Currently viewing the tag: "Class of 2014"
Returning once more, probably for the last time in the First-Year Alumni feature, to the Class of 2014, we meet Christina Brown, for whom study at Fletcher was one step in a multi-step career transition.
Three years ago, I was packing up my classroom after finishing another year of teaching physics, and now I am a few weeks away from beginning a PhD program in economics. The last three years have been a wonderful period of change and self-discovery, and at Fletcher cases like mine are not unique. I am one of many classmates who used Fletcher for a career transition — a place to both discover what it is you want to do and then gain the skills to make that career path possible.
Prior to Fletcher, I taught high school in a low-income community outside Boston through Teach for America and in a rural village in Tanzania through One Heart Source, a health and education NGO. While I loved teaching, my enjoyment was tempered with frustration over the tremendous systemic problems constraining the education market, especially in developing countries.
I wanted to work in the development sector, but I did not know how to break into the field, or for that matter, where. Did I want to be a program manager? Evaluator? Sectoral specialist? I wasn’t sure where my skills and interests would be a good match. I chose to attend Fletcher because I wanted the flexibility to explore development from different perspectives, to see where I would fit best.
Coursework in my first year in program evaluation and in development economics helped to solidify my interests, allowing me to gain useful skills for the development sector. Prof. Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church’s series of monitoring and evaluation courses were particularly useful. Her approach to evaluation is exceptionally rigorous, and with many of the alumni of her courses now in leadership positions within evaluation departments, her high aspiration for the evaluation field is seeping into many organizations. This group of former students stays in contact, growing year by year, through an email listserve and yearly gatherings at the American Evaluation Association Conference.
However, it was Prof. Jenny Aker’s coursework that ultimately led me to the path I am currently on. Like many members of the Fletcher faculty, Prof. Aker has many years of experience as a practitioner, working in West Africa, before returning to academia. And it showed in every lecture she taught. Her research was fascinating and thoroughly informed by her work in the field. There are many opportunities to work closely with professors whose work you are interested in, and I was lucky to serve as both a teaching assistant and research assistant for Prof. Aker.
At heart I am a math nerd, looking for an analytic approach to solve problems. Fletcher showed me that I could still care about the issues I was interested in — poverty, education, inequality — while approaching them from a quantitative angle. Seeing academics like Prof. Aker and others who were doing policy-relevant research and were at the forefront of the issues in their field, showed me an academic career need not be divorced from the issues on the ground. Towards the end of my first year I decided I wanted to do a PhD in economics and become a researcher. Rather than a light bulb going off, it was a slow, profound realization that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Luckily, due to Fletcher’s flexibility in coursework and ties to Boston-area schools, I was able to pivot in my second year and take two PhD-level courses at the Harvard School of Public Health and one at the Harvard Kennedy School.
At Fletcher, students are required to do a capstone project, which can take the form of the deliverable that is most useful for the student’s professional development. I choose to write a paper similar to an economics journal article, as it allowed me to see the research process from start to finish. I used an econometric strategy I learned during my first year to investigate the impact of an early grade literacy program in Indonesia. I found the program only had an effect for higher performing students and that this heterogeneity stemmed from differences in the time cost of participation in the program. These findings were used to inform the program scale-up. This experience deepened my love of the research process, and the tangible outcomes it produced.
A week after graduation, I began as a Research Fellow at Evidence for Policy Design, the microeconomic division of Harvard’s Center for International Development. I oversee the implementation, data collection, and analysis for two randomized controlled trials in Pakistan, working closely with our field team and six principal investigators across several universities. The job was a perfect fit, building off the RA skills I had gained working with Prof. Aker, and, of course, I heard about the job through a fellow Fletcher student.
Throughout the fall I applied to economics PhD programs and, again, Fletcher professors came through to offer advice and support. I am thrilled to be attending UC Berkeley, which has one of the best programs in the world for development economics, this fall. I truly would not be here if not for the mentorship I received from Fletcher faculty, opportunities I heard about through Fletcher alumni, and friendship of fellow Fletcher students.
It was the journalist Edward R. Murrow who observed that in promoting international understandings, what matters most is “the last three feet.” Incomplete perceptions and attitudes about foreign people are best dispelled by actual personal contact, with individuals engaged in conversation with one another. And so it was with my Fulbright experience.
I arrived in Medford, Massachusetts in the fall of 2012, to pursue a master’s degree in international relations. My place of study was the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, which is situated 15 minutes from Boston proper. I was very excited about this unique opportunity to specialize in the fields of study that interest me the most, namely U.S. foreign policy, security studies, and the Asia-Pacific region.
Fletcher offered an incredible range, depth, and freedom of study that I tried to take advantage of to the fullest. This involved, for example, a highly meticulous process of deciding which courses to take in a given semester. The task was not made easier by the fact that Fletcher students can cross-register for graduate courses at Harvard University, which significantly widened the list of available courses. I was not complaining about the degree of choice, however. For someone hungry to further his studies it was pure bliss.
For my comprehension of world issues, as important as the courses themselves were my fellow peers. Fletcher attracts a pool of students, both from the United States and abroad, with an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. This meant that for basically every classroom discussion someone would say something like “I was there when that happened” or “I have been working on that for my government.” This made the talks so much richer, and my understanding of the issues so much deeper. Having had the opportunity to discuss world issues with people from around the globe, in the pressure cooker of ideas and perspectives that is Fletcher, was a truly invaluable experience.
I also greatly appreciated the Fletcher faculty’s approach of mixing theory and practice in their teaching. The school prides itself on being a professional school of international affairs, and the professors place great emphasis on training students to be ready to tackle real-world issues. A skill I particularly valued training for was the ability to express myself concisely. I had many opportunities to practice this in writing terse two-page memos, where I had to summarize a problem and propose solutions. One of my professors’ favorite word was actually “pith,” a topic on which he gave a talk every year.
Beyond the classroom my cultural experience in the United States was greatly enhanced by being a part of the Fulbright network. I attended various Boston Fulbright mixers, meeting many engaging students from around America and the world. One of my favorite experiences, though, was the Fulbright enrichment seminar I attended in St. Louis, Missouri. I went there to learn about America’s westward expansion, but came away with much more.
I fondly remember spending time at a local daycare center in the outskirts of St. Louis. It was a part of Head Start, a U.S. federal program intended to promote the school readiness for young children from lower-income families. After being questioned by a little girl on “why I talked so funny,” I tried to explain that I was not from the United States. I attempted to demonstrate this by using Play-Doh to create two blobs representing North America and Europe. The lesson might only have been partially successful, but I left with a greater appreciation for how inquisitive young minds are, and how important programs like Head Start are in helping all children reach their full potential.
The Fulbright Program has allowed me to attain an education that I know will help me in my professional and personal life. But, and perhaps more importantly, Fulbright also gave me the opportunity to walk those last three feet and meet so many people that have expanded my understanding of the world, its issues, and its people. I would strongly encourage anyone considering becoming a part of this program to do so, the last steps toward someone might be the most important ones you ever take.
Though our 2014 alumni graduated more than a year ago, I will continuing highlighting their work until the 2015 grads find theirs. Today, Eirik Torsvoll tells us about his return to Norway and the start of his job. Note that Eirik wrote his post earlier in the spring.
Although I never would have believed it, time during my first year after graduation seems to have moved even faster than when I was a MALD student at Fletcher. I was therefore a little taken aback when Jessica reminded me in November that it had been six months since graduation, and that she hoped I would still be able to write a blog post in the spring. Things have now finally settled with moving back to Norway and starting work-life, so this is a good point in time to reflect on the initial post-Fletcher period.
The first few months after graduation were characterized by excitement and a little frustration. It was exciting because I was eager to start a new chapter in my life and pursue various work opportunities in Norway, and frustrating because there was little actual activity in the job market during the summer months. However, I took to heart the ever-helpful advice of the Fletcher Office of Career Services and used this time to reach out to interesting people and employers for so-called informational interviews.
Through these interviews I met some fascinating people with plenty of helpful advice and insights. Something I found particularly valuable was the recommendation to write and publish whenever I could. I was told that being able to display an ability to write and communicate would always be appreciated wherever I applied for work, something I have found to be true. During this period I therefore wrote a couple of op-eds for Norwegian newspapers (here and here), and I also published an article in the Fletcher Forum.
When things finally heated up in the job market I found that a Fletcher education certainly made me competitive. Particularly, I think it was the breadth and depth of my education that made me stand out in the job market, as I could offer both relevant skills (such as memo writing) and a familiarity with pertinent issues (for example Asia-Pacific affairs).
Sometimes I would be astonished by which aspects of my Fletcher education proved useful. For example, during one of my job interviews I was asked about how I would relate Carl von Clausewitz’s teachings with the practice of my prospective employer. Having taken Prof. William Martel’s course on the evolution of grand strategy, I felt I could answer this challenging question adequately. I obviously had to tell Prof. Martel about this afterwards, and his response — that he was pleased to hear that Clausewitz and grand strategy remained relevant — was the last I heard from him before his truly tragic passing this January. (For those interested, Jessica wrote a beautiful post about Professor Martel after his departure.)
In the end, though, I ended up in a research position at PluriCourts, an Oslo-based research center for the study of the legitimate roles of the judiciary in the global order. Much like Fletcher, PluriCourts employs an interdisciplinary approach, using political science, law, and philosophy to study the legitimacy of international courts and tribunals. Since starting, I have been very thankful for the breadth requirements of my Fletcher education, as this was a field I originally had not expected to work in. The ILO course on International Organizations, with its focus on the interaction between international law and politics, has been incredibly helpful in understanding the work PluriCourts does.
At PluriCourts, I work closely with our researchers on their various projects, assist in the many workshops and seminars we organize, and everything in between. The work also involves a bit of traveling, and soon I attended a workshop in Barcelona on the normative aspects of the legitimacy of international courts. The research project I’m currently working on involves looking at the independence of international courts from states, and this requires a thorough assessment of the various courts based on a series of indicators. It’s still in the preliminary stages of data collection and coding, and it’s really exciting to be a part of a research project from the very beginning. This way, I’m able to both witness and be a part of how the project progresses.
All in all, the transition back to work life has been both fun and exciting. I’m confident that Fletcher has prepared me well for the future challenges ahead, whichever way my career path takes me.
We’re rapidly approaching the one-year post-Fletcher mark for the graduates in the Class of 2014. Today we meet Julia Leis, whose path from pre-Fletcher to her current location involved several countries on three continents. Julia used her time at Fletcher to develop her interests and explore new areas, resulting in the perfect job that weaves everything together.
While working at an agricultural school for Burmese youth in northern Thailand in March 2011, I confronted two major decisions: 1) which career/life path to choose; and 2) whether to return to the U.S. that August. I knew I wanted to continue my education and, while my undergraduate studies at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service had prepared me well in international relations, picking the right graduate program was a challenge.
The decision was complicated because I felt I had too many interests. Urban planning, social enterprise, natural resource management, and public policy all fascinated me, as each area incorporated my previous work experience and passions. In addition to these interests, I knew I wanted a graduate school with an international focus on development. Thanks to mentors and supportive family back home in Chicago — and a Fletcher student, who I found through the Fletcher Admissions Blog and who Skyped with me while I was in Thailand — I found the ideal place, where I would have the flexibility and support to pursue multiple avenues of interest: The Fletcher School.
Now, four years after I considered my future plans, I can happily report that enrolling at Fletcher was the best decision I ever could have made. Not only did I find an incredible group of friends and peers at Fletcher, but I was able to pursue all of my interests in various capacities through courses, by organizing conferences, and in research assistant positions.
The sense of community that I found at Fletcher from the first day was unparalleled. The first weeks of school were both exciting and overwhelming, as I struggled to find the right balance between building off my previous background and exploring new subject areas. By the end of my first year, while I knew I wanted to pursue a career abroad, I did not know in what capacity.
In between my first and my second year at Fletcher, I was able to pursue an internship with Millennium Challenge Corporation in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, working on agricultural development, M&E, and land tenure reform projects, which allowed me to broaden my development skill set while working in a French-speaking context.
In my second year at Fletcher, I cross-registered for a course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, under Visiting Professor David Sanderson, called Design for Urban Disaster. This course, along with Field Studies in Global Consulting with Prof. Rusty Tunnard, reignited my interests in complex urban issues, resilience, and human-centered design, and I considered more seriously pursuing a career in humanitarian response. With the support of Prof. Tunnard, I also self-designed a Field of Study in international urban planning and development. In January 2014, I joined a graduate school field trip with Prof. Sanderson to Léogâne, Haiti, to conduct a participatory evaluation on transitional shelters.
In preparing for life post-Fletcher, I attended an Office of Career Services information session with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the fall semester of my second year, and I decided to apply to their International Development Fellows Program (IDFP). My interest in the IDFP was further solidified by courses such as Essentials of Humanitarian Action and Gender, Culture, and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies with Prof. Dyan Mazurana and Prof. Elizabeth Stites.
CRS selects approximately 20 IDFP fellows each year, and places them across CRS country programs in Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia, and Central America. I discovered that at least one Fletcher student had done the IDFP each year prior to me in places such as Haiti, Kenya, and Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza. I was able to connect with these talented alumni, who highlighted what an excellent opportunity the IDFP offered to pursue a humanitarian career abroad, as a majority of fellows will, after nine to ten months, transition to program manager positions within CRS. I knew that the IDFP would allow me the chance to work closely with communities and partners at the local level, and with an organization I deeply respected. I was fortunate to be selected and offered a position with the CRS Philippines country program in early May, and my posting was scheduled to begin in September 2014.
As I graduated in May 2014, I needed to find summer employment to get me through to September. Again, Fletcher provided me and other students with an excellent opportunity to conduct field research related to topics that interested us. I joined my phenomenally talented research partner Anisha Baghudana (MIB ’15) in Nairobi, Kenya as Junior Research Fellows with the Institute for Business in the Global Context and MasterCard Worldwide. We completed a qualitative study on how digital innovation is improving urban mobility in Nairobi. Connecting with Nairobi’s tech and start-up community provided an exciting glimpse into how entrepreneurs are creating solutions to solve some of Nairobi’s biggest urban transport challenges, including traffic congestion, poor road quality, and safety and security for passengers and pedestrians.
In my current position as a CRS fellow in the Philippines, where CRS has been working since 1945, I have worked with exceptionally talented Filipino and international colleagues in Manila, Davao, and Tacloban City. In Eastern Leyte and Samar, CRS is responding with Shelter, WASH, and Livelihoods programming after Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the area in November 2013. I’ve supported multiple projects, including an urban disaster risk reduction program called SUCCESS (Strengthening Urban Communities Capacity to Endure Severe Shocks) in Metro Manila, and the December 2014 Typhoon Hagupit emergency response in Eastern Samar. My training from the class on Essentials of Humanitarian Action proved extremely useful and applicable, as I helped with shelter and WASH kit distribution in affected communities, wrote situation reports, and attended coordination meetings with local government agencies and UNOCHA.
Like Hanneke, while I dearly miss my family back in Chicago and my Fletcher family, I never cease to be amazed at how close we remain. Despite being in vastly distant locations now, such as South Sudan, Washington, DC, Uganda, Nepal, Guatemala, and Boston, we support each other in any way we can, especially as the transition after grad school is not always a smooth one. They have supported me through countless Skype calls, and even with a month-long visit to the Philippines. It is this unique network of support that so attracted me to Fletcher in the first place, and I know that it will remain with me for years to come.
Time to hear from another Class of 2014 graduate. Yuko Hirose was one of those students who are organized and systematic in their approach to their studies, but who still maintain an open mind toward post-Fletcher opportunities. Here she describes her three-year path from Tokyo, through Medford/Somerville, to Nairobi.
It’s been more than seven months since I graduated from Fletcher, and I find myself writing this from Nairobi, Kenya where I have been living for the past four months. If someone had told me three years ago that I would find myself working as a global development consultant in Nairobi, I certainly wouldn’t have believed it! Life throws you wonderful opportunities when you least expect them, and Fletcher has played a tremendous role in helping me get here.
Three years ago, I was working as a management consultant in Tokyo, knowing that I eventually wanted to transition to working on global development issues. My passion for working in developing countries grew through meeting microfinance clients in the slums of Mumbai and Dhaka and a homestay in a rural village in Thailand during my undergraduate years. A study abroad at UC Berkeley exposed me to the world of social innovation, and I devoured books and other opportunities to learn about harnessing market approaches to improving the lives of marginalized populations. This was also when I first learned about Fletcher; a trusted friend and mentor attending Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy mentioned that her fiancé was attending Fletcher and loved the school’s strong curriculum in international affairs, as well as the warm and passionate community. Going to Fletcher became a dream of mine.
After university, I wanted to quickly build my skills in problem-solving and management, and I decided to join a consulting firm. There I met wonderful mentors and developed business skills that would eventually help me be effective in development projects. Though I had opportunities to work on pro bono projects with Japanese non-profits after the March 2011 earthquake in northern Japan, I still craved the opportunity to more directly apply the skills I had gained to the issues that I cared about. I started taking steps realize this dream, using any time I could carve out to apply to graduate school.
I was ecstatic when I received my admission letter from Fletcher in late 2011. Fletcher provided the perfect blend of development economics and international business courses that could help me transition from a career in the private sector to one in global development. In the end, what finalized my decision to join the MALD program was the warm alumni community I met during a reception hosted for admitted students at the residence of a Fletcher alum, Mark Davidson F86, who was then serving as U.S. Minster-Counsel of Public Affairs to Japan. I remember riding the train home that evening in awe of how humble the Fletcher alums were, despite their countless accomplishments, and touched by how fondly they spoke of their experiences at Fletcher and the friendships they developed there, even after many decades. If I was taking a leap into an uncertain future, I knew I wanted to spend the two years of my master’s program in a warm community of peers who are passionate about changing the world — as cliché as that sounds — and helping each other in the process, and Fletcher turned out to be exactly that.
After two years there, I can honestly say that going to Fletcher was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Not only did the courses help me to better understand development issues and tools such as impact evaluation and development finance, but Fletcher alums were extremely supportive in helping me transition my career. My summer internship was with an inspiring Fletcher alum at the International Finance Corporation, working on how to incorporate a gender lens into IFC’s investments. This internship helped me to work with TechnoServe in Ethiopia over the winter break of my second year, assessing the successes and challenges of a guarantee facility between IFC and a local bank. Seeing I was both nervous and excited about this trip, an Ethiopian Fletcher friend and other Fletcherites who had spent time in the country readily shared advice and introduced friends. My month in Ethiopia and a weekend in Nairobi to visit a close Kenyan Fletcher friend exposed me to the excitement of working in East Africa and supporting private sector development in the region. During the DC Career Trip organized by OCS, I attended a site visit at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, hosted by a Fletcher alum, and found out about an opportunity to work on exactly this topic. I hadn’t considered going back to consulting when I left Deloitte, but each case interview with Dalberg made me more excited about their work and I joined their Nairobi office six months after that visit.
Working as a consultant at Dalberg has been an amazing experience. The firm provides strategic advice to leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to accelerate their impact on issues such as access to finance, health, education, energy, and inclusive business. My most recent project was with the MasterCard Foundation on setting a learning agenda and designing a learning lab to enhance access to finance for smallholder farmers in Africa. My next one will be a project revamping the CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy of a large Kenyan financial company. As one of three Japanese in the firm, I am also helping drive business development in Japan to encourage Japanese businesses to engage with the continent in a way that meets the needs of local marginalized populations.
I am fully using everything I learned at Fletcher and Deloitte on a daily basis, and am grateful to be surrounded by a passionate and capable team that is as diverse and loving as Fletcher was. The Fletcher community in Nairobi has also been a huge source of support, as I navigated my way in a new city. More than ten recent Fletcher grads gathered for lunch during my second weekend in Nairobi, and that is when I realized that it is really true that you can find a Fletcherite anywhere in the world (and they will gladly take you in)! I’ve kept in close contact with Fletcher friends who are now working in places like Kabul, Yangon, Delhi, Juba, and NYC. While we are scattered across the globe, we support each other virtually as we navigate new cities, careers, and life events.
I am grateful to Fletcher for giving me the opportunity to be part of this warm community that inspires me to strive to create positive change. I hope potential applicants with a thirst for engaging deeply with global issues consider joining the Fletcher family — you will find a community of fellow students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are committed to helping you succeed in this quest and who will continue to inspire you for a long time to come!
Next up among our 2014 graduates is Hanneke Van Dyke, an old friend of Admissions, having served on the Admissions Committee for two years. We miss her! Here’s her update on her first year post-Fletcher.
As winter settles in back in the States, I’m sitting in front of a fan in my office in the relative comfort of southern hemisphere summer. “Relative” because it’s not exactly comfortable, but after three winters in New England, I am welcoming the reprieve.
After graduating this past May from both Fletcher and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, I began a Global Health Corps (GHC) fellowship and relocated to Lilongwe, Malawi in July where I work as a Community Nutrition Support Fellow for the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI).
CDI operates as a social enterprise here in Malawi, linking commercial production of groundnuts, soya, and maize to smallholder (generally, farmers operating on small-scale family-run plots producing for both sale and household consumption) outreach programs designed to build technical knowledge around best agronomic practices in order to increase productivity, income, food security and overall well-being. In our role at CDI, my “co-fellow” (more on that later) Hector and I are working to build a community nutrition program that is integrated into this commercial and smallholder approach. These first few months have been dedicated to developing relationships with government counterparts and municipal leaders in the district and traditional authority where we work, building our information base by engaging in community-level discussions, and becoming more familiar with the programming across CDI’s different departments.
GHC itself is a leadership development and placement organization that works with leading health organizations to identify talent gaps, and then competitively recruits young professionals from an array of non-medical sectors to fill those gaps. Those in the GHC community share the common belief that health is a human right and that everyone has a role to play in advancing social justice through the health equity movement. One of my favorite aspects of GHC is that fellows work in pairs at their placement organizations — one national fellow and one international. My co-fellow Hector was born, raised, and educated in Malawi, and working as a pair is giving us the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other. It is teaching us both a lot about communication, authentic partnership, and the benefits of a little constructive discord here and there.
Now in its sixth year, 128 GHC fellows (representing 22 countries) are working with 59 partner organizations in the U.S., Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. This diversity, both of origin and of experience and background, is so fundamental to the beauty of the Fletcher community, and it is something that was important to me to seek as I was planning my transition away from Medford. (In fact, applications recently opened for the 2015-2016 fellow class and I encourage anyone who has an interest in global health and social justice to explore the diverse offerings.)
Prior to Fletcher, I worked in rural community health education with the Peace Corps in Morocco and then spent a school year teaching elementary school English in the Marshall Islands with WorldTeach. It was during this time that I began to understand the value of working closely with communities and gained exposure to an array of challenges related to health and nutrition, taking a particular interest in their effects on children.
While at Fletcher, my chosen Fields of Study were Human Security and Public & NGO Management and at Friedman, I focused on International Nutrition Interventions. I had a bit of a unique opportunity in that I did not have to limit my course selection strategy to just one school. While aiming to strike a balance between more theory-based coursework and more hands-on and technical coursework, the approach I took and the perspective I maintain is that Fletcher largely served to further inform the wider context of working within the international system, while Friedman largely served to develop the specific technical knowledge that would inform my day-to-day work in nutrition and food security, though of course, there was some blurring of these lines.
Courses such as Actors in Global Governance with Dean Ian Johnstone and Political Economy of Development with Prof. Katrina Burgess were exceptional in broadening my understanding of the international context. As a Fletcher student, I also had the opportunity to enroll in a university seminar during my first semester called International Perspectives on Children in Exceptionally Difficult Circumstances (maybe the longest name of any course I’ve taken and what some of my friends will remember well as the course that made me cry every week), which served to provide more solid footing for the central purpose of my graduate studies.
Because my program spanned three years, I was able to spend two summers pursuing internships abroad: the first, with a small NGO named Sok Sabay in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, whose work is focused on early intervention for child trafficking; and the second, in Kinshasa and Bandundu Province, DR Congo, with Action Against Hunger, doing qualitative research on community-specific causes of malnutrition. Both have proved invaluable (directly and indirectly) in preparing me for the work I am doing now and in helping me to more narrowly define my scope of work as I (attempt to) plan my career.
After all of this, it’s still easy to feel a bit scattered at times, and while I am loving learning about my new home and investing in my new community (and particularly loving mango season!), Fletcher remains solidly at my core. I am beyond grateful for the connectivity granted by Whatsapp and Skype and am not only continually inspired as I watch the work my dear friends and classmates have committed to, both back in the States and further afield, but am regularly reminded (by the delivery of a milk frother to aid in my latte-making efforts, updates about of the goings on of Corgis around the D.C. metro area, and emails marked URGENT detailing a lobster parade in Nova Scotia) just how caring, brilliant, and hilarious they are.
I’m happy to introduce the first member of the Class of 2014 to report on his life after Fletcher. Keith Magnam jumped back into the workforce quickly after graduation, and has settled into his new life in Burkina Faso. Here’s his story on his first year post-Fletcher.
I remember the day that I received my welcome packet from Fletcher Admissions some two and a half years ago. It was a scorching hot, dusty day in the lazy town of Bobo-Dioulasso. Getting myself to the DHL office, which was tucked away on the edge of the city limits, was the first of many experiences that would show me just how unique a Fletcher education would be. It’s fitting that I received my packet while living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. It was in the Peace Corps that I witnessed some of the deepest and most stagnant poverty that I had ever seen in my life. It was in the Peace Corps where I realized that international development would be the focus of the rest of my career. Being at the grassroots level, seeing the day-to-day lives of these amazing people and the struggles they encountered, I knew that I needed to go back to school in order to serve them in the ways they needed. Fletcher’s values, amazing professors, and tireless network of passionate and supportive alumni called to me across the globe. And so, in September of 2012, I had the immense pleasure of joining the Fletcher Class of 2014!
I spent my two years learning everything I could about development economics, the history and progress of international development, and the skills and techniques that would allow me to better design, monitor, and evaluate development interventions around the world. My last semester at Fletcher really made it clear to me where I wanted to be and what role I wanted to play in the field of international development. I took Econometric Impact Evaluation and Development Economics Micro Perspectives with Prof. Jenny Aker, and these two classes taught me how to approach developmental problems from a more efficient and multifaceted perspective. Professor Aker is so passionate about her work and has an unmatched ability to make these lofty theoretical ideas easily accessible and increasingly enjoyable to learn. I spent hours doing STATA work and reading econometric papers because I honestly wanted to. How often does that happen? Well, at Fletcher, all the time. The environment at Fletcher makes students want to excel and strive to be a leader in their field of expertise. It is a great combination of rigorous academics and a collaborative, convivial student body that creates the perfect little bubble in Medford/Somerville, MA where our world’s next leaders are created.
The summer between my first and second years was spent working with FINCA International in Kinshasa, helping them implement a nationwide household survey. My time as their summer fellow taught me a great deal about managing the implementation of a household survey, training and supervising teams of enumerators, and managing data collection in infrastructure-poor areas. This experience was made possible thanks to the generous financial and warmhearted support of the Blakeley Foundation, which sponsors Fletcher summer internships. Without that support, I could have never made the trip to the DRC, nor would I have been exposed to what it’s like to work in a fragile country setting. The experience had its fair share of challenges and security incidents, but Fletcher and the Blakeley Foundation provided me with overwhelming support and advice that helped make the trip a success overall.
Immediately after my time in Kinshasa, I took advantage of the flexibility within Fletcher’s curriculum to spend a semester abroad in Paris. This experience was priceless in that it helped me broaden my perspectives on international collaboration and different developmental paradigms, and of course, to continue to perfect my French while eating the best bread and cheese you’ll ever taste. It was a great opportunity to interact with some of the most influential actors in the development world and begin the work I needed to construct my thesis. I believe it is the combination of my coursework and my practical field experience that helped me get to where I am today.
I currently work for the World Bank Group as an Impact Evaluation Field Coordinator, working on their governance-related impact evaluations in Burkina Faso. I sit within a research group called the Development Impact Evaluation Initiative, whose goal is to increase the use of evidence-based policy-making through rigorous experimentation and evaluation. On a daily basis, I am holding meetings with local NGO coordinators, managing our data collection team, and liaising with national ministries. It is a never-ending whirlwind of project management and critical thinking that has allowed me to grow professionally much more quickly than I had anticipated. As my position sits at the crossroads between the research team, operations, human resources, and finances, I am forced to manage a diverse set of work streams simultaneously. I’m able to do so efficiently thanks to the breadth of skills I was able to acquire while at Fletcher.
In this role, I have had to adapt to a complicated political situation as tensions rose over the past several months related to the ex-President’s attempts to extend his rule past the constitutional limits. After 27 years, the people of Burkina Faso had had enough and took a stand, demanding that Blaise Compaoré step down and allow a new era to be ushered in. Living through this chaotic situation, as it went from lazy streets to blackened skies and burning buildings, I have been reminded about the importance of the work that we, as Fletcher graduates, are doing every day. I have experienced first-hand a people’s frustration with the stagnation of their economy and the disparity that exists between the world’s richest and poorest populations, and their desire for change. If I took away one lesson from Fletcher, above anything else, it is that we are all in this together. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to attend such a prestigious institution need to do our part to help the world move towards a better future. Whether that be through domestic policies targeting the racial inequalities of our own country, through the concerted efforts of the international community to put an end to extremism and violence, or by helping women create income so that they can feed their children, Fletcher was there to teach me and my fellow classmates. Fletcher will be there to continue teaching generations of bright, passionate leaders who will help drive our world to a better future.
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