It has been a while since we visited with the Class of 2008 for a Five-Year Update. Today, let’s read about Devon Cone’s path through and beyond Fletcher.
I still remember my first day at Fletcher. Meeting new classmates and hearing about their lives, work experiences, and interests was thrilling. I had spent 25 years developing into the new student who showed up in Medford that day; a passionate, curious person who craved new information, new places, and new ideas. The thrilling part about meeting my fellow classmates on that first day, was that they were the same kind of people! We were all coming from many different backgrounds and yet had a commonality…that of being particularly inquisitive about the world and the people and places in it.
Prior to Fletcher, I studied American Studies and Sociology; however, it was not a course in either of my majors that became a starting point for my subsequent studies and then career. While studying for my undergraduate degree, I took a course titled, “The International Political Economy of Women.” This course, team-taught by two incredibly thoughtful women, opened my eyes to issues around the world that I was eager to learn about. Prior to taking the course, I had already lived in the Netherlands, France, and Romania, and had traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. I had interacted with people who were living lives very different to that of my own and I was interested in working in a variety of locations, however, I did not know where to focus my interests professionally.
After finishing university and working briefly in Thailand and, then, Ghana on development projects, I flew from Accra to Boston to embark on two years of graduate school, during which time I could learn, reflect, research, and move forward in studies that I was passionate about, namely, human rights. At the time I began Fletcher, I was not exactly sure what kind of career I wanted to pursue, but I knew that I wanted to work on global human rights issues, especially as they relate to gender.
Fletcher was an amazing experience of learning and growth that I will never be able to replicate. I studied Human Security and International Organizations, focusing specifically on humanitarian studies and forced migration. These Fields of Study allowed me to study with talented and insightful professors who challenged me to think critically about conflict, about security as it relates to individuals rather than the State, and about how well intentioned interventions have the capacity to bring positive change but can also cause harm. The subject matter taught at Fletcher provided me with the knowledge I needed to be useful and creative in promoting the protection of individuals in situations of forced migration and vulnerability. Karen Jacobsen’s course on Research Methods in Humanitarian Settings and Cheyenne Church’s course Monitoring and Evaluation in Peacebuilding were particularly useful skills-based classes that have provided me with practical knowledge that I have consistently referred back to in my work. Gender, Culture, and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, with Dyan Mazurana and courses with Kim Wilson and Dan Maxwell also caused me to think deeply about the theories and challenges in the field of human security.
A unique and wonderful aspect of being at Fletcher was that I was also able to study and interact with people interested in similar work at other institutions in the area. I took courses at the Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government that relate directly to the work I do, responding to the needs of displaced people in conflict/post-conflict settings.
Since Fletcher, I first conducted foreign policy research at MIT and then moved to Kenya with the organization RefugePoint, founded by a fellow Fletcher alum. RefugePoint sent me to work for UNHCR in Dadaab refugee camp. Located on the border of Somalia, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world and, as such, was a place where I learned how to put theory into practice. The problems faced by individuals in Dadaab are massive, diverse, and overwhelming. I focused on identifying refugees in Dadaab who were in need of immediate assistance and protection, and on working to persuade foreign governments to resettle some of these refugees. After Dadaab, I worked on RefugePoint’s programming for urban refugees in Nairobi, which was interesting and allowed me the flexibility to come up with new ideas.
In early 2011, as uprisings began to take place in North Africa and the Middle East, I was transferred to Cairo, Egypt, where I worked for UNHCR to provide protection for refugees living in Egypt who were affected by the insecurity following Mubarak’s ouster. I interviewed Somali, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Sudanese, and Eritrean refugees for resettlement, and then transitioned to working specifically with young refugees. I worked with young people under the age of 18 without any family (unaccompanied minors) to identify the challenges they face and come up with solutions. I left Cairo in the summer of 2013 and continued to work as a Child Protection Specialist, this time being sent to Uganda following renewed fighting in Eastern DRC.
Five years on from Fletcher, I am amazed by how little I knew when I began, but also how much I learned during my time in school, and how rich and rewarding my professional life has been since graduating. I have had the opportunity to work with such a variety of people and I understand so much more about how conflict affects human beings individually. My time at Fletcher helped me to develop the skills I have needed to do my job and to serve people in the best way I can.