Currently viewing the tag: "First-Year Alumni"

David Tykvart was an Admissions staff favorite during the two years when he worked in the office.  With his post, I’ll close out the updates from the Class of 2016 on their first year post-Fletcher.  David’s early career is a good example of how an international career can be based in one’s home country.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was standing in the Hall of Flags one April, jet-lagged from having flown in the night before from the Czech Republic and taking a quick break from my Fulbright teaching duties to try to make the decision on what graduate program to attend.  The few hours I spent seeing Fletcher firsthand during the Admitted Student Open House solidified for me that Fletcher was more than an academic program with famous professors at the forefront of research on topics from international law to the role of gender in post-conflict reconstruction, who were drivers of important policy decisions as practitioners; or big name administrators like the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.  That day was the beginning of a lifelong journey.

Fletcher was the perfect fit for me.  I arrived thinking that I would join the U.S. Foreign Service.  Most of my international experience was in South America and Eastern Europe.  I had studied international relations, Spanish, and Russian as a college student, and spent most of my summers in South America leading service immersion projects in Quito and working with indigenous communities.  I also studied the West African education system in Ghana, worked at the U.S. Embassy in Peru, spent a year in the Czech Republic as a Fulbright Scholar, and even dabbled in the NGO world working at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  I always loved exploring the world and getting to know the people and diverse cultures along the way.

I can say that the majority of my classmates’ accomplishments and experiences outnumbered mine.  For example, in my class there were: leaders in the armed forces; diplomats from all over the world; an individual who trained local journalists in Iraq to help build the nascent press corps; UN and OSCE employees; educators; medics who worked for Doctors without Borders; conflict resolution experts who worked with the Rohinga.  It was these individuals who became my Fletcher family.  And they very much are today, a year after having left.

As I said, Fletcher is more than an academic program.  It’s a community full of people from all around the globe who are very similar in their passion for the world and making it a better place, but also different in the sense that they bring their views, passions, cultures, and experiences to Medford, Massachusetts.

Besides the incredible student body, the curriculum at Fletcher is designed to give you the flexibility to pursue your interests, while giving you an opportunity to explore new fields of study and to build new skill sets.  For example my two areas of study were Human Security and Democracy & Good Governance.  I was always interested in democratic strengthening and the democratic backsliding we are witnessing throughout the world today, and I was able to create my own Field of Study that aligned with my interests and career aspirations.  I also was able to take a wide variety of classes that mixed theory with practice.  I learned how to write memos and give brief oral briefings working with the former German Ambassador to the United States.  I wanted to strengthen my quantitative skills so I took Econometrics and Corporate Finance.  I learned how to look at global events on a macro and micro level, and learned how to apply the lessons of history into decision making today.  I took classes such as Gender, Culture, and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, Rule of Law in Post Conflict Societies, Law and Development, and Migration and Governance in the Global South.  I was even able to squeeze in some classes that were fun and fascinating like Maritime History and Globalization.  One of the hardest parts about being a Fletcher student is trying to narrow the variety of fascinating classes to four per semester.

But much of the learning and Fletcher experience takes place outside of the classroom.  There is a multitude of ways to be involved and there is a club for literally every interest.  Personally, I was a co-president of the European Club, a researcher on the Fletcher-ICRC joint research study on conflict migration in the Sahel, and I worked in the Admissions Office.  We had culture nights that would bring everyone together; social hours every Thursday in the Hall of Flags; a ski trip to Maine; group hikes; and performances by the Los Fletcheros — the immortal Fletcher cover band.  Not to mention the countless impromptu group outings that led to the inevitable bar crawl with friends.  I even was part of a 12-person Fletcher Ragnar team (FletcherRunEmployed) running a 200 mile team relay that took us to the tip of Cape Cod.  I have friends who have told me they are jealous of my Fletcher crew and how close we are.

While most Fletcher graduates end up somewhere abroad or on the U.S. East Coast, my path took me to Chicago.  During my second year at Fletcher, I was named a Presidential Management Fellow and accepted a position with the Chicago Asylum Office with the Department of Homeland Security.  Currently, I am detailed to the Southwest Border where I work with families from around the world seeking humanitarian protection.  I never imagined that I would be interviewing asylum seekers, coordinating logistics, serving as the on the ground liaison with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and would work with various stakeholders throughout DHS, the private sector, and the advocacy community all at the same time.  Throughout my job search, the Fletcher community never failed me as I spoke and met with Fletcher alums throughout my agency who helped provide me with the insight and advice I needed to get to where I am today.  And no doubt I was able to get to places I never dreamed of today because of my Fletcher experience.

In addition to working in asylum, back at home in Chicago, I also began serving as a board member on the Chicago Sister Cities Prague Committee to keep me connected to the Czech Republic, even as my Fulbright days have long passed, which has allowed me to continue dabbling in what I consider to be public diplomacy.

It has been a little over a year since I graduated and I miss Fletcher.  I had to skip my Fletcher graduation because my sister graduated from college on the same day.  When I returned, my Fletcher family threw me my own graduation: they pulled out the champagne, had me put on a robe, and marched me to campus, through the Hall of Flags and straight to the Registrar’s Office where my diploma was waiting for me.

Now, my former classmates, who are now my lifelong friends, are all over the world and not a day goes by that I don’t hear from one of them.  And when we are all reunited, it feels like we were never apart.  One recent day, at 6:00 a.m. in the lobby of my hotel at the Southern Border, I ran into a good friend from Fletcher.  We used to be in the same study group for our Gender and Conflict class, and she was also sent to the Southern Border as a refugee officer.  When we saw each other at the coffee bar, I was reminded that inevitably our many paths will cross, and whether it is in DC, abroad, or at the Southern Border, we will always be there to support each other.  Because we are forever part of the Fletcher family.

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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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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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Returning to the Class of 2015, Owen Sanderson was a two-year Admissions Office regular, spending time in the office as a volunteer, a paid member of the Admissions Committee, and a good source of conversation.  He was the first person I reached out to when I was looking for a helper for an APSIA graduate school fair in New York last September, and he’s the only student with whom I ever discussed options for engagement rings before he proposed.  His post-Fletcher career is typical in that it’s atypical.

“Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room,” cautions Paul Bennett the Chief Creative Officer of IDEO.  “The conventional heroic leader is a product of the past.”  Cleverness is not a ticket to success at IDEO.

Paul is right.  Despite the deep well of talent at my new employer, IDEO.org, I’ve observed that success here is fueled by one pervasive approach: a commitment to collaboration.

TODAY

Sanderson_FletcherBlog_1I write as I embark on my fifth month at IDEO.org’s New York office.  IDEO.org is a non-profit design and innovation organization associated with its celebrated Silicon Valley brother IDEO.  As a Business Designer — a unique role that blends business sensibilities with thoughtful design — I have seen firsthand how collaboration inspires seriously impressive results.  But this isn’t necessarily news to me, as group work is part and parcel of life at The Fletcher School.

Between 2013 and 2015, I spent two years at Fletcher preparing myself for a pivot into the design world.  Unconventional?  Perhaps.  Effective?  Definitely.  I have always had a decent grasp of international development, having studied it at Georgetown University and having worked in the field for nearly a decade.  However, Fletcher offered an opportunity to consider a contemporary approach to problem solving: Human Centered Design (HCD).  HCD is a creative practice that focuses on people rather than process.  The goal of HCD is to research, design, and build solutions, all while maintaining deep empathy for the women and men you’re designing for.

As a Business Designer I look to design solutions that aren’t just beautiful but viable in the emerging markets in Africa and Asia where IDEO.org works.  Life as a Business Designer takes many forms — from conducting user research to considering a market entry strategy for a new social enterprise to building partnerships with local NGOs to ensure programmatic sustainability.  It is exciting, fast-paced, and challenging.

BEFORE FLETCHER

So how did I navigate to this sweet spot between design and development?  My journey started at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC.  CSIS was hands-down the best first job out of college.  I highly recommend spending at least a few years at a DC think tank.  You’ll learn to write.  You’ll participate in incredible events.  You’ll have access to world-class personalities.  And you may even work down the hall from former statesmen Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski (I did!).  Perhaps most importantly, it was through this job I also met my future wife.  We get married in July—and I am positively joyful.

Following two years at CSIS, I sought to tone my quantitative muscles.  Management consulting called.  I spent three years at Deloitte Consulting, working alongside clients from USAID, the State Department, and beyond.  I dedicated my last year at Deloitte to an internal project that examined the intersection of government, the private sector, and this new thing called social entrepreneurship.  I cannot thank Deloitte partner Bill Eggers enough for exposing me to such interesting work.

AT FLETCHER

After five years away from school, I felt the pull.  Fletcher called.  I distinctly remember visiting the Hall of Flags as a high school junior on a college tour with my mom.  I remember being inspired.  How was I to know that ten years later I would be a temporary fixture in the Hall myself, particularly during Social Hour — Fletcher’s weekly gathering of minds and hungry grad school bellies.

At Fletcher, I focused on reconsidering the international development sector, uncovering new, innovative ways to tackle thorny poverty challenges.  I was attracted to courses like Kim Wilson’s Financial Inclusion and Bhaskar Chakravorti’s Strategy & Innovation in the Evolving Context of International Business.  I refined my consultative approach in Rusty Tunnard’s Field Studies in Global Consulting — and then served as his teaching assistant during my second year.  And I put theory to practice by spending my Fletcher summer in Nairobi, Kenya at the iHub, a co-working and innovation collective.  While there I wrote my capstone on Nairobi’s tech ecosystem and then taught this capstone to Kim Wilson’s class in 2015.  Both my internship and my capstone propelled me into my current gig as a Business Designer.

AFTER FLETCHER

And so now I’m at IDEO.org.  It’s tough.  It’s dirty.  But it’s oh-so-rewarding.  Last month I spent two weeks in Kakuma, Kenya, a 24-year-old refugee camp with approximately 185,000 residents.  Read that sentence again.  A refugee camp.  A 24-year-old, temporary place of sanctuary.  But nothing is temporary in Kakuma.  It is a permanent city.  Our team touched down in Kakuma to rethink (and frankly, redesign) how refugee teachers access professional development services.  With average class sizes of over 100 students and a serious lack of material resources to support teaching, these refugee teachers are eager for support.

I went to Fletcher to learn how to solve big, hairy problems like those I saw in Kakuma.  I am at IDEO.org to solve them.  However, a lone wolf won’t solve these challenges.  As Paul Bennett said, the smartest person in the room won’t have the solution.  Paul is not alone in this belief.  He has advocates across the world, including in Kakuma.  During our second week in the refugee camp, a teacher suggested that problems in the camp are never resolved alone: “We work as a team.  No one is cleverer.”  From Medford to New York to Kakuma, collaboration appears to be the name of the game.

Sanderson_FletcherBlog_3

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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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