Currently viewing the tag: "Class of 2015"

Unless an additional report surprises me by popping into my inbox, today we’ll close out the updates from the Class of 2015.  The final word comes from Dallin Van Leuven, whose post-Fletcher job didn’t appear immediately after graduation, but was the right opportunity when it did arrive.

Greetings from Beirut!

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Dallin (far left) with fellow Fletcher students/alumni and other friends while in Washington, DC for an interview. (He reports, “I didn’t get the job.”)

The year following my graduation may have taken me halfway across the world, but it has carried my career a lot further.  Granted, the job search was longer and more difficult than I anticipated, but Fletcher was a big help throughout: from helping me leverage the networking I had done while in Boston to find open positions and get interviews; to receiving (at times last-minute) support from the Office of Career Services on my CV, cover letters, interviews, and salary negotiations; to giving me consultancy opportunities while I looked for the right job (or any relevant position, for that matter).

One perfect example of this support would be the continued mentorship of Professor Dyan Mazurana.  We, along with fellow Fletcher alumna Rachel Gordon, finalized our collaboration on a book chapter, “Analysing the Recruitment and Use of Foreign Men and Women in ISIL through a Gender Perspective,” which was published in February in the book Foreign Fighters under International Law and Beyond.  Moreover, Professor Mazurana nominated me for a Visiting Fellowship with the Feinstein International Center.  There, we were able to continue working together on an important issue: conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence in African conflicts.  I will forever be grateful for the support Fletcher’s staff and faculty have given me both during and after my time there.

Most of my last year was spent in my home state of Idaho.  It was a great opportunity to be with family and old friends in a beautiful place while I searched for that elusive first post-Fletcher job.  Before starting my MALD, I worked in education in Egypt.  Not long after I arrived, the Arab Spring came to Egypt, and it cemented in me a desire to work in countries experiencing conflict and transition, focused on alleviating the negative effects of conflict.  Fletcher, for me, was the perfect place to make that adjustment in my career’s trajectory.

With luck and perseverance, I finally found it.  After New Year’s, I moved to Lebanon to begin work with Search for Common Ground, the world’s oldest and largest peacebuilding organization.  Here, I work on projects designed to build a stronger civil society and better social relations across dividing lines.  I research conflict drivers and lessons learned from similar projects, sometimes advising on programs in other countries or on the design of future initiatives.  I love it!

As a testament to the reach of Fletcher’s network, I was able to talk with a Fletcher colleague who interned here last summer to figure out if the office really was a place I would want to work.  I’ve been able to “pay it forward” by helping facilitate a new Fletcher student’s interview; she started her internship here last month.  I run into Fletcher alumni all of the time — through work, at social gatherings, and as they pass through Beirut.  In fact, while standing in the visa line during my first arrival to the city, I ran into someone I graduated with who is also living and working here.  The most remarkable of these meetings was definitely with a very successful alumna who is working for peace here in the region.  She beamed at hearing I was a fellow graduate and happily exclaimed, “Fletcher ruined my life!”  Thanks to her experience as a student, she left a successful career in the private sphere to pursue a successful, but more challenging, career in peacebuilding.

While “ruined” probably isn’t the term I would normally use, I can certainly agree with the sentiment.  Thank you, Fletcher, for “ruining” my life and putting me on the path I am on now!

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One of the opportunities I most value about my job is following students from their application phase, through their time at Fletcher, and then on to their post-Fletcher life.  A good example would be my connection with Diane Broinshtein, whom I first met when I was her application interviewer back in August 2012.  Then, after she had started her Fletcher classes, I reached out to her to write for the blog, and she was a trusty friend of Admissions throughout her two years in the MALD program.  Naturally, I’ve asked her to write an update on her first year post-Fletcher.  Those wondering what classes prepared Diane for her current work might want to read her Annotated Curriculum.

It’s hard to believe that a year has just passed since I finished at Fletcher.  In many ways I feel like I never left, and in other other ways Fletcher feels like a lifetime ago.

Diane in TurkeyIn my last post, shortly after I graduated in 2015, I explained that I was joining GRM International as part of their Young Professionals Program.  I moved from Boston to Brisbane, Australia and began my operations rotation.  On my second day of work, the company rebranded itself as Palladium, in order to unite a number of different brands under a new umbrella.  Because the company now included business areas other than those it did when I was first hired, the reorganization provided with me with some new and interesting opportunities.

In January, I moved to our London office to start a rotation with our Strategy Execution Consulting group. While it is not an area I considered working in prior to Fletcher, I felt the diversity of my Fletcher education prepared me perfectly to jump into the team.  In this role I helped bridge the divide between the international development side of the business and the strategy consulting side.  I found myself constantly going back to skills, knowledge, and coursework I learned at Fletcher to assist me whenever I was confronted with a new and challenging task.

My new rotation has taken me to Bristol, UK to join our Environment and Natural Resources team, working specifically on humanitarian projects.  It’s nice to be working again in a sector I know well and that I concentrated on in my studies.  A year out of Fletcher, three cities and three roles later, I have just begun to test the limits of what Fletcher taught me — I find myself using Fletcher in some way each day.

After Bristol, I am not sure where I will end up, but I know for certain that wherever it is, there will be a Fletcher network to support me.  Being part of the alumni community has been a wonderful experience.  In Brisbane I managed to squeeze in two visits from Fletcher friends, one who was working in Canberra and another working in Papua New Guinea.  But when I moved to London, I was even more connected.  London is a place where people are always passing through, so there were many Fletcher catch-ups over dinner.  I’m already trying to encourage fellow Fletcher grads to visit me in Bristol, but if they don’t come to me, I’ll see them when I travel in Europe.

Diane London

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Fletcher’s summer quiet continues, and there’s little of note happening in the Admissions Office, which makes me especially happy that I can still share updates from the Class of 2015.  Today we’ll  hear from Nathaniel Broekman who, like so many of our students, took an unusual path to, through, and beyond Fletcher.

It’s been an odd journey to arrive where I am today.  Seven years ago this month I departed New York City, where I had worked for three years as a musician and audio engineer, to spend the next three years with the Peace Corps in Bulgaria.  I left the music industry to begin a career in international relations, with the hope of finding my way into the field of migration or international development.

Turkish Breakfast

“Eating Turkish breakfast (arguably the world’s best breakfast) on the Asian side of Istanbul in the last days of my Boren Fellowship.”

Contrary to the adage, sometimes the best-laid plans do not go awry.  Which always surprises me.  Just over one year ago, I simultaneously completed a Boren Fellowship in Istanbul and my Fletcher degree.  I then landed in Washington DC, from where I write you today.  One month ago, I was on a detail to the border of Texas and Mexico, interviewing mothers and children who had just completed the harrowing journey from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to request asylum.

I work as an Asylum Officer with the Department of Homeland Security, adjudicating the claims of asylum-seekers who have arrived in the United States.  In doing so, my colleagues and I make the preliminary determination if an applicant is eligible for asylum under U.S. law, if he/she can be found credible, and whether this individual represents a risk to the security of our country and our community.  Although the majority of my interviews are with applicants living in the mid-Atlantic states, the job has to date taken me as far as Atlanta and Texas.  I am now preparing for an international detail to take part in our refugee resettlement efforts overseas, be it in El Salvador, Turkey, Nepal or one of a number of countries where refugees are unable to find a durable solution and hope to be resettled in the United States.

When I began this position, the word “refugee” was not yet gracing the front page of nearly every western newspaper, nearly every day.  I soon found myself in the center of one of the most important challenges of our generation.  There are more displaced persons on the planet today than at any other time since World War II.  Many of them are looking to us for help.

Mine is not an easy job, for almost all the reasons you might imagine.  But putting aside the emotional roller-coaster and the daily frustrations, I feel fortunate to take part in a program that grants the protection of the United States to those who have lost the protection of their own country.  It is an honor to bring these individuals into our community and grant them the refuge they truly need and truly deserve.

The Fletcher School was an integral part of this journey.  Most pointedly, my classwork in conflict resolution with Professors Babbitt, Chigas, and Wilkinson, and forced migration with Professor Jacobsen gave me a firm understanding of the global dynamics that brought us to this point, whereas classwork in various areas of international law with Professor Hannum immersed me in the system that gave us the internationally accepted definition of a refugee — a single paragraph from 1951, which guides our daily practice and determines, in part, the fate of millions of human beings.  I also took advantage of the opportunity to cross-register at the Harvard Law School, to take a course on migration law with Professor Anker, which has had far more impact on my career today than I had imagined it would at the time.  The education I received at Fletcher from these and other courses gave me not only the necessary legal analysis skills to make a proper determination on the merits of a case, but also the political and conflict analysis skills necessary to fully research and understand the dynamics in our applicants’ countries of origin.  Furthermore, a summer internship with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina and a seven-month Boren Fellowship in Istanbul, crafting my thesis on Turkish development and humanitarian aid, did not hurt one bit.

Beyond my coursework, Fletcher has brought me into a community that continues to amaze.  I was taken aback at the enthusiasm that alumni have for helping their fellow graduates to develop a career.  This is especially true here in DC, but was just as true while I was searching for work in Istanbul.  Most importantly, many of my closest friends here and across the globe are either fellow classmates from my time in Medford, or alumni from previous years.  We have even created a DC alumni branch of the Fletcher band “Los Fletcheros,” known locally as “Los Fletcheros Federales.”  The only major difficulty has been scheduling rehearsals, considering the travel schedules of seven band members who work in international relations.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m also to blame, but the World Bank keeps sending our guitarist to West Africa at the most inopportune times.

It’s been an odd journey to arrive where I am today.  I am not sure what I was looking for seven years ago when I left New York City, but I seem to have found it.  And for that, I owe The Fletcher School and the Fletcher community a great deal of gratitude.

Mexico City Foreign Ministry

Fletcher students on vacation in Mexico, in front of the Mexican Foreign Ministry.

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Just as, two weeks ago, I wrapped up the updates from the Class of 2010 with posts from Luis and Hana, this week I would like to return to the Class of 2015.  Today, we’ll learn what Peter Varnum, a good friend of the Admissions Office, has been doing since he graduated.

Time at Fletcher flies.  The pace of life is often so stressful that it is easy to lose sight of the return you’re actually earning.  Obviously this comes in the form of your lifelong friendships and network; it’s a main reason we all chose this place to continue our education.  But, amidst readings and papers and presentations — and world-renowned guest speakers, lectures from the Dean, and student-organized conferences — we often forget the other reason we chose Fletcher: it’s among the top international relations schools in the world.

Never has the stellar education been more evident to me than in my first year post-graduation.  I moved to Geneva, worked briefly for the World Health Organization in its mental health policy unit, and am now consulting with a small, international B-corporation called Vera Solutions, which works at the intersection of data and development.  (Side note: Fletcher allows you to work at the “intersection” of basically anything and anything.  We build bridges.)  Often dubbed the “DC of Europe,” Geneva is rife with IR- and development-types who love to throw around jargon and number of countries visited slash worked in like they’re all badges of honor, trophies of who knows the most, who’s done the most.  But I appreciate my Fletcher brethren here, and there are a number of them: those who can hang in those conversations, but don’t feel the need to tout their accolades.  Those who hold a room when they speak.  Those with whom you can have a drink and laugh at yourselves.

When you’ve turned in your thesis, and walked across the stage, and at some point found the nerve to click on one of those emails giving you an update of how much interest your student loan has accrued, you have time to breathe a little.  And that’s when you look back and realize just how much you’ve learned at Fletcher.  You learn from the courses you take, sure — but I would argue you learn more from your immersion in a space that brings together such interesting, diverse people.  I often chat with my own classmates, as well as prospective students, about what I call “Imposter Syndrome,” which I felt quite frequently at Fletcher.  You’re in class (and at house parties) with future diplomats, foreign service officers, magnates of international business, and leading academics.  Not to mention polyglots who may as well have designed Rosetta Stone.  I often used to ask myself how I wound up there.

But if Geneva has taught me anything, it’s that, despite my hideously accented Spanish (and just plain hideous French), those experiences have made me fluent in the language of international relations.  And not just in a professional setting; I now read the news with a more nuanced understanding to go with a critical eye that I like to think we all have entering Fletcher.  I feel comfortable voicing my opinions, and confident that they are informed.  I feel more like — and excuse the cliché — a productive citizen of the world.

Navigating ambiguity is at the heart of international work — at the heart of life, really.  I believe my Fletcher education has made me nimbler.  I do not hesitate among the flutter of languages in the UNICEF cafeteria, nor while chatting with the Director of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO, nor while having that drink with my fellow Fletcher graduates.  A year or so ago, when I was hunkered down in Ginn Library, procrastinating by dreaming up ideas for a creative Fletcher Follies video, I often wondered whether it was worth it.  These days, that uncertainty never crosses my mind.

Varnum, Peter

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Reports from the Class of 2015 have started to trickle in.  Today we’ll learn about the path through Fletcher of Thomas Pols, an experienced medical doctor.

A year ago I was putting the final touches on my capstone and was in the midst of my job search while trying to enjoy every moment of my last few weeks in Medford.  After having worked for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the years before starting Fletcher, I came to the U.S. in August 2013 with my mind set on continuing my career in humanitarian aid.  Never could I have predicted how differently my career would develop instead.

Compared to the clear structure of medical school, the flexible and interdisciplinary Fletcher curriculum was completely new to me.  Choosing from so many different topics to study while still being able to connect all these fields was an amazing experience that, over the course of two years, made me consider taking my career in new directions.  Talking with Professors Scharioth and Wilkinson was a great way to test the ideas that I had for my post-Fletcher life and, with their encouragement, I decided not to go straight back to the humanitarian field after all.

After celebrating our graduation in May 2015, the first order of business of a small group of us newly minted alumni was to travel together through the Caucasus and Central Europe before starting with “real” life.  For me, this meant a post-travel return to my native Netherlands and exploring opportunities here.

Because I wanted to explore many different opportunities, I tried to cast a wide net by doing some freelance consulting work for humanitarian NGOs, while also teaching part-time at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.  Being on the other side of the classroom just months after graduating myself was a great experience.  Focusing primarily on courses covering international relations and international law allowed me to use many of the skills and the knowledge I had gained over the previous two years.  My work at the university also brought me in contact with many interesting people who helped me continue my search for a job that would combine my medical and Fletcher backgrounds.

One of these conversations led to an introduction at Royal Dutch Shell in The Hague, where I was amazed to see how much they appreciated the interdisciplinary education I received at Fletcher.  A complex company such as Shell works in a difficult market, in difficult locations, while continuously under scrutiny; a great challenge for a Fletcher graduate.

After half a dozen meetings, interviews and assessments, I was offered a position as Global Health Advisor.  Never would I have thought that this would be the next step in my career, and I can truly say that Fletcher made it possible.

Today, nearly a year after leaving my friends in Medford, I am back visiting them in Washington, DC (where it seems that our “sixth semester” is in full swing), before I start the next step in my career.  I am actually writing this in DC after finishing Sunday brunch with a group of Fletcher graduates, who shared amazing stories of what they have been up to in the last year.

I won’t try again to predict what I will do in the future because, with a Fletcher degree, it seems any future is possible.

Thomas (second from right) and Fletcher friends in Azerbaijan.

Thomas (second from right) and Fletcher friends in Azerbaijan.

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Today marks eight months since the Class of 2015 graduation last May 22, and it’s time to start checking in with our newest graduates.  While I continue lining up First-Year Alumni updates, let’s hear from one of the student bloggers who completed the MALD last spring.  Unlike many of his classmates who are still settling into their new jobs,  Liam is in the U.S. Army, and his plans for this year were in place well before he graduated.

With everything going on in my life, it’s hard to believe that only a year ago I was in my last Fletcher semester, deep into my capstone.  Since then, I’ve spent the past eight months as a student at the Command and General Staff College (CGSS), the U.S. Army’s professional education program for mid-career officers.  Yet, despite being in the middle of Kansas, thousands of miles away from Medford, my Fletcher experience continues to shape my life daily.

First, the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute recently published my Fletcher capstone.  Focused on how the Army can improve at advising and assisting other nation’s militaries, the monograph was the culmination of work I did in Professor Shultz’s Internal Conflicts and War class and in an independent study I did with him.  Although I’m thrilled the paper was published, what I’m more excited about is that it’s making its rounds through the Security Force Assistance community.  I recently met with the Director of the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance to discuss the paper, and am in the process of consulting with the team that is re-writing Army doctrine on the topic.  For me, it’s a great reward, after putting so much work into my capstone at Fletcher, to have it be read by a wider audience, and I’d encourage current and prospective students to attempt to do the same.

Second, what I learned at Fletcher has a direct impact on my studies here at CGSS.  From the basis of national security strategy I gained in Professor Shultz’s classes to the ability think critically through history learned from Professor Khan, I find myself often going back over my Fletcher class notes and readings to gain a better understanding of topics we cover in class.  My ability to address complex issues, from humanitarian relief operations to the roots of instability in Europe and everything in between, has been greatly enhanced by the breadth and depth of my Fletcher education.  Additionally, last fall we had the pleasure of having Dean Stavridis come talk to all 1,300 officers in our CGSS class about how he sees the 21st century security environment, and it made me incredibly proud to be part of the Fletcher community when my classmates said they thought the Dean gave the best guest lecture we’ve heard.  And Fletcher alumni gained a very visible face when General Joe Dunford was named the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last fall.

Liam and ChristineLast, and most importantly, I got married in December.  My wife Christine is an Air Force pilot and we currently live apart while she’s in Colorado and I’m here, but the wedding gave us an opportunity to catch up with several classmates.  Shockingly, Kansas is hardly the center of the Fletcher-sphere, so seeing friends after almost a year was great.

My Fletcher experience, from the education to the friendships made over my two years in Medford, sticks with me everyday.  As my classmates make their way out into the world and start in their careers, I feel secure knowing that some of the most intelligent, caring, compassionate, and capable people the world has to offer are tackling the tough issues at hand.  Also, as the Class Fund Agent for the class of 2015, it’s great to see donations back to the Fletcher Fund already coming from my peers and friends, helping the next generation of students succeed in their pursuit of making the world a better place.  Looking back, I have to say that being a student at Fletcher was truly the most incredible experience of my Army career to date.

 

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