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It has been a while since we visited with the Class of 2008 for a Five-Year Update.  Today, let’s read about Devon Cone’s path through and beyond Fletcher.

Devon ConeI still remember my first day at Fletcher.  Meeting new classmates and hearing about their lives, work experiences, and interests was thrilling.  I had spent 25 years developing into the new student who showed up in Medford that day; a passionate, curious person who craved new information, new places, and new ideas.  The thrilling part about meeting my fellow classmates on that first day, was that they were the same kind of people!  We were all coming from many different backgrounds and yet had a commonality…that of being particularly inquisitive about the world and the people and places in it.

Prior to Fletcher, I studied American Studies and Sociology; however, it was not a course in either of my majors that became a starting point for my subsequent studies and then career.  While studying for my undergraduate degree, I took a course titled, “The International Political Economy of Women.”  This course, team-taught by two incredibly thoughtful women, opened my eyes to issues around the world that I was eager to learn about.  Prior to taking the course, I had already lived in the Netherlands, France, and Romania, and had traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia.   I had interacted with people who were living lives very different to that of my own and I was interested in working in a variety of locations, however, I did not know where to focus my interests professionally.

After finishing university and working briefly in Thailand and, then, Ghana on development projects, I flew from Accra to Boston to embark on two years of graduate school, during which time I could learn, reflect, research, and move forward in studies that I was passionate about, namely, human rights.  At the time I began Fletcher, I was not exactly sure what kind of career I wanted to pursue, but I knew that I wanted to work on global human rights issues, especially as they relate to gender.

Fletcher was an amazing experience of learning and growth that I will never be able to replicate.  I studied Human Security and International Organizations, focusing specifically on humanitarian studies and forced migration.  These Fields of Study allowed me to study with talented and insightful professors who challenged me to think critically about conflict, about security as it relates to individuals rather than the State, and about how well intentioned interventions have the capacity to bring positive change but can also cause harm.  The subject matter taught at Fletcher provided me with the knowledge I needed to be useful and creative in promoting the protection of individuals in situations of forced migration and vulnerability.  Karen Jacobsen’s course on Research Methods in Humanitarian Settings and Cheyenne Church’s course Monitoring and Evaluation in Peacebuilding were particularly useful skills-based classes that have provided me with practical knowledge that I have consistently referred back to in my work.  Gender, Culture, and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, with Dyan Mazurana and courses with Kim Wilson and Dan Maxwell also caused me to think deeply about the theories and challenges in the field of human security.

A unique and wonderful aspect of being at Fletcher was that I was also able to study and interact with people interested in similar work at other institutions in the area.  I took courses at the Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government that relate directly to the work I do, responding to the needs of displaced people in conflict/post-conflict settings.

Since Fletcher, I first conducted foreign policy research at MIT and then moved to Kenya with the organization RefugePoint, founded by a fellow Fletcher alum.  RefugePoint sent me to work for UNHCR in Dadaab refugee camp.  Located on the border of Somalia, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world and, as such, was a place where I learned how to put theory into practice.  The problems faced by individuals in Dadaab are massive, diverse, and overwhelming.  I focused on identifying refugees in Dadaab who were in need of immediate assistance and protection, and on working to persuade foreign governments to resettle some of these refugees.  After Dadaab, I worked on RefugePoint’s programming for urban refugees in Nairobi, which was interesting and allowed me the flexibility to come up with new ideas.

In early 2011, as uprisings began to take place in North Africa and the Middle East, I was transferred to Cairo, Egypt, where I worked for UNHCR to provide protection for refugees living in Egypt who were affected by the insecurity following Mubarak’s ouster.  I interviewed Somali, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Sudanese, and Eritrean refugees for resettlement, and then transitioned to working specifically with young refugees.  I worked with young people under the age of 18 without any family (unaccompanied minors) to identify the challenges they face and come up with solutions.  I left Cairo in the summer of 2013 and continued to work as a Child Protection Specialist, this time being sent to Uganda following renewed fighting in Eastern DRC.

Five years on from Fletcher, I am amazed by how little I knew when I began, but also how much I learned during my time in school, and how rich and rewarding my professional life has been since graduating.  I have had the opportunity to work with such a variety of people and I understand so much more about how conflict affects human beings individually.  My time at Fletcher helped me to develop the skills I have needed to do my job and to serve people in the best way I can.

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I learned about Melinda’s research, the subject of the first post on Cool Stuff Students Do, a few weeks ago, and it inspired me to gather more information about student activities that I never hear about.  Now that I’ve collected other stories (many on less academic topics) for future posts, it seems fitting to kick off this new feature with Melinda’s description of her travels for thesis research.  

Melinda

Melinda and the National Chief Imam of Ghana

I received support of my MALD thesis research through the Dean’s Research Fund.  The funding allowed me to travel over the winter break to Ghana, where I was able to interview key Muslim and Christian religious leaders in Accra, Kumasi, and Ho, three of the country’s main cities in three different regions.  This primary data will give depth to my analysis of the role of religious leaders in promoting nonviolence and addressing conflict in society, and of the challenges they face in doing so.  The financial support was instrumental in facilitating this opportunity to address such a profound issue in my Fletcher capstone project.

I’ve included a photograph of myself with the National Chief Imam of the Republic of Ghana, Sheikh Dr. Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu, an amazing and highly respected figure whom I was able to meet during my trip, and whose office hosted me most graciously.  I met the colleague who facilitated my work, Alhaji Khuzaima Mohamed Osman, the Executive Secretary for the National Chief Imam, during my internship last summer with The Carter Center.  It is only through that relationship that I was able to conduct the research I did in Ghana.

In addition to my research, while in Ghana I was on the English language Islamic television program, IQRA, hosted by Sheikh Imam Muhammad Hussaini Bagnya, who is also a graduate student of governance and leadership at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration.  I appeared twice, the first time on a program of solidarity for Christmas, and the second on a program discussing coexistence and tolerance with an interfaith panel of guests.

I was also in attendance at the Office of the National Chief Imam’s New Year’s Eve event, where I was invited to address the gathering of community and respected religious scholars and leaders with a solidarity message.

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Sitting in the Office of Admissions, I miss out on a lot of what’s happening beyond our walls.  I try to keep up but, inevitably, students are pushing forward with interesting group and individual activities that I’ll never know about.  What’s a blogger to do?  Naturally, I turned to the Social List, asking students what cool stuff they’ve been doing throughout this year.  Within minutes I had the kind of answers that made me super happy to have taken a minute to write the note.  What’s more, most of the people who responded thanked ME for giving them a chance to write about what they’ve been up to!  Tomorrow I’ll start sharing the great information that flowed my way, and I’ll group it all with the Cool Stuff tag.  Stay tuned!

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Over time, the blog has included many brief references to, or longer descriptions of, student internships, including some responses to an informal survey I sent out last year, asking about academic year internships.  Recently, the Office of Career Services added a feature to their website, offering comments from students on their summer internships.  The comments range from appreciation for a special opportunity to observe a nation in transition:

Being in Myanmar during this time of transition for the country was fascinating.  Through this internship, I was also given the opportunity to visit parts of the country that are not accessible to tourism.  The professional and personal growth I experienced through this internship was invaluable.

To making valuable contacts:

I had the opportunity to collaborate with many important people working in the Asia-Pacific region, including the U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, the Director of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies and former Deputy Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), and the former U.S. Ambassador to APEC.

To gaining deeper understanding of the work of an organization and a field:

I really appreciated being engaged in research in human rights abuses, in many countries, working with different researchers, and types of research (i.e. outputs).  I gained insight into how Human Rights Watch works as an organization, and how human rights research looks from a non-academic perspective.

To developing key skills:

Professionally, it was a great opportunity to work in French on a daily basis, learning how to communicate and articulate key technical concepts in development work, as well as understand the ever-changing and evolving context of economic development work in Burkina Faso.  At the end of my internship, I delivered a consulting presentation highlighting the work I had accomplished, in French, to the senior officials of MCA-BF and MCC.

We’re at the point in the spring semester when students who haven’t already pinned down an internship for the summer will finalize their choice of opportunity.  These comments from summer 2013 are a good reminder that Fletcher students do some great work, and make real contributions to their organizations, each summer.

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Between the busy schedules of my student writers, and my own slow start in wrangling posts out of them, I realize this semester has so far been a little light on Student Stories.  And that makes today a good day to share a note I liked that Mirza posted on Facebook for Arms and Sleepers, his music duo.  (The A/A/S extended spring break tour is now an annual tradition.)  He shared a photo of the list of selected music he found on his Singapore Airlines flight to Germany, which included an Arms and Sleepers track.  Must have been a good omen for the trip!

In Europe?  Consider catching one of the gigs, before Mirza returns to his daily student life.

AAS

 

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With two references to the Diplomat’s Ball fundraiser in yesterday’s post, maybe you’re wondering what choice items are up for bid.  I took a minute to note a few of the options:

Delicious Indian meal
Personal hair style session
Piano lesson from a professional pianist
Lesson on bagel making
Cantonese comfort food
Rock climbing
Consultation on the process leading to U.S. permanent residency
Boston film tour, drinks, and endless Matt Damon facts
Introductory shooting session
Online dating profile consultation
Customized sonnets
Voice lessons
Dance lessons
“Nail Night” (fancy fingernails)
Two homemade apple pies (yum)
Learn Persian slang
Homemade Pakistani foodDSCN1748But then, with the silent auction phase ending, and the live auction scheduled for last night, the Social List was buzzing yesterday with special promotions by those trying to draw bids on their offers.  For example:

Maybe you’re inspired by the Pakistan cricket team’s recent stellar play and want to tap into another sport that Pakistanis dominate….

…Or maybe you want to learn the basics of what has been called the healthiest sport to play

…or maybe you want to get some face time with the Dean

If any of the above are true, you should bid on my squash lessons tonight at the live auction. While I can’t promise the level of dominance that other Pakistanis have been able to enjoy, I can teach you the basics. I will provide the venue, racquet, and ball.

Or then there’s:

Coffee Tour & Serenade:  I will personally take you on a tour of the area’s premier coffee establishments.  I’ll buy you coffee, tell you made-up facts about each place, and generally show you a good time.  I will also sing to you…maybe in the car, maybe on the sidewalk…it’s a surprise.

Alternatively:

If you come to the live auction tonight, you will have the privilege of bidding on a tour of the area’s premier coffee establishments.  As I have recently returned from a tour of a working coffee plantation in Costa Rica, I am clearly the perfect guide for you.

The emailed descriptions only got crazier from that.  But they all displayed the many talents (and some “talents”) of the student community.

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The School is super quiet today — there are no classes because many students are in Washington, DC on the career trip organized by our Office of Career Services.  And one of the DC travelers is student blogger Diane.  Last month, Diane joined the annual New York career trip, and she recently sent along this report.  I’ve been slow to prompt the student bloggers to write lately, and I’m glad that Diane is kicking off the spring semester for us.

In typical Fletcher fashion, the start of my second semester at Fletcher was extremely busy.  After returning from winter break, when I spent three weeks in Montreal practicing my French and training for a Boston winter (it reached minus 27 degrees Celsius in Montreal), I returned to Fletcher early to prepare for the semester ahead.  However, before the official start to Spring Semester, there was one more event to attend.

Among the best known aspects of Fletcher are its strong alumni community and the strength of the Office of Career Services (OCS).  OCS organizes a number of networking events for its current students throughout the year, and the New York career trip was scheduled for the weekend right before classes began.  I went to New York a couple of days early so that I could visit friends and meet up with old colleagues from the UN.  I don’t need much of an excuse to go and visit, and I was really excited to be back in town for a few days.

The career trip was a whirlwind.  I had booked myself for a full day of events and meetings, starting with two career panels in the morning.  These panels were a great opportunity to meet and hear from a number of alumni who work in my area of interest, humanitarian affairs, about the transition from Fletcher to the working world, as well as the different directions their careers have taken.

Next, along with two other students, I had an intimate lunch with a Fletcher graduate who now works at Smile Train.  It was a really interesting organization to visit, and the passion of this small non-profit was clearly evident by how much they are achieving with such a small staff.

After lunch, I rushed off to a site visit with One Acre Fund.  This was one of my favorite meetings, as this organization is so young and has such a special way of operating.  It really made me reevaluate what I hope to do once I graduate from Fletcher, and the type of organization I want to work for.

I then hurried to an event organized by the Fletcher Women’s Network.  This was a different experience from the rest of the day, as the alumnae here were less interested in my elevator pitch, and instead wished to inspire our group of young Fletcher women to aim to achieve anything we want, and to try to have it all.  It was really nice to see how supportive they were to current students, and it reminded me that this community lasts a lifetime.

The final event of the day was a reception where a few hundred students and alumni gathered to network and catch up over drinks.  I was lucky enough to end my day with some close Fletcher friends, having a belated birthday celebration over dinner.  Needless to say, I returned home exhausted and exhilarated, eager to start the semester and utilize all the advice I had just been given.

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Though it’s fair to say that Fletcher students are generally focused on their coursework and career development, they certainly don’t shy away from involvement in our surrounding community.  About a week ago, Fletcher’s Ralph Bunche Society hosted local high school students for an introduction to international affairs.  The Ralph Bunche Society’s mission is “to raise the awareness of the contributions that minorities and people of color have made in the field of international relations, and also to encourage students of color to consider educational and career opportunities in international affairs.”  RBS members Ryo and Stéphane sent me this update.

MATCH presidentAfter convening the NSC on January 31, the President decided to extend the relaxation of trade sanctions on Iran for an additional six months.

Wait, you didn’t read about this in The Times?

Well, that’s because this decision was the result of an NSC simulation, modeled after Professor Martel’s annual simulations, completed by students in Fletcher’s very own ASEAN Auditorium. In one additional twist, the roles of cabinet secretaries were not filled by a group of bleary-eyed MALDs, but rather 11 ambitious, and somewhat nervous, high school juniors.

This exercise was just one part of the Ralph Bunche Society’s (RBS) three-part program to introduce Match High School students to careers related to international affairs. The students displayed their passion and aptitude during the simulation by not only enthusiastically presenting their positions to the President, a role assumed by Terrence Stinson, 2013-14 Fletcher Military Fellow, but also by the manner in which they tied U.S.-Iran policy decisions to domestic concerns and U.S. commitments in East Asia.

Prior to the simulation exercise, our Diplomat-in-Residence, Evyenia Sidereas, spoke to the students about the U.S. Foreign Service, and provided them with information about scholarship and fellowship opportunities to study foreign languages abroad and international relations in college.  Additionally, Fletcher students and RBS members engaged in a brief dialogue with the Match High School students and described their pre-Fletcher experiences in international affairs.  Judging by the thank you letter we received from the students’ teacher, we didn’t scare them too much:

The kids had a terrific time, and definitely came away with a much clearer idea about what further study in international relations might look like.  Students at Match typically say they want to go into business, nursing, or engineering, so congratulations, because today two of my students told me that they are now considering studying politics.  They both described the work as “exciting” and “cool” — no small feat!  You were able to ensure the kids had a really eye-opening experience and the event has already had a great impact.  I’m sure it will stay with them as they move on to choosing new paths for themselves in their education.

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Having a chance to meet some admitted students was a nice treat yesterday.  It’s fun to reconstitute the paper applicants back into real people.

And speaking of application reading/reviewing, our work continues.  Monday to Thursday, there’s generally a staff member at home, tackling a mountain of applications.  Since we had visitors yesterday, today both Liz and Laurie are reading at home.  On Thursday, both Dan and I will be grabbing files.  We also manage to squeeze in a little in-office reading, though some of us (Dan) are better at that than others (me — perpetually prone to distractions).

So, with everything moving along, I thought I’d share two quick notes today.

The first is that there’s a LinkedIn page for Fletcher that provides some information on careers of our alumni.  Of course, it only reflects the careers of alumni who have linked to it, but it’s still loaded with interesting info.

The second note is that a current student let me know about a blog she has been compiling on India’s upcoming election, which will run from April to May.  Shruti is a second-year MALD student who told me the blog analyzes election data, and she has been using the GIS skills she learned at Fletcher to aid in her analysis.  Read Shruti’s thoughts during the lead-up to the vote on her Indian Election Blog.

 

There are always gaps in what we’ve covered on the blog, and I regret that I haven’t written enough (or asked others to write enough) about the LL.M. program.  This year I had heard talk around the office about a student who is very active in the community, so I reached out to Marlene Houngbedji to ask for her reflections on the program.  Her thoughts on being an LLM student follow, rounding out a week when we have already heard from a graduate and a professor.

Marlene HA doorway to major changes opened when I was admitted to the Fletcher School’s LL.M. program.  My rather colorful pre-Fletcher professional journey had kept me away from the legal world for a long period.  I had therefore been seeking a program that values international backgrounds while reinforcing prior (might I say: outdated?) knowledge of public international law.  Although it feels like I started classes a mere few weeks ago, my first semester, the winter break and even a two-day New York career trip surreptitiously elapsed while I was busy being studious, and we’re already in our third week of the spring semester.

The time is therefore ripe for a mid-year assessment of my Fletcher post-graduate venture.

Balancing academic and professional goals

For me, acquiring experience in case law, and studying international law with a U.S. perspective are some of the program’s most valuable features.  Not only does Fletcher’s LL.M. program cover a broader international legal range than other U.S. LL.M. programs to which I had considered applying, but it also offers students trained in civil law exposure to the common law system.  I indeed find it fascinating to compare how universal legal concepts are interpreted from one system to the other.  Some of my classmates and I never missed post-lecture opportunities to assail Professor Cerone with comments and questions on why legal theory is so different in the U.S., which made for quite heated yet entertaining fall-semester discussions!

The small number of students in the program permits frequent interactions with our faculty, which in turn, makes it easy to receive personalized guidance on course choices and professional goals.  In speaking of the latter, our recent Office of Career Services-sponsored trip to New York introduced those of us interested in the legal profession to the UN Office of Legal Affairs (codification division) and to UN Women, dedicated to gender empowerment, among other organizations.  Learning about the types of careers available to students of a discipline as abstract as international law has most definitely helped me choose my second semester classes accordingly.

I was not sure what to expect from world class faculty and my fellow students last semester, nor did I have a definite idea of what, as the recipient of a foreign law degree, was expected of me.  Though I had decided what area of international law would become my field of expertise before applying to the Fletcher School, the variety of courses from which I could choose triggered a moment of panic.  For a few days after classes began, it seemed that in picking classes in each division, to fulfill the breadth requirement, I was set to study topics with little to no relevance to traditional legal training.  Apples and oranges in an academic setting.

Creating a personalized curriculum

The breadth of options turned out to work to my advantage, however, as it allowed me to tailor my curriculum to my academic and professional needs, while remaining within the requirements of the LL.M. program.  My interest in human rights, protection of vulnerable groups in conflicts, and refugees’ and women’s issues prompted me to choose Professor Hannum’s International Human Rights Law, Professor Cerone’s International Humanitarian Law, Professors Mazurana and Stites’ Gender in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, and to cross-register for a course in international refugee law at Harvard Law School.  A corresponding practical apprenticeship at the Boston branch of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic doubled my course load, but the privilege of working on gender asylum cases added a real-life component to theory and increased my familiarity with the U.S. judicial system.

This was how I was able to understand how seemingly unrelated disciplines and course content can reconcile into a multi-faceted perspective on law.  By graduation, I will have learned to legally analyze human security through gender and economic lenses, and to paint a legal triptych comprising human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law panels with gendered shades and nuances.

As it turns out, apples and oranges do mix, sometimes…

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