Currently viewing the tag: "Class of 2016"

I have two more posts to share from the Class of 2016 before I move on to last May’s graduating class.  Today, Nathalie Hudson tells us about her experience since completing the MIB program 15 months ago, much of her time apparently having been spent on an airplane.

My year since Fletcher can mostly be described as an international one — I’ve accumulated over 50,000 airmiles (yes, I realize my carbon footprint it terrible…) and visited 16 countries.  The year started with an MIB wedding in Japan, and my one-year milestone since moving to Addis Ababa with Dalberg Global Development Advisors is going to be marked with a training in Bangkok and a music festival in Uganda.  In between I’ve danced to Bollywood music at Dalberg’s global retreat in India, had tea with pineapple farmers in Guinea, hiked up mountains and celebrated a wedding with some Fletcher favorites in Argentina, and helped organize a 100-person Iftar dinner in Tanzania.  All this while adjusting to life in Ethiopia, and contributing to growing our Dalberg Addis office from three people to 10 people.  It’s been an exciting and challenging year, with a new city, a new job and a lot of new responsibilities.

The mobility of this year has not just been linked to my location, it’s also in the nature of the work, with no two weeks ever being the same.  My first project was in Conakry, Guinea, establishing the strategy for the Prime Minister’s new Delivery Unit, specifically its agriculture project.  We were tasked with choosing which sector to work in, and then developing a plan for how to grow the sector in the coming two years.  Our interviews with the Ministry of Agriculture and data analysis of agricultural production led us to discover the once large but now dwindling pineapple industry of Guinea.  We then went out to the fields of Kindia to speak with pineapple farmers, and even visited the Prime Minister’s office to discuss our project.  Having spoken to distinguished guests and officials at Fletcher certainly helped in my preparation, but nothing quite prepares you for having to answer a Prime Minister’s questions directly!

After six weeks in Guinea I went back to Addis, moving from agriculture supply chain strategies to developing a business plan for an infant nutrition and women’s empowerment program in Ethiopia.  As this project ended, I packed my bag again to go to Denmark, creating an emerging market strategy for a large corporate client.  My most recent project was based in Kenya, working with a large pan-African bank to review some of its strategies and partnerships through expert interviews with new and innovate start-ups, and data analysis to understand the biggest opportunities.  In between projects I’ve attended conferences, organized a private-sector business development week in Tanzania, relaunched Dalberg’s inclusive business practice area, and helped set up our Ethiopian office.  The learning curve starts over again after every project, so the pace of change is challenging, but it’s certainly never boring.

These different projects and experiences are informed by either the classes I took or the people I met at Fletcher.  When I first arrived in Guinea I was reading a paper on Guinean agriculture that I realized had been written by a classmate.  When I kicked off our work on emerging market strategy for the Danish company and looked through their annual report, I pulled out my accounting class notes.  And as I do all of these projects while reading through the news coming out of Europe and the U.S. on a daily basis, I go back to my Historian’s Art class memories to ensure my reactions are informed and measured.

My past year has not only been informed by Fletcher, but was also made possible by Fletcher.  My path into Dalberg, after applying four times previously, was through a Fletcher alum who generously gave me his time for an informational interview 18 months ago, and has now become my boss.  My adjustment to Dalberg was made, and continues to be made, much easier with two Fletcher alums becoming buddies/advisors and answering all of my questions and concerns.

And while packing a suitcase and traveling constantly may sound glamorous, life on a plane (especially when traveling through African airports) is not always fun.  My travels around the world have been made all the more enjoyable because I often have a Fletcher person to have coffee with or host me.  And of course, Fletcher weddings have been a great excuse for adventures and reunions.  Being located next to a hub airport in Addis has also meant I’ve had a few Fletcher visitors myself.

My faith in humanity also continues thanks to ongoing conversations with my classmates, over coffee or on social media.  With the world going a bit mad these days, the presence of Fletcher folks in my Twitter feed continues to give me hope that we’re not doomed just yet.  Professor Khan also gave his time this year, in between writing his latest book, to help me and other alums organize a Historian’s Art Alumni Discussion where we discussed The Trump Presidency as Contemporary History.  It was an incredible way to reconnect with former classmates, and feel the Fletcher vibe again, albeit this time via WebEx while sitting on the shores of Lake Kivu with a dodgy internet connection!

Fletcher prepared me for my new career as a consultant by encouraging me to think critically and with empathy.  It equipped me with lessons in corporate finance, business strategy, financial inclusion, and history, that I use daily (although I still wish I’d paid more attention in Corporate Finance).  It has also given me a network of friends and classmates around the world who are generous with their time and inspiring with their stories.  Last week I made Gold Status on Ethiopian Airlines, a fitting one-year milestone that shows how far I’ve traveled both literally and figuratively in my year since Fletcher.

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Returning to the Class of 2016, sometimes an update on a Fletcher graduate also captures information on one of our programs.  Although it’s a tiny percentage of graduates who find a post-student life here, some do.  And one of those is Matthew Merighi, F16, who for the past year has been the Assistant Director of Maritime Studies at Fletcher.

I never expected to end up working with Fletcher’s Maritime Studies Program (MSP).  My original plan was to attend Fletcher and use my degree to go back into the U.S. federal government.  But obviously, Fletcher had an effect on me.

Before coming to Fletcher, I was a civilian employee in the U.S. Air Force’s International Affairs Office.  I worked as a liaison with other air forces, as an executive officer for a one-star general, and a tradeshow director for a member of the Senior Executive Service.  I came to Fletcher planning to study security studies to deepen my knowledge of the field before going back into public service.

The breakthrough came when taking Professor (now Emeritus) John Perry’s Maritime History and Globalization course in the fall of 2014.  No one who took a course with Professor Perry has ever forgotten it.  He was a fantastic lecturer and he presented the maritime domain in such a compelling way that I was hooked.  I worked for him as a research assistant and continued to take courses under Professor Rocky Weitz, F02, F08, MSP’s current director, when he came back to Fletcher in 2015.

MSP’s real strength is its interdisciplinary approach, linking security, business, environment, and law.  It added a salt-water perspective to how I view the world and forced me to think about international issues in a holistic way.  As an example, the introductory course in the field, Global Maritime Affairs, touches on a broad array of topics ranging from military buildups in the South China Sea to the ecological threats facing global fisheries and the economics of the shipping industry.  To be an effective maritime policy expert, you need to be literate in all of the dimensions of those challenges, rather than narrowly focused on a single specialty.

For my part, I feel very fortunate to be where I am.  Maritime studies as a field is quickly going from a niche topic to a cornerstone of policy and business.  Whether it is understanding the Arctic, climate change, or global trade patterns, having a maritime perspective is a key distinguisher for would-be practitioners.  MSP is also working on original research into cutting-edge maritime security issues, expanding its offerings of both academic and professional events, and supporting student projects in all maritime fields.  Outside of Fletcher, I also am building a nonprofit startup, Blue Water Metrics, to crowdsource data-gathering on ocean health as part of a Fletcher co-founding team.  Being a part of a new venture, alongside my work with MSP’s efforts to train the next generation of maritime leaders, is truly an honor.

(The video below is Matthew’s talk from the Fletcher Ideas Exchange.)

I’m a little late in sharing updates from the Class of 2016, but there’s no time like the present to run the first of the posts from alumni who have completed one year post-Fletcher.  We’ll hear today from Miranda Bogen, and it doesn’t surprise me that Miranda was the first to answer my call for updates.  Our first interaction was when she contacted me, only weeks after arriving at Fletcher, to ask if I’d be interested in a post that she wrote with her new classmate Aditi (who then went on to write for the blog for two years).  And Miranda didn’t just start her Fletcher experience busy — she stayed busy throughout her two years.  So let’s let her tell us what she’s doing now.

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I spell-checked my capstone for the seventeenth time, powered through my last final, and bid farewell to Medford to join the flock of migratory Fletcherites making our way southward to the other epicenter of the Fletcher Community — Washington, DC! 

I came to Fletcher to study how technology impacts international affairs; I was inspired by the waves of digital activism bubbling up across the Middle East during the Arab Spring, and curious how online platforms like Google and Facebook were navigating constraints and demands of oppressive governments while simultaneously rooting for the protesters, who were exercising exactly the sort of free expression that these companies endorsed.  Like many “career-switchers” who come to Fletcher for a professional pivot, I was nervous about the prospect of trying to break into a new field without directly relevant work experience.

Luckily, Fletcher provided exactly the springboard I needed.  The interdisciplinary curriculum let me take courses ranging from cybersecurity to international business law, and together with a group of fellow students interested in technology, I launched the Tech@Fletcher student group to explore technology in the realms of diplomacy, development, innovation, and business.  I was thrilled to be selected as a Google Policy Fellow during the summer between my first and second years, an internship that brought me to DC to coordinate educational programs on Capitol Hill for Congressional staff to learn about such topics as Internet governance and drone policy (and simultaneously exposed me to the range of organizations and companies engaged in technology policy conversations, a huge help during my job search!).

Aided by a connection I’d forged during my first semester with a Fletcher alum (who I found via LinkedIn and who responded to my initial cold email within 15 minutes with an offer to help), I was lucky to secure a job several months before graduating as the fifth member of a small public interest consulting firm that focuses on the intersection of technology and civil rights.  The hybrid consulting/policy job seemed to require the exact set of skills I learned at Fletcher through course like Field Studies in Global Consulting and Writing to Influence Policy and the Global Debate, and while I was initially hesitant to join such a young organization (coming from a scrappy nonprofit, I thought working for a larger company would be a valuable next step), several people I admire recommended I give it a chance — and the decision to take that leap has turned out even better than I could have imagined. 

In my job, I get to work on cutting edge issues like algorithmic decisions, big data ethics, and online hate speech with some of the leading civil rights organizations and foundations in the country.  We work with advocacy groups like the ACLU and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as well as companies like Google, Facebook, and AirBnB, to address issues of discrimination in online platforms.  Plus, I frequently find myself in meetings with the very same people who I studied while I was at Fletcher.  No pressure!

The advice I always give prospective students is that starting graduate studies with a solid idea of the career you want will help immensely in choosing courses, prioritizing extracurriculars, and picking a capstone topic, and I stand by that advice.  But on the other hand, you never know when something you do for fun or to fulfill a requirement will come in handy: It turns out the the Environmental Economics class I squeezed into my final semester has been surprisingly relevant to Internet policy issues.  Who’d have thought?

Other work I did at Fletcher has also popped up in unexpected and gratifying ways.  A few months after graduating, I converted part of my capstone (which explored how technology companies make foreign policy decisions) into a longform article about the geopolitical quagmires of Google Maps.  Mostly, I wanted at least some of what I’d spent months working on to see the light of day — and then, out of the blue, my piece was picked up by Newsweek!  Perhaps even better, the history of corporate social responsibility that I researched and the analytical framework that I developed for my capstone have helped me on a daily basis as I interface with the tech companies that I analyzed.

I couldn’t be happier to be pursuing my dream career and living in Washington.  For those choosing between graduate programs in DC and Fletcher, I wholeheartedly endorse studying in the Boston area: From the speakers and opportunities at Fletcher, Harvard, and MIT to the independent coffee shops in Davis Square where I wrote all of my papers, to the bonds I formed while holed up in Blakeley Hall during the epic winter of ‘15, Fletcher gave me so much more than just a degree.  I constantly look back on my two years in Medford and know with absolute certainty that I would not have gotten so far so quickly after graduate school had I studied anywhere else. 

One of my favorite parts of my Fletcher experience was procrastinating on my reading in order to weave all of my classmates’ international adventures into the yearly video tradition, “Where the Hell is Fletcher.” While we had a blast watching this and other videos together in ASEAN as we closed out our final semester with the infamous Fletcher Follies, my brilliant Fletcher friends are again scattered all over the world as development economists, diplomats, bankers, and business strategists — and I can’t wait to follow their adventures!

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