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One day last week I was toiling away in my office when I was told that Courtney was asking to see me.  I assumed it was a current student, so I was surprised (and delighted) to find, instead, Courtney Fung, F12, a PhD graduate who is now a professor at the University of Hong Kong, and was spending a day on campus.  Courtney and I go way back to her application days.  Then she spent a year on the Admissions Committee.  One way or another, I feel like we were in regular contact throughout her years at Fletcher.  The last time she visited, she left an umbrella in my office, and I’ve kept it for her (while, admittedly, also using it on occasion if I forgot to bring one).  It always makes me think of Courtney, and though I encouraged her to take it with her last week, she didn’t.  I’ll offer it to her again the next time she visits.  Until then it serves as a nice reminder.

The students in the PhD program are very special members of the community.  Not only do they bring academic strength and the tenacity needed to complete a dissertation, they also have significant professional experience.  The communications office has been interviewing students periodically and these are the profiles that have been written so far.

Phoebe Donnelly
Sarah Detzner
Ana de Alba
Deborshi Barat
Zoltan Feher
Polina Beliakova

Self-profiles of more students are available on our website.

Also last week, I received a link to a podcast that a recent PhD graduate had recorded as a guest.  On the podcast, Michael Sullivan, who just defended his dissertation in September, discusses leadership, resiliency, and the charity event he organized, “Shootout for Soldiers.”  He talks about his experience at Fletcher at about the 40-minute mark of the interview.  It’s a good listen in general, but particularly for anyone curious about the U.S. military officers who step away from the day-to-day of their careers to pursue a degree at Fletcher.

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Something silly for you today.  Back at the fall semester’s Annual Faculty and Staff Wait on You Dinner, the Admissions team offered up a few prizes.  As mentioned in an earlier post, one was our interview room, to be used for quiet personal study space (stocked with snacks) during exams.  The other, which took longer to organize, was a trip to an indoor trampoline park with the Admissions team.  Here’s what happens when you get the staff and students out of the building.

First, everyone poses for a group photo.


Then there’s a second group photo of the jumping socks — in a color pleasingly close to Fletcher orange.


And, naturally, the Fletcher flag comes out.

I’m sorry that I needed to miss the outing, but I’m grateful to Liz, who provided the photos and the stories of what a great time it was.

 

Let’s meet the folks whom the Fletcher Student Council profiled in the second of their community introductions.  You can find the first of the introductions here.

Moriah (first-year Januarian MALD)

What are you studying at Fletcher?
I am studying International Security Studies and International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (for now!).

What did you do before Fletcher?
I spent time in California doing environmental restoration and trail work.  Most recently, I was in Washington, DC working with the Democratic National Committee, managing technology projects.

Where are you from?
I consider myself to be a pan-Southerner.

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
All of Bangkok, but the Grand Palace — with its life-size monkey soldiers holding up one of the palace domes — is my favorite.

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My grandmother, who came of age in Jim Crow-era Alabama, worked while putting herself through college and raising two children, and was a teacher for over 30 years.  Through it all, she has always maintained a sense of humor and curiosity about what life has to hold.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I once caught a jackrabbit with my bare hands.  It was awesome.

Which living person do you most admire?
I really admire Condoleezza Rice and her story.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
Choosing a course out of the many here — four semesters is not enough!

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Shopping day was really fun!  The ability to explore any course you’re interested in is such a great opportunity.

Dylan (second-year Januarian MIB)

What are you studying at Fletcher?
International Business: Strategy and Consulting.

What did you do before Fletcher?
I was a physical commodities trader in Durban, South Africa.

Where are you from?
Durban, South Africa.

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
Tough question!  Although I have traveled extensively, Cape Town in South Africa is still my favorite place and the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My father.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Getting a full scholarship for my undergraduate degree at BYU was a tipping point in my life.

Which living person do you most admire?
Desmond Tutu.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
Braving the Boston winter is a daily struggle — I’m getting better at this.

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Being a part of the Januarian Class of 2019 is a blast!

Dave (first-year Januarian PhD)

What are you studying at Fletcher?
Security studies, outside intervention into civil wars and humanitarian disasters.

What did you do before Fletcher?
Columbia SIPA, think-tanker in Washington.

Where are you from?
Colorado.

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
Crested Butte (one of the last great mountain towns).

Who are your favorite writers?
Lauryn Hill, Steve Coll, Dr. Seuss.

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My family.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Staying at home with my new son for the last eight months.

Which living person do you most admire?
My wife.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
Trying to sneak out of an event after splitting my pants.

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Human rights law (took it many summers ago).

Brad Macomber (Media Services Specialist)

What do you do at Fletcher?
I am a Media Services Specialist.  I help with classroom technology, video conferencing, and events.

What did you do before Fletcher?
I was in a similar role at the New England Institute of Art in Brookline for over a decade.

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Marblehead, MA, up on the north shore, a beautiful little town that I highly recommend visiting!

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
While it’s not the most unique place in New England, my family always went to Lake Megunticook outside of Camden, ME every summer.  It’s the most serene, calming place I can think of.

Who are your favorite writers?
I’m a huge fan of Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury.

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My parents.  My father was (he recently retired) a doctor in Marblehead and my mother was the head nurse in their office.  They both dedicated their entire professional careers to making people comfortable and healthy.  I can’t walk through my hometown without people stopping me and telling me a story about something remarkable one of my parents did for them.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’d love to say all the touring I’ve done with my various bands, but my relationship with my wife has been and continues to be my greatest achievement.

Which living person do you most admire?
Again, it would have to be my parents.  They have always provided me with everything I needed and did so (generally) with a smile.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
Being one person trying to stay on top of all the requests for assistance (which are sometimes inherently last minute) can be very challenging.  Fortunately, folks within the Fletcher community are very understanding.

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Commencement and Convocation are two of my favorite times of year, but this year, I received an American flag that had been flown over the Baghdad Embassy as a thank you from a student who recently got their PhD here.  It was extremely touching and the flag is framed in my workshop now.  Makes me very proud.

Jette Knudsen (Professor of Policy and International Business)

What do you do at Fletcher?
I am interested in government regulation of social welfare.  I define this topic as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities and employment and training policies that focus on low-skilled workers.  My overarching research interest has been to try and understand how governments can contribute to reconciling market pressures with norms of fairness.

What did you do before Fletcher?
I worked as an Assistant Professor at the Copenhagen Business School for a few years and I also worked at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.  For four years I then served as the Director of a think tank in Copenhagen that focused on CSR and I worked for Maersk (a large shipping and oil conglomerate) as a CSR expert.  I also worked as a consultant for Deloitte and PwC.  Before coming to Fletcher, I was appointed as a Professor of Political Science at Copenhagen University and I had been on sabbatical for a year at MIT.  I am still affiliated with Copenhagen Business School as a Velux Fellow and remain engaged in various research collaborations with my former colleagues.

Where are you from?
I grew up in Denmark.  I first visited the U.S. when I was 19 years old.  I spent a year at a small liberal arts college called Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin funded by the Scandinavian-American Foundation.  I liked the U.S. very much and later came back and did a PhD at MIT.

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
In December 2017, I saw the Nerja Caves near Malaga, Spain.  They were inhabited from about 25,000 BC up until the Bronze Age.  Cave paintings, found on the walls, date back to the Paleolithic and Post-Paleolithic periods and show a culture based upon hunting.  The caves were amazing.

Who are your favorite writers?
One of my favorite books is Memoirs of a Geisha.  I read that book on a plane once coming from France when the engine caught fire and we had to make an emergency landing in Switzerland.  I hardly noticed the problems because the book was so good.

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My dad, who has always told me to find my own way in life.  He did so himself and built an amazing naval architecture company that was engaged in improving shipping transportation all over the world.  Another inspiration is Mr. Maersk McKinney Moeller who hired me while I was in graduate school and later to work on sustainability in Maersk.  I have a great card from him where he congratulates me for getting into the political science PhD program, and then adds, “Ms. Knudsen please do not forget to focus on real life.”  I try to remember that.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I have a son who is both smart and kind.  I can’t really say that he is my greatest achievement as he is clearly his own person, but I am proud of him.  He will be attending Tufts next year and I am very pleased.

Which living person do you most admire?
I can’t think of a particular person that I most admire.  But I do think that having “grace under fire” is an admirable trait.  I admire people who face unspeakable tragedy yet are able to carry on.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
I am not very practical and so the Fletcher IT system can sometimes be a challenge, but I want it to work perfectly every time I am in the classroom.  I do not think the students know my limitations because Brad Macomber has always been able to cover for me.  Thanks Brad!

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Getting tenure as a full professor in the fall 2017.

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Great news for our students: Fletcher’s team in the CFA Institute Research Challenge emerged as champions in last night’s Boston-region competition!  Presenting their research on the company Boston Scientific, the Fletcher team topped competitors Babson College, Brandeis University, and Hult International in the final round.

The winning team consisted of JP Craven (first-year MIB), Doris Hernandez (second-year MALD), Ashray Dixit (second-year MIB), and our own Admissions Bloggers Mariya and AdiProfessor Patrick Schena was advisor to the team and Office of Career Services Director Elana Givens added her input and attended the competition, as did Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti.

The next round of the challenge will be the North and South Americas regional competition (coincidentally) in Boston on March, with about 50 teams competing.  The winner of the regional competition will go to the global competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in April.

Congratulations to Professor Schena and the successful team!

From left, team mentor Cameron Hyzer, JP, Professor Schena, Mariya, Doris, and Ashray.

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In December, the Fletcher Student Council launched a new fun initiative to introduce members of the community to each other.  Called “Fletcher Features: Get to Know Your Community,” the monthly-ish Q&A was shared by email and, as soon as it hit my inbox, I reached out to ask if I could borrow it for the blog.  Fortunately, all involved said yes, and I’ll be sharing these posts when I receive them.  I especially like them because the featured community members include students, faculty and staff alike.  I also like all the shout-outs for moms!

Robert (first-year MIB)

What are you studying at Fletcher?
I’m concentrating on International Finance & Banking and International Political Economy.  I’m also involved in the International Business Club, Finance Club, and FSIG.

What did you do before Fletcher?
I worked in client service for an investment management firm in Boston.

Where are you from?
Grew up in Medfield, MA. Went to school at Northeastern University in Boston.

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
I’ll give you a few: Barcelona, Spain.  Howth, Ireland.  Brasilito, Costa Rica.

Who are your favorite writers?
Hunter S. Thompson, Malcolm Gladwell and Zach Lowe.

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My mom.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Right now. Challenging myself to go to grad school (when I never thought I would).

Which living person do you most admire?
Warren Buffett.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
Tough question.  I haven’t been here that long.  Maybe Professor Jacque’s class — that’s challenging.

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Africana Night.

Naoko (second-year MIB)

What are you studying at Fletcher?
I’m a second-year MIB and concentrating on “Public Leadership” and International Business and working on a project to create “Lifelong Classrooms” in Japan with a lot of inspiration drawn here.

What did you do before Fletcher?
I’ve worked for the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry in Japan for about six years, where I joined projects such as TPP negotiation between U.S. and Japan on automobile portfolio, hosting G7 Ministerial Meetings in Japan, making a new environmental regulation on the air-conditioning industry, putting economic sanctions on North Korea (and some other countries) and so on.

Where are you from?
Fukuoka, Japan.  (You should visit this wonderful place when you come to Japan, seriously!)

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
Mykonos in Greece and Yakushima in Japan (both islands).

Who are your favorite writers?
Michael Ende, Riku Onda.

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My mother.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I took the initiative to make a new policy, which had a big impact on various industries negotiating/communicating with counterparts outside and inside the Ministry, with only two-years of professional experience at that time.

Which living person do you most admire?
Too many to list here… I have so many of them including my family, friends, and professors who amazed and inspired me so much.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
The work I mentioned above as one of my greatest achievements.  Also, working under an awful manager in a very bureaucratic organization.

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Hanging out with friends, watching friends’ performances (and participating in some of them) at culture nights.

Zdenka (PhD Candidate)

What are you studying at Fletcher?
I am currently a PhD fellow at the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP), conducting research on energy technology innovation policies.  And I am F15 MALD, too!

What did you do before Fletcher?
I served in Mexico’s Energy Regulatory Commission as an economist, designing the regulation in the basic petrochemicals sector.

Where are you from?
I am from the Czech Republic.  I was born in Prague.

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
I loved visiting Iceland.  It was stunning to see the pristine nature and its power, and I really liked that people seemed to respect the nature there, not try to dominate it.  It’s the most northern place I’ve been to and the perspective on the shape of the Earth is quite different from that spot!  The clouds and the sky were on the horizon, and the Earth looked round! 🙂

Another unique place is the region of Chiapas in Mexico – the clock just stopped ticking there.  It was also my first time going to a rainforest.  It’s one of the richest places in the world in terms of the biodiversity of fauna and flora!

Who are your favorite writers?
This has been changing over my life.  But the very classics for me are Vaclav Havel, Jan Werich, Bohumil Hrabal, Jane Austen and William Styron.  I will always love their books.

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
The very ancient meaning of the word “inspiration” comes from the root that means “to breathe life into.”  My deepest inspirations are my close friends and my colleagues.  The exchange of ideas with them, planning events together, and wondering about the world truly breathes life into me.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Thanks to Fletcher, I came to a point in my life when I feel centered and aware of the complexity of the world and life, and at the same time motivated and empowered to embrace this complexity and explore it.

Which living person do you most admire?
I admire all those who aim to truly improve people’s lives and for whom glory and power are secondary.  I also admire people who are willing to learn constantly, and those who might have been hurt, but didn’t immediately fight back and instead stayed in the learning mode.  I also admire people who have the courage to go a step further and explore, to prove some status quo needs to be changed.

I really admire my friends – they embody this.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
I think the challenge has been to stay truly focused on daily work while finding space to discover other fields of study/interest as well.  It’s so easy to get distracted with all the interesting ideas and events that are around!

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
I very much enjoyed graduation time at Fletcher.  I did not expect it could be SUCH a joyful time — the students and their families, the faculty — they all seem genuinely happy, ready to celebrate and have fun!  The atmosphere is truly unique.

Lupita Ervin (Administrative Coordinator)

What do you do at Fletcher?
Administrative Coordinator

What did you do before Fletcher?
I was an Administrative Assistant for the Vice President of a construction company; my favorite was when being a 411 information operator for New England Telephone.

Where are you from?
Boston, MA

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
I had the honor of going to Talliores, France and St. Gallen, Switzerland in 2015 for a Fletcher School Global Leadership Program.  Best experience ever.  The picture attached is from my travels

Who are your favorite writers? 
Terry McMillan and Stephen King

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My son

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Purchasing my first home.

Which living person do you most admire?
My mom, she molded me into the person I am today.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
When I took four suitcases for the France/Switzerland trip.  A girl can’t have too many clothes!!

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Receiving the 2017 Tufts University Distinction Award.

Monica Toft (Professor of International Politics)

What do you do at Fletcher?
I am Professor of International Politics and Director, Center for Strategic Studies.  I research and teach on civil wars, intervention, religion, demography in relation to U.S. national security and foreign policy more generally.

What did you do before Fletcher?
I taught at the University of Oxford and prior to that at Harvard’s Kennedy School.  Attended graduate school at University of Chicago, undergrad at UC Santa Barbara, and before all that served in the U.S. Army as a Russian linguist.

Where are you from?
Sayville, New York, on the South shore of Long Island.

What is your favorite, most unique place you have ever been or traveled to?
Cinque Terre, Italy, the views, the treks, the food, and the wine!

Who are your favorite writers?
Anton Chekhov, George Orwell, and Ray Carver

Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
My mother.  She taught me that most of life is a marathon rather than a sprint and what it means to commit to something.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My children.  They are turning out to be interesting and simply wonderful people.

Which living person do you most admire?
Currently Pope Francis.  It is brave of him to try to move the Catholic Church into the 21st Century.

What has been a challenge you have faced during your career or time at Fletcher?
Balancing family and work.  I love both aspects of my life, but just don’t seem to have enough time to enjoy them as fully as I would like.

What has been your favorite moment at Fletcher so far?
Meeting the alumni from the class of 1967 at graduation.  They are such an impressive group.  And working as China Control for Simulex 2017; witnessing the Taiwan team give the Chinese team such a hard time.

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We’re going to close out the fall semester updates with Akshobh’s report on his semester and how it met his expectations.

Outside Blakeley Hall

I had been forewarned that nothing can truly prepare you for a New England Winter.  In my previous post, I wrote about how, after seven years of living on the equator, the only weather I had experienced oscillated between rain or no rain.  In Singapore, where I lived for seven years, it was summer throughout the year.  December 17th or June 6th made no difference — t-shirts and shorts were the norm.  The closest I had come to see snow was in an indoor mall in Dubai.  (My New Englander friends have told me that doesn’t count.)

On December 9th, on a snooze-filled Saturday morning, I woke up to see something miraculous outside Blakeley Hall — the winter’s first snow.  Yet I had half expected a tepid response to something seasonally expected from many who grew up around snow.

Much to my surprise, even friends who grew up around snow showed the same alacrity to be outside as I did.  The first day of snow is, indeed, quite mesmerizing.  My fellow blogger, Kaitlyn, a native New Englander, describes winter as her favorite season.  (It seems like it will take more than three decades of snowy winters to change her mind.)

In front of Blakeley Hall with fellow bloggers Prianka (right) and Kaitlyn (far right).

There are many perks to living in Blakeley Hall.  The stellar ones are the value for money in terms of rent and the bonhomie you forge among the seventy-odd residents – if Fletcher is about community, Blakeley is a microcosm.  But most of all, for folks like me who are used to tropical habitat, the commute from Blakeley to Fletcher is only seventy steps away.  The short commute is the biggest asset in Boston’s blistering blizzards.

Sitting away from the snowfall in Atlanta, Georgia during the winter break gave me a good chance to reflect on a first semester that whizzed by.  Going back to the classroom after years in the newsroom was always going to be hard.  But what kind of a program am I in and what sort of people does Fletcher attract and what sort of careers result?

The MALD is no doubt esoteric; after all, it is truly one of a kind.  And safe to say that there is no cookie-cutter MALD candidate, since unlike other degrees (say an MBA, JD or an MD), a MALD is truly malleable, and can be shaped to work for one’s self in a manner like no other.

At Fletcher, pick any world issue or geographic region, and I guarantee you will find either a professor who is expert on the subject, or a student who is studying that particular issue, or someone who is from the region or has worked there: from understanding food security in Malawi, to exploring how blockchain can be used to solve problems in healthcare, to considering the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, to the security threats arising out of asymmetric warfare in the South Asia.  Perhaps the words Law & Diplomacy in the acronym MALD, don’t quite capture the intellectual depth and expertise the school has to offer.  It’s not surprising when you and your roommate, both in the MALD program, could discover that in the whole two years — four full semesters — you’ve never been in the same class.

My focus at Fletcher is to be at the nexus of geo-politics and geo-economics, for I feel foreign policy and business are no longer two disparate entities but the common portion of a Venn diagram.  Governments and businesses can no longer ignore each other, for global political events affect economic outcomes.

In short, my goal at Fletcher is to understand a country’s tale (history & foreign policy) and how companies scale (business).

Hence my first semester saw me take a mix of classes, including National Security Decision Making: Theory and Practice, traditionally for the security junkies and foreign policy wonks, as well as Starting New Ventures (where I was one of only three first-year students, in a predominantly second-year MIB class) dealing with cases about entrepreneurs and the challenges they face.  There are few places and few programs that offer such an eclectic mix.

Interviewing Harvard academic Joseph Nye for the Fletcher Security Review.

My interests drew me to partake in events such as Simulex, where I was the Director of National Intelligence for the U.S in a Fletcher-wide simulation also featuring China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan handling an East Asia Crisis.  I interviewed leading Harvard academic Joseph Nye on soft power for the Fletcher Security Review, had lunch with Lord Michael Dobbs, discussing political leaders, and attended guest lectures from two four-star generals.

Meanwhile my interest in economic affairs led me to organize and moderate a panel on President Trump’s trade policies titled “Trump: Trade & Tirade.”  In addition, two other Fletcher students and I were selected to attend the World Bank Youth Summit in Washington, DC, which focused on Technology and Innovation for Impact.

With (right) Christina Saas, F09 (MALD), Co-Founder of Andela and TingTing Yang, F14 (MIB), a World Bank employee.

Fletcher’s global influence was evinced when at the World Bank in DC.  Every time we unfurled the Fletcher flag, we found an alumnus at the bank who came up to us and said, “Hey, I went to Fletcher, too.”  It’s almost as if the Fletcher flag was our business card.

Looking back, the decision to take the plunge and return to school was never easy.  I had friends and family who were divided on the issue of my giving up a stable income and taking a hiatus from the working world.  The camps were split, so much so that I facetiously say that it became a Brexit decision: there was a “Stay Camp” (don’t quit your job and move halfway around the world) and a “Go Camp” (take the plunge, it’ll be worth it).

An investment banker friend asked me how I could justify paying tuition and foregoing two years of income.  To which I replied that when I walk into the Hall of Flags and see all the illustrious alumni names on the wall of this hallowed institution, I am reminded that I am going to school with peers who will rise similarly to the highest echelons of government, become future diplomats, and serve their country’s military.  And I will have sat right beside them while their intellectual moorings took hold.

So how can I put a dollar value on that experience?

With a Fletcher classmate, outside the White House.

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Some hard-working students who are very generous with their time have recently completed a Japanese-language website for Fletcher.  Though the team has consulted with Admissions and other Fletcher admin folks, the website is unofficial but focused on connecting prospective students from Japan with the School and our students from (or interested in) Japan.  And, under the umbrella of the Fletcher Japan Club, they’ve organized themselves into a very professional operation, complete with succession planning.  Here’s the full team, including the students who initiated the project and those who will be taking it over for next year.

If you don’t read Japanese, you’ll still get a good sense of what they’ve included on the website by using the top navigation bar.  One aspect that might not be clear is that the front page includes a sign-up through which prospective students can contact the Fletcher Japan Club to help them arrange a visit.  An applicant took advantage of this feature in the fall and was treated to meetings, tours, and lunch groups.  We, in Admissions, so appreciate the generosity of these students!  Whether or not you read Japanese, I hope you’ll take a look.

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A side note:  One of the three members of the original website team is Taji (second from front on the right of the photo), who contributed to the blog last year, and who was recently featured in a Fletcher feature story about his interest in music.  The other original members of the team are Yutaro, second-year MIB (behind Taji), and TT (second from front, on the left), second-year MALD.

 

Continuing the student bloggers’ fall-semester recaps, Prianka reports on her first semester and some of the special activities open to students in the LLM program.

One semester down and just one more to go.  Saying that time flies would be an understatement.  The last semester was definitely challenging, but in all honesty, had it been anything short of challenging, I would have questioned whether I was doing something wrong!  Being the first Admissions blogger from the LLM program, I thought I would talk about my experiences thus far at Fletcher.

Fletcher’s LLM program is not a traditional LLM program.  The most obvious difference is that Fletcher is an international affairs school and, by virtue of the same, the courses on offer are not restricted to legal subjects but are also in economics, international business, diplomacy, history and politics.  How does one pick just eight courses?  And if that weren’t enough, Fletcher students also have the option of taking courses at Harvard University.  This has its positives and negatives — definitely more to choose from, but it often makes me feel like a kid in a candy store on a budget!  Despite being happy with my four carefully selected different types of candy, I still wonder whether I would have been happier with one of the other candies, particularly one of them that seems to be selling out fast.

Looking back at some of the main reasons I decided to study at Fletcher — the number of students enrolled in the program, the interdisciplinary nature of the course, the presence of faculty in the area of law that I was interested in — I consider that I was right in my reasoning.  These are also some of the factors that differentiate the LLM program at Fletcher from the LLM program from a law school.

The education that one gains from a graduate school experience is not restricted to the courses on offer but also from conferences and guest lectures.  Being part of an international affairs school, we’ve had a number of prominent personalities deliver lectures, including the current Croatian President, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and others described in previous blog postsThe LLM program also organizes High Table lunches based on, to a certain extent, the particular interests of the current student cohort.  Last semester we had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Alberto Mora and Dr. Lynn Kuok, F04, at High Table lunches.  While Mr. Mora spoke about the legality of enhanced interrogation techniques, with Dr. Kuok we discussed competing national, legal, and political interests in the South China Sea.  The High Table lunches are quite exclusive and intimate, with only the LLM students and the law faculty in attendance.

Another interesting event that the LLM program participated in was an International Law Weekend in New York.  Not only was this an opportunity for some of us to visit New York for the first time, but we also attended discussions over the course of two days on the theme of “International Law in Challenging Times.”  With each of us having interests in varied fields of law, the event had a little something for all.

Last but not least, we also have dinners hosted every now and then that give us the opportunity to get to know each other, and to interact with the law faculty in a more informal setting.  In the first few weeks after we began our Fletcher journey, Professor Antonia Chayes hosted a dinner for the LLM batch to meet each other as well as the law faculty.  Towards the end of the semester, Professor Burgess and his wife hosted a holiday party at their home.  The dinner was a nice end to the semester, but left me personally grappling with the fact that I was half way through my LLM journey.  I remember back in Orientation week keeping an eye out for students with red LLM folders amongst the sea of 200 students carrying black MALD folders; seeing all the red folders in one place was comforting, particularly in the first few days when everything seemed unfamiliar!

This brings me to my bucket list, described in my first post.  Nearly four months gone, a couple of check marks in and a couple of new additions to the list.  I did go for my first Black Friday sale but, most disappointingly, didn’t stand in a queue to get in or even wait in a line to check out, but did leave with more bags than I anticipated!  I also did buy my first lottery ticket but, sadly, lady luck wasn’t on my side that day.  Building a snowperson still remains on the list and, by my next post, I hope that I check it off.  A couple of new additions to my bucket list are to go for an ice hockey game and, if I can muster up the courage, to go ice skating.  After a couple of falls just walking in the snow, I’m very wary of going on the ice!

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Before he wrote this fall-semester update, Pulkit asked me whether he could describe some challenges he experienced.  That seemed like a great topic to me.  Fletcher students work hard!  And the Admissions Committee needs to ensure that every admitted student will succeed.  Pulkit’s reflection captures nicely the balance that all students seek and the particular challenges faced by folks who are looking for an academic or career shift.

As I sat down to write my last post before the end of 2017, I couldn’t fathom that I was about to finish three semesters at Fletcher.  Since the day I received my letter of acceptance, it has been an exciting and rewarding journey of self-discovery.

Fletcher has given me opportunities to push myself to give my best, both inside and outside of the classroom.  Apart from my regular academic work, a large portion of my semester was spent working as an elected Student Council representative.  As a student representative, I ensured that I was hearing and giving voice to the concerns and suggestions of the student body.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Office of Student Affairs, other administrative offices, and other student representatives to find constructive and sustainable solutions to issues related to student life and community at Fletcher.  That being said, this role had its own set of challenges — including decision making, coalition building, and receiving criticism.

Israeli-Palestine Dinner hosted by Mahmoud, Heba, Yair, Yonathan, and Jules.

The other big commitment last semester was serving as the Managing Director for Digital and External Affairs for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.  Apart from managing a team of staff editors and The Forum’s web page, along with the executive leadership, early efforts for this academic year included creating a new section of the website for student publications.  The idea is to provide a platform for students to publish the stellar work they are doing in their classes, for their capstones, and otherwise.  In addition, fellow Admissions blogger, Mariya, and I also facilitated a peer-to-peer learning series in partnership with the Murrow Center and Ginn Library.  At Fletcher, my peers are amazingly skilled in soft and hard skills.  To that effect we wanted to create learning opportunities for our fellow students and organized hands-on skill-based workshops in blogging, website design, and citations editing.

Reciting poetry at Open Mic Night.

Speaking of academics, my evolving interests also drove me to take more classes in the International Law and Organizations and Diplomacy, History and Politics divisions and study a mix of Human Security and Humanitarian Studies courses.

After three semesters, I can’t help but also reflect on some of the challenges I have faced along the way, and I wanted to share some of those thoughts with readers.  As I had mentioned in my first post back in November 2016, coming from a physical sciences background, it was indeed a huge step for me as I transitioned to pursue studies in social sciences.  Most classes at the graduate level — at Fletcher and at Harvard — involve a large amount of reading.  With four classes, it became overwhelming to finish all the readings for a week.  I found myself challenged to finish my assigned homework in time, especially with all the extra-curricular activities I was involved in.  This was also a big change from what I was used to in the past, as most professors require us to finish the readings before a class.

Most of the classes are also discussion-based where students debate — be it on a particular article of international law and its potential implications on the ground or on a matter of policy.  One of the significant challenges I encountered was having an opinion on issues that were gray.  Before starting school, I had expected that solutions to complex world problems could be black and white.  Very quickly I learned that there could be multiple perspectives to and interpretations of a problem.  I also realized why it was so very important to understand all sides of an argument before making conclusions, and — unlike math or physics — even if there was no conclusion or final answer, it was okay.  In many of my classes I have been left with more questions than answers.  As one student put it — perhaps that is what graduate school is all about, to have more questions than answers, but also to have the ability to ask the right questions.

Another element of a professional graduate program is networking.  Fletcher has provided me numerous opportunities to meet and interact with illustrious alumni and important persons in the field of international relations.  But it has not been easy to feel comfortable at networking — building relationships with different professors, attending conferences and reaching out to folks working in the areas of my interest.  This again, was not something I was used to.  With a little bit of self-encouragement and push from my peers, I try improving and being better at it.

Besides managing my time, finishing my homework and fulfilling my extra-curricular roles, these are interesting challenges to have and to look forward to.  Overall, in retrospect, from taking classes across different disciplines with different professors, to learning about and from my classmates, and participating in activities on and off campus, my time at Fletcher has been such a joy and a life-altering experience.

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Today we’ll hear from Gary, our Student Stories blogger in the PhD program, who will return to the U.S. Marine Corps after he completes his Fletcher studies.  Though I’ve often watched as a parade of limousines and police cars escort a dignitary to Fletcher, I had never thought about the behind-the-scenes efforts to make the visit happen, and I’ve learned something from Gary’s post!

One of the great benefits of being a student at Fletcher is the visits of many senior officials and policymakers.  This includes not only leaders from the diplomatic, political, and business realms but also senior military leaders.  For my service, the U.S. Marine Corps, the fall semester saw a “bumper crop” of such visits.  During October and November, the International Security Studies Program (ISSP) hosted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fletcher alumnus General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. (the senior uniformed officer in the entire U.S. Armed Forces); the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller (the senior officer in my service); and Lieutenant General David Berger, the commander of the largest field command in the service, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.  Between them, these three officers brought more than 120 years of combined service in the Marine Corps to the table.  However, I’m not going to talk about what they presented during their visits — in part because two of the lectures took place at ISSP luncheons, which are conducted off-the-record — but instead I’ll take a look “behind the scenes” at what goes into making a visit for one of these senior military officers happen.  (The Boston Globe carried an article about General Dunford’s visit here.)

ISSP Fellows with Dr. Shultz and General Dunford, November 14, 2017. (Gary is second from the right.)

General Dunford and his former professor, Richard Shultz, and the ISSP lecture.

As one might expect, a great deal of coordination typically goes into a visit by a senior leader.  Planning begins months in advance.  ISSP mails out the official invitations.  For last semester’s visits, this step took place before I even arrived on campus in September.  After that, suffice it to say that there are a lot of emails exchanged and phone calls placed to work out visit itineraries, menus, locations where people can change from civilian clothes to uniforms or vice versa, and more.  Sometimes the group emails a questionnaire with the questions they need answered for their planning process to move forward.  If one of the senior officers is arriving via nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, then there are additional considerations involving the base protocol officer, base operations, and so on.  If they arrive via Logan Airport, there is a different set of considerations.  There is local coordination for security and ground transportation.  For an ISSP fellow designated as the AO (“action officer”) for a visit, one of the key things to learn right away is the key contacts on the visitor’s staff — it might be more than one person.

For ISSP military fellows (who spend a year at Fletcher on a non-degree basis), coordinating these visits provides an opportunity to interact with the “brain trusts” behind the senior leaders.  Depending on where they are, these groups have different names — Action Group, Staff Group, etc. — but are composed of some of the sharpest young officers in the ranks.  For General Neller and General Berger, their teams consisted entirely of Marines, but General Dunford’s staff features officers from across the services and some Department of Defense civilians.  These organizations house planners, subject-matter experts, advisors, and speechwriters.  In addition to the planning groups, the senior military officers also have aides de camp in charge of coordinating logistics and other general-purpose matters.  It can end up being a pretty large retinue of folks when all is said and done — half a dozen people, or more.

After completing their studies, Fletcher graduates in uniform can end up working in these commander’s groups, based on their developed skills in diplomacy and negotiation, oral and written communication, and statecraft.  For example, the director of General Berger’s Commander’s Action Group, LtCol Sea Thomas, attended Fletcher immediately upon graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.  (He was a MALD classmate of Fletcher Professor Rocky Weitz!)  On General Dunford’s Chairman’s Action Group, LtCol Todd Manyx (ISSP Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow in 2007-08) serves as a special assistant, and Army COL Abigail Linnington, who holds a Ph.D. from Fletcher (2013), is the director of the organization.  From the outside looking in, these groups appear to do meaningful, relevant work directly for senior leaders whose voices count.

General Neller engages in a small-group discussion with military officers after his November 28, 2017 ISSP luncheon.

It was a great professional honor for me to meet and interact with these three senior Marine Corps leaders. It is not all that often that a mid-grade officer such as me has the chance to meet top leaders.  I had served with General Berger previously in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005, so it was great to catch up with him now that he has ascended to near the pinnacle of his profession. During General Dunford’s visit, Professor Hess did me the great honor of providing an introduction to the general, and we spoke briefly, comparing our experiences as Marine Corps fellows at Fletcher.  However, the highlight for me was riding with General Neller from the airport to Fletcher, ostensibly as the “on-site lead,” bringing the senior officer up to speed on the “lay of the land” before he steps out of the vehicle and begins the luncheon event.  That did happen, but I also had the chance to chat with my service’s top officer about family, hopes for future assignments, and challenges and opportunities for the Corps.  That’s not something that happens every day — except maybe at Fletcher!

When high-level visits happen, things can get pretty exciting.  You must remain flexible when things change, sometimes even as the visit is already in progress, such as if a flight is delayed and you need to adjust the agenda in real time dynamically.  But once the visits end, things return to normal fairly quickly.  Then it’s back to classes — until the next visit!

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