful.

Following Fletcher, I became a Presidential Management Fellow and worked at USAID on humanitarian food assistance programs.  During my first years I worked on the Haiti earthquake response and Madagascar during a coup, and I covered Sudan during the referendum that created South Sudan, the world’s newest nation.  Two years ago I converted to the USAID foreign service and am the deputy chief of the food assistance office in Ethiopia — the largest of its kind in the world.  It’s a tough job but I love it.  I think back often to what I learned at Fletcher and I know that the School’s equal emphasis on skill building and community were the perfect preparation for my work.  My days are a jumble of activity management, policy advocacy, and negotiation — all the things that made that summer so interesting.  I feel like the work I do is important and that my personal role in unfolding events matters.  I took a few Peace Corps volunteers out to dinner the other night.  I listened to them talk about their projects and admired their enthusiasm.  Some were thinking about careers in this field.  For me, Fletcher was the bridge between being a relative beginner and being a professional.  I know I wasn’t the first to cross that bridge and I certainly won’t be the last.

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Today I’m sharing the second of the Five-Year Updates from alumni in the Fletcher Class of 2007.  Please meet Georgia Iordanescu.

Before starting off my master’s degree at Fletcher, I had worked for several years in the public sector of my native Romania, and I had been academically and professionally trained in law and international security studies.  It was not a surprise that, in my first year at the Fletcher School, I would pursue a fairly natural continuation of related studies.

Halfway through my degree however, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and leap into uncharted territory: energy and natural resources economics.  My second-year coursework ranged from Professor Bill Moomaw’s clean tech and energy policy classes, to development economics and finance.  While I was working on my master’s thesis on energy policy in China, I learned about a Global Consulting class that was pairing up a small group of students with different organizations to work on their designated projects.  I chose an energy consulting project proposed by Hitachi, and six months into the project I was selected to continue working at Hitachi’s headquarters in Tokyo on renewable energy projects and policy recommendations.  This extraordinary opportunity to work on tangible energy projects while furthering my education has unquestionably swayed me into the professional direction that I am pursuing today.

Five years after my graduation, energy has become central to my professional craft and it blends in seamlessly with the unparalleled interdisciplinary education in international law, finance, and economics that I received at Fletcher.  In my work, I assist governments in Sub-Saharan Africa — primarily in Namibia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Lesotho — to enable the development of grid-connected renewable energy projects, to mobilize independent power producers, and to facilitate the formation of competitive electricity markets in their respective countries.

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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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