Although the majority of students start their studies and go straight through the relevant number of semesters on campus, plenty of students opt to pursue a dual degree or exchange program, or even take time away to work. Jessica Meckler, who started the MALD program in September 2013, is doing just that. Here’s her story.
One of Fletcher’s greatest strengths is its often-lauded flexibility. Many other students have talked about the variety of courses and concentrations that allow students to personalize their degree to fit their professional goals, so there isn’t a need to elaborate on that. However, the opportunity to take a leave of absence from Fletcher is another particularly useful aspect to the degree program that I would love to see highlighted more.
There are many reasons to take a leave of absence from your graduate studies: fellowships, scholarships, internships, and job opportunities. Some of my batch mates have taken a semester off. Others, including myself, have taken the entire academic year to pursue additional experiences that expand upon our Fletcher studies.
I am currently living and working in Pune, India as an American India Foundation William J. Clinton Fellow. The organization that I have been placed with for my 10-month fellowship is the Akanksha Foundation, an educational NGO that runs schools and after-school centers for children from low-income communities in Pune and Mumbai.
I decided to apply for the fellowship in December 2013. Throughout the course of my first semester, I had become increasingly aware of how my limited experience in the field affected my ability to connect the theories and skills we study at Fletcher with the reality of international development work. I was encouraged by several professors to pursue a field internship for the summer, and with my interest in Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation (DM&E), Prof. Scharbatke-Church was candid and helpful in explaining ways to supplement my previous experiences. I figured that if a summer was a good idea, why not a full year?
The application process for the AIF Clinton Fellowship was a lengthy endeavor. I submitted my written application in January 2014 and was interviewed at the end of April. I did not learn that I would be joining the 2014-2015 AIF cohort until June, when I was already living in Dhaka, Bangladesh and interning with BRAC for the summer! I was extremely grateful for the ease with which Fletcher students can apply for a leave of absence. It made the process of preparing to move to India while in Bangladesh a little simpler.
One chronic worry that arises often when I talk to people about my time off from school is the idea of falling out of the “student mode.” While in a way this fellowship is a break from the hectic schedule of all Fletcher students, I see the work that I do at the Akanksha Foundation as a crucial aspect to my Fletcher education. In Pune I am assisting with several curriculum and program assessments, curriculum design, system creation and implementation, and teacher training. My work draws upon the skills that I learned during my first year at Fletcher, such as the ideas and principles from the DM&E modular series, and I have greater clarity regarding my goals for my second year at Fletcher. There are specific skills and courses, such as Nancy Hite’s Survey Design in Comparative Political Economy and Jenny Aker’s Econometric Impact Evaluation for Development, that I will focus on when I return to Boston. Additionally, I am using my year away from Fletcher to continue a project – which will hopefully double as a significant portion of my capstone – that I began in Dhaka.
Although only four months have passed since moving to India, I am confident that my work here will have a profound impact on my future studies and career. Taking time off was invaluable for me, and it has given me the time and space necessary to contextualize the onslaught of new ideas that a year at Fletcher brings. While it is very strange to imagine Medford without the familiar faces that I have come to associate with Fletcher, I am equally excited to return to school in September as I am to stay in India for six more months!