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Our final IBGC post comes from Anisha (currently a second year MIB student) and Julia (who graduated from the MALD program in May 2014).  Their research examines the impact of digital innovation in enabling urban mobility in Nairobi, Kenya.  Their post was written in July.

Navigating Silicon Savannah: Do Digital Innovation and Urban Mobility Go Together?

Urban mobility is defined as the degree of ease with which people and goods can be moved in an urban center.  As an expanding economy and East Africa’s technology hub, Nairobi has seen rapid urbanization in recent years.  According to the government of Kenya, population is set to quadruple from 3.1 million in 2014 to 12.1 million in 2030.  New construction is sprouting up almost every day.  Rural to urban migration continues to be high.  Internet and mobile phone penetration have brought along the emergence of digital commerce.  With these developments, the demand for urban mobility in Nairobi has increased much faster than in the rest of the country.

Kenya busThe Kenyatta government recognizes the need for urban mobility in Nairobi, and is making improvements to infrastructure, urban planning and regulatory frameworks.  Yet, as urban mobility demand outpaces supply, Nairobi’s private sector is creating innovative solutions for problems arising in transport and logistics today.

Our research looks at what digital innovation exists to address issues in transport and logistics, who this digital innovation is benefiting, and how the government and private sector are engaging each other.  In this blog post, we’ll discuss our research process so far.

Ask the right question, and get the right answers

Back in January 2014, when we started a literature review of urbanization-related challenges in Nairobi, we identified transport, water and sanitation as our key areas of focus.  Early into our fieldwork on the ground, we realized the need to narrow our research question further.  Two weeks of informal interviews with subjects from the private sector and technology space showed us the tremendous amount of energy around transport and logistics.  Issues in the sector range from usual suspects like traffic and parking management and bad roads, to finding locations physically because Nairobi does not have a numbered addressing system.  This experience showed us how important it is to be on the ground and talk with people personally to craft your final research questions.

Trial the methodology, and know how to revise

This period of interviewing also validated the qualitative, in-depth interview methodology we had chosen for our primary research.  The rich answers we got from our in-depth interviews were exactly what we were looking for to get insights.  At the same time, we recognized that completely open-ended interviews would give us a lot of disparate data that we would not be able to organize into themes.  Hence, we used the first two weeks to listen to subjects and construct our structured interview guide that would make data aggregation and analysis easier after the fieldwork.

Listen, and become a better researcher

One of the most critical lessons we learnt early on was to make our subjects comfortable and to listen actively in our conversations.  As much as this sounds like a soft skill, it has been crucial to making our research better.  We have developed an understanding on how to ask questions and pick up points to probe deeper.  We always functioned with one of us as lead interviewer who could keep to the structure of the interview guide, while the other would listen for insightful answers and delve into them.Kenya Collage

Network, and get a representative sample

Our research methodology required us to talk with players in the tech ecosystem, and transport and logistics sector.  While we diligently surveyed all players and reached out to them through a combination of contacts and cold calling, we found out soon enough how crucial snowball sampling was to our participant recruitment process.  We also realized how important it was to meet as many people as we could by going to events, conferences, and spending time at community spaces for tech enthusiasts.

We must note that we were incredibly fortunate that our subjects were forthcoming in providing names of people and organizations to speak to, and went out of their way to make introductions for us.  We even had some subjects telling us to talk to their competitors!

Be patient, because there will be highs and lows

Our fieldwork experience has been like Nairobi weather — mercurial.  We have had days when none of our contacts have come through, and days when we found ourselves scrambling to squeeze all our subjects into our schedule.  It took us the first three weeks to understand the nature of fieldwork, and to be prepared for the highs and lows.  Thereafter, we planned in a way that if we had a bonus number of interviews in a short span, we would stretch ourselves to complete them.  At the same time, we recognized the value of patience on days when we were unable to have a full schedule or when last-minute meeting cancellations happened.

It also made us realize that fieldwork was a 24/7 job for the brain.  Even when we were at social gatherings or dealing with vendors, shopkeepers and the like, we kept our eyes and ears open for information that could help us with our research. We also spent countless hours discussing (and redefining) the exact wording of our research together, often stuck in traffic in Nairobi or when Internet speeds were too slow to be sufficiently productive (the irony was not lost on us).

Hope for an amazing research partner because it makes research a million times better (and fun)!

There have been innumerable times when we have represented each other and our team as whole, to subjects, contacts and other people we have worked with on the project.  So, it is really important to have a great level of trust and understanding.  This really cannot be underestimated or overemphasized!  Our disparate skill sets have fused together nicely to craft a project that has thus far been immensely rewarding and informative.
Kenya cell

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The second of our IBGC research posts comes from Michael and Trevor (both second-year MALD students), who were based in Indonesia.

Indonesia storeWhat if, in areas underserved by formal financial services, mobile phones could function like debit cards and local corner stores like micro bank branches?  In the same amount of time it would take to send a SMS text message, you could check your bank balance, transfer money to a friend, pay your utility bills, or purchase your groceries, all enabled on a mobile handset.  The local agents that you use to top-up your mobile airtime could also function as agents contracted by banks or mobile network operators (MNOs), providing you with access points to deposit and withdraw money from your accounts.  This is one vision of how mobile money could reshape the way people use money and access financial services.

We have spent the past two months in Indonesia exploring how mobile money might add value to the financial portfolios of low income market segments.  (Our research was inspired in large part by the book Portfolios of the Poor, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven.)  Indonesia is the largest market in Southeast Asia and a member of the G20, yet it has one of the largest unbanked and under-banked populations in the world.  Formal financial services have the potential to improve livelihoods, protect assets, and provide security from the unexpected.  Yet, according to the World Bank Global Financial Inclusion Index, only 20% of Indonesians were fully banked as of 2011.

Indonesia hillsIndonesia’s geography poses a major barrier to expanding financial access, with its 250 million inhabitants spread across 13,000 islands.  The infrastructure investment in brick-and-mortar branches and ATMs that would be required to substantially expand financial access is prohibitively expensive, especially if the access points reach only low-income communities.  One promising solution that is receiving widespread attention is using mobile phones as a tool to offer branchless banking services to the underserved.  Under branchless banking schemes, financial services are distributed by agents contracted by institutions to process customer’s transactions away from physical bank branches.

Major stakeholders, including the Government of Indonesia, commercial banks, and international development agencies are dedicating considerable resources to foster the nascent mobile-enabled branchless banking market.  The Bank of Indonesia (Indonesia’s central bank) and the Financial Services Authority (which is responsible for micro-prudential oversight) have issued a series of increasingly clarifying and progressive regulations to govern the emerging branchless banking and mobile money market.  There are a number of interesting mobile money offerings already on the market, notably Telkomsel’s T-Cash, Indosat’s Dompetku, XL’s Tunia, and Mandiri’s E-Cash.  Thus far, however, these products have seen only limited uptake concentrated among middle and high-end consumers.

Indonesia meetingAmidst all of these efforts and the exciting potential, it is easy to lose sight of the most important stakeholder: the end user.  Regulatory bodies should be weighing the best ways to maintain a stable financial system while protecting the consumer and promoting financial inclusion.  And commercial banks and MNOs ought to be concerned that regulations should enable them to utilize latent networks of agents already imbedded in low-income communities (such as mobile airtime re-sellers or modern mini-market retailers, for example), while also turning a profit.  However, all is for naught if the end-users — the customers — do not see sufficient value in mobile money services to make the switch from their current mix of financial management tools.

Our research rests on the presumption that the poor lead complex financial lives.  Despite their position on the outskirts of the formal financial universe, low income segments have developed, adopted, and adapted formal and informal tools that help them manage their incomes.  Mobile money and branchless banking services must compete, then, with a rich assortment of product offerings that are already socialized, trusted, and tailored to the poor’s specific expectations and needs.  So, scaling-up mobile money is more than an access issue.  In order to be adopted, products must add value above and beyond those services that the poor are already using to save, insure, borrow, and transfer money.

Our efforts are an extension of previous research conducted by the IFC, TNP2K, Microfinance Opportunities, e-MITRA, and CGAP, among others.  We hope to contribute to this body of knowledge by exploring not only how low income segments manage their financial lives, but why they manage them in the ways that they do.  Understanding the attitudes, norms and behaviors of end-users, including the perceived strengths and weaknesses of their current mix of financial intermediation tools, can inform more rational regulations, better product design, more targeted marketing, and the establishment and maintenance of an effective sales force of agents.

Indonesia trainingOver the past two months, we’ve immersed ourselves in three communities in Jakarta, Bandung, and the Ciwidey Regency in order to create ethnographic profiles of each that detail the rhythms of their economic and financial lives.  We’ve held focus group discussions, in-depth one-on-one interviews, and ideation workshops, as well as broken fast with members of each community and even farmed in one location.  Naturally, we do not seek to generalize insights that are specific to a time and place.  Rather, we hope to share how new products can be tailored, marketed, and delivered to specific low income contexts that will ensure adoption and continued usage.

Our efforts will result in a report that will be published in late September.  While we’re focused like lasers on the needs of the end-user, we are equally focused on ensuring that our findings are actionable for both regulators and the businesses responsible for designing and deploying profitable mobile money products.  We want to know how mobile money might be integrated into or displace existing formal and informal services.  It is also our hope that our research concept and design will be of relevance to the wider financial inclusion community.

We are grateful for the opportunity provided to us by The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth and The Fletcher School’s Institute for Business in the Global Context.  In addition to their generosity, both institutions have pushed our thinking and providing invaluable in-kind support, all while giving us the autonomy to design and execute our research, and analyze our findings.  We look forward to sharing our findings soon.Indonesia, 1

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The first of the blog posts from Institute for Business in the Global Context researchers comes from Sarah and Jennie, who studied the business practices and the most challenging constraints of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Turkey.  Both Sarah and Jennie graduated from the MALD program in May.  As background for their post, they note that:

SMEs comprise 99% of Turkish enterprises and employ nearly 80% of the workforce; thus they have the potential to contribute significantly to the long-term growth of the country.  Currently, the government, followed by private banks and supporting institutions, have increased attention on SMEs, but there are still considerable constraints in the areas of finance, human capital, and enhancing competitiveness.  Through our research, we seek to identify the gaps between existing products and services available to Turkish SMEs and the unmet needs of those businesses, and to uncover potential alternatives to narrow these gaps. 

Here’s the post that they wrote midway through their summer.

The Making of a Team

Turkey team
After three weeks of finishing our literature review, piloting and perfecting our interview questions on nearby business owners, and speaking with many knowledgeable representatives of Turkey’s leading banks and supporting institutions, we took our first field trip as an entire research team to begin interviews with the businesses formally participating in our study.

Our research focuses on two regions of Turkey: the Marmara Region and Southeastern Anatolia.  Istanbul is the primary city in the Marmara Region and that is where we have been based since mid-June.  While we are of course interviewing SMEs in Istanbul, we are also interested in speaking to businesses in other, smaller cities in this region.  Therefore, we arranged to interview SMEs in Edirne, a city where Turkey shares its borders with both Greece and Bulgaria.

Turkey map
We met our two research assistants, Mert and Abid, at the bus station, prepared for a three-hour trip, and took an evening for final preparations before our first interviews with business owners.  To our surprise, it took over two hours just to get out of Istanbul proper, so the bus ride ended up being five hours, during which we learned that we actually had two interviews lined up that very evening!

We had a contact in Edirne scheduling the interviews for us, so while we knew we’d be interviewing four to six businesses over the three-day period, we didn’t have the exact schedule ahead of time.  The realities of field research abruptly hit us as we scrambled to finish final details on the bus.  Due to the importance of relationships and networks in Turkey, we realized that we were at the whim of our Edirne contact as to how many interviews we packed into one day, how much time we had between the interviews, and how long the interviews would actually last.  While it was amazing to finally start interviews, we were suddenly inundated with many tasks such as transcribing, recording, and analyzing this steady flow of information!

While our inner-American spirits would have preferred more time to feel settled, our newly minted Turkish mindset, coupled with the many hours we had previously spent on interview questions, enabled us to complete very productive and informative interviews that evening and over the next couple of days.

In the midst of it all, however, we did get a chance to see a bit of the city, one of the former capitals of the Ottoman Empire.  On our way to one interview, we stopped to explore some historical sites such as Selimiye Mosque, visited a horse stable on the Turkey-Greece border, and one of our research assistants realized his lifelong dream to ride a moped!

Turkey Collage
Exhausted from this hectic schedule of travel and “pop-up” interviews, we finally bonded as a team over burgers at a steakhouse — a new venture of one of our recent interviewees.

All in all, the trip was a rich learning experience and provided some lessons and insights which have already begun to influence the direction of our research.  We are discovering that, despite a wide range of both financial and non-financial offerings by Turkish banks, SMEs are mostly concerned with loans, for which they consider the terms (especially high interest rates) to be quite prohibitive.

Furthermore, while the existing literature indicates that access to capital is the greatest constraint SMEs face, we are actually finding that businesses largely lack skills in cash management and financial accounting principles, which prohibits them from effectively using the available capital.

Last, these businesses also cite difficulties in finding, employing, and trusting qualified employees.  There is a tension felt by business owners who do not want to relinquish control, yet aspire to expand and professionalize their business.  When faced with the decision of whether to hire outside talent, particularly semi-professional managers, more often than not owners prefer to maintain a tight grip on all decisions.

We are now wrapping up our interviews in the Marmara Region, and we will be writing a second post from the opposite corner of the country, Gaziantep!

Turkey team, 2

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In August I heard from the folks at the Institute for Business in the Global Context, who asked if the Admissions Blog could feature the writing of students who conducted research this summer.  I’m really happy to be able to share the posts that the IBGC students have written, and they’ll run from Wednesday to Friday this week.  First, an introduction from Jamilah Welch, the IBGC program coordinator.

This summer, three teams of two students each conducted original research projects around the world for Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context.  The projects, which took place in Indonesia, Turkey, and Kenya, were fully funded as part of an innovative research initiative in partnership with the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth.

Drawing upon the Fletcher students’ contextual understanding, the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) allows them to engage in original research and analysis, resulting in new market insights to encourage more inclusive business growth — everything from SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) development, to mobile money, to services for the poor.  Resulting publications will display a rich blend of academic and business-oriented insights that push beyond the reach of traditional market research, but maintain a practicality less often found in academia.

This week, we will hear from our student teams, via their field blogs.

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With the People’s Climate March having taken place in New York this past weekend, I wanted to share this interview on the subject with Fletcher PhD candidate, Kartikeya Singh.  Kartikeya’s comments particularly focus on what’s at stake for countries like India and the Maldives, as well as his past involvement in negotiations.  For those not familiar, the March took place directly before the UN Summit on Climate Change, at which 120+ heads of state will discuss how their nations will tackle the issue.

Listen to the interview here:

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In the next few weeks, in response to requests from readers, I hope to be able to gather a few posts in which students sum up their internship experiences.  I thought I’d start by pointing you back toward the blog’s July post that collected links to several students’ own blogs.  Not all of the students whose blogs were included wrote a summary post, but a few did, so check them out:

Owen wrapped up his experience in Kenya.

Katerina wrote about her final week in Nepal.

Leon wrote about the people he met during a summer at the Army War College.

And Braden summed up his experience in South Africa.

I’m working on gathering more stories from the summer.  Stay tuned!

P.S. (Quick late afternoon addition): Check out the Fletcher Admissions Facebook page for photos of their internships that students have shared!

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When she was already in Ghana for her summer internship, Diane sent me this final blog post of 2013-2014.  I held it, thinking that September would be optimal timing.  Current students may want to know about Diane’s search for external scholarships, while applicants may want to know that such a thing is possible.  New posts from continuing student bloggers Diane, Liam, and Mark should return soon, and I’ll be adding new voices from among the first-year students.

For prospective students applying to graduate programs, the question of how to pay for a master’s degree is often a huge part of the decision-making process.

While Fletcher was my number one choice in programs going into the application process, the scholarship aid I received from Fletcher also made my enrollment decision very easy.  Nonetheless, Fletcher scholarships don’t generally cover the full cost of tuition, and certainly don’t include living costs, leaving me to figure out how to cover the rest.

Like many students who worked for a number of years prior to Fletcher, I had some savings, and I knew I would also need to take a loan.  As I did my financial planning, I realized that my savings would be gone by the end of the first year, and I would have to try to find ways to minimize the amount of debt I would be taking on.  This led me to the search for external scholarships.

As I reviewed scholarship opportunities, I found myself in the unfortunate position of being an international student from a developed country, but a country that itself offers very few scholarships for international study.  This left me searching for scholarships that I often couldn’t apply for.  I wasn’t very successful with my applications before starting at Fletcher, and I planned to submit more applications for my second year of study.

Once I was at Fletcher, I found my greatest resource to be my fellow students.  I took the opportunity to chat with other international students about scholarships they knew of, and shared information.  I also utilized the resources around me — in particular, I took advantage of the writing tutor program, to get feedback on my application essays before I sent them in.

This turned out to be a positive process!  I applied for two external scholarships for my second year, and was successful in receiving one of them.  Two of my Fletcher friends who had shared with me the process of applying for external scholarships were also successful.  This highlights one of my favorite things about Fletcher: the spirit of collaboration, and how this often leads to shared success.

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At the end of the spring semester, Liam, one of our student bloggers, offered an end-of-year post.  I eagerly grabbed it, but I’ve held it until now because it reflects both Liam’s first year at Fletcher and also his suggestions for incoming students.  I’ll just note that Liam wrote his post when the Red Sox season was looking a little brighter than it is now!

Sitting here, finally having some time to reflect on the blur that is the spring semester, I’m at a loss to describe what an incredible experience my first year at Fletcher has been.  A few words come to mind — demanding, challenging, (extremely) busy — but what it really boils down to is one of the most remarkable and rewarding years I’ve had.  From making new friends, to learning an incredible amount about the world in which we live, to taking the time to really comprehend my life’s journey to this point, this year at Fletcher was incredible.  Taking all that into consideration, I thought about the experiences I’m glad I’ve had both in and out of school, and I wanted to share a few “musts” for students at Fletcher.

1.  Go to Fletcher events.  From culture nights, to the Blakeley Halloween party, to The Los Fletcheros concerts, to simple gatherings of friends on a Friday, some of the best times to be had at Fletcher are outside the classroom.  Taking the time to relax and get to know my classmates has been so incredibly rewarding.  Time goes by pretty fast here and it will be over before you know it, so enjoy it while you can.

2.  Go to the Boston Marathon.  I was blessed with the opportunity to run this year through the Tufts Marathon Team, but if running for four(-ish) hours is not your cup of tea, experiencing the event is still an absolute must.  Over a million fans lining the street for over 26 miles, coming together in support of the city and the runners, was just an indescribable thing to see.  The Boston Marathon is, in my eyes, the most egalitarian sporting event in the world and it is not to be missed.

3.  Go watch the Red Sox.  I might be a bit biased as a life-long Sox fan, but anyone who spends time in Boston should experience Fenway Park.  Especially after the Sox won the 2013 World Series, taking in an afternoon or evening at “America’s Favorite Ballpark” is a great distraction from school, and singing “Sweet Caroline” with 36,000 friends is pretty great, too.

4.  Get to know Boston.  Boston is so full of history and culture — it’s critical to get out and see it.  Running along the Esplanade on the Charles River, exploring the Freedom Trail, relaxing at Boston Common, going to concerts — there is so much to do year-round in the city, so putting down the books and getting out is something you just have to do.

5.  Get out of Boston.  New England offers a ton of things to do.  Whale watching off Cape Cod, skiing in Maine, hiking in New Hampshire, seeing the foliage in the fall, these are just a few of the awesome things this area of the country offers.  Taking a backpacking trip out in the Berkshires during spring break was probably the most relaxing thing I’ve done in the past year, and it was vital to helping me reset to finish the semester strong.

In summary, it’s been an incredible year — one I wouldn’t trade for the world — and I’m looking forward to a 2014-15 academic year that is just as incredible and memorable.

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A few pieces of news worth sharing have passed my way recently.

First, Tufts University’s news service recently highlighted the thoughts of two Fletcher faculty members.  In a recent “Tufts Now” newsletter, we read Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti‘s ideas regarding the future of money, and also Prof. Kelly Sims Gallagher‘s views on how the U.S. could take a lesson from China on competing in the clean-energy market.

For that matter, and this is actually BIG news that I have neglected, I should also note that Prof. Gallagher will be on leave from Fletcher in 2014-15 to work in The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  She is serving as Senior Policy Advisor and will be working on climate change and energy policy, as well as international climate policy.  You can read more here.

This week, I heard from two continuing students whose writing has been picked up by major publications.  Emily Cole wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times about health care for Peace Corps Volunteers, a topic the Times has been covering lately.  Ameya Naik wrote a column for Mint, the Indian edition of the Wall Street Journal.  He pointed out that one hyperlink in the piece (“modern terrorism”) takes you to a Huffington Post column by another continuing student, Tara Dominic.  Ameya also has a blog, which is a combination of his own writing and compiled writing of other people.

 

Blog posts have a short shelf life, and most readers don’t dig too deep into the archives.  For that reason, I thought I’d share some of the most “liked” posts of this past year, as generated by the button below each post.  Click on the photo below to take you to the original blog post or the feature series that it was part of.

Devon ConeFirst, and probably the blog post that has received the greatest number of “likes” ever, was Devon Cone’s report on her five years after Fletcher.  It’s a lovely story that has drawn several particularly warm comments.  If you enjoy reading about Devon’s post-Fletcher path, consider scrolling through all of the Five Year Updates.

 

Michael KleinEach of the posts in the Faculty Spotlight series was well received, and I couldn’t possibly choose among the professors, so I invite you to read all of their self-introductions.  Click on Prof. Klein’s photo to the left, and then scroll through the posts I collected in 2013-2014.  More to come this fall!

 

Roxanne awardIncoming students have told me that they appreciated reading the stories of current students, and everyone was happy for Roxanne when she received the Presidential Award for Citizenship.  To catch up with everything that Roxanne, Mirza, Scott, Diane, Liam, and Mark wrote this year, check out all the Student Stories.

 

Margot ShoreyAlso informative for prospective students have been the updates from students in their first year post-Fletcher.  Given the favorable response, I was proactive this year — I lined up a big bunch of students who graduated in May and who volunteered to write about the post-Fletcher career they hadn’t yet started.  I’ll begin collecting the posts at the end of the fall.  (As I write this, Margot’s post has exactly 100 likes.)

 

Amy Tan and Luca UrechI enjoyed reading the posts students wrote about their activities during the academic year.  I learned about things I had never even heard of!  In addition to the post on the Human Rights Practicum, the one on the International Criminal Court Simulation was particularly well liked, but go ahead and check out the complete collection of Cool Stuff posts.

 

Hovhannes Nikoghosyan Fletcher 2014I also caught up with a few official programs that I had neglected in the past.  Readers especially liked the post on the Tavitian Fellows.

 

 

Finally, there were lots of likes for a few stories about particular students or alumni — posts that weren’t part of a blog feature series.

KamilIn an unusual post about a student who was living like a graduate, we read about Kamil, who will soon be returning to Fletcher after he stopped out for a year with UNICEF in Myanmar.

 

 

Sam and pastry chefThere was this one about Sam Chapple-Sokol, because who doesn’t love reading about cooking?

 

 

 

Glacier - dressed for Arctic conditionsAnd this from Jamie Kraut, one of last summer’s newly minted graduates, who traveled to Norway with some current students.

 

 

Sebastian and MeganI don’t do it too often, but sometimes I can’t resist a nice wedding story.  And with a Fletcher professor officiating at the ceremony, they don’t get much more Fletcherish than Megan and Sebastian’s event last summer.

 

The common element in nearly all these most-liked posts is that they were written by students, alumni, or professors.  The few that I wrote myself tell the stories of students or alumni.  That gives me a strong hint about areas on which to focus blog posts in 2014-2015!

 

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