Currently viewing the tag: "Outside the classroom"

In April, after I wrote my last post from the Hall of Flags, I was emailing with Manjula Dissanayake, one of the students featured.  A week later, we sat down and he described the incredible path he has followed from his pre-Fletcher days to now.  With Commencement just around the corner, I’m featuring Manjula’s story.

It all starts in 2007, when Manjula was working in finance in the DC area.  He and his roommates had previously raised funds for Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, but they felt they could do more.  They decided to focus their efforts in the area of education, forming Educate Lanka.  Before long, Educate Lanka was occupying so much of Manjula’s time that he decided to dedicate himself to the effort, starting by pursuing graduate study in development and social entrepreneurship, either through an MBA or an international affairs degree.  An application process later, he enrolled in Fletcher’s MALD program in September 2010 as a Board of Overseers Scholar, and quickly got to work on building his own intellectual infrastructure to run the organization, which currently has a core volunteer staff of ten, and a larger pool of about 40 to draw upon.

I should pause here and describe Educate Lanka.  The organization’s main activity is securing micro-scholarships of $10 to $20 for students who lack funds but have a high potential to become future leaders, by connecting the kids with sponsors from around the world.  100% of the sponsorship funds go to the students.  There are no administrative expenses (this being a fledgling organization), but if something comes up, funds are raised through a separate fundraising process, which also generates some scholarships for students without sponsors.  Currently 275 students are receiving scholarships.  A total of 350 have received funds, about 30 of whom have completed school (though a few left school and the program).  There are over 400 sponsors in 15+ countries.  Once they are in the program, the kids are funded through their undergraduate studies, starting as early as fifth grade (age 10).  Over 12 million Sri Lankan Rupees (about US$100,000) has been awarded.

Back to fall 2010.  Manjula settles in, registers for courses, etc.  Good things started to happen pretty much right away.  The first was that Educate Lanka was selected to receive the funds raised through Fletcher’s annual Asia Night event.  That same semester, Manjula drew support from Empower, a project of the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership (IGL).  And Educate Lanka took third place in the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition.  Not a bad start for one semester, and at that point Manjula started to think Educate Lanka had the potential to become a larger organization.

In spring 2011, Manjula took a microfinance class with Kim Wilson, and cross-registered for a Harvard class on education and social entrepreneurship with Fernando Reimers.  Both professors offered advice on complementary models for Educate Lanka, and on how to make the organization more sustainable and scalable.  Should it continue as a 501(c)3 (non-profit)?  Or should it turn into a blended social business?  Also that semester, after attending the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, someone referred him to USAID and the State Department, because he works with the Sri Lankan diaspora community, which led to an invitation to speak at the Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.

Come summer 2011, while also interning in the Education Investment Group of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Manjula was a finalist in the MassChallenge competition, as a result of which he received mentorship and guidance.  Toward the end of the summer, he used a fellowship from IGL to travel to Sri Lanka, visiting the north and east of the country, where Educate Lanka wasn’t yet working.  He returned with a sense of how to achieve near-term organizational expansion in Sri Lanka, including a corporate partnership model.

Meanwhile, Manjula’s roommate, Sadruddin, was thinking of replicating the model in Bangladesh, and had received a good response to the idea.  He hopes to pilot the project by the end of this year.  (Here they are together.)

Back at Fletcher in September 2011, Manjula reconnected with Prof. Wilson and Prof. Reimers, who together mentored him and helped him to think about global replication and to add a corporate partnership model to Educate Lanka.  An MIT class on Development Ventures required him to take his ideas and act on them.  He received another IGL/Empower fellowship to return to Sri Lanka during the winter break.  And he continued entering business plan competitions.  He was one of two finalists in the MIT 100K Elevator Pitch Competition.

His Fletcher classmates sent more funds Educate Lanka’s way from 2011 Asia Night proceeds, and Manjula was one of a small group honored as a UN Volunteer of the Year in Sri Lanka.  Also helpful, more Fletcher students were jumping on board, including a group that wrote a consulting report on the concept of distance learning in Sri Lanka.  He received additional funding from the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises, and IGL is committed to supporting Manjula, even after graduation.

In spring 2012, Manjula was a semi-finalist at the Harvard Social Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition.  And this semester also found him in two classes specifically selected to build his skills set.  Along the way, he needed to write a thesis and do the other things expected of Fletcher students.  Oh, and he attended Clinton Global Initiative University in March, and was an Echoing Green semi-finalist.  In preparing to graduate, he created his own Fletcher Field of Study:  Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in International Development.  (His second field is International Political Economy.)

I asked Manjula to reflect on his Fletcher experience, which seems to have been uniquely successful in connecting him to the local academic community.  He said that he came to Fletcher “with the idea to get more guidance, more advice” and to “test the model and see if it has legs.”  He confirmed that he was able to do that through classes, the business plan competitions, talking to mentors, seeing the response of people who believe in the Educate Lanka model (including some who want to replicate it elsewhere in South Asia and in Africa), and talking in panels and at conferences.  All of this pushed him to move Educate Lanka toward a sustainable social business model while maintaining its core scholarship model.

What’s coming up after graduation?  There are five or six fundraising events set up for the summer.  The model will be starting up in Bangladesh, leading to “Educate World” in many countries.  There’s a plan to start an online platform to arrange one-on-one mentoring for underprivileged kids, enabling knowledge-sharing between the developed and developing world (and also generating more traffic for the Educate Lanka website).  The mentoring program would offer a new means of involvement for people who can’t contribute funds, and builds the community of people Manjula says are energized with “‘change the world’ spirit.”

Finally, Manjula took a minute to say “how much I appreciate all the support and backing I have received from my fellow Fletcher students, from all three classes (’11,’12,’13) with which I had the privilege to share my experience, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni. I owe them my  thanks.”

I’m going to try to keep up with Manjula and Educate Lanka through the coming year, and I’ll report back on Manjula’s post-Fletcher path.  Based on his success in the past two years, I’m guessing there will be plenty to write about.

An established annual event is the Tufts University Energy Conference, in which Fletcher students have played important roles.  This year, the conference chair is Katie Walsh, a second-year MALD student.  Katie describes her involvement below.

At the end of this week, I, along with 34 other Tufts students (from Fletcher, the undergraduate programs, and the other graduate schools) will overrun The Fletcher School to execute the 7th Annual Tufts University Energy Conference (TEC), April 20-21.  More than eight months of planning has gone into this two-day event, with speakers arriving from all over the country and the world to speak on the issues that define our global energy economy.

TEC is an entirely volunteer student-run initiative.  We plan the content, we contact speakers, we ask for funding, we lose countless hours of sleep and send thousands of emails.  Each year, something new has been added to or tweaked in the conference offerings.  These features stem from the creativity, enthusiasm and follow-through of the conference organizers.  At last year’s conference, we introduced the Tufts Energy Competition, Tufts’ first-ever energy-focused student innovators competition, which I helped initiate as the 2011 Marketing Co-Director.  One group of winners used their prize funds to produce a resource guide on low-cost, sustainable and renewable energy technologies in Zimbabwe; the other used them for materials to create a demonstration high-performance hybrid vehicle.

By no measure am I an old hand at energy.  Before coming to Fletcher, I coordinated a Chinese language program at San Francisco State University.  My undergraduate major was history and many of my professional experiences were in international education.  My intention in coming to graduate school was to develop experience and expertise in a completely new field – energy and the environment.

Now, a year and a half into my master’s program at Fletcher, I find myself chairing this year’s energy conference, working at the University’s environmental institute, and fortunate enough to have secured internships in the energy sector both last summer and this, in Washington, D.C. and Beijing, China. When I actually have the time to think about my experiences thus far (such as to write this blog entry), I am just astounded by how much there is to take advantage of at Fletcher, and Tufts as a whole.

Two years ago at about this time, visiting Fletcher’s Open House, I don’t think I could have predicted all that I would have learned so far, the relationships I would have formed, and the opportunities that coming to this school would have afforded me.  But, in visiting the classes, meeting with professors and talking to students — I did get a feeling that Fletcher was different from any of the other graduate programs I was visiting.  I sensed that it was going to be the kind of place that would appreciate the skills I came to school with — inquiry, innovation, ability to implement and organize — and provide me with the space, mentoring and academic rigor I needed to build legitimacy in a new field.  That feeling has proven all too right.

Participating in the Tufts Marathon Challenge is a great opportunity for students to train for and run in the Boston Marathon, one of the most prestigious such races worldwide.  This year, there’s a team of 15 Fletcher students joining the Tufts team.  They have to meet a fundraising goal as a requirement of their participation, and they have worked together (selling “King Cakes,” sponsoring an event at a nearby pub) and individually to meet the goal.

This week, three representatives of the Fletcher team went downtown to the Greek Consulate General in Boston for the ceremony of presenting traditional olive wreaths to the Boston Athletic Association, which will, in turn, present them to the Marathon winners on Monday.  Here’s Vanessa, who told me about the event, with the wreaths next to her:

And since no event would be complete without a Fletcher flag, here are runners Jon, Morgan, and Vanessa, with the Boston Athletic Association president.  To the left is another Fletcher student, Alexandros, who is the liaison between the team and the Greek Consulate.  (I’m obliged to note that the photo is from Alex Mavradis Photography.)

The marathoners have been training for months, balanced (of course) with Fletcher classes.  It’s a big task for experienced runners, and most years the Tufts team will include some relative novices.  The  runners tell their stories on their individual pages to which I’ve linked below.  So, without further ado.  Introducing the 2012 Fletcher runners in the Boston Marathon for the Tufts Marathon Challenge.  Go team!!

Rishikesh K. Bandary
Jocelyn Braddock

Sean Duggan
Rachel Fredman
Jonathan Hirsch
Kathleen Hurley
Kei Koga
Sooyeon Kang
Kosar Jahani
Maria Kingsley
Morgan Lerette
Lauren Liecau
Peter Park
Manny Peralta
Vanessa Vidal Castellanos

I was lucky on Monday to have contacted Lily, who mentioned she had spent her spring break in Singapore with the Fletcher International Business Club.  I can’t believe I nearly missed this interesting news!  Lily saved the day, and best of all, she was happy to write something for me.  Here’s Lily’s report.

While Spring break is a time to rest for most students, some find it a great opportunity to network and build the career connections that will help them land their dream job.  And so six Fletcher students, both first- and second-years, went on a week-long career trip to Singapore.  With a shared strong interest in Southeast Asia, the students met with thought leaders and business executives, company managers and representatives, to learn about the economic and business environment in Southeast Asia, as well as the career opportunities in the region.

Students met with a range of companies, from financial services groups like MasterCard and DBS, to consulting firms such as Accenture and IHS, to oil and gas companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil.  Organized through the Fletcher network, personal contacts, or simply company outreach, the meetings were an amazing opportunity to meet people with extensive experience and expertise in Southeast Asia.

A lively Fletcher community in Singapore was yet another perk of the trip.  A gathering was organized with the extensive support of the Fletcher Alumni Club of Singapore and the gracious hospitality of a Fletcher alumna. Wonderful to meet so many recent and not-so-recent alums in the region.  Their hospitality is unmatched by any measure.

As it often goes — work hard, play hard.  Singapore has some great things to offer!  The highlights:  chilli crab, Singapore sling, chicken rice, and Sentosa!

It was a packed week, exploring the city and its culture, in addition to attending business meetings. Some great videos for Fletcher Follies squeezed in as well!

Interesting – yes!  Useful – even more than I had expected!  Exhausting – to a certain degree!  Worth it – absolutely!

Southeast Asia is a booming economic region and this Singapore trip opened many doors for our Fletcher gang.  We hope to continue this entirely student-led initiative in the future!

Tagged with:
 

While it’s true that Fletcher’s Student Council couldn’t make a decision to, say, offer all students an A grade in every class, it does play an important role in representing students — their views and needs — to the School’s administration.  The Council is composed of first-year and continuing students, and there’s a rep for the PhD program.

Based on reports I’ve seen, the past few years’ Councils have been particularly active, and even hold office hours so that students can express their opinions.  True representative democracy!

But what would be the purpose of working hard on behalf of one’s constituents, if those good citizens of Fletcher never learned the results of the Council’s actions.  Creating awareness fell to Councillor Blake and friend, Lesley.  They channeled 2012′s big Oscar winner in this video report about the Council’s success in arranging after-hours availability of food and supplies — for students who can’t bear to leave the building.

Tagged with:
 

A few weeks back, a virtual Social List brawl nearly broke out among defenders of their favorite poetic tradition.  Yes, blog readers.  Fletcher students will take time away from case studies, thesis writing, extracurricular activities, and the job hunt to argue about Urdu poetry.  As I haven’t had a chance to do the discussants the courtesy of checking with them, I’m going to share the points of discussion without using names (but I can tell you that their cultural or national origins include Pakistan, India, Armenia, Iran, and possibly others).  Also, I don’t endorse any particular viewpoint (being ignorant on this great topic), and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of anything written below.  Plus, I haven’t included the many wikipedia links that were part of the discussion.  With all those disclaimers in place, the great Urdu Poetry debate:

Message 1
Dear Fletcher,
Tufts is organising an Urdu poetry recital on Thursday. Urdu is the language of the poets — that is why Urdu-speaking individuals (namely Pakistanis) are die-hard romantics.   If you are interested in the recital of some of the most influential and famous Urdu couplets — that were responsible for social movements and the spread of ideologies (including Communism), or were just some poor, talented, heart-broken dude venting — come to Cabot 702 on Thursday at 6:30 pm.

Also, we’re trying to find translations for most of the poems.  Another incentive to be there: Chai.  See you all there!

Message 2
From wikipedia:  “There are between 60 and 70 million speakers of Urdu:  There were 52 million in India per the 2001 census, some 6% of the population; 13 million in Pakistan in 2008, or 8%; and several hundred thousand apiece in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United States, and Bangladesh.”

Clearly there are more romantics in India.
#win!

Message 3
Haha!  C’mon, let the Pakistanis have the upper hand in SOMETHING! And citing Wikipedia won’t convince me. :)

Message 4
…and the tradition of Couplet poetry in the subcontinent began when Persians fleeing Shiite conversion settled in the then Mughal Empire. Writing in Persian.  See: Kabir and many others.

Indians, Pakistanis: thanks for the upper hand :)

Message 5
Are you sure?  Kabir died in 1518.  The Mughals’ reign didn’t start until 1526 when Barbur came to power.  Besides, Kabir wrote in Hindi not Persian.

Try again.

Message 6
Yes, I am sure.  Even before the Mughals, the Ghaznavids and Delhi Sultanate were jampacked with Persian poets:  Amir Khusro, the father of Qawwali; Zeb un Nissa, daughter of Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb.

Message 7
The reciting of couplets on the Subcontinent stretches back into far greater antiquity than mere mediæval Gunpowder Empires.  But the Persian tradition is beautiful, and among one of its many adherents who roamed the streets of Lahore and Delhi in the seventeenth century happens to be someone close to my heart.

Upper hand, anyone? Anyone?

Message 8
There actually wasn’t ever a real divide between Persian and Hindi/Urdu in the Subcontinent’s literary tradition.  Amir Khusro wrote in both Persian and Hindvi, as did many other poets of the Mughal era.  (Hindvi being the old version of Hindustani, which would eventually evolve into Hindi and Urdu).  Urdu poets still wrote in Persian, even after Hindi and Urdu developed their own formalized languages and literary registers.  One of the great 20th century Urdu poets, Iqbal, also had an extensive catalog of work in Persian as well.  My uncle studied Persian in school while growing up in Bombay in the 1950s, and he would apparently even recite Persian poems in his sleep (much to the chagrin of my father, who was sleeping in the same room).

The fact that this is a Social List debate makes me think that Fletcher should have a Persian/Urdu poetry night…we clearly have a constituency for it.  (I’m imagining dueling Persian-Urdu ghazals…)

Message 9
And I can add that the fact that there is such a debate on the SL makes me even happier to be here at Fletcher ;) You are incredible!  Have a great day. :)

Tagged with:
 

No one on the Admissions team is afraid of a little brain-straining hard work, but this has been a long week.  Most of us worked last Saturday, and one day of recharging wasn’t enough to ease the sense that we’ve been here continuously since who knows when.  Still, it’s satisfying to move the process forward to the point where we can see beyond the boxes in the back office and imagine interactions with admitted students.  If we can only finish the rest of the tasks still in front of us…

Meanwhile, Fletcher life goes on, and the week has been filled with activities.  Just yesterday, two illustrious alums visited to chat about International Economic Policy for the 21st Century.  Later in the day, Fletcher Students in Security (FSIS) offered pizza and discussion of “From Cadet Grey to Army Green…Reflections of West Point Junior Officers Since 9/11.”  And today, Fletcher is the site of the Tufts 5th Annual China-U.S. Symposium — or, as the organizers like to call it:  塔夫兹大学中美关系年会.  (I can read that, so I know it says what it’s supposed to.)

If only there were more hours in each day.  Sigh.

But we’re keeping our noses to the grindstone and getting it done.  Attending lectures and symposia will need to wait a couple of weeks.

Tagged with:
 

Planning to be in the Boston area this week?  Take advantage of this once-in-four-years opportunity to attend the Los Fletcheros Leap Day Extravaganza.  Fletcheros and fans will be gathering Wednesday, February 29 at Johnny D’s at 8:00 p.m.  Fletchero press releases claim that the “The Los Fletcheros Leap Day Extravaganza Event is one of the most highly anticipated events of Davis Square’s quadrennial celebration!”

Blog readers, don’t be disturbed by the Fletcheros’ tendency to overuse articles (“the” and “Los”) in English and Spanish.  And do consider attending.

I’m going to breeze straight past disappointing sports news from yesterday, and recall, instead, a happier weekend a couple of weeks back.  That’s when much of Fletcher relocated to the mountains of Maine for the annual ski trip.  I asked two students to describe the Sugarloaf experience.

Second-year student, Jenny, fills us in on the organization of the trip:

As a Fletcher student, I never get tired of hearing about the sense of community that students experience here at Fletcher.  In fact, this is what attracted me to the MALD program in the first place.  And now that I am a part of it, I completely understand what I had heard from Fletcher faculty, students, and staff.  Fletcher’s annual ski trip to Sugarloaf Mountain Resort in Maine showed once again why the Fletcher community is so strong.

The annual ski trip is a student-organized event that you do not want to miss.  It’s a chance for all of us to stretch our legs, put down our books, turn off our computers, and get some fresh air during a weekend away.  The dedicated group of students who form the Ski Trip Committee work hard to organize and plan a trip that only strengthens the student community and creates great memories.  Even though the resort is huge, and we are spread out in various cabins, you will always run into a fellow Fletcher student on the slopes, in the cafeteria, in the rental shop, or even in the cabin right next to you.  In the evening, we all convene to show our support for our very own Fletcher band, Los Fletcheros, and share stories of skiing for the first time, falling hard on the slopes, or relaxing in the hot tub all day.  Needless to say, we all thanked the student organizers for planning a great event.

The ski trip is just one example of how students help build a tight-knit community.  Many Fletcher students are involved in planning events such as the Diplomat’s Ball, Fletcher Follies, the four cultural nights, and various speaker events that bring students together in a cultural, diverse, academic, and social environment.  The ski trip shows that the community is not confined to Fletcher’s campus, but exists even when we are away from school.  What connects all student-organized events is that they strengthen the community; and that is the Fletcher experience.

First-year student, Beth, wrote about her first experience with this Fletcher tradition:

The legendary Fletcher ski trip took place recently.  While I was looking forward to it, I had no idea how it could live up to the expectations set by the second years.  All through the fall semester, second years raved about last year’s trip and talked endlessly about the bonding experience.  Somehow, I was doubtful that having 400 students spread over a mountain would really bring us that much closer, when we already spend endless hours together in class, the library, Mugar Café, and Davis Square.

Predictably, I was wrong.  Without the distraction of homework and internship searches, our class finally had the chance to talk about everything else.  Sitting on the ski lift, we chatted about sports, family ski trips, the prior night’s party, and our winter break.  I noticed my friends getting to know other students better and forging new relationships.  My classmates had always impressed me with their hobbies and skills, but I hadn’t had the chance to see most of their talents at work.  Watching them instantly befriend new people, teach each other to ski, fearlessly take on a new sport, or fly down the mountain was truly impressive.

Everything I like about my classmates in school — their supportiveness, their inclusiveness, their confidence, and their sense of adventure — translated perfectly onto the mountain.  As the second years had promised, the ski trip was an opportunity to see my classmates in a new light, and once again be impressed.

Blog readers already know that Fletcher students have talents that extend way beyond the classroom.  Today, allow me to introduce Los Fletcheros.  More accurately, I’ll let second-year student and part-time musician Jeffrey Fine do the introduction.  He was writing in answer to my question, “Are you a Fletchero?” and to my request for information about the group:

I am a Fletchero — trumpet.

As a least-common-denominator, we are all from Fletcher, we like to play music to blow off steam, and we have a propensity for throwing epic musical bashes that attract a broad sampling of Fletcher students.  More specifically, Los Fletcheros is an eight-piece band that has its roots in Fletcher’s cultural nights, but has since morphed into a venue-filling ensemble playing cover music from the jazz, funk, classic rock, pop, and alternative genres.  We now have about five shows in the academic year, plus one epic gala at the annual ski trip.  After graduating much talent last year, we recruited two new first-years who will be press-ganging new Fletcheros after six of us graduate in May.

Have musical talent?  Keep the Fletcheros in mind when you’re deciding if Fletcher is the grad school for you.  Otherwise, there may be pressure on the faculty to agree to the request from first-year Fletchero, Joe, to fail Jeff and other second-years Claire, Sam, Fred, Andrew, and Nick.  Joe writes, “I mean, I wish them all the best, of course, but this is rock and roll!”  Don’t let it come to this, future students.  Instead, help out by joining Los Fletcheros in September.

Spam prevention powered by Akismet