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Although the majority of students start their studies and go straight through the relevant number of semesters on campus, plenty of students opt to pursue a dual degree or exchange program, or even take time away to work.  Jessica Meckler, who started the MALD program in September 2013, is doing just that.  Here’s her story.

Jessica M & kidsOne of Fletcher’s greatest strengths is its often-lauded flexibility.  Many other students have talked about the variety of courses and concentrations that allow students to personalize their degree to fit their professional goals, so there isn’t a need to elaborate on that.  However, the opportunity to take a leave of absence from Fletcher is another particularly useful aspect to the degree program that I would love to see highlighted more.

There are many reasons to take a leave of absence from your graduate studies: fellowships, scholarships, internships, and job opportunities.  Some of my batch mates have taken a semester off.  Others, including myself, have taken the entire academic year to pursue additional experiences that expand upon our Fletcher studies.

I am currently living and working in Pune, India as an American India Foundation William J. Clinton Fellow.  The organization that I have been placed with for my 10-month fellowship is the Akanksha Foundation, an educational NGO that runs schools and after-school centers for children from low-income communities in Pune and Mumbai.

I decided to apply for the fellowship in December 2013.  Throughout the course of my first semester, I had become increasingly aware of how my limited experience in the field affected my ability to connect the theories and skills we study at Fletcher with the reality of international development work.  I was encouraged by several professors to pursue a field internship for the summer, and with my interest in Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation (DM&E), Prof. Scharbatke-Church was candid and helpful in explaining ways to supplement my previous experiences.  I figured that if a summer was a good idea, why not a full year?

The application process for the AIF Clinton Fellowship was a lengthy endeavor.  I submitted my written application in January 2014 and was interviewed at the end of April.  I did not learn that I would be joining the 2014-2015 AIF cohort until June, when I was already living in Dhaka, Bangladesh and interning with BRAC for the summer!  I was extremely grateful for the ease with which Fletcher students can apply for a leave of absence.  It made the process of preparing to move to India while in Bangladesh a little simpler.

Jessica MecklerOne chronic worry that arises often when I talk to people about my time off from school is the idea of falling out of the “student mode.”  While in a way this fellowship is a break from the hectic schedule of all Fletcher students, I see the work that I do at the Akanksha Foundation as a crucial aspect to my Fletcher education.  In Pune I am assisting with several curriculum and program assessments, curriculum design, system creation and implementation, and teacher training.  My work draws upon the skills that I learned during my first year at Fletcher, such as the ideas and principles from the DM&E modular series, and I have greater clarity regarding my goals for my second year at Fletcher.  There are specific skills and courses, such as Nancy Hite’s Survey Design in Comparative Political Economy and Jenny Aker’s Econometric Impact Evaluation for Development, that I will focus on when I return to Boston.  Additionally, I am using my year away from Fletcher to continue a project – which will hopefully double as a significant portion of my capstone – that I began in Dhaka.

Although only four months have passed since moving to India, I am confident that my work here will have a profound impact on my future studies and career.  Taking time off was invaluable for me, and it has given me the time and space necessary to contextualize the onslaught of new ideas that a year at Fletcher brings.  While it is very strange to imagine Medford without the familiar faces that I have come to associate with Fletcher, I am equally excited to return to school in September as I am to stay in India for six more months!

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Fletcher skiers, snowboarders, and those who like to get away spent this past weekend at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine.  Travelers returned with many happy reports of the weekend.  One of the participants, Dallin — a second-year MALD student — grabbed some photos for me to share.  Though Albert and Ilana (top and middle photos below) are both snowboarding, I hear that the group tilted toward skiing.  Regardless of their ski/snowboard preference, everyone (except those who sat cozily by the fire) bundled up.  It was COLD on Saturday.

Albert

Ilana

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Our Student Stories bloggers are back on campus and checking in.  Today, Alex reflects on his first semester in the MIB program.

My first semester at The Fletcher School was quite an experience: immersing myself in my business and energy classes, getting to know my accomplished and passionate classmates, and participating in events with Nobel laureates.

First and foremost, I have been struck by the immediate and tangible benefits of being a part of such a small, tightly knit school.  Let me give you a couple examples of these benefits from my experience so far:

Small Classes, Meaningful Discussions

Many of my classes were quite small, facilitating open and deep discussions, as well as fostering much more meaningful relationships with professors.

One example was my Managing the Global Corporation course taught by Prof. Thoman, F67, whose accomplishments and accolades include being the CEO of Xerox and Nabisco, the CFO of IBM, and a recipient of the French Legion d’Honneur.  Instead of just teaching us analytical frameworks pulled from textbooks or reviewing business cases of other people’s experiences, Prof. Thoman helped us understand how decisions are actually made in the C-suite, based on examples from his own extraordinary career.  This class only had a dozen students.

Another example was my Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy class taught by Prof. Kates-Garnick, F84, who was the Undersecretary of Energy for Massachusetts.  As Massachusetts has one of the most advanced and successful clean energy policies in the U.S., Prof. Kates-Garnick is precisely the type of person you want to learn about energy policy from.  Instead of simply discussing theoretical policies, she put us in the decision-maker’s seat and had us consider the tough trade-offs associated with different options.  This class only had seven students.

The opportunity to take courses sitting around such a small table with industry forerunners and policy makers with real-world experience reaffirmed that this school is not just teaching us theory; Fletcher truly is a school for practitioners, taught by practitioners.

Exclusive Conferences, Valuable Insights

As part of this focus on staying connected to the real world outside the halls of academia, Fletcher encourages us to attend the plethora of conferences hosted in Boston.  A great thing about Fletcher, however, is that it can help you get into the ones that actually matter.

For example, Prof. Kates-Garnick invited me to a small private conference held jointly by The Fletcher School and the Harvard Kennedy School for one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world.  The meeting, attended by the top energy minds of the two schools and the top executives of this global firm, was an eye-opening experience on how corporations inform and conduct their highest-level strategic planning process.  I was impressed by the executives’ grasp of international affairs (it came as little surprise that some were Fletcher graduates), and was reminded of the value of the Master of International Business (MIB) degree I am pursuing.

I was also able to attend a cleantech conference with the leading businessmen and women in Boston thanks to a generous grant from Fletcher’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.  Just about every other person at the conference was a president or CEO, while I was one of only three students able to attend, due to the cost.  Access to the event proved invaluable, however, both in terms of the content of the panel discussions and the contacts I established; I left with an internship for the next semester doing research for a private equity fund acquiring wind farms across North America.

Not only are these types of conferences interesting, they provide access to the fields students are interested in, and to the people who shape those fields.  If it had not been for Fletcher, I would not have been able to attend, or even have heard of, these conferences.

Fletcher is a small school that delivers monumental output.  The professors and events students have access to are but a couple of the benefits of attending a small school.  It is these types of opportunities that ensures that students are at the leading edge of their fields, and that The Fletcher School stays at the forefront of the world’s most pressing issues.

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Orientation for new students starts today, meaning that Fletcher will not be occupied solely by staff members, as it has been for several weeks.  Classes start up on Monday, which is when we’ll see the returning students.

While everything is so quiet (and we’re waiting for the flood of applications that will pour in at the end of this week), I wanted to share two recent op-eds written by our PhD candidates.  First, David Knoll, who is in the final stages of dissertation writing, took a break to do some other writing, in this case for Time magazine online.  His opinion piece appeared in December, shortly after the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report.

More recently, Shahla Al Kli and Torrey Taussig also published an opinion piece.  Theirs is on ISIS, and appeared on The National Interest website.

Finally, if you’re like me, you receive news about Fletcher from many sources — the website, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.  Despite these many prompts, it took me until today to watch the latest video from Dean Stavridis.  If you’re hoping to enroll in 2015-16, I encourage you to take a look.  He lays out many initiatives for the coming year, even as he describes the results of our work in 2014.

Oh, and of course, Dean Stavridis is a graduate of Fletcher’s PhD program.

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At the start of each academic year, the Admissions Office reaches out to a group of students to ask if they would be willing to have their profiles included on the website.  Around that same time, I reach out to a few students to ask them if they’d like to write for the Admissions Blog.  This year we achieved significant overlap in our groups — four of the six students writing for the Admissions Blog also have profiles.  If you would like to know more about the students behind the Student Stories posts, check out the profiles for Diane, Alex, Ali, and Aditi.

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First-year MIB student, Nathalie (who has also conducted interviews for us — you may have met her!) offered to report on the recent career trip students took to New York City.  Here’s the story:

Traditionally the Fletcher School student body goes on two career trips each year: to New York in January and then to Washington, DC a month later.  These trips are renowned by students for the career opportunities they provide, and are also considered a no-miss event on the Fletcher social calendar.  As the number of students interested in the intersection of the private and public sector grows, a need was identified to organize an additional career trip earlier in the academic year to meet the recruitment deadlines of some of the larger private sector companies.  The International Business Club rose to the challenge and organized the student-run Private Sector NYC Career Trip in November.  As one of the Club’s leadership team members — and coming to Fletcher this year with five years of work experience in the private sector — I wanted to share some of my impressions both of the day itself and the preparations leading up to the day.

We had begun our internship and job search preparation already with our first Professional Development Program (PDP) class during Orientation week.  PDP continued through the first half of fall semester, with Friday mornings dedicated to refining our résumés, elevator pitches, and cover letters.  This all felt very premature to me — I thought “I’ve just left my job.  I’m planning on staying here for two years.  What am I doing this for?!” — but after seeing that deadlines for consulting internships began in the fall, I quickly changed my tune.  The New York Career Trip helped jump-start my internship preparation, and made sure I was 100 percent ready with an up-to-date CV and a great elevator pitch.  The team leaders for each of the company visits were also very helpful, as they ensured participants were prepared for each meeting.  (When trying to make a good impression to a potential employer, there can be such thing as a stupid question.…)

NY tripIn total 81 students made the trip down I-95, visiting between us a total of 21 companies in one day!  The companies ranged from Morgan Stanley to Major League Soccer, from Google to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and from Dalberg to Eurasia.  I personally visited LRN, Monitor Deloitte, and Dalberg.  Two of these sessions were hosted by Fletcher alums who were very helpful in their advice on finding a job in the private sector.  They both recommended taking Corporate Finance at Fletcher, definitely making the many hours I am spending on the coursework now worth it!  The other session was a more formal recruiting session; managers presented their company’s structure and projects, generating a lot of excitement about applying to their firm.  The day was topped off with an Alumni Happy Hour, with NYC-based alums coming to meet and network with us.  And then, as a true Fletcher student who is never one to miss the opportunity to explore, the rest of the weekend was spent with a group of my classmates discovering new parts of New York.

Overall, the trip was a resounding success, with lots of great feedback from students and alumni alike.  Personally, it was a welcome opportunity to get the ball rolling on my internship search and it has motivated me to keep the momentum going, as some of the January deadlines are quickly approaching.  The trip also showed me how students can really take an active role in the community at Fletcher, and are encouraged to do so.  I was able to make direct connections with alumni and other interested employers, something not so typical in larger business programs — another Fletcher bonus to add to the already long list!

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Completing the round of posts from our returning student bloggers, Mark looks back at his first year at Fletcher from his second-year vantage point.

Mark Attia 1I recall that when I arrived on campus last fall to begin the MIB program, I observed our second-year brethren interacting in the halls after returning from summer.  Like long-lost siblings reunited, not a twosome could pass each other without a hearty embrace.  Equally memorable was learning of all the impressive and often exotic ways the MIB’s had spent their summer.  But what was even more inspiring to me was the certainty with which second-years assured us that we, too, are embarking on what promised to be a spectacular year.  They were right.  Our first year has since passed in a blink, and I, for one, learned first-hand what was behind all that enthusiasm.

I last wrote in the spring on how I was developing my own area of expertise by tailoring coursework to specific academic and professional goals.  I was focused on learning about international project and infrastructure finance, and looking for an opportunity to break into the field.  Thanks exclusively to the Fletcher network, I landed a position with OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which was, without exaggeration, exactly what I was aiming for.  OPIC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, and it offers a range of products designed to help U.S. firms invest in emerging markets.  OPIC also plays a meaningful role in advancing foreign policy goals in a way that I characterized as “fostering peace, through superior debt financing,” which is my own commentary on how militarism has been eclipsed by more subtle measures of economic statecraft and leverage.

I joined the Structured Finance division, where my team and I worked on loans for large and complex multi-party projects, including a wind farm in Pakistan, a concentrated solar power plant in Israel, and a social-impact-oriented housing finance facility in Haiti — projects that cost over one billion dollars together.  My responsibilities included credit analysis, due diligence, research on foreign regulations, economic assessments, and interpreting elaborate concession and loan agreements; all tasks that required me to draw on my training outlined in my earlier post on a daily basis.  But what arguably proved to be most invaluable was a broad and nuanced understanding of the global context in which I was operating, enabling me to offer authentic perspectives on matters with an insight that only Fletcher can provide.

The experience convinced me that, in purely commercial terms, the MIB program equipped me with precisely the right set of skills and body of knowledge to excel in an internationally focused financial career that was otherwise entirely new to me, and it was Fletcher that made the opportunity possible.  But the value Fletcher creates for us does not stop there.  In my case, I have participated in the Building Bridges Symposium to learn from the industry’s foremost thought leaders, and have been provided connections to many astonishing alumni in the field, including international banker John Greenwood (F04), prolific builder Philip Asherman (F04), and pioneer Mimi Alemayehou (F98).  These are just a fraction of the resources available to us, all part of a brilliantly executed mission to prepare future leaders for the global stage and illuminate a path forward.

Returning to campus this fall, I was greeted in the hallway by our dean, James Stavridis (F83, F84 and the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, mind you), who inquired about my summer with equal fascination as a parent.  The moment was striking, and reinforced a sentiment solidifying in my mind since I first witnessed those second-year classmates interact.  There is an unmistakable culture that resonates throughout Fletcher, a kind of kinship that binds not only students together, but also us to our faculty, to our staff, and to our alumni.  In my view, our culture is the real prize, the engine of enduring value, and an honor to be a part of.  Like my classmates before me, I know first-years will discover their untapped potential, see locked doors swing open, and become a part of the Fletcher family, as I have; and all after merely one year.

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A couple of weeks ago, I noticed the second in a series of event announcements, each of which invited students to come and chat, over coffee, with a professor or fellow student.  Great idea!  So I contacted the organizer, Ameya, for details.  Ameya told me:

The idea for these chats came about from a conversation early last year between some of us who had Prof. Chayes as our faculty adviser.  She has, as you know, a wealth of experience; we were all interested in learning more about her career and interests, but it was hard to do this in ten-to-fifteen minute office hour conversations, plus it was repetitive for Prof. Chayes, as well.  So we set up a combined chat for an hour or so, which all her advisees attended, and it was a tremendously valuable and informative experience.

Based off that, I started setting up similar chats — maybe once a month — with other professors.  At some point, it also became clear there were students and alumni with valuable experience in specific areas, so this year I’ve started alternating between faculty and student/alumni speakers.  I’ve consistently found the sessions both valuable, as well as reassuring, in that everyone has had a roundabout path to where they currently are in their careers.

Sessions last year were with Professors Babbitt, Wilkinson, and Johnstone, and one alumnus.  This semester, we’ve met with two current students and Prof. Moomaw.

I really love this idea, especially the conversations with students, which formalizes the commonly stated opinion that there’s much to be learned from one’s peers here.  Plus, it’s an example of how a student can create a new Fletcher tradition, and I hope that Ameya’s idea will be carried forward even after he has graduated.

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In a bit of blog housekeeping this month, I created a separate tag for each of our Student Stories bloggers.  Now you can follow the full stories of the students who blogged for two years – Mirza, Roxanne, and Scott.  In addition, you might like the posts written by Maliheh in the first year of the Student Stories project.  She graduated at the end of that year, so there are fewer posts for her.  Read the posts from oldest to newest, if you want to follow the students’ paths from start to finish.

 

The second new student who will be blogging throughout her two years at Fletcher has actually already been heard from, when she and Miranda wrote about technology studies at Fletcher.  I met Aditi last spring, and I made a note to contact her in the fall to see if she would blog for us.  My email request to her crossed paths with her offer to write the first post — I’m really happy to have an eager writer.  Today, Aditi introduces herself.

Aditi_Patel JPGI am a first-year MALD student, (still thinking about) concentrating in International Business Relations and Development Economics.  As you have read in a past post, my main interests are in the use of digital technology for development programs, so I also plan to weave that interest into my coursework.

Before Fletcher, I worked back home in Mumbai at a non-profit called Dasra, doing a combination of fundraising and impact assessment work.  Having been in the Boston area for my undergraduate degree at Wellesley College, I’m really excited to experience the fall again, with all its beautiful colours — but nervous about being back in the Boston winter.  (My friends have informed me that I’m not the most pleasant person to be around when it’s cold.)

In the spirit of sharing my Fletcher journey with the readers of this blog, here are some of the things about Fletcher that most surprised me when I arrived here:

  • The MALD program has a very flexible curriculum
  • Fletcher has a wonderful sense of community

Just kidding!  I know that those are facts that are repeated over and over, and that everyone applying to Fletcher has probably heard them before.  So here are a few things that really were surprises:

  • They’re not exaggerating! Everyone is REALLY NICE at Fletcher, and the prevailing culture and environment here is one that takes great pride in kindness.  A not uncommon example: I have the wrong edition of a textbook for a class, and one of my classmates helped me out (without me having to ask) by sending me photos of every single assigned problem in the book so I could make sure I had the correct homework.
  • The sunsets here are breath-taking.  I definitely did not except beautiful sunsets in Medford, Massachusetts — but the sun setting over the Fletcher Field is an incredible sight.
  • The amount of time students get with our professors outside of class, through office hours and meetings.  Even when I have reached out to professors whose classes I’m not currently in, they have been very approachable and willing to chat.
  • A) The number of events and receptions that involve (free) food and drinks, and B) the importance placed on events and receptions that involve (free) food and drinks.  These are values I appreciate deeply.

I haven’t had a day so far at Fletcher that’s been the same as any other, and so I’m constantly finding new things to be surprised by.  I look forward to sharing all these aspects of my two years here with the Admissions Blog!

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