Currently viewing the tag: "Student Stories"

I suppose that most Fletcher students ultimately miss a class or two — they’re out and about for a job interview, or they attend a special lecture and ask a classmate to take notes for them.  I’m pretty sure, though, that I’ve never (in my long Fletcher life) heard of a student returning a week late from spring break, due to his music tour through Russia and Europe.  Here’s Mirza’s report, which hit my email inbox on Sunday, midway through the tour.  Blog readers in Belgium can catch the final gig Saturday night at the Dunk! Festival.

As I was preparing for my new life as a graduate student at Fletcher last summer, I made a decision to no longer pursue music in any capacity, in order to focus all my attention on school.  As music for me was never just a hobby, I couldn’t envision balancing the demanding schedule of running a small business that I am passionate about while concurrently being a full-time student.  In addition, my music partner was in the midst of his own MA degree, and together we simply could not dedicate sufficient time to Arms and Sleepers.  We talked about it, and decided to call it quits.

Throughout my first semester at Fletcher, however, I realized that despite the busy and hectic graduate school schedule, most students maintain their personal interests and successfully balance their professional aspirations with personal passions.  This is why there are so many student clubs, after all, and even a school band, Los Fletcheros.  Through my classmates, I learned that it’s a good thing that the library is not open 24/7, that Fletcher shouldn’t take up 100% of one’s time and energy, and that pursuing other interests makes for a healthier and more fulfilling graduate school experience.  By the end of the fall semester, I decided that there was nothing really wrong or impossible about calling oneself a musician and a graduate student at the same time.  My schedule would certainly prove tricky, but not unmanageable.

One of my first endeavors as I return to music has been a two-week long tour of Europe and Russia.

Tour schedule

One week fell during the spring break, and for the second week I will be missing a couple of classes.  I decided that this would be a worthwhile pursuit, since it means that I would not need to be employed during the semester, allowing me to focus on my studies.  By working intensely for two weeks, instead of a few hours each week, I could set up a schedule for the semester that would suit my personal preferences.  Moreover, taking a small break from Medford and doing something completely different for two weeks would provide mental rejuvenation.  Though completing assignments while traveling non-stop is exhausting, being in an entirely different mindset for a short while could be quite rewarding.  Finally, pursuing several passions is never a bad thing, no matter how divergent they may be.  Each has its own benefits and can contribute immensely to personal growth.

Arms and SleepersI am writing this blog entry at a Starbucks next to Red Square in Moscow, Russia.  The tour thus far has been extremely demanding and hectic (two hours of sleep last night, travel early in the morning, write a short paper today, perform tonight), but I am quite happy to be exploring new places, meeting new people, and being in a different environment from my usual day-to-day.  I have managed to complete class readings, and will even try to Skype into one of my Fletcher classes.  I am also meeting two admitted students in Moscow and Kyiv, Ukraine to chat about Fletcher.  So, though a busy schedule, it’s proving to be personally rewarding, fulfilling, and memorable.

The lesson for me — mostly learned from my classmates — has been that managing several different interests while in graduate school is possible and perhaps even worth it.  Not only that, but if you can maintain in some capacity your pre-Fletcher work position, it could be a good way to pay for your living expenses while in school.  (The burritos and frozen yogurts in Davis Square.  The vending machine snacks during marathon library sessions.)  Not everyone will have this option, but for those who do, it’s worth considering before setting foot on campus.

(Photos were borrowed from the Arms and Sleepers facebook page.)

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Medford-Somerville mapAs I mentioned, last week was spring break for students.  Roxanne used her time to write about how she likes to spend her Sundays when not on vacation.  She also suggested that I explain why we refer to the campus as being in Medford/Somerville.  This old map shows why.  The dotted line is the Medford/Somerville boundary.  The highlighted portion is Fletcher field, and the F represents Fletcher (though not to scale).  So you can spend happy hours walking on and off Fletcher field, crossing town lines as you do so.  (Medford.  Somerville.  Medford.  Somerville.)  But back to Roxanne.  Here’s her prescription for a perfect spring Sunday:

As I write this blog post, I am pretending the winter is over.  The snow melting in the driveway co-exists with buds on trees, and the part of me that was looking forward to experiencing four distinct seasons upon her arrival in the Northeast is ready for the next season to arrive.  I have cherished the long, slow, beautiful Boston fall and the accompanying foliage, the many snowflakes of winter and the legendary Fletcher Ski Trip and snowball fight they inspired, and I am now ready for the river to thaw.  In the spirit of sharing what I am looking forward to in the Fletcher neighborhood, here is a glimpse into what would constitute my perfect spring Sunday in Medford/Somerville.

First, a sacred ritual of the weekend: brunch.  Better yet, an affordable, graduate-student-friendly brunch.  Sound Bites and its stuffed French toast are favorites, as are their bottomless coffee and the Syrian managers with whom I reminisce about our time in Aleppo, particularly at a time when Aleppo is the site of much heartbreak.  Renee’s Café, open from Wednesday to Sunday, is another favorite local business, whose menu is colorfully handwritten onto a chalkboard and whose staff members fill a weekend with smiles.  And if you are in a rush and must skip sit-down breakfast, you have to stop by Magnificent Muffin, where the line snakes out the door for the yummiest muffins and iced coffee in the neighborhood.  Now, allow me to cheat for a minute and veer away from my weekend plan, and say that if this were the middle of the week, you would not be able to skip Masala. On weekdays, their $8 all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, with free servings of garlic naan, is a culinary highlight and the warmth of the Masala employees is equally memorable.

Back to the vision of a sunny spring weekend, though….The kayak that is defrosting on the balcony wishes to go for a float down Mystic River, around the corner, perhaps all the way to Mystic Lake.  And if we are in more of a biking mood, the Minuteman Bikeway is — you guessed it — around the corner as well.  Middlesex Fells Reservation is a terrific place to hike, and the watertower at the top offers beautiful views of downtown Boston.

Speaking of downtown Boston…on the first Friday of the month, a number of Boston museums — including the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art on the waterfront — offer a “Night at the Museum,” with DJs, wine, and an opportunity to wander through the galleries with a different ambiance.  Museum admission is free with a Tufts ID — and while you are exploring, do not miss the courtyard of the beautiful Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

At this point, you have likely run out of weekend time, and that is before I have had the chance to share a few other Boston favorites:  bookstores, cafés, experiences around my former neighborhood of Harvard Square, and all the talks, panels, and events happening at the many universities around town.  Stay tuned for more tours of the area, and hopefully, for some images of spring to complement the photographs of Fletcher seasons.

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I’ve been very pleased with my new-this-year Student Stories feature on the blog.  An attentive reader might ask, “Why so pleased?  They haven’t been writing much lately.”  True, critical reader.  But here’s why I’m happy.  When I asked each of the students if they wanted to inaugurate this blog theme, they all said yes.  I appreciate enthusiasm — this was my first team and I didn’t need to go to my bench!  When I met with each writer for the first time, I emphasized that there are plenty of places on the Fletcher web site to read interesting, but formulaic, student profiles.  My hope was that we would work together to develop ideas for posts, and I have basically gone along with any idea they’ve presented.  Overall, I didn’t know what the feature would look like when we launched it in October, but I knew that all would be clearer by the end of the academic year, in May.

But back to the fact that the writing tends to arrive in spurts (after winter break, for example).  In this case, the reasons why they’re not writing may be as interesting as what they would have written.  Let’s start with Maliheh.  She emailed me an apology last week for not having submitted a promised post, but she really needn’t have apologized — I know exactly what she’s up to.  She’s processing the bounty of acceptances she has received to PhD programs around the country.  Was I surprised to learn of her success?  No I was not.  Maliheh is amazing.  Don’t tell her I said that — she’s also humble.

What’s Mirza up to?  He told me late last semester that he took on a research project that was intellectually satisfying, but used a lot of his time.  Then, over the winter break, he and his musical partner revived their duo, Arms and Sleepers.  They played some local gigs, and planned an amazing tour for Mirza’s spring break. In Europe or Russia?  Don’t miss this opportunity to catch a performance — who knows whether this tour will be their last.

(I’d like to add a little practical note here.  One of the reasons Arms and Sleepers is back is that Mirza realized his earnings potential is greater building on a past success than taking a part-time campus job.  Many students are able to do something similar — consulting part time for a past employer, for example.  File that away in your mental financial plan!)

Back to the writers.  Scott has promised me a piece very soon.  Not much more to say there.  Roxanne continues to be very busy on campus with the Storytelling Forum (the website includes more and more content) and a new series of conversations about gender issues (curricular and more broadly) at Fletcher.  Nonetheless, I arrived at work this morning and found an email from Roxanne containing her next post.  I’ll share it as soon as I can.

Which leaves Manjula who, though an alumnus now, was the student who made me think that following students’ stories as they pursued their individual paths through Fletcher would be a good idea.  Manjula has a million things going on connected to his organization Educate Lanka.  A lot of them are in the “we’re a finalist” or “just need to sign the contract” phase, so we agreed to hold off on an EL update.  But the organization more than keeps him busy, and any free moments can be spent writing for a larger audience on topics such as Unleashing Potential Through Education.

As much as Educate Lanka fills Manjula’s days, he still sets aside time for other activities, such as getting married.  He shared some amazing wedding photos with me.  I would love to post every single one of them — they’re that beautiful — but I’ll settle for just this one.

Manjula told me that the wedding outfits that he and his bride, Chara, wore are traditional in Kandy, the region of Sri Lanka that Manjula comes from.  He explained that Kandy was the last kingdom in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the traditional wedding attire derives from royal regalia.  He said, “The outfit I wore is called the Kandyan Nilame.  And Chara’s jewellery and the ceremony that we followed are also according to the Kandyan traditions.”

So, blog friends, that’s what my writers are up to.  Given their interesting busy lives, I’m happy to wait a little longer for their next posts.

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The final word of the week on the Office of Career Services and the career trip to Washington, DC comes from Roxanne, who is using the trip to think through her internship objectives.

Prior to arriving at Fletcher, permanence was fleeting.  My work with women affected by conflict drew me from one country to the next, uprooting me from one community only to parachute into another.  In addition to the questions this model raised about the continuity and sustainability of impact, the lifestyle also made me crave tucking the suitcase away and putting down roots.  The depth of these roots was not important; I did not, at the time, long to own a home of my own and grow old there.  But when I arrived at Fletcher, I found myself relieved that I could have a permanent address that, in turn, allowed me to build routines and relationships that were difficult to sustain while I did field work in conflict management.

For the first five months after arriving in the U.S. to enroll at Fletcher, I did not board a single flight, perhaps out of a resistance to burst the bubble of permanence I have come to cherish.  I finally traveled for the New York City Career Trip, organized by the Office of Career Services to allow students to consider their career and internship options.  This week, I am heading to Washington with my classmates for the DC Career Trip and the itinerary is packed with site visits at international organizations, government agencies, and NGOs.  The internship search requires each of us to consider a set of questions:  Do I wish to remain in the U.S. or work internationally?  Am I hoping to use the summer experience to gain insight into a potential career track, build a relationship with a new organization, deepen an existing relationship with an institution, or try something entirely new to me?  Am I honing a specific set of skills, diversifying my experience, or attempting to create a medley of all possible options?

Self-reflection is the first, and perhaps the most critical, step of the process.  Identifying mentors and soliciting input is a necessary next step.  Through conversations with professors and career advisors here, as well as in late-night discussions with classmates, we each seek to figure out which organizations and opportunities suit our personal and professional priorities.  Once we have honed a list of organizations that interest us, the process of networking kicks into high gear.  That is where Fletcher’s current students and alumni are the most powerful resource, helping their peers connect with current or former employers or with organizations of interest.  It is a season of email writing, of introducing new colleagues to old supervisors, and new friends to old mentors who may be able to guide them.  Many of us have scheduled informational interviews during the DC Career Trip to gain a better understanding of the professional trajectory in our fields of interest and of the best way to prepare for a career in them.

To that end, during the DC Career Trip, I will be having coffee with a Fletcher alumna with vast experience in the intersection of gender and conflict.  I will also participate in a site visit to a research and policy group that focuses on women in conflict areas, and attend a panel on conflict resolution-related opportunities.  At each of these events, I will be reflecting on the skills I need to develop, the questions I should be asking of myself and others in this field, and the roles and careers in this field that I may not have otherwise been aware of or considered.

A lot of these professional questions intersect with the personal questions I was considering prior to coming to Fletcher:  Am I envisioning a career in constant motion?  Do I picture myself living internationally or within a particular country?  In the field or at headquarters?  Working with the UN, as I once did, or with a different agency?  In a research and policy-oriented role or on the implementation side of projects?  Stay tuned for the answers in my next installment of the Student Stories series….

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Incoming Fletcher students have their first interactions with the Office of Career Services during Orientation, which means everyone focuses early on sharpening professional profiles and identifying internship opportunities.  Today, Maliheh tells us how she built her partnership with OCS.

My experience with the Office of Career Services at the Fletcher School has been wonderful.  From the first day, the staff has gone above and beyond in supporting me with my career search.  As an international student, I was facing unique challenges as I sought to build my career and find an internship.  Aside from employment restrictions imposed by U.S. immigration regulations, I was concerned about cultural differences that could affect my ability to successfully present my qualifications.  I was surprised to learn how different an American résumé looks from a résumé I might prepare for employment in my home country.  I had heard something about “networking” as a job-search strategy, but didn’t know that in the U.S., the primary way people get professional positions is through networking appropriate and effective contacts.  I didn’t even have any idea on how I could begin the networking process.

In my search for a summer internship, I relied on the help of Career Services.  The diverse skills and knowledge of the OCS staff matches pretty well with the diverse student body at Fletcher.  Getting a job or an internship in an international organization can be challenging, but there are many opportunities to get your “foot in the door,” which all need a good knowledge of the organizational structure and business culture in that organization.  Before I began my search for an internship within the UN and the World Bank, Career Services helped me in building my résumé and tailoring it to the needs of these organizations, and they helped me to find the appropriate way to approach my contacts.

Initially, I would stop by OCS every other day to ask very detailed questions on how to correspond with my contacts, but gradually I could be more independent than that.  Their assistance helped me find a place where I truly enjoyed working, the World Bank. During my summer at the World Bank, I was amazed to discover how many Fletcher alumni are working there, including two of the bank vice presidents, Rachel Kyte and Hassan Tuluy.  Using the Fletcher network, when I was at the bank, I was offered another internship position at the World Resources Institute, where I had always dreamed to work.  After two months of research at WRI, I received an award that is offered to WRI’s best summer researcher.  I mention this not to brag, but to say that all Fletcher students have the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their careers.

About one year ago, as a first-year MALD student, I was filled with fear and stress about the internship search.  I knew that finding a substantive internship can be difficult even for U.S. students, and the challenge would be greater for me, an international student.  By the end of the spring, having drawn on the support of OCS, I was fortunate to be able to select from several internship offers.  Now, as a graduating MALD student, I am extremely grateful for the resources offered within Career Services as they helped me in reaching the next phase of my career path.  Looking forward to my next job search, I no longer have the fear I felt only a year ago.

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Fall slipped away without a second post from Mirza, but I’m happy to say that he’s still very much part of our Student Stories feature.  Unlike Maliheh, who is in the final semester of her MALD program, Mirza has completed only four courses, and is now taking his second group of four.  Graduating students’ curricula have a way of looking very planned and intentional.  What Mirza shares below is that the curriculum formation process is best approached with an open mind.

After submitting my enrollment deposit for the Fall 2012 semester, I immediately began compiling a comprehensive list of courses and Fields of Study that I wished to pursue at Fletcher.  The idea was simple and quite reasonable: the more prepared I was at the outset of my Fletcher career, the more I would get out of the MALD program by the end of its two years.  I spent the summer before my first semester crafting intricate tables with various combinations of courses, highlighting breadth requirements with tacky colors, and endlessly matching courses with depth and certificate requirements.  I even met with a professor and emailed the Office of Career Services.  I was determined to be as prepared as possible.  Though I did also manage to do other (more fun) activities over the summer, this “figuring out my two years at Fletcher” became a passion, if not an obsession.

So, naturally, I strolled into class Shopping Day after the week-long Orientation thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  For me, these shopping sessions would be purely informational since I had my class schedule firmed up — not only for this semester, but for the ensuing three semesters as well.  Everything needed to happen in a particular manner for my academic grand strategy to materialize.  There was no room for deviation — that’s what undergraduate study had been for, after all.

My grand strategy lasted for about 24 hours.  One full day of classes, and I was back at the drawing board.  Slowly but surely, I was switching from one class to another.  Econometrics replaced finance.  A security studies class replaced a law class.  International communication replaced policy analysis.  By the time the add/drop period ended, I had switched all but one of my original classes.  The prudent summer planning was in shambles, and I was rethinking my entire approach to the academic curriculum at Fletcher.  The simple truth was that everything — classes, people, events, and new opportunities — was exciting, but also slightly overwhelming.

What I learned was that being here matters.  Even though two years is a short amount of time, and knowing one’s academic direction and career trajectory is essential, there is only so much that can or should be planned prior to joining Fletcher in person.  Why?  For me, the key was meeting peers who voiced passionately just how interesting and useful a particular class is — a class I didn’t think much about when reading its description in the course bulletin.  I also came to understand the importance of studying with a great professor — even if I don’t ultimately specialize in that professor’s field of expertise, I will value his or her contribution to my development as a productive and successful Fletcher student.  And factoring the advice of peers and professors into my course selection will help me create the curriculum that will best support my job search and career.

Once classes began, I also discovered the importance of being involved in the Fletcher community outside of class, leading me to redistribute my course load for a more realistic balance.  And, finally, before I enrolled, I hadn’t foreseen that learning and intellectual growth can take unexpected turns, and even at the master’s program level, it is possible to discover new — and previously untapped — interests.

If you are planning for your Fletcher program, take it from me, you simply cannot anticipate all this without being here, and that is entirely o.k.  Those two special (and potentially most memorable) years of your life begin in late August, and the real planning starts in the Hall of Flags.

Mirza’s first semester classes:
Econometrics
Processes of International Negotiation
Internal Conflicts and War
International Communication

And this semester:
Entrepreneurial Marketing: Building a Winning Business Plan
Analytic Frameworks for International Public Policy Decisions
Political Economy After the Crisis [cross-registered at Harvard]
Values, Interests, and the Crafting of U.S. Foreign Policy [cross-registered at Harvard]

Fields of Study:
International Information and Communication
International Business Relations
International Security Studies

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Prospective students always ask about the path to Fletcher from wherever they are in their education or professional life.  Today I’m introducing first-year MIB student, Scott Snyder, the next participant in the blog’s Student Stories feature, and I’m going to do so by walking you through his résumé.  Scott and I sat down recently to talk about the different intertwined factors that led him to enroll at Fletcher last fall.  Though résumés generally flow reverse chronologically, my goal is to walk you from start to finish, so let’s start with Scott’s undergraduate education.

Union College, Schenectady, NY; BA in political science, minor in history, June 2004
Research Assistant – Political Science Research Grant, Summer 2003
Semester Abroad, University of Ireland, Galway

Scott was a political  science major with an international relations focus.  His thesis was on the war in Iraq.  He also had the opportunity to participate in an internship that turned into an independent study project.

Office of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Albany, NY; Intern, September 2003-March 2004
•    Organized conference involving Senator Clinton, the mayors of five major Upstate New York cities and their economic development staff, federal government officials, and business and economic development experts, to discuss the Renewal Community program.

Scott’s supervisor always required interns to take on a project, and Scott’s was to consider how the Renewal Community program (a piece of domestic economic development legislation) was implemented in the area near Union College.  The project led to the conference described above, a great introduction to politics, Scott said.

Margaret Walsh for Family Court Judge, Albany, NY; Campaign Manager, June-October, 2004
•    Managed a campaign that placed a progressive underdog judicial candidate in office.  Involved in all aspects of the campaign including development, communications, oversight of headquarters, and volunteer organization.

Once the internship was complete and Scott graduated from Union College, his internship supervisor helped him get a job with a candidate for a local judicial position.  Scott was thus the 22-year-old, nearly completely inexperienced, campaign manager.  Judge Walsh won the election.  The campaign reinforced Scott’s interest in politics.

What to do after the election?  Scott decided to move to Washington, DC, a fun place to be as a newly-minted graduate.

Campaign for America’s Future, Washington, DC; Program Assistant, April-October 2005 
•    Collaborated on Project for an Accountable Congress – a campaign to educate the public about ethical lapses of members of Congress, including paid media, press releases, constituent outreach, research and events.

Even as he worked at Campaign for America’s Future, Scott was planning his next step, which he thought would be the Peace Corps.  But having completed most of the Peace Corps application process, he decided instead to move to Norfolk, VA for a new opportunity.

Operation Smile, Inc., Norfolk, VA; Mission Coordinator, March 2006-February 2007
•    Administered pre-mission organization, on-the-ground logistics, and post-mission assessments for medical programs aimed at surgical repair for children with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities.  
•    Recruited and led international medical volunteers, coordinated local patients and families, and communicated with local hospitals and governments to perform over 125 surgeries in a 10-day period for each medical program, with an average of six missions per year in China, Kenya, Peru and Cambodia.

Scott didn’t know at the time that his year in Norfolk was only step one of a six-year career with Operation Smile.  In fact, Norfolk wasn’t exactly where he wanted to be, given that he had enjoyed living in DC, but his job required about six months of travel each year, and he was working with a great group of people.

Operation Smile was expanding, and he, along with another coordinator and friend, took positions with a new Hanoi office, requiring a two-year commitment.  Though based in Hanoi, he spent much of his time in other Asian locations.

Operation Smile, Inc., Hanoi, Vietnam; Regional Program Coordinator, February 2007-May 2009
•    Increased surgical productivity through logistical troubleshooting, staff development, and programmatic upgrades.  Conducted trainings for local staff in partner countries at headquarters in Vietnam and Norfolk, VA and in the field.

At the end of the two years in Hanoi, Scott decided to step away from Operation Smile.  He took some time to prepare for graduate school and consider other professional opportunities.  What he found was that his best opportunity was back with Operation Smile.

Operation Smile, Inc., Norfolk, VA; Senior Program Coordinator, November 2009-May 2010
•    Directed a scale-up medical program in Guwahati, India.  Created new initiative to be replicated around the world, which increased surgical capacity from 150 patients treated during a mission to 967 in a three-week period.
•    Facilitated program coordination for United States Navy Pacific Partnership.  Conducted two missions aboard the USNS Mercy Hospital Ship in Sihanoukville, Cambodia and Dili, Timor-Leste.

Scott had been thinking that he would go to business school, and he applied for enrollment in 2010.  Instead, he left Norfolk yet again, this time for China, where he was charged with smoothing the occasional cultural differences and communication problems between Operation Smile and their Chinese partner foundation.  Plus, he would gain experience in project management and fundraising, skills he wanted as he moved forward in his career.

Operation Smile, Inc., Beijing, China; Program Development Manger, May 2010-May 2012
•    Managed programmatic and development team of five in China.  Created and managed a $1.5 million budget per year, raised over $500,000 from companies and individuals within China, and oversaw the completion of more than 30 medical missions and 5,000 free surgeries performed.
•    Developed strategy and initiated execution of Operation Smile’s 20th Anniversary in China – The March of Smiles — involving medical conferences, fund raising galas, and medical programs that operated on over 3,000 children in 2011.

This time, Scott was really ready to pursue a graduate degree.  In fact, he applied in 2011 to Fletcher’s MIB program, having decided that the MIB’s blend of a core business curriculum and international relations courses was exactly what he needed.  It was the only program to which he applied — a risky strategy that worked out for him — and then he deferred his admission.  2011-2012 was an enjoyable year, especially because his grad school plan was in place.  He left Operation Smile in May 2012 and spent the summer in Beijing working on his language skills.

The Fletcher School, Tufts University, Medford, MA, 2012-2014
Master of Arts in International Business
•    Concentrations:  International Political Economy, Strategic Management, with China focus
•    Activities:  Non-Profit Sector Representative on Committee for Career Services, VP of ASEAN Society, International Development Group, Asia Club, Tufts Marathon Challenge

Scott is hoping to transition careers from global health to economic development, ideally at an international organization such as the World Bank.  What ultimately sold him on Fletcher was the great network of alumni at organizations that interest him, a network that he believes will be a stronger support in his future job search than having a more traditional degree, such as an MBA.  Meanwhile, he says he’s “learning a ton” and is getting great base knowledge in finance and accounting.  His only regret from last semester was that the transition back to the classroom was a challenge, and he didn’t take advantage of lectures and other special events, at least not as much as he would have liked.  He hopes to do more of that this spring.

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Fletcher students generally take four classes per semester, which means that Maliheh, whose progress through the second year of the MALD program we’re tracking in the blog, has now completed her twelfth class.  She offered to provide comments on those classes that had a particularly strong impact on her intellectually.  Here are her notes.

As I had mentioned in my previous blog post, I chose to apply to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in order to gain an international perspective on development and the socio-economic systems in which development takes place.  As a means of complementing my quantitative background, at Fletcher I took classes in econometrics, econometric impact evaluation, development economics, development aid in practice, and agricultural and rural development.  Compared to all the exposure that I had to different disciplines in physical science, I found economic analysis to be a hard and complex subject.  In many cases, it seemed far more complex than analysis in the physical sciences, simply because we cannot usually run controlled laboratory experiments, and because people do not always behave predictably.

I ran my first regression in the summer of 2004, as a student at Sharif University in Iran.  I was working as a research assistant, though I did not understood regression at the time.  After taking Econometrics (EIB E213) with Prof. Jenny Aker, today I understand that the study aimed to use regression to uncover and quantify interesting causal relations.  Prof. Aker equipped us with the facts, intuition, and experience necessary for independent econometric research and for critical reading of empirical research papers, which opened the door for me, creating  many opportunities to work at international organizations.

I used the skills I had learned in Prof. Aker’s class last summer, working at the World Bank, Office of the Chief Economist for the MENA Region.  The paper that resulted from my research will be presented at the 19th Annual Conference of the Economic Research Forum in Kuwait in March.  I found econometrics to be a field in which many abuses are possible, and in which things can go wrong with every step, from the formulation of the original ideas for the problem, to the printing of the final report.  Being statistically literate helps in recognizing when to be skeptical about statistical claims.

Born and raised in the Iranian countryside, I had the powerful experience of living in a rural area where my mother was our village’s only teacher.  I was in close contact with acute poverty and famine in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, and I could see how being poor can affect the way people think, decide, spend, eat, and educate.  Though, at that time, I could not foresee any solutions for these challenges, I have always been motivated by a desire to find solutions.  Later in my studies, I learned that connecting the poor to the growth process is the unifying theme of many development agencies.

In development economics with Prof. Steven Block, we learned more about poverty and its relationship with inequality and growth, long-run economic growth, short-run recovery from economic shocks, and major public-policy challenges facing governments when they implement economic interventions.  I also learned that a state’s natural resource wealth, including energy resources, can negatively influence its economic development, through currency appreciation, market volatility, political shortsightedness, and reactionary vested interests.  Therefore I could answer my old question on why resource rich countries, such as Iran, perform poorly on improving economic outcomes.

Spending last summer working at the World Bank, I also became aware of the tremendous policies and programs initiated and implemented by international organizations, and I was always wondering how they measure whether a particular intervention, policy change, or program actually causes change in development outcomes.  I found answers to my question back at Fletcher in the fall, when I took Prof. Aker’s course in econometric impact evaluation in which we were provided with a set of theoretical, econometric, and practical skills to estimate the causal impact of a policy or program.

Thus, not only did Fletcher’s curriculum help me to connect my past aspirations to my future goals, but my education at Fletcher was well matched with the need in industry.  There was a neat back-and-forth between what I learned, how I was able to apply it, and new questions that emerged and would be answered in later classes.  The relevance of my Fletcher curriculum so far has ensured there was never a gap between what I learned in the classroom and what I saw applied in the field.

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Today is Shopping Day, when students can sample new course offerings.  The regular class schedule will kick off tomorrow and, before it does, Roxanne shares her observations on her first Fletcher semester.

Selecting courses for a new semester has always been one of my favorite times in the academic life cycle. Before I dive into the Spring 2013 course offerings at Fletcher, I would like to reflect on some of my favorite moments from my first semester.

As part of a group project to present on the conflict in Rwanda in the 1990s, I read Scott Straus’s The Order of Genocide.  Through interviews with convicted prisoners who confessed to their involvement in the Rwandan genocide, Straus sought to understand why individuals participate in acts of mass violence.  In an excerpt from the book, he articulated the question that guides his research in a way that deeply resonated with my own interests:
“I never expected to be in Zaire or Rwanda or to cover raw violence, but once I witnessed such events, I could not let go of them easily. Eventually my trauma formulated itself as an intellectual question: Why does violence of this magnitude happen?”

The causes of violence, as well as responses and strategies for prevention, were a recurrent motif in my studies this semester.  Another highlight, however, emerged out of my participation in a luncheon series on non-violent, rather than violent, conflict.  The International Security Studies Program (ISSP), in partnership with the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict, offered a series of luncheon lectures on civil resistance and non-violent movement formation.  The backgrounds of fellow participants in this series range from journalism and community organization, to veterans and PhD students.  As Jessica has written in the Admissions Blog many times, there are more events and luncheon series at Fletcher than one could possibly attend, and this program on Nonviolent Civil Resistance has been among my favorites.

Another series of events that created many cherished memories for me is Fletcher’s Cultural Nights.  These events showcase the many regions of the world from which students hail, through singing, dancing, musical performances — or even videos inspired by the various regions we are celebrating!  Along with nine of my friends, I performed in a Balkan dance medley on Mediterranean Night, showcasing a Greek, Bulgarian, Bosnian, and Turkish traditional dance.  Fiesta Latina was also full of warmth and laughter, and I am already looking forward to more of these cultural events next semester.

Student collaboration is not only a theme of how we celebrate and dance, but also how we learn and study. My study group for Peace Operations met every Tuesday to discuss the assigned reading for the class.  The group consisted of five first-year students who had met during orientation, decided to help one another navigate the extensive reading load, developed a template for taking notes, and organized review sessions for themselves before the midterm.  This was a perfect complement to learning inside the classroom, and was always something to look forward to in my calendar.  Admittedly, it is initially challenging to adapt to the coordination and compromise required to co-write group papers or divide the workload and responsibilities of group presentations — but I am beginning to enjoy this process, and I’m grateful for the many life lessons along the way.

When I reflect on the moment I first felt at home at Fletcher, I think of Professor Dyan Mazurana’s lecture during a Fletcher Global Women lunch event.  Professor Mazurana spoke about her work on gender and mass atrocities, retraced her path to her current endeavors, and shared the personal and professional challenges and rewards of being in this field.  I felt similarly exhilarated attending an event by the Boston Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, which featured Nadine Puechguirbal, the Senior Gender Adviser for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Cynthia Enloe, one of the leading thinkers on gender and international politics.  It is refreshing to leave the campus and experience Boston’s thriving academic and professional community.  Finally, no mention of my cherished memories of the semester would be complete without acknowledging the Fletcher Storytelling Forum, the project Katherine Conway-Gaffney and I co-created earlier this year.  Listening to my classmates’ experiences of home and away has made me grateful to belong in the Fletcher community.

All the books I borrowed from the various Boston libraries have now been returned to their shelves, and I am getting ready to browse the 2013 course offerings.  In the next two months, we can look forward to the legendary Fletcher Ski Trip, a concert by our favorite school band, Los Fletcheros, and the NYC and DC Career Trips.  Stay tuned for updates, and Happy New Year!

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It turns out I needn’t have worried about sustaining the blog’s new Student Stories feature.  I started off with only two students — Mirza and Maliheh, plus Manjula on the alumni side — but today I’m introducing Roxanne Krystalli, who has an interest in writing and who volunteered to be included.  I love volunteers!  Roxanne is a first-year MALD student, studying International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution.  For her second Field of Study, she is in the process of designing one on the theme of Gender and Conflict.  Prior to Fletcher, she worked with women affected by conflict, in affiliation with the United Nations, Peace in Focus (co-founded by current MIB student Kate Fedosova, and Kyle Dietrich, 2009 MALD graduate), and other organizations in Egypt, Uganda, Colombia, Guatemala, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories.  Today, Roxanne tells us about her interests and a special project she has initiated.

I arrived at Fletcher with three different, but connected, interests:  First, I came here to further study the intersection of gender and conflict, which I had explored in my field work with ex-combatants in Colombia, survivors of sexual violence in East Africa, and women parliamentarians in the Middle East.  Second, I was fascinated by non-violent movements and civil resistance, with which I became better acquainted through the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict.  And third, the thread that tied everything together was my fervent belief in the power of storytelling.  Whether as a co-designer and implementer of curricula on creative peace-building through visual and written stories in post-conflict areas, or as a budding writer, photographer, and blogger, I was fascinated by the power of stories to air grievances, generate empathy, move individuals to action, and create community.

In Fletcher classrooms, stories are rigorous, academic, footnoted.  This made my MALD classmate, Katherine Conway-Gaffney, and me wonder:  What about the other stories?  The more personal stories?  The stories the members of this community carry within them?  Katherine and I first met through the “buddy program” that pairs incoming first-year students with second-year students with similar interests, and we quickly discovered that we both believed the power of this community lies in the narratives that exist within it.

It is this shared belief in the power of storytelling that led us to co-found the Storytelling Forum.  The format is simple:  Students are invited to share stories that have affected their lives and work, in response to question prompts.  This is not an academic discussion, or a how-to; rather, it resembles the conversations that would unfold at a café among friends.  Our first evening of sharing stories, moderated by Professor Eileen Babbitt, revolved around the theme of the personal dimensions of work, and the thrills and challenges of an international life, while the second evening focused on notions of home and family.  Students’ suggestions for future storytelling evenings include topics ranging from questions of love, solitude, and companionship, as they relate to an international career, to stories about humility, uncertainty, or grief.  The project is independent and student-run and, since many of the stories are so personal, we have restricted readership to members of the Fletcher community.

My first semester at Fletcher has been nothing short of humbling and inspiring.  Looking into the various stories that inhabit this community, and slowly seeing how they intersect or diverge, fuels my gratitude for being here.  Stay tuned for more updates on stories from the Fletcher community!

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