Our next first-year student reflection comes from Victoria:
This year has been a wildly unusual year for many of us. I’ve watched my second-year Fletcher colleagues graduate over livestream and Zoom. My dad set up a three-time-zone Wechat video call between Los Angeles, Somerville, and Shanghai so that we could view my sister get her middle school degree by school drive-thru. He kept turning the screen and accidentally filming his leg or the ceiling of the car, so really, it was maybe 30 seconds of actual content and 30 minutes of me in Somerville as well as my step-mom, brother, and her five cats in Shanghai staring at nothing and us giving each other knowing looks of despair.
I also ended up watching the Harvard and Wellesley graduation ceremonies where friends graduated at the end of May and it was amusing to see how the three different programs approached online graduation. As our lives have been transported completely online, I have been thinking of our professors, many who have never taught so many people virtually before. Since Fall 2020 will be completely remote, I thought I would take a moment to talk about the professors that have taught me this semester and how they handled the move online so you know how to choose your players in the fall.
Prof. Carolyn Gideon:
Out of all my professors, Professor Gideon seemed the most excited by the move online. “Don’t worry class, I have this under control. I’ve already been teaching the executive education program online. I am ready for this.”
She truly might have been the most prepared. There were very few, if any, glitches we ran into while we checked in from various continents for class. On the other hand, I was not a huge fan of taking my final exam with my Zoom camera on the entire time – even if we were all muted. It just felt weird, but I do recognize that it was the best attempt possible at trying to recreate an in-class final exam where the proctors could come help as needed.
The last thing I remember clearly about her Zoom class might be her poem of choice to share with us before the exam. The problem with Zoom is that any micro-expression is caught on camera and if you are on the row showing for some classmates, then it becomes hard to hide your reaction. The poem nearly had me laughing mortified. If you want to know what poem by her children she shared in class, you’ll just have to take Analytic Frameworks for International Public Policy Decisions with her next Fall. Or her International Communication class.
Prof. Jonathan Greenacre:
On the other side of the spectrum for preparedness was Prof. Greenacre. He had found himself in a pickle with Zoom because he had flown back to his home in Australia for quarantine. What that meant is that a seminar that normally began at 3:20 PM in Boston turned into a class at 5:20 AM for him. While many of us were tired, he looked more tired than us half the time. “Excuse me, I have not yet had my morning coffee.” We hear and understand, we really do.
Afternoons are generally when I’m drowsy and have a harder time focusing, so while most seminars are in the afternoon, I find Zoom really makes these seminars slightly harder to focus in than usual in the classroom. If you’re like me, that could be something to consider and see if you could work around for your schedule in the fall. Granted, if you are someone really interested in Technology, Development, and Regulation, then you might have an easier time powering through the afternoons than I did.
Prof. Alnoor Ebrahim:
Of all the Fletcher professors on this list, my hands down favorite might be Prof. Ebrahim who normally teaches Managing NGOs and Social Enterprises. While we were all still in the same time zone, his afternoon seminars were sometimes hard for me to stay 100% focused in on Zoom, but maybe out of all my professors, he was the one most willing and able to be vulnerable with us and thus in turn, allow us to better process all that we were thinking and feeling during the latter half of the semester.
We normally begin our classes with announcement and if we have a breakout session, then the first 5 minutes is dedicated to us catching up and just sharing how we are. Sometimes, he starts or ends the class by sharing his own thoughts about what is going on. What shocked me was the amount of vulnerability and sensitivity that he showed in our last class. I think many of us were already vulnerable for various reasons due to quarantine and personal matters, but to see our professor cry and be vulnerable on screen made multiple people online reach for tissue or their sleeve – myself included. While he seems to be not be teaching next semester, I highly recommend finding a change to speak to him if you can during your time at Fletcher.
Prof. Stephen Goldsmith:
Prof. Goldsmith was probably one of the more “intimidating” professors I’ve had. He was Deputy Mayor of New York for Michael Bloomberg and Mayor of Indianapolis. Even he said to us online during our Spring 2 half semester course that he is a “politician masquerading as an academic” and that many of the examples he shared for our course on Data Smart Cities came from his own local governance experiences or from those he worked with. With COVID-19 unfolding as the class progressed, some of our examples were happening live around us. What kind of contact tracing is good? How much data collection is too much data? What are the pros and cons of a public-private partnership to solve issues concerning the public good?
While I felt like a fish out of water at the beginning of this class due to my lack of urban policy knowledge, I was still glad that I was able to contribute to urban governance examples from China to diversify examples in our readings that were predominantly US-based. However, a major con of cross-registering into a class that begins in Zoom is that it’s harder to build connections with your classmates. I wish I had the opportunity to meet them in person, but I already have a scheduled meetup with my policy memo partner, so hopefully I’ll get to meet her when she returned to Cambridge from her quarantine shelter in Texas.
Prof. Kathy Pham:
I think the better word for how I feel about Prof. Pham is admiration and awe. As a former Mozilla Fellow and one of the founding team members for the US Digital Service, being in her Product Management & Society class, even if it began at 8:30am, brightened my day. To get us thinking and to take attendance, we would all check into a Google Doc with a question for us to contribute answers and get the conversation started.
She is always so relaxed and as someone who would have never considered product management as a potential path, her class has opened me to new possibilities that I hope to explore more in the future. While this class was another I cross-registered completely over Zoom, she made it less distant through her personality and the kinds of examples she brought up. At the end of the class and during AAPI month, she invited us to get on a Zoom cooking session where she and her son showed us how to make Vietnamese spring rolls.
Wow, now that I’ve given you a full run down of my experiences on Zoom with my professors this semester, are you even still with me? If you are, thank you. This feels so late considering classes and finals ended in mid-May. But I hope this helps you as you look to fall. I’m sad that we will be completely remote, but I also understand that we have to.
On another note, here is a quick update on my life this summer. I’m still interning with the US Global Engagement Center, but for the summer, we’ll be working on special projects, so this will mean a bit more license over the work produced. I’ll be participating in a COVID-19 Policy Hackathon, which is something I’ve never done before so that’s potentially exciting. I’m also still teaching students in China part-time. I’ll be leading a week-long course in July and while the class is going to be advertised as helping my students to improve their listening and speaking skills for the TOEFL exam, I’m hoping to get them thinking and discussing ideas of civic responsibility and global citizenship that I think we don’t think enough about In China. I’m also attempting to self-learn materials to prepare myself for the Foundations in Financial Accounting and Corporate Finance course I have to take for the Business for Social Impact track. I’m terrified of numbers so this is me attempting to conquer this fear.
For my own learning in regards to thinking about diversity, inclusion, and racism in our systems, I’ve also been making efforts to learn through podcasts and books. If you are still looking for resources, feel free to look here and here for an array of resources for learning and supporting. I’ve had a lot of difficult conversations during this quarantine regarding COVID-19 racism towards Asians and more recently, about anti-black racism seen in Asian communities I interact with. One of the thing I love about Fletcher is how we strive to educate and help each other. Through Social List and our various social media channels, I have learned so much and done my best to act and not just think.
I hope to keep learning and unlearning, and remind all of us in the world right now trying to educate ourselves of what is happening in the US to think about local issues in our communities. If any international students are reading right now, I hope what you have seen about the US right now will inspire you and those in your environment to start addressing issues in your communities. It’s easier said than done, I know. But I know we can and will put in the work to eventually get there. We’re Fletcher.
And even if you aren’t, I believe the Fletcher spirit of community and learning is in you if you are reading this blog right now.
Power & Solidarity,