There’s no way that the Admissions Blog can be a comprehensive resource on all things Fletcher — it’s much too busy a place — but I do try to highlight activities that represent that busy-ness.  To that end, I’ve been collecting all we’ve written on several of the research institutes.  Take a look at the posts on these Fletcher groups:

International Security Studies Program

Center for International Environment and Resource Policy

World Peace Foundation

Institute for Business in the Global Context

Maritime Studies

 

Today’s update from the Class of 2012 is special in many ways.  First, it has been written jointly by two MALD graduates, Aaron Morris and Ho-Ming So Denduangrudee.  Second, Ho-Ming sent it along only a few days after bringing a new baby into their family.  Third, Ho-Ming and Aaron make up one of the first Fletcher Couples I featured on the blog.  Finally, as a first-year student, Ho-Ming wrote about her long path to Fletcher.

Pre-Fletcher

Similar to a lot of future Fletcher classmates, it turns out we lived and worked at random places at the same time: Boston, post-undergrad where Aaron worked in investment consulting and Ho-Ming worked as a research assistant and at a climbing gym; Thailand, where Aaron worked on the Thai-Burmese border with former political prisoners on advocacy projects, and Ho-Ming worked on indigenous rights and community development projects across the region; and Colorado, where Aaron valeted cars and ski bummed, and Ho-Ming worked for a small human rights defenders fund.  Aaron knew he wanted to contribute to bridging the business and international development worlds, and Ho-Ming was interested in minority rights.

At Fletcher

We met on the first day of orientation and were on seemingly different tracks: Aaron was a development economics/security studies MALD and eventually became an advisee of Professor Block; Ho-Ming went to Fletcher to study human rights with Professor Hannum, who had previously taught one of her early mentors at the UN.  At Fletcher, we were constantly challenged to work on and be exposed to topics beyond the scope of our respective foci, whether by each other or by our peers, professors, the curriculum, or the institution.  We quickly learned there are no silos in our interrelated world, and a Fletcher education continually underscores this.  Some horizon-broadening moments were more trying than others — for instance, that semester when Aaron convinced Ho-Ming that taking Professor Jacque’s Corporate Finance class would be a great idea.  It is a great idea.  There may be some tears and terror alongside learning, but it is worth it.  (Opposite of a pro tip: if you actively try to avoid eye contact, rest assured, Professor Jacques will call on you.)

Post Fletcher

After graduation, Aaron took a job in Jakarta with the ASEAN basketball league in business development and strategy, and Ho-Ming signed on to work on indigenous rights and sustainable development as part of a United Nations forestry initiative.  In four wonderful years in Indonesia, Aaron ended up taking a job as a management consultant at Bain & Co., and Ho-Ming returned to community-based work through the Samdhana Institute.

Our Fletcher roots continue to manifest throughout our careers and lives.  While Ho-Ming was at the UN, Professor Moomaw facilitated key introductions to support the Government of Indonesia delegation during global climate change COPs, Fletcher alumni and students joined us as colleagues at various moments in our respective careers, alumni were generous with sharing their networks and many became close friends.  We even managed to expand the community in a small way, when a dear colleague and friend opted to attend Fletcher for a mid-career MA.  We were fortunate to be able to attend his graduation in Medford, which coincided with our five year reunion.

We are currently located in San Francisco, prompted by an internal transfer opportunity through Aaron’s work.  Ho-Ming has kept a foot in Southeast Asia, building fun partnerships, including this one one linking the outdoor industry, climbing, and an incredible indigenous activist/regional MP to pilot ecotourism and support indigenous tenure security in remote Eastern Indonesia.  She’s recently taken on a new position strengthening institutional partnerships at Build Change, a social enterprise focused on enhancing disaster resilience and recovery for low income neighborhoods in emerging markets.

Fletcher expanded our horizons and imbued in us a truly interconnected perspective on the world.  On the macro policy and industry level, this has been invaluable.  On a civic and personal level, particularly in divisive times, we are grateful that Fletcher taught us — above all — to listen and always be mindful of a bigger picture.  We might not always agree, but Fletcher has emphasized to us the importance of trying to understand.  As partners, as parents, we strive to serve as resources for each other and, we hope, a wider community that bridges industries, nationalities, and worldviews.  At Fletcher, we were given the tools to foster similarities that drive all of us, to strengthen the connections between us and, not least, to be thoughtful and reflective — to engage and look for ways to be inclusive, share responsibilities. and be thoughtful about how we can create a better world.

We’re not yet midway through the application review process, but I want to offer some insights that may be reassuring while applicants for September enrollment await the decisions they’ll receive in March.

When the MALD/MA Admissions Committee met last Friday, we considered the case of an applicant who did poorly as an undergraduate but subsequently went on to a successful multi-year career.  The applicant had strong GRE scores and glowing recommendations.  (No surprise — there were no academic recommendations.)  Chances are good that we’ll review an application that fits that general description at every meeting this year.

When we review applications, we are always looking for background and credentials that are well laid out on our website.  The goal is “to enroll a diverse class of students who have demonstrated academic excellence, have a wide range of personal, professional and academic experience, and have a strong commitment to an international career. We seek students who, by virtue of their background, achievement and experience, can contribute to the education of their peers and to the scholarship and practice of international relations.”  That’s both super-specific and, it could be argued, equally vague.  I generally tell applicants that the bottom line is that students must be able to succeed at Fletcher, and that’s true!  But then what do we make of the applicant described above?

Or how about another application from Friday.  The applicant had a nearly perfect undergraduate record and test scores, but won’t graduate until May and, predictably, has limited professional experience.  We’ll see applications like this one every week, too.  As a professional school, we strongly value pre-Fletcher work experience — it supports the development of a student’s objectives and is a key factor as they seek a post-Fletcher job.  But brilliant students generally find their way through the career definition and search process, even if they do need a little extra support from the Office of Career Services.

In both of these cases, the Admissions Committee decided to offer the applicant admission.  Admissions people always say they employ a holistic system of review.  The opportunity for Fletcher to admit both of the applicants described here depends on it.  If we were to impose cut-offs — whether logical or arbitrary — one or both of these applicants wouldn’t be admitted.  Instead, the Hall of Flags is sprinkled with people of both types.

Students who went to U.S. colleges and universities often worry that the graduate school admissions process will be the same as it was for undergrad.  I’m happy to say that it isn’t.  Applicants who can objectively be described as qualified for Fletcher, demonstrating all those qualities outlined above, will be admitted.  Fortunately, there’s also room in the class for some students who are missing a few of the qualities.  So long as we can see a pathway for their success, we can go ahead and offer them admission.

I hope that this mid-process pause will help reassure some applicants that they can stop trying to figure out our average GPA or GRE scores.  Reviewing Fletcher applications is too complex for us to rely on numbers alone.

 

Once again it’s time for me to point you toward some news stories that caught my attention in the last month or two.

PhD candidate, Benjamin Spatz, wrote in The New York Times last week from Liberia on the inauguration of the country’s new president, George Weah.

Back in October, Mieke van der Wansem, F90, associate director of educational programs at the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP), and Rishikesh Bhandary, a PhD candidate and junior research fellow at CIERP, co-taught climate diplomacy and negotiation training at the Ethiopian Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change in Addis Ababa.  The five-day training brought together 48 climate negotiators from 33 countries to learn about the negotiation procedures of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to practice negotiation skills in preparation for the 23rd Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC.

Professor Susan Landau talks about her new book and her experience studying the area of cybersecurity.

Senior Associate Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti explains bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to us.

Professor Alex de Waal speaks about his new book on mass starvation as a political weapon.  Professor de Waal is also executive director of the World Peace Foundation.

Fletcher alumna Christina Sass, F09, is cultivating tech talent in Africa.

And finally, you can read more about Fletcher and our community in the most recent issue of Fletcher magazine.  Click here or on the photo above.

 

We’re going to close out the fall semester updates with Akshobh’s report on his semester and how it met his expectations.

Outside Blakeley Hall

I had been forewarned that nothing can truly prepare you for a New England Winter.  In my previous post, I wrote about how, after seven years of living on the equator, the only weather I had experienced oscillated between rain or no rain.  In Singapore, where I lived for seven years, it was summer throughout the year.  December 17th or June 6th made no difference — t-shirts and shorts were the norm.  The closest I had come to see snow was in an indoor mall in Dubai.  (My New Englander friends have told me that doesn’t count.)

On December 9th, on a snooze-filled Saturday morning, I woke up to see something miraculous outside Blakeley Hall — the winter’s first snow.  Yet I had half expected a tepid response to something seasonally expected from many who grew up around snow.

Much to my surprise, even friends who grew up around snow showed the same alacrity to be outside as I did.  The first day of snow is, indeed, quite mesmerizing.  My fellow blogger, Kaitlyn, a native New Englander, describes winter as her favorite season.  (It seems like it will take more than three decades of snowy winters to change her mind.)

In front of Blakeley Hall with fellow bloggers Prianka (right) and Kaitlyn (far right).

There are many perks to living in Blakeley Hall.  The stellar ones are the value for money in terms of rent and the bonhomie you forge among the seventy-odd residents – if Fletcher is about community, Blakeley is a microcosm.  But most of all, for folks like me who are used to tropical habitat, the commute from Blakeley to Fletcher is only seventy steps away.  The short commute is the biggest asset in Boston’s blistering blizzards.

Sitting away from the snowfall in Atlanta, Georgia during the winter break gave me a good chance to reflect on a first semester that whizzed by.  Going back to the classroom after years in the newsroom was always going to be hard.  But what kind of a program am I in and what sort of people does Fletcher attract and what sort of careers result?

The MALD is no doubt esoteric; after all, it is truly one of a kind.  And safe to say that there is no cookie-cutter MALD candidate, since unlike other degrees (say an MBA, JD or an MD), a MALD is truly malleable, and can be shaped to work for one’s self in a manner like no other.

At Fletcher, pick any world issue or geographic region, and I guarantee you will find either a professor who is expert on the subject, or a student who is studying that particular issue, or someone who is from the region or has worked there: from understanding food security in Malawi, to exploring how blockchain can be used to solve problems in healthcare, to considering the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, to the security threats arising out of asymmetric warfare in the South Asia.  Perhaps the words Law & Diplomacy in the acronym MALD, don’t quite capture the intellectual depth and expertise the school has to offer.  It’s not surprising when you and your roommate, both in the MALD program, could discover that in the whole two years — four full semesters — you’ve never been in the same class.

My focus at Fletcher is to be at the nexus of geo-politics and geo-economics, for I feel foreign policy and business are no longer two disparate entities but the common portion of a Venn diagram.  Governments and businesses can no longer ignore each other, for global political events affect economic outcomes.

In short, my goal at Fletcher is to understand a country’s tale (history & foreign policy) and how companies scale (business).

Hence my first semester saw me take a mix of classes, including National Security Decision Making: Theory and Practice, traditionally for the security junkies and foreign policy wonks, as well as Starting New Ventures (where I was one of only three first-year students, in a predominantly second-year MIB class) dealing with cases about entrepreneurs and the challenges they face.  There are few places and few programs that offer such an eclectic mix.

Interviewing Harvard academic Joseph Nye for the Fletcher Security Review.

My interests drew me to partake in events such as Simulex, where I was the Director of National Intelligence for the U.S in a Fletcher-wide simulation also featuring China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan handling an East Asia Crisis.  I interviewed leading Harvard academic Joseph Nye on soft power for the Fletcher Security Review, had lunch with Lord Michael Dobbs, discussing political leaders, and attended guest lectures from two four-star generals.

Meanwhile my interest in economic affairs led me to organize and moderate a panel on President Trump’s trade policies titled “Trump: Trade & Tirade.”  In addition, two other Fletcher students and I were selected to attend the World Bank Youth Summit in Washington, DC, which focused on Technology and Innovation for Impact.

With (right) Christina Saas, F09 (MALD), Co-Founder of Andela and TingTing Yang, F14 (MIB), a World Bank employee.

Fletcher’s global influence was evinced when at the World Bank in DC.  Every time we unfurled the Fletcher flag, we found an alumnus at the bank who came up to us and said, “Hey, I went to Fletcher, too.”  It’s almost as if the Fletcher flag was our business card.

Looking back, the decision to take the plunge and return to school was never easy.  I had friends and family who were divided on the issue of my giving up a stable income and taking a hiatus from the working world.  The camps were split, so much so that I facetiously say that it became a Brexit decision: there was a “Stay Camp” (don’t quit your job and move halfway around the world) and a “Go Camp” (take the plunge, it’ll be worth it).

An investment banker friend asked me how I could justify paying tuition and foregoing two years of income.  To which I replied that when I walk into the Hall of Flags and see all the illustrious alumni names on the wall of this hallowed institution, I am reminded that I am going to school with peers who will rise similarly to the highest echelons of government, become future diplomats, and serve their country’s military.  And I will have sat right beside them while their intellectual moorings took hold.

So how can I put a dollar value on that experience?

With a Fletcher classmate, outside the White House.

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Some hard-working students who are very generous with their time have recently completed a Japanese-language website for Fletcher.  Though the team has consulted with Admissions and other Fletcher admin folks, the website is unofficial but focused on connecting prospective students from Japan with the School and our students from (or interested in) Japan.  And, under the umbrella of the Fletcher Japan Club, they’ve organized themselves into a very professional operation, complete with succession planning.  Here’s the full team, including the students who initiated the project and those who will be taking it over for next year.

If you don’t read Japanese, you’ll still get a good sense of what they’ve included on the website by using the top navigation bar.  One aspect that might not be clear is that the front page includes a sign-up through which prospective students can contact the Fletcher Japan Club to help them arrange a visit.  An applicant took advantage of this feature in the fall and was treated to meetings, tours, and lunch groups.  We, in Admissions, so appreciate the generosity of these students!  Whether or not you read Japanese, I hope you’ll take a look.

***

A side note:  One of the three members of the original website team is Taji (second from front on the right of the photo), who contributed to the blog last year, and who was recently featured in a Fletcher feature story about his interest in music.  The other original members of the team are Yutaro, second-year MIB (behind Taji), and TT (second from front, on the left), second-year MALD.

 

Continuing the student bloggers’ fall-semester recaps, Prianka reports on her first semester and some of the special activities open to students in the LLM program.

One semester down and just one more to go.  Saying that time flies would be an understatement.  The last semester was definitely challenging, but in all honesty, had it been anything short of challenging, I would have questioned whether I was doing something wrong!  Being the first Admissions blogger from the LLM program, I thought I would talk about my experiences thus far at Fletcher.

Fletcher’s LLM program is not a traditional LLM program.  The most obvious difference is that Fletcher is an international affairs school and, by virtue of the same, the courses on offer are not restricted to legal subjects but are also in economics, international business, diplomacy, history and politics.  How does one pick just eight courses?  And if that weren’t enough, Fletcher students also have the option of taking courses at Harvard University.  This has its positives and negatives — definitely more to choose from, but it often makes me feel like a kid in a candy store on a budget!  Despite being happy with my four carefully selected different types of candy, I still wonder whether I would have been happier with one of the other candies, particularly one of them that seems to be selling out fast.

Looking back at some of the main reasons I decided to study at Fletcher — the number of students enrolled in the program, the interdisciplinary nature of the course, the presence of faculty in the area of law that I was interested in — I consider that I was right in my reasoning.  These are also some of the factors that differentiate the LLM program at Fletcher from the LLM program from a law school.

The education that one gains from a graduate school experience is not restricted to the courses on offer but also from conferences and guest lectures.  Being part of an international affairs school, we’ve had a number of prominent personalities deliver lectures, including the current Croatian President, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and others described in previous blog postsThe LLM program also organizes High Table lunches based on, to a certain extent, the particular interests of the current student cohort.  Last semester we had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Alberto Mora and Dr. Lynn Kuok, F04, at High Table lunches.  While Mr. Mora spoke about the legality of enhanced interrogation techniques, with Dr. Kuok we discussed competing national, legal, and political interests in the South China Sea.  The High Table lunches are quite exclusive and intimate, with only the LLM students and the law faculty in attendance.

Another interesting event that the LLM program participated in was an International Law Weekend in New York.  Not only was this an opportunity for some of us to visit New York for the first time, but we also attended discussions over the course of two days on the theme of “International Law in Challenging Times.”  With each of us having interests in varied fields of law, the event had a little something for all.

Last but not least, we also have dinners hosted every now and then that give us the opportunity to get to know each other, and to interact with the law faculty in a more informal setting.  In the first few weeks after we began our Fletcher journey, Professor Antonia Chayes hosted a dinner for the LLM batch to meet each other as well as the law faculty.  Towards the end of the semester, Professor Burgess and his wife hosted a holiday party at their home.  The dinner was a nice end to the semester, but left me personally grappling with the fact that I was half way through my LLM journey.  I remember back in Orientation week keeping an eye out for students with red LLM folders amongst the sea of 200 students carrying black MALD folders; seeing all the red folders in one place was comforting, particularly in the first few days when everything seemed unfamiliar!

This brings me to my bucket list, described in my first post.  Nearly four months gone, a couple of check marks in and a couple of new additions to the list.  I did go for my first Black Friday sale but, most disappointingly, didn’t stand in a queue to get in or even wait in a line to check out, but did leave with more bags than I anticipated!  I also did buy my first lottery ticket but, sadly, lady luck wasn’t on my side that day.  Building a snowperson still remains on the list and, by my next post, I hope that I check it off.  A couple of new additions to my bucket list are to go for an ice hockey game and, if I can muster up the courage, to go ice skating.  After a couple of falls just walking in the snow, I’m very wary of going on the ice!

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Before he wrote this fall-semester update, Pulkit asked me whether he could describe some challenges he experienced.  That seemed like a great topic to me.  Fletcher students work hard!  And the Admissions Committee needs to ensure that every admitted student will succeed.  Pulkit’s reflection captures nicely the balance that all students seek and the particular challenges faced by folks who are looking for an academic or career shift.

As I sat down to write my last post before the end of 2017, I couldn’t fathom that I was about to finish three semesters at Fletcher.  Since the day I received my letter of acceptance, it has been an exciting and rewarding journey of self-discovery.

Fletcher has given me opportunities to push myself to give my best, both inside and outside of the classroom.  Apart from my regular academic work, a large portion of my semester was spent working as an elected Student Council representative.  As a student representative, I ensured that I was hearing and giving voice to the concerns and suggestions of the student body.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Office of Student Affairs, other administrative offices, and other student representatives to find constructive and sustainable solutions to issues related to student life and community at Fletcher.  That being said, this role had its own set of challenges — including decision making, coalition building, and receiving criticism.

Israeli-Palestine Dinner hosted by Mahmoud, Heba, Yair, Yonathan, and Jules.

The other big commitment last semester was serving as the Managing Director for Digital and External Affairs for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.  Apart from managing a team of staff editors and The Forum’s web page, along with the executive leadership, early efforts for this academic year included creating a new section of the website for student publications.  The idea is to provide a platform for students to publish the stellar work they are doing in their classes, for their capstones, and otherwise.  In addition, fellow Admissions blogger, Mariya, and I also facilitated a peer-to-peer learning series in partnership with the Murrow Center and Ginn Library.  At Fletcher, my peers are amazingly skilled in soft and hard skills.  To that effect we wanted to create learning opportunities for our fellow students and organized hands-on skill-based workshops in blogging, website design, and citations editing.

Reciting poetry at Open Mic Night.

Speaking of academics, my evolving interests also drove me to take more classes in the International Law and Organizations and Diplomacy, History and Politics divisions and study a mix of Human Security and Humanitarian Studies courses.

After three semesters, I can’t help but also reflect on some of the challenges I have faced along the way, and I wanted to share some of those thoughts with readers.  As I had mentioned in my first post back in November 2016, coming from a physical sciences background, it was indeed a huge step for me as I transitioned to pursue studies in social sciences.  Most classes at the graduate level — at Fletcher and at Harvard — involve a large amount of reading.  With four classes, it became overwhelming to finish all the readings for a week.  I found myself challenged to finish my assigned homework in time, especially with all the extra-curricular activities I was involved in.  This was also a big change from what I was used to in the past, as most professors require us to finish the readings before a class.

Most of the classes are also discussion-based where students debate — be it on a particular article of international law and its potential implications on the ground or on a matter of policy.  One of the significant challenges I encountered was having an opinion on issues that were gray.  Before starting school, I had expected that solutions to complex world problems could be black and white.  Very quickly I learned that there could be multiple perspectives to and interpretations of a problem.  I also realized why it was so very important to understand all sides of an argument before making conclusions, and — unlike math or physics — even if there was no conclusion or final answer, it was okay.  In many of my classes I have been left with more questions than answers.  As one student put it — perhaps that is what graduate school is all about, to have more questions than answers, but also to have the ability to ask the right questions.

Another element of a professional graduate program is networking.  Fletcher has provided me numerous opportunities to meet and interact with illustrious alumni and important persons in the field of international relations.  But it has not been easy to feel comfortable at networking — building relationships with different professors, attending conferences and reaching out to folks working in the areas of my interest.  This again, was not something I was used to.  With a little bit of self-encouragement and push from my peers, I try improving and being better at it.

Besides managing my time, finishing my homework and fulfilling my extra-curricular roles, these are interesting challenges to have and to look forward to.  Overall, in retrospect, from taking classes across different disciplines with different professors, to learning about and from my classmates, and participating in activities on and off campus, my time at Fletcher has been such a joy and a life-altering experience.

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It’s my first day at home reading applications following the January 10 deadline.  Liz and Dan both spent yesterday with their own virtual piles of applications, but they’ve generously left me a few to tackle.

In a recent spare moment, I tagged all the posts I could find about reading days.  There are a lot!  Going back to 2007!  Many refer to the paper files we used to need to carry home.  Now our reading is all computer-based.  Staff members tend to structure their reading days around one of two elements: friendly dogs or warm drinks.  I’m definitely Team Tea/Coffee, but I can’t deny that a fluffy dog like Murray is a good companion for a reading day.

As I settle in with a cup of tea in this year’s new mug, I invite you to peruse the many reports written by my Admissions pals (current and past) and me about the days that we spend at home “meeting” the folks who may be students in September.

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Today we’ll hear from Gary, our Student Stories blogger in the PhD program, who will return to the U.S. Marine Corps after he completes his Fletcher studies.  Though I’ve often watched as a parade of limousines and police cars escort a dignitary to Fletcher, I had never thought about the behind-the-scenes efforts to make the visit happen, and I’ve learned something from Gary’s post!

One of the great benefits of being a student at Fletcher is the visits of many senior officials and policymakers.  This includes not only leaders from the diplomatic, political, and business realms but also senior military leaders.  For my service, the U.S. Marine Corps, the fall semester saw a “bumper crop” of such visits.  During October and November, the International Security Studies Program (ISSP) hosted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fletcher alumnus General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. (the senior uniformed officer in the entire U.S. Armed Forces); the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller (the senior officer in my service); and Lieutenant General David Berger, the commander of the largest field command in the service, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.  Between them, these three officers brought more than 120 years of combined service in the Marine Corps to the table.  However, I’m not going to talk about what they presented during their visits — in part because two of the lectures took place at ISSP luncheons, which are conducted off-the-record — but instead I’ll take a look “behind the scenes” at what goes into making a visit for one of these senior military officers happen.  (The Boston Globe carried an article about General Dunford’s visit here.)

ISSP Fellows with Dr. Shultz and General Dunford, November 14, 2017. (Gary is second from the right.)

General Dunford and his former professor, Richard Shultz, and the ISSP lecture.

As one might expect, a great deal of coordination typically goes into a visit by a senior leader.  Planning begins months in advance.  ISSP mails out the official invitations.  For last semester’s visits, this step took place before I even arrived on campus in September.  After that, suffice it to say that there are a lot of emails exchanged and phone calls placed to work out visit itineraries, menus, locations where people can change from civilian clothes to uniforms or vice versa, and more.  Sometimes the group emails a questionnaire with the questions they need answered for their planning process to move forward.  If one of the senior officers is arriving via nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, then there are additional considerations involving the base protocol officer, base operations, and so on.  If they arrive via Logan Airport, there is a different set of considerations.  There is local coordination for security and ground transportation.  For an ISSP fellow designated as the AO (“action officer”) for a visit, one of the key things to learn right away is the key contacts on the visitor’s staff — it might be more than one person.

For ISSP military fellows (who spend a year at Fletcher on a non-degree basis), coordinating these visits provides an opportunity to interact with the “brain trusts” behind the senior leaders.  Depending on where they are, these groups have different names — Action Group, Staff Group, etc. — but are composed of some of the sharpest young officers in the ranks.  For General Neller and General Berger, their teams consisted entirely of Marines, but General Dunford’s staff features officers from across the services and some Department of Defense civilians.  These organizations house planners, subject-matter experts, advisors, and speechwriters.  In addition to the planning groups, the senior military officers also have aides de camp in charge of coordinating logistics and other general-purpose matters.  It can end up being a pretty large retinue of folks when all is said and done — half a dozen people, or more.

After completing their studies, Fletcher graduates in uniform can end up working in these commander’s groups, based on their developed skills in diplomacy and negotiation, oral and written communication, and statecraft.  For example, the director of General Berger’s Commander’s Action Group, LtCol Sea Thomas, attended Fletcher immediately upon graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.  (He was a MALD classmate of Fletcher Professor Rocky Weitz!)  On General Dunford’s Chairman’s Action Group, LtCol Todd Manyx (ISSP Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow in 2007-08) serves as a special assistant, and Army COL Abigail Linnington, who holds a Ph.D. from Fletcher (2013), is the director of the organization.  From the outside looking in, these groups appear to do meaningful, relevant work directly for senior leaders whose voices count.

General Neller engages in a small-group discussion with military officers after his November 28, 2017 ISSP luncheon.

It was a great professional honor for me to meet and interact with these three senior Marine Corps leaders. It is not all that often that a mid-grade officer such as me has the chance to meet top leaders.  I had served with General Berger previously in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005, so it was great to catch up with him now that he has ascended to near the pinnacle of his profession. During General Dunford’s visit, Professor Hess did me the great honor of providing an introduction to the general, and we spoke briefly, comparing our experiences as Marine Corps fellows at Fletcher.  However, the highlight for me was riding with General Neller from the airport to Fletcher, ostensibly as the “on-site lead,” bringing the senior officer up to speed on the “lay of the land” before he steps out of the vehicle and begins the luncheon event.  That did happen, but I also had the chance to chat with my service’s top officer about family, hopes for future assignments, and challenges and opportunities for the Corps.  That’s not something that happens every day — except maybe at Fletcher!

When high-level visits happen, things can get pretty exciting.  You must remain flexible when things change, sometimes even as the visit is already in progress, such as if a flight is delayed and you need to adjust the agenda in real time dynamically.  But once the visits end, things return to normal fairly quickly.  Then it’s back to classes — until the next visit!

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