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It had always been my plan to line up a first-year MIB student to contribute to the Student Stories in the blog.  I just hadn’t anticipated it would take me until March.  My own lack of speed notwithstanding, I’d like to introduce Mark Attia, a first-year (at least for two more months) MIB student.  Following his second year, Mark will leave Tufts with two master’s degrees — from Fletcher and from the department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.  That (MIB and UEP) is, to date, a unique combination, and today he writes about how he (or you) can develop expertise at Fletcher.

Mark Attia 1

Mark and his sidekick, Hazel.

For Fletcher students with wide-ranging curiosities, choosing from some 80 fascinating courses offered each semester is like shopping in an “intellectual candy store,” as one of my professors put it.  But, for those of us who have more narrowly focused interests, it may not be obvious how Fletcher’s interdisciplinary curriculum will make it possible to build a thorough body of knowledge in the area of your unique passion.  After all, there may not be a specific course on, say, private equity frameworks for emerging markets, impact investing, or sustainable commodity financing.  Yet each of these are precisely the kind of subject areas that some of my classmates are exploring, well beyond the scope of our syllabi.

To a great extent, the well designed and complementary Fields of Study and breadth requirements will help concentrate your efforts.  Even so, there is yet another avenue through which you can develop your own area of expertise: within most courses, you’ll find the flexibility to select case studies and write research papers on matters of your choosing pertaining to the subject area.  In my experience, this option is a powerful way to examine an area of scholarship from multiple perspectives, and emerge from Fletcher fully armed with an arsenal of hand-picked skills and knowledge.

Here is how I am approaching developing my own areas of expertise.  But first, let me give you a bit of background.  In my view, global urbanization is the most consequential development of our lifetime; a phenomenon which carries far-reaching implications for all facets of the socio-economy, environment, and business.  I see a rapidly evolving world where our attention will increasingly be focused on the opportunities found in emerging-market cities, and I turned to The Fletcher School to deepen my understanding of this global urban context.  Before Fletcher, I had a mix of experience, including with a major water utility and a low-income housing finance bank, and I subsequently pursued a degree in Urban and Environmental Planning here at Tufts.  For my Fletcher Fields, I selected International Finance and Banking and International Political Economy.  My aspiration is to harness these experiences and learning and join a private firm with global reach engaged in developing core civil infrastructure assets and real estate.

Right from the start, I began asking questions relevant to my interests.  For example, what is the role of real estate bubbles in triggering a financial crisis?  In one elective, History of Financial Turbulence and Crises, I was able to research elements of the relationship, and discovered ill-forgotten lessons from around the world.  How do we solve inhumane slum conditions in frontier cities?  In Development Aid in Practice, I presented to the class on an innovative incremental-housing solution that is addressing the burgeoning urban slums in India.  How is urbanization impacting the environment?  In Elements of International Environmental Policy, I wrote a final paper on the benefits and challenges for cities and surveyed policies aimed at sustainable urban development.  How do we finance the infrastructure that the world needs to grow?  In Large Investment and International Project Finance, our case analyses covered sectors from high-speed rail, to the Three-Gorges Dam, toll-roads in Europe, and oil assets in Kazakhstan.  How do we negotiate cross-boarder deals?  In Mergers & Acquisitions, a law class, I examined the takeover of Australian infrastructure assets by a Canadian firm.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

In total, I have largely relied on the magic of the proven Fletcher formula to guide my learning.  But I have also been encouraged and given the resources to dig deeper into my passion through my coursework.  (By the way, I am entirely ignoring the irreplaceable contribution of our extraordinary classmates, faculty, and guest speakers in this discussion, but these are easily the subject of other posts.)  If you’re not sure where your passion lies, at Fletcher you will embark on an intellectual adventure that will expose you to a world of fascination.  But, if you are confident that you know your academic goals, Fletcher offers a limitless reservoir of resources and opportunities to help you achieve these goals and emerge exceptionally well prepared for any career.

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Information about Cool Stuff that Students Do hasn’t come only through the Social List.  Student blogger Roxanne, now within two months of her graduation, has been very involved in promoting awareness of gender issues at Fletcher.  Today she writes about her work.

As my time at Fletcher is soon drawing to a close, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on one of the aspects of my experience here that has been most dear to me: my involvement and leadership in the Gender Initiative at Fletcher.  In an earlier post, Jessica had asked me to briefly describe my academic and professional interest in the intersection of gender and armed conflict.  When I arrived at Fletcher, I was very excited to learn from the many scholars and practitioners in the Boston area who work on issues related to gender and violence.  I was further thrilled to discover that many of my classmates shared this interest and that momentum was developing around exploring how a gender perspective affects our understanding of international politics, development, violence, and other topics.

To capture this enthusiasm, and with much support from recent graduates, faculty, and staff, I have collaborated with fellow students to launch the Gender Initiative at Fletcher, whose mission is to enable the study and professional exploration of gender-related issues.  The Gender Initiative started with three clusters of activity:

  • The “Academic Cluster” compiled a list of gender-related courses in the Boston area to enable Fletcher students to cross-register, as well as to highlight faculty members working on the issue, and to showcase different syllabi with gender as a focus.  It also helped crystallize student interest in additional gender-related coursework at Fletcher, culminating in the creation of a new course on Gender and Human Security in States and Societies in Transition for this semester.  Students who wanted to self-design a Field of Study with a focus on gender could also receive assistance in doing so.
  • The “Speakers and Events Cluster” focused on enhancing the diversity of the guest speakers we heard from at The Fletcher School.  Students have compiled lists of men and women in the Boston area who speak on gender issues, as well as women who speak on a variety of topics beyond gender that are related to a Fletcher education.  This list is now becoming available for club leaders and event organizers who may be interested in either infusing a gender perspective into their program or ensuring panel diversity at their events.
  • Finally, the “Mission and Vision Cluster” has worked to define the objectives of the Gender Initiative, as well as to answer common questions about the value of a gender perspective in an international education.

Over the past two years, we have had the privilege of organizing and attending an array of gender-related events at The Fletcher School, in partnership with student clubs, such as Global Women, as well as the Fletcher administration.  Select highlights have included a workshop on gender and negotiations with Hannah Riley Bowles, a gender mainstreaming training with Fletcher alumna Marcia Greenberg, a gender and public speaking keynote and training with renowned media and communications expert Christine Jahnke, a luncheon talk and small-group discussion with NATO’s Gender Advisor Charlotte Isaksson, as well as talks with representatives of UN Women, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and more.  This semester, we are really excited to have celebrated the inaugural Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award, as well as to welcome renowned feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe, among a few other exciting events.

It has been moving and inspiring to watch the Gender Initiative grow during my time here.  I have particularly appreciated the genuine enthusiasm of Fletcher’s first-year students for these topics, and their energy in joining existing efforts to make gender-related learning and professional training accessible to all who are interested in it.  While I’m sad to slowly have to leave it behind, I’m excited to see the Gender Initiative continue its important work after our graduation!

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I often refer to the Social List, which is the student elist that serves as virtual glue for the community.  The list was originally established by the School, but it isn’t managed by, well, anyone.  (There are also managed lists for the staff, faculty, and students.)  Many members of the staff subscribe.  In my case, I subscribed initially because I can’t post on it otherwise, but I receive the message digest and it’s often a good source of ideas for the blog.  Never more so than today, when I had the idea to share the subject lines from yesterday’s digest (in bold), along with my notes.  Here are the topics from yesterday’s Social List emails, more or less in the order they appeared, with responses generally removed:

M&E Position for MSI in Bosnia:  When students learn about a job opportunity, they often share the posting with their peers via the Social List.
Seeking syllabi:  Not sure what this request from a soon-to-graduate student is all about, but the Social List is a good place to seek things.
Wed April 2: Future of Energy with S. Julio Friedmann:  The Social List — great way to publicize events.
Leaving a 1 or 2-bedroom in the area?:  Save time searching for housing by asking graduating students!
FREE PIZZA and MOVIE SCREENING on MICROFINANCE: NOW IN C206:  More events, with upper case letters to show that it’s happening NOW!
Rio contact needed:  Students have contacts throughout the world — why not ask for their help?
Summer in D.C!:  So many students are in Washington over the summer that it’s a non-stop Fletcher social scene.
Somerville permit parking:  From parking permits to aspirin for a thesis writer in the library, the Social List is the source of things to borrow.
Contacts at the IDB?:  Students’ contacts aren’t limited to other geographic areas.  As most students enter Fletcher with prior professional experience, they also bring their professional contacts.
Bangladeshi or love Bangladesh?:  Posted by someone who is definitely not Bangladeshi, so I assume he loves Bangladesh.
SEEKING: Urgent Contact info for HR at Inter-American Development Bank:  More job stuff.
AFSWOYD Nonprofit Announcement and Auction Items!!!!!:  Many exclamation points from the student organizers of the Annual Faculty and Staff Waits on You Dinner.
20th International Development Conference at HKS:  An event at Harvard.  Fletcher students welcome.
Digital Cameras in Ginn:  The library has equipment to lend!  Computers (who hasn’t had a computer emergency?), cameras, and other useful things.
Do you like coffee? – Wagoner, Liz:  This one is from my Admissions pal, Liz.  It’s not a random question — she’s setting up visits with current students for newly admitted students.
Fwd: Interested in urban spaces and inclusion? Intern or volunteer for IBGC’s Inclusive Cities conference:  Drumming up support for an upcoming Fletcher conference.
REMINDER: Internship Funding Application! Empower Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship:  Summer money$$!
Cab share from Logan at 11pm:  Cab shares, Zip Cars, rides to Trader Joe’s — all part of the weekly Social List traffic.
Vets 101 this Thursday @ 6pm:  Military veterans offering to share their stories with other Fletcher students.
Student Council 2014:  The Student Council updates the community via the Social List.
Job Opportunities with Fletcher’s Office of Communications for 2014-2015 Academic Year:  Notes like this also go out over more official channels.
FOUND: Urgent Contact info for HR at Inter-American Development Bank:  Possibly the person who asked has been overwhelmed by responses.
Don’t Let Me Down – Come buy your AFSWOYD ticket now:  More on the Annual Faculty/Staff Waits on You Dinner.
Do you have experience living/working in Juba?:  Almost surely someone does.  Maybe several people.
Business Development Job Posting / Cargill Ocean:  More jobs.
Mercy Corps Internship info:  And internships.
SUMMER OPPORTUNITY: Google Policy Fellowship Program:  And more jobs.
Did you defer Fletcher?:  A current student trying to help out a newly admitted student who is thinking of deferring enrollment.

So that gives you a sense of what was happening yesterday.  At other times of year there might be more internship/book selling/political argument/course selection/housing messages.  The one consistent fact is that the Social List keeps the school humming.

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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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