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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.

Keith, during field studyI 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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I had an idea last year but didn’t quite succeed in implementing it.  One major tweak later, I’m happy to write that I will soon start an occasional series of reports from members of the Class of 2014 on their life after Fletcher.  Unlike my (lack of) strategy for the Class of 2013, which resulted in only three posts, last April I snagged volunteer writers before they could leave campus.  Most have given me a date by which I can expect to hear from them, and I look forward to sharing these stories from our newest graduates about their move back into the working world and how they have applied their Fletcher educations.

The first report from First-Year Alumni will appear in the Blog tomorrow.

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I recently heard from Justin, a 2013 grad, who offered to share his reflections on his first months since graduating.  I love volunteers!  And here is Justin’s report.

As I reflect on my experience at Fletcher, I can hardly believe it’s been three years since I made the decision to attend graduate school.  In early 2011, I was living in New York and working as a manager at a Big 4 consulting firm.  Though I was making a good living, I felt that my career had plateaued, and I wanted to burnish my credentials to pursue the international business career I had always dreamed of.  Fletcher’s MIB program offered exactly what I was looking for — core business training within the context of a school famous for its international affairs curriculum.  So I went for it.  And three years later, I can happily say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Justin EttingerI entered Fletcher with a clear mission:  to position myself for a great job when I graduated.  While I certainly worked hard in the classroom, I also made networking one of my top priorities from the start.  By constantly speaking with alumni and attending events, I developed a clear sense of the path I wanted to take by the end of my first year, and my efforts generated three internship offers, all through alumni connections.  I ultimately chose to work in Latin America strategy at Converse Inc. (a Nike subsidiary).

Converse opened many new doors for me.  A successful summer led to an offer to continue working part-time during my second year (Converse is based in Boston), and I used that time to develop my capstone — a three-year commercial strategy for the brand in Brazil.  Working part-time on top of studying full-time was certainly a major commitment, but it enabled me to apply context to all of the new skills I was learning in the classroom.  The Fletcher alumnus I worked for, Dave Calderone (F’87), was an excellent mentor who exposed me to many facets of the global footwear industry.  He played an instrumental role in my education.  And the day after graduation, I started working full-time for Dave as a Strategic Planning Manager for Latin America at Converse.

After a few months, I made a personal decision to move to San Francisco.  I’m now working as a Senior Manager of Business Development for the Old Navy brand at Gap, Inc., where I’m responsible for adding new markets to Old Navy’s international franchise portfolio.  In the coming year, I’ll be traveling extensively around the world to visit retail markets and meet with potential new franchise partners.  I’ll be negotiating contracts, examining import/trade implications, constructing financial models, and truly building a global business.  It’s a job I could only have dreamed of before Fletcher.

My life has changed significantly over the last three years.  I now have lifelong friends all over the world.  I’ve been to 10 new countries on three continents.  I think about global business issues in an entirely new way.  And I got the international career I had hoped for.  Deciding on graduate school is a major life decision indeed, but it works if you work it.  So be deliberate, be decisive, have an open mind, and go for it.

Oh, and one last thing.  Support Los Fletcheros!

More and more Class of 2013 alumni are feeling settled in their new lives, opening (I hope) the door for me to feature more of their stories.  For now, I’m happy to introduce Margot Shorey.  Margot, a two-year veteran of the Admissions Committee, visited the office a month ago, and I asked if I could persuade her to write for the blog.  Happily, I could.  So here’s her story.

Margot ShoreyBefore Fletcher, I was living and working in Washington, DC — a city I have always been drawn to — with some medium-term stints in Africa.  While at Fletcher, I struggled to figure out if I wanted to take a position in the field, finding a way to implement projects related to my interest in African security, or to return to DC to focus on U.S. policy in Africa.  This decision was not easy for me, as some of the best experiences in my short pre-Fletcher career occurred while working with project teams in Chad and Senegal.  On the other hand, I was sometimes very lonely abroad, missing my friends and community back in DC.  I had learned a lot about the challenges of implementing USAID projects, but wanted a broader perspective to ask why the U.S. was even running such programs in Africa.  Particularly with everything I learned at Fletcher, I sought an active role in shaping U.S. policy in such a critical region.  I really wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in.

Whew!  These were hard questions that stressed me out even more than a three-hour, all-you-can-write, grade-determining Role of Force exam.  (In December 2011 I didn’t think anything could stress me out more than that.)  Luckily, all my classmates and friends were struggling with the same decisions and were there to talk them out with me.  From conversations in the Hall of Flags, to advice from our senior military fellows, to Togo-New York-Cambodia gchats during summer internships, I aired my anxieties and listened to how my friends were thinking about their post-Fletcher lives.

For now, I’ve decided to return to DC, where I’m working for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), one of five regional centers of the Department of Defense.  I support academic outreach programs with members of the African security sector on civil-military relations, respect of democratic values, and other U.S. security priorities on the continent.  Recently, for example, we held a three-week program in DC for 60 rising African security sector leaders.  I conducted research and prepared background materials for the participants on ethical leadership, served as the point of contact for over 30 guest speakers, and got to interact with some amazing participants.  Recently, while discussing guest speakers with colleagues for an upcoming program, I kept saying, “Oh, I know her, she went to Fletcher and is awesome,” or “She went to Fletcher.  I don’t know her personally, but I’ve heard Professor Shultz rave endlessly about her, so she must be great.”  After hearing quite a bit of this, my coworker turned to me and asked if we could populate the guest speaker list exclusively with the Fletcher network.  Yep — I’m pretty sure we could.

Through my job, I’ve been able to gain a deeper understanding of the security challenges in Africa, as well as the U.S. policy structure, and I’ve started to build a network within the Africa security community here in DC.  But I’ve also learned a lot about what it means to work for the U.S. government, which has been at times a bit frustrating.  Although I certainly enjoyed my time with Netflix during my brief paid vacation in early October, the government shutdown presented a serious planning challenge and threatened to cancel our program altogether.

Living in DC is not all about work, of course.  Fortunately, many of my friends from before Fletcher are still here, but there is also a large Fletcher crowd from my class, who I see often.  The best part is that everyone is always up for a new adventure, even if it doesn’t involve leaving DC.  We’ve splurged on an après-ski event at a fancy hotel bar, just because it seemed fun, tried some of the hundreds of new restaurants in the city, hosted birthday/holiday/just-because parties, and will be delivering holiday meals to seniors together.  I run into Fletcher people on the Metro, at work programs, at networking events, and at social gatherings where I didn’t know anyone from Fletcher would be.  It’s true — Fletcher is everywhere in DC.

So, I know I made the right post-Fletcher decision for me.  But do I get a tinge of envy when I hear about my friends who are currently traveling the world?  Of course I do — I wouldn’t be a Fletcher grad if I didn’t.

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Last month I needed to contact our volunteer interviewers and I used an email list that included recent grads.  Though I apologized for including them in the email, I also invited them to write about their post-Fletcher lives for the blog.  Instant success!  In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing reports from several of our newest alumni.  The first report comes from Ana Garcia, who reflects on her current work and provides some thoughts for our new students or applicants.

Ana FletcherMy first memory of Fletcher goes back to the day I entered the Hall of Flags.  I walked in, looked up, and there it was, the Fletcher flag!  I had finally made it: after all the effort, the paper work, and…a “suggestion” to take an English language course during the summer.  Two years and two months later, I find myself here, writing about my activities, now as a Fletcher graduate.

I belong to the amazing Class of 2013 MALD group, which included many like me who wondered how we were going to make it all the way to graduation day.  And like many of my classmates, I thought that I would fly out into the world right after getting my diploma.  Instead, Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston are still my home.  I currently work at Conflict Dynamics International, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on preventing and resolving violent conflicts.  My work here is linked to two extremely interesting projects: one that aims to identify the main constraints for humanitarian access in countries in conflict; the other one focused on violations of children’s rights in conflict and post-conflict settings.  It sounds like a Fletcher type of job :) and it is!  (Given, also, that most of my coworkers are former classmates.  Yep, the Fletcher alumni community starts close to campus.)

Staying in Boston, while many of my friends have left the city for Washington, DC, New York, or their home countries, was the first surprise of my life as a Fletcher grad.  The second surprise of my postgraduate life was realizing how intense being a Fletcher student was.  Suddenly, I have found myself with TIME: time to be by myself or with my friends, to walk, to watch endless t.v. shows.  Despite those feelings, I would never have missed all the all-nighters with my study groups (yes, you will have those), all those coffee refills, cultural nights, and house parties.  Fletcher is a place to learn, but also to live, to fail, and to challenge yourself.

Fletcher gave me the chance to do things and meet some of the most important people in my life, often not in class.  Organizing cultural nights, dancing the waltz, participating in debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or painting the cannon in pj’s are all things I encourage current students to do.  You may not know it yet, but you gain skills from those experiences that are as valuable in a work environment as any class you can take.

My summer has been extraordinarily fun, but also professionally rewarding.  I had the opportunity to collaborate in different interesting projects on negotiations and humanitarian aid while I also brushed up on my Arabic skills.  Boston has been, and currently is, the place where I will continue the transition toward that job for which I came to Fletcher, and this will happen during this Fall.  In the meantime, I have learned the most important lesson of all: Don’t rush, take your time, don’t be hard on yourself.  At Fletcher, we are all overachievers, smart and creative people.  We will do great things.  For now, I’ll be ready and open to the uncertainty, the world of opportunities and options that is out there.

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