Summer is one of my favorite periods on the blog calendar, as it means it’s time to check in with some of our recent alumni. I’ve tried to carry on a longstanding tradition started by Jessica of providing periodic updates from alumni who are one and five years removed from Fletcher. It’s always interesting to see what these folks are up to, and more selfishly, it’ s a personal treat to have an excuse to reach out to some of our favorite students from years past. We’ll start today with our good friend John, who longtime readers may remember as a Graduate Assistant in our office during his student days. I recall being in touch with John when he was a prospective student himself, finishing up his Peace Corps service in China. We miss having him in our office, but it’s a delight to learn more about his transition to DC and the exciting work he’s been doing there:
Greetings from quarantine in Washington, DC! It’s been a year filled with highs and lows since I received my MALD degree, but in reflecting on the last year, I’m even more grateful to be a part of the Fletcher community.
Before enrolling at The Fletcher School in 2017, I was serving as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in southwest China. During my two years in the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing, I worked with my students and fellow teachers to create opportunities inside and outside of the classroom for members of my host community to practice English, consider different teaching methodologies, and participate in an exchange of ideas and experiences. My time in the Peace Corps was filled with many lessons on how to think about the needs of a community, project design, and implementation in developing contexts. Equally as important, it underscored the importance of finding community and forming deep and lasting relationships in whatever you do. As my time in China drew to a close, I began exploring graduate programs that I felt would both give me the tools to continue to work and learn in the development field, as well as find a supportive community that would challenge me to work harder and think about issues in different ways. The Fletcher School was hands down the best option for me.
Once I was settled into my apartment in Medford, I realized how well the Fletcher curriculum can work for students. Its flexibility meant that, even though my interests were broadly development-related, I also had the chance to enroll in courses on human security, migration and forced displacement, gender analysis, and monitoring and evaluation. In doing this, I feel like I honed an ability to think about development work through many different lenses and prioritize intersectionality in a way that I hadn’t prior to graduate school. This has absolutely been an advantage as I have transitioned to my post-Fletcher job.
After graduating last May, I decided to take a bit of a break and slowly ease myself into the job search. I spent a gorgeous summer in Boston exploring the different sites I didn’t have a chance to visit during grad school, working a few hours at the Admissions Office, and decompressing from an enriching but at times overwhelming two years. In August, once I had seriously started looking for jobs, I saw a listing posted by a Fletcher grad about a Project Coordinator position at International Development Group LLC (IDG) in Arlington, Virginia. I reached out to the alum who had advertised the job and within 24 hours she had arranged a call for the two of us to discuss the position. After talking through my interests, the job description, and the company culture in more detail, she forwarded my resume and cover letter to the Operations Manager and set up an interview for the following week. The conversations that followed made it clear that this job would be a great chance to build on the skill sets I’d developed in grad school and do so in a collaborative and enriching environment. By the end of the month, I had a job offer and was moving to DC–another success story for the Fletcher mafia.
Since my move down the east coast was a tad last minute, I once again turned to the Fletcher network. It turned out that two classmates of mine were looking for a third person for their apartment. I was able to convince them to take me in and before we knew it, we had a little Fletcher outpost in Capitol Hill.
As I settled into my new apartment, I was also settling into my new position at IDG. IDG is a U.S. small business that implements development projects around the world. Right now, we are primarily working on USAID and MCC-funded projects. As a Project Coordinator, I help manage the operations of our projects which includes providing day-to-day support to country teams, assisting in overall project implementation, coordinating financial aspects, communicating with our clients, reviewing and formatting deliverables, and supporting new business efforts. I’m currently working on four different projects including a long-term USAID-funded investment project in Sri Lanka and three MCC infrastructure evaluations. A majority of my day-to-day work includes supporting our field offices and consultants to ensure that our projects are financially, administratively, and technically well-functioning. I also help draft technical deliverables and prepare them for submission to our clients. In my role at IDG, I have the opportunity to be involved in a variety of activities. It has been interesting to work on several different projects, contribute to proposal efforts, and provide input on our company strategy. My supervisor, another Fletcher grad, has been really encouraging and worked to ensure I succeed in these new opportunities.
While the Fletcher network helped me settle into my new life in DC, I found that my time in grad school helped me develop the skills that I use every day at work. Classes like Econometrics, Qualitative Research Methods, and Impact Evaluation helped me familiarize myself with software programs like Stata and NVivo which have been really important for our evaluation projects. More than these specific skills, there are a number of other lessons from Fletcher that I brought with me to this job. The many group projects helped me learn how to work with many different personalities and ensure that a high-quality final product is submitted. Since I am working on multiple projects at once, it’s really important to manage competing priorities which, as any Fletcher grad can tell you, is something students have to be stellar at. I also found that the extracurriculars I participated in at Fletcher have been really helpful in settling into my job. Running conferences, culture nights, and organizing club activities was all good practice for managing the administrative side of big projects that have many moving parts. Whether directly or indirectly, Fletcher most certainly showed me the tools that I needed to succeed.
While work and life in DC looks different than it did at the beginning of the year, I feel extremely fortunate to be at a job that I find fulfilling with colleagues who are supportive, generous, and quirky. As we moved to completely remote work, we’ve also worked to keep up office morale by putting on a quarantine-inspired mask-making competition, hosting virtual coffee chats, and participating in a wellness challenge. In addition to having work that I find interesting and meaningful, I also think that I’ve found a supportive community that’s helping me cope with the volatility and uncertainty that so many of us are dealing with today.