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Completing the round of posts from our returning student bloggers, Mark looks back at his first year at Fletcher from his second-year vantage point.

Mark Attia 1I recall that when I arrived on campus last fall to begin the MIB program, I observed our second-year brethren interacting in the halls after returning from summer.  Like long-lost siblings reunited, not a twosome could pass each other without a hearty embrace.  Equally memorable was learning of all the impressive and often exotic ways the MIB’s had spent their summer.  But what was even more inspiring to me was the certainty with which second-years assured us that we, too, are embarking on what promised to be a spectacular year.  They were right.  Our first year has since passed in a blink, and I, for one, learned first-hand what was behind all that enthusiasm.

I last wrote in the spring on how I was developing my own area of expertise by tailoring coursework to specific academic and professional goals.  I was focused on learning about international project and infrastructure finance, and looking for an opportunity to break into the field.  Thanks exclusively to the Fletcher network, I landed a position with OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which was, without exaggeration, exactly what I was aiming for.  OPIC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, and it offers a range of products designed to help U.S. firms invest in emerging markets.  OPIC also plays a meaningful role in advancing foreign policy goals in a way that I characterized as “fostering peace, through superior debt financing,” which is my own commentary on how militarism has been eclipsed by more subtle measures of economic statecraft and leverage.

I joined the Structured Finance division, where my team and I worked on loans for large and complex multi-party projects, including a wind farm in Pakistan, a concentrated solar power plant in Israel, and a social-impact-oriented housing finance facility in Haiti — projects that cost over one billion dollars together.  My responsibilities included credit analysis, due diligence, research on foreign regulations, economic assessments, and interpreting elaborate concession and loan agreements; all tasks that required me to draw on my training outlined in my earlier post on a daily basis.  But what arguably proved to be most invaluable was a broad and nuanced understanding of the global context in which I was operating, enabling me to offer authentic perspectives on matters with an insight that only Fletcher can provide.

The experience convinced me that, in purely commercial terms, the MIB program equipped me with precisely the right set of skills and body of knowledge to excel in an internationally focused financial career that was otherwise entirely new to me, and it was Fletcher that made the opportunity possible.  But the value Fletcher creates for us does not stop there.  In my case, I have participated in the Building Bridges Symposium to learn from the industry’s foremost thought leaders, and have been provided connections to many astonishing alumni in the field, including international banker John Greenwood (F04), prolific builder Philip Asherman (F04), and pioneer Mimi Alemayehou (F98).  These are just a fraction of the resources available to us, all part of a brilliantly executed mission to prepare future leaders for the global stage and illuminate a path forward.

Returning to campus this fall, I was greeted in the hallway by our dean, James Stavridis (F83, F84 and the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, mind you), who inquired about my summer with equal fascination as a parent.  The moment was striking, and reinforced a sentiment solidifying in my mind since I first witnessed those second-year classmates interact.  There is an unmistakable culture that resonates throughout Fletcher, a kind of kinship that binds not only students together, but also us to our faculty, to our staff, and to our alumni.  In my view, our culture is the real prize, the engine of enduring value, and an honor to be a part of.  Like my classmates before me, I know first-years will discover their untapped potential, see locked doors swing open, and become a part of the Fletcher family, as I have; and all after merely one year.

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It had always been my plan to line up a first-year MIB student to contribute to the Student Stories in the blog.  I just hadn’t anticipated it would take me until March.  My own lack of speed notwithstanding, I’d like to introduce Mark Attia, a first-year (at least for two more months) MIB student.  Following his second year, Mark will leave Tufts with two master’s degrees — from Fletcher and from the department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.  That (MIB and UEP) is, to date, a unique combination, and today he writes about how he (or you) can develop expertise at Fletcher.

Mark Attia 1

Mark and his sidekick, Hazel.

For Fletcher students with wide-ranging curiosities, choosing from some 80 fascinating courses offered each semester is like shopping in an “intellectual candy store,” as one of my professors put it.  But, for those of us who have more narrowly focused interests, it may not be obvious how Fletcher’s interdisciplinary curriculum will make it possible to build a thorough body of knowledge in the area of your unique passion.  After all, there may not be a specific course on, say, private equity frameworks for emerging markets, impact investing, or sustainable commodity financing.  Yet each of these are precisely the kind of subject areas that some of my classmates are exploring, well beyond the scope of our syllabi.

To a great extent, the well designed and complementary Fields of Study and breadth requirements will help concentrate your efforts.  Even so, there is yet another avenue through which you can develop your own area of expertise: within most courses, you’ll find the flexibility to select case studies and write research papers on matters of your choosing pertaining to the subject area.  In my experience, this option is a powerful way to examine an area of scholarship from multiple perspectives, and emerge from Fletcher fully armed with an arsenal of hand-picked skills and knowledge.

Here is how I am approaching developing my own areas of expertise.  But first, let me give you a bit of background.  In my view, global urbanization is the most consequential development of our lifetime; a phenomenon which carries far-reaching implications for all facets of the socio-economy, environment, and business.  I see a rapidly evolving world where our attention will increasingly be focused on the opportunities found in emerging-market cities, and I turned to The Fletcher School to deepen my understanding of this global urban context.  Before Fletcher, I had a mix of experience, including with a major water utility and a low-income housing finance bank, and I subsequently pursued a degree in Urban and Environmental Planning here at Tufts.  For my Fletcher Fields, I selected International Finance and Banking and International Political Economy.  My aspiration is to harness these experiences and learning and join a private firm with global reach engaged in developing core civil infrastructure assets and real estate.

Right from the start, I began asking questions relevant to my interests.  For example, what is the role of real estate bubbles in triggering a financial crisis?  In one elective, History of Financial Turbulence and Crises, I was able to research elements of the relationship, and discovered ill-forgotten lessons from around the world.  How do we solve inhumane slum conditions in frontier cities?  In Development Aid in Practice, I presented to the class on an innovative incremental-housing solution that is addressing the burgeoning urban slums in India.  How is urbanization impacting the environment?  In Elements of International Environmental Policy, I wrote a final paper on the benefits and challenges for cities and surveyed policies aimed at sustainable urban development.  How do we finance the infrastructure that the world needs to grow?  In Large Investment and International Project Finance, our case analyses covered sectors from high-speed rail, to the Three-Gorges Dam, toll-roads in Europe, and oil assets in Kazakhstan.  How do we negotiate cross-boarder deals?  In Mergers & Acquisitions, a law class, I examined the takeover of Australian infrastructure assets by a Canadian firm.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

In total, I have largely relied on the magic of the proven Fletcher formula to guide my learning.  But I have also been encouraged and given the resources to dig deeper into my passion through my coursework.  (By the way, I am entirely ignoring the irreplaceable contribution of our extraordinary classmates, faculty, and guest speakers in this discussion, but these are easily the subject of other posts.)  If you’re not sure where your passion lies, at Fletcher you will embark on an intellectual adventure that will expose you to a world of fascination.  But, if you are confident that you know your academic goals, Fletcher offers a limitless reservoir of resources and opportunities to help you achieve these goals and emerge exceptionally well prepared for any career.

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