Currently viewing the tag: "First-Year Alumni"
Just as, two weeks ago, I wrapped up the updates from the Class of 2010 with posts from Luis and Hana, this week I would like to return to the Class of 2015. Today, we’ll learn what Peter Varnum, a good friend of the Admissions Office, has been doing since he graduated.
Time at Fletcher flies. The pace of life is often so stressful that it is easy to lose sight of the return you’re actually earning. Obviously this comes in the form of your lifelong friendships and network; it’s a main reason we all chose this place to continue our education. But, amidst readings and papers and presentations — and world-renowned guest speakers, lectures from the Dean, and student-organized conferences — we often forget the other reason we chose Fletcher: it’s among the top international relations schools in the world.
Never has the stellar education been more evident to me than in my first year post-graduation. I moved to Geneva, worked briefly for the World Health Organization in its mental health policy unit, and am now consulting with a small, international B-corporation called Vera Solutions, which works at the intersection of data and development. (Side note: Fletcher allows you to work at the “intersection” of basically anything and anything. We build bridges.) Often dubbed the “DC of Europe,” Geneva is rife with IR- and development-types who love to throw around jargon and number of countries visited slash worked in like they’re all badges of honor, trophies of who knows the most, who’s done the most. But I appreciate my Fletcher brethren here, and there are a number of them: those who can hang in those conversations, but don’t feel the need to tout their accolades. Those who hold a room when they speak. Those with whom you can have a drink and laugh at yourselves.
When you’ve turned in your thesis, and walked across the stage, and at some point found the nerve to click on one of those emails giving you an update of how much interest your student loan has accrued, you have time to breathe a little. And that’s when you look back and realize just how much you’ve learned at Fletcher. You learn from the courses you take, sure — but I would argue you learn more from your immersion in a space that brings together such interesting, diverse people. I often chat with my own classmates, as well as prospective students, about what I call “Imposter Syndrome,” which I felt quite frequently at Fletcher. You’re in class (and at house parties) with future diplomats, foreign service officers, magnates of international business, and leading academics. Not to mention polyglots who may as well have designed Rosetta Stone. I often used to ask myself how I wound up there.
But if Geneva has taught me anything, it’s that, despite my hideously accented Spanish (and just plain hideous French), those experiences have made me fluent in the language of international relations. And not just in a professional setting; I now read the news with a more nuanced understanding to go with a critical eye that I like to think we all have entering Fletcher. I feel comfortable voicing my opinions, and confident that they are informed. I feel more like — and excuse the cliché — a productive citizen of the world.
Navigating ambiguity is at the heart of international work — at the heart of life, really. I believe my Fletcher education has made me nimbler. I do not hesitate among the flutter of languages in the UNICEF cafeteria, nor while chatting with the Director of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO, nor while having that drink with my fellow Fletcher graduates. A year or so ago, when I was hunkered down in Ginn Library, procrastinating by dreaming up ideas for a creative Fletcher Follies video, I often wondered whether it was worth it. These days, that uncertainty never crosses my mind.
Returning to the Class of 2015, Owen Sanderson was a two-year Admissions Office regular, spending time in the office as a volunteer, a paid member of the Admissions Committee, and a good source of conversation. He was the first person I reached out to when I was looking for a helper for an APSIA graduate school fair in New York last September, and he’s the only student with whom I ever discussed options for engagement rings before he proposed. His post-Fletcher career is typical in that it’s atypical.
“Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room,” cautions Paul Bennett the Chief Creative Officer of IDEO. “The conventional heroic leader is a product of the past.” Cleverness is not a ticket to success at IDEO.
Paul is right. Despite the deep well of talent at my new employer, IDEO.org, I’ve observed that success here is fueled by one pervasive approach: a commitment to collaboration.
I write as I embark on my fifth month at IDEO.org’s New York office. IDEO.org is a non-profit design and innovation organization associated with its celebrated Silicon Valley brother IDEO. As a Business Designer — a unique role that blends business sensibilities with thoughtful design — I have seen firsthand how collaboration inspires seriously impressive results. But this isn’t necessarily news to me, as group work is part and parcel of life at The Fletcher School.
Between 2013 and 2015, I spent two years at Fletcher preparing myself for a pivot into the design world. Unconventional? Perhaps. Effective? Definitely. I have always had a decent grasp of international development, having studied it at Georgetown University and having worked in the field for nearly a decade. However, Fletcher offered an opportunity to consider a contemporary approach to problem solving: Human Centered Design (HCD). HCD is a creative practice that focuses on people rather than process. The goal of HCD is to research, design, and build solutions, all while maintaining deep empathy for the women and men you’re designing for.
As a Business Designer I look to design solutions that aren’t just beautiful but viable in the emerging markets in Africa and Asia where IDEO.org works. Life as a Business Designer takes many forms — from conducting user research to considering a market entry strategy for a new social enterprise to building partnerships with local NGOs to ensure programmatic sustainability. It is exciting, fast-paced, and challenging.
So how did I navigate to this sweet spot between design and development? My journey started at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. CSIS was hands-down the best first job out of college. I highly recommend spending at least a few years at a DC think tank. You’ll learn to write. You’ll participate in incredible events. You’ll have access to world-class personalities. And you may even work down the hall from former statesmen Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski (I did!). Perhaps most importantly, it was through this job I also met my future wife. We get married in July—and I am positively joyful.
Following two years at CSIS, I sought to tone my quantitative muscles. Management consulting called. I spent three years at Deloitte Consulting, working alongside clients from USAID, the State Department, and beyond. I dedicated my last year at Deloitte to an internal project that examined the intersection of government, the private sector, and this new thing called social entrepreneurship. I cannot thank Deloitte partner Bill Eggers enough for exposing me to such interesting work.
After five years away from school, I felt the pull. Fletcher called. I distinctly remember visiting the Hall of Flags as a high school junior on a college tour with my mom. I remember being inspired. How was I to know that ten years later I would be a temporary fixture in the Hall myself, particularly during Social Hour — Fletcher’s weekly gathering of minds and hungry grad school bellies.
At Fletcher, I focused on reconsidering the international development sector, uncovering new, innovative ways to tackle thorny poverty challenges. I was attracted to courses like Kim Wilson’s Financial Inclusion and Bhaskar Chakravorti’s Strategy & Innovation in the Evolving Context of International Business. I refined my consultative approach in Rusty Tunnard’s Field Studies in Global Consulting — and then served as his teaching assistant during my second year. And I put theory to practice by spending my Fletcher summer in Nairobi, Kenya at the iHub, a co-working and innovation collective. While there I wrote my capstone on Nairobi’s tech ecosystem and then taught this capstone to Kim Wilson’s class in 2015. Both my internship and my capstone propelled me into my current gig as a Business Designer.
And so now I’m at IDEO.org. It’s tough. It’s dirty. But it’s oh-so-rewarding. Last month I spent two weeks in Kakuma, Kenya, a 24-year-old refugee camp with approximately 185,000 residents. Read that sentence again. A refugee camp. A 24-year-old, temporary place of sanctuary. But nothing is temporary in Kakuma. It is a permanent city. Our team touched down in Kakuma to rethink (and frankly, redesign) how refugee teachers access professional development services. With average class sizes of over 100 students and a serious lack of material resources to support teaching, these refugee teachers are eager for support.
I went to Fletcher to learn how to solve big, hairy problems like those I saw in Kakuma. I am at IDEO.org to solve them. However, a lone wolf won’t solve these challenges. As Paul Bennett said, the smartest person in the room won’t have the solution. Paul is not alone in this belief. He has advocates across the world, including in Kakuma. During our second week in the refugee camp, a teacher suggested that problems in the camp are never resolved alone: “We work as a team. No one is cleverer.” From Medford to New York to Kakuma, collaboration appears to be the name of the game.
Tagged with: First-Year Alumni
Reports from the Class of 2015 have started to trickle in. Today we’ll learn about the path through Fletcher of Thomas Pols, an experienced medical doctor.
A year ago I was putting the final touches on my capstone and was in the midst of my job search while trying to enjoy every moment of my last few weeks in Medford. After having worked for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the years before starting Fletcher, I came to the U.S. in August 2013 with my mind set on continuing my career in humanitarian aid. Never could I have predicted how differently my career would develop instead.
Compared to the clear structure of medical school, the flexible and interdisciplinary Fletcher curriculum was completely new to me. Choosing from so many different topics to study while still being able to connect all these fields was an amazing experience that, over the course of two years, made me consider taking my career in new directions. Talking with Professors Scharioth and Wilkinson was a great way to test the ideas that I had for my post-Fletcher life and, with their encouragement, I decided not to go straight back to the humanitarian field after all.
After celebrating our graduation in May 2015, the first order of business of a small group of us newly minted alumni was to travel together through the Caucasus and Central Europe before starting with “real” life. For me, this meant a post-travel return to my native Netherlands and exploring opportunities here.
Because I wanted to explore many different opportunities, I tried to cast a wide net by doing some freelance consulting work for humanitarian NGOs, while also teaching part-time at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Being on the other side of the classroom just months after graduating myself was a great experience. Focusing primarily on courses covering international relations and international law allowed me to use many of the skills and the knowledge I had gained over the previous two years. My work at the university also brought me in contact with many interesting people who helped me continue my search for a job that would combine my medical and Fletcher backgrounds.
One of these conversations led to an introduction at Royal Dutch Shell in The Hague, where I was amazed to see how much they appreciated the interdisciplinary education I received at Fletcher. A complex company such as Shell works in a difficult market, in difficult locations, while continuously under scrutiny; a great challenge for a Fletcher graduate.
After half a dozen meetings, interviews and assessments, I was offered a position as Global Health Advisor. Never would I have thought that this would be the next step in my career, and I can truly say that Fletcher made it possible.
Today, nearly a year after leaving my friends in Medford, I am back visiting them in Washington, DC (where it seems that our “sixth semester” is in full swing), before I start the next step in my career. I am actually writing this in DC after finishing Sunday brunch with a group of Fletcher graduates, who shared amazing stories of what they have been up to in the last year.
I won’t try again to predict what I will do in the future because, with a Fletcher degree, it seems any future is possible.
Today marks eight months since the Class of 2015 graduation last May 22, and it’s time to start checking in with our newest graduates. While I continue lining up First-Year Alumni updates, let’s hear from one of the student bloggers who completed the MALD last spring. Unlike many of his classmates who are still settling into their new jobs, Liam is in the U.S. Army, and his plans for this year were in place well before he graduated.
With everything going on in my life, it’s hard to believe that only a year ago I was in my last Fletcher semester, deep into my capstone. Since then, I’ve spent the past eight months as a student at the Command and General Staff College (CGSS), the U.S. Army’s professional education program for mid-career officers. Yet, despite being in the middle of Kansas, thousands of miles away from Medford, my Fletcher experience continues to shape my life daily.
First, the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute recently published my Fletcher capstone. Focused on how the Army can improve at advising and assisting other nation’s militaries, the monograph was the culmination of work I did in Professor Shultz’s Internal Conflicts and War class and in an independent study I did with him. Although I’m thrilled the paper was published, what I’m more excited about is that it’s making its rounds through the Security Force Assistance community. I recently met with the Director of the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance to discuss the paper, and am in the process of consulting with the team that is re-writing Army doctrine on the topic. For me, it’s a great reward, after putting so much work into my capstone at Fletcher, to have it be read by a wider audience, and I’d encourage current and prospective students to attempt to do the same.
Second, what I learned at Fletcher has a direct impact on my studies here at CGSS. From the basis of national security strategy I gained in Professor Shultz’s classes to the ability think critically through history learned from Professor Khan, I find myself often going back over my Fletcher class notes and readings to gain a better understanding of topics we cover in class. My ability to address complex issues, from humanitarian relief operations to the roots of instability in Europe and everything in between, has been greatly enhanced by the breadth and depth of my Fletcher education. Additionally, last fall we had the pleasure of having Dean Stavridis come talk to all 1,300 officers in our CGSS class about how he sees the 21st century security environment, and it made me incredibly proud to be part of the Fletcher community when my classmates said they thought the Dean gave the best guest lecture we’ve heard. And Fletcher alumni gained a very visible face when General Joe Dunford was named the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last fall.
Last, and most importantly, I got married in December. My wife Christine is an Air Force pilot and we currently live apart while she’s in Colorado and I’m here, but the wedding gave us an opportunity to catch up with several classmates. Shockingly, Kansas is hardly the center of the Fletcher-sphere, so seeing friends after almost a year was great.
My Fletcher experience, from the education to the friendships made over my two years in Medford, sticks with me everyday. As my classmates make their way out into the world and start in their careers, I feel secure knowing that some of the most intelligent, caring, compassionate, and capable people the world has to offer are tackling the tough issues at hand. Also, as the Class Fund Agent for the class of 2015, it’s great to see donations back to the Fletcher Fund already coming from my peers and friends, helping the next generation of students succeed in their pursuit of making the world a better place. Looking back, I have to say that being a student at Fletcher was truly the most incredible experience of my Army career to date.
Returning once more, probably for the last time in the First-Year Alumni feature, to the Class of 2014, we meet Christina Brown, for whom study at Fletcher was one step in a multi-step career transition.
Three years ago, I was packing up my classroom after finishing another year of teaching physics, and now I am a few weeks away from beginning a PhD program in economics. The last three years have been a wonderful period of change and self-discovery, and at Fletcher cases like mine are not unique. I am one of many classmates who used Fletcher for a career transition — a place to both discover what it is you want to do and then gain the skills to make that career path possible.
Prior to Fletcher, I taught high school in a low-income community outside Boston through Teach for America and in a rural village in Tanzania through One Heart Source, a health and education NGO. While I loved teaching, my enjoyment was tempered with frustration over the tremendous systemic problems constraining the education market, especially in developing countries.
I wanted to work in the development sector, but I did not know how to break into the field, or for that matter, where. Did I want to be a program manager? Evaluator? Sectoral specialist? I wasn’t sure where my skills and interests would be a good match. I chose to attend Fletcher because I wanted the flexibility to explore development from different perspectives, to see where I would fit best.
Coursework in my first year in program evaluation and in development economics helped to solidify my interests, allowing me to gain useful skills for the development sector. Prof. Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church’s series of monitoring and evaluation courses were particularly useful. Her approach to evaluation is exceptionally rigorous, and with many of the alumni of her courses now in leadership positions within evaluation departments, her high aspiration for the evaluation field is seeping into many organizations. This group of former students stays in contact, growing year by year, through an email listserve and yearly gatherings at the American Evaluation Association Conference.
However, it was Prof. Jenny Aker’s coursework that ultimately led me to the path I am currently on. Like many members of the Fletcher faculty, Prof. Aker has many years of experience as a practitioner, working in West Africa, before returning to academia. And it showed in every lecture she taught. Her research was fascinating and thoroughly informed by her work in the field. There are many opportunities to work closely with professors whose work you are interested in, and I was lucky to serve as both a teaching assistant and research assistant for Prof. Aker.
At heart I am a math nerd, looking for an analytic approach to solve problems. Fletcher showed me that I could still care about the issues I was interested in — poverty, education, inequality — while approaching them from a quantitative angle. Seeing academics like Prof. Aker and others who were doing policy-relevant research and were at the forefront of the issues in their field, showed me an academic career need not be divorced from the issues on the ground. Towards the end of my first year I decided I wanted to do a PhD in economics and become a researcher. Rather than a light bulb going off, it was a slow, profound realization that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Luckily, due to Fletcher’s flexibility in coursework and ties to Boston-area schools, I was able to pivot in my second year and take two PhD-level courses at the Harvard School of Public Health and one at the Harvard Kennedy School.
At Fletcher, students are required to do a capstone project, which can take the form of the deliverable that is most useful for the student’s professional development. I choose to write a paper similar to an economics journal article, as it allowed me to see the research process from start to finish. I used an econometric strategy I learned during my first year to investigate the impact of an early grade literacy program in Indonesia. I found the program only had an effect for higher performing students and that this heterogeneity stemmed from differences in the time cost of participation in the program. These findings were used to inform the program scale-up. This experience deepened my love of the research process, and the tangible outcomes it produced.
A week after graduation, I began as a Research Fellow at Evidence for Policy Design, the microeconomic division of Harvard’s Center for International Development. I oversee the implementation, data collection, and analysis for two randomized controlled trials in Pakistan, working closely with our field team and six principal investigators across several universities. The job was a perfect fit, building off the RA skills I had gained working with Prof. Aker, and, of course, I heard about the job through a fellow Fletcher student.
Throughout the fall I applied to economics PhD programs and, again, Fletcher professors came through to offer advice and support. I am thrilled to be attending UC Berkeley, which has one of the best programs in the world for development economics, this fall. I truly would not be here if not for the mentorship I received from Fletcher faculty, opportunities I heard about through Fletcher alumni, and friendship of fellow Fletcher students.
It was the journalist Edward R. Murrow who observed that in promoting international understandings, what matters most is “the last three feet.” Incomplete perceptions and attitudes about foreign people are best dispelled by actual personal contact, with individuals engaged in conversation with one another. And so it was with my Fulbright experience.
I arrived in Medford, Massachusetts in the fall of 2012, to pursue a master’s degree in international relations. My place of study was the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, which is situated 15 minutes from Boston proper. I was very excited about this unique opportunity to specialize in the fields of study that interest me the most, namely U.S. foreign policy, security studies, and the Asia-Pacific region.
Fletcher offered an incredible range, depth, and freedom of study that I tried to take advantage of to the fullest. This involved, for example, a highly meticulous process of deciding which courses to take in a given semester. The task was not made easier by the fact that Fletcher students can cross-register for graduate courses at Harvard University, which significantly widened the list of available courses. I was not complaining about the degree of choice, however. For someone hungry to further his studies it was pure bliss.
For my comprehension of world issues, as important as the courses themselves were my fellow peers. Fletcher attracts a pool of students, both from the United States and abroad, with an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. This meant that for basically every classroom discussion someone would say something like “I was there when that happened” or “I have been working on that for my government.” This made the talks so much richer, and my understanding of the issues so much deeper. Having had the opportunity to discuss world issues with people from around the globe, in the pressure cooker of ideas and perspectives that is Fletcher, was a truly invaluable experience.
I also greatly appreciated the Fletcher faculty’s approach of mixing theory and practice in their teaching. The school prides itself on being a professional school of international affairs, and the professors place great emphasis on training students to be ready to tackle real-world issues. A skill I particularly valued training for was the ability to express myself concisely. I had many opportunities to practice this in writing terse two-page memos, where I had to summarize a problem and propose solutions. One of my professors’ favorite word was actually “pith,” a topic on which he gave a talk every year.
Beyond the classroom my cultural experience in the United States was greatly enhanced by being a part of the Fulbright network. I attended various Boston Fulbright mixers, meeting many engaging students from around America and the world. One of my favorite experiences, though, was the Fulbright enrichment seminar I attended in St. Louis, Missouri. I went there to learn about America’s westward expansion, but came away with much more.
I fondly remember spending time at a local daycare center in the outskirts of St. Louis. It was a part of Head Start, a U.S. federal program intended to promote the school readiness for young children from lower-income families. After being questioned by a little girl on “why I talked so funny,” I tried to explain that I was not from the United States. I attempted to demonstrate this by using Play-Doh to create two blobs representing North America and Europe. The lesson might only have been partially successful, but I left with a greater appreciation for how inquisitive young minds are, and how important programs like Head Start are in helping all children reach their full potential.
The Fulbright Program has allowed me to attain an education that I know will help me in my professional and personal life. But, and perhaps more importantly, Fulbright also gave me the opportunity to walk those last three feet and meet so many people that have expanded my understanding of the world, its issues, and its people. I would strongly encourage anyone considering becoming a part of this program to do so, the last steps toward someone might be the most important ones you ever take.
Though our 2014 alumni graduated more than a year ago, I will continuing highlighting their work until the 2015 grads find theirs. Today, Eirik Torsvoll tells us about his return to Norway and the start of his job. Note that Eirik wrote his post earlier in the spring.
Although I never would have believed it, time during my first year after graduation seems to have moved even faster than when I was a MALD student at Fletcher. I was therefore a little taken aback when Jessica reminded me in November that it had been six months since graduation, and that she hoped I would still be able to write a blog post in the spring. Things have now finally settled with moving back to Norway and starting work-life, so this is a good point in time to reflect on the initial post-Fletcher period.
The first few months after graduation were characterized by excitement and a little frustration. It was exciting because I was eager to start a new chapter in my life and pursue various work opportunities in Norway, and frustrating because there was little actual activity in the job market during the summer months. However, I took to heart the ever-helpful advice of the Fletcher Office of Career Services and used this time to reach out to interesting people and employers for so-called informational interviews.
Through these interviews I met some fascinating people with plenty of helpful advice and insights. Something I found particularly valuable was the recommendation to write and publish whenever I could. I was told that being able to display an ability to write and communicate would always be appreciated wherever I applied for work, something I have found to be true. During this period I therefore wrote a couple of op-eds for Norwegian newspapers (here and here), and I also published an article in the Fletcher Forum.
When things finally heated up in the job market I found that a Fletcher education certainly made me competitive. Particularly, I think it was the breadth and depth of my education that made me stand out in the job market, as I could offer both relevant skills (such as memo writing) and a familiarity with pertinent issues (for example Asia-Pacific affairs).
Sometimes I would be astonished by which aspects of my Fletcher education proved useful. For example, during one of my job interviews I was asked about how I would relate Carl von Clausewitz’s teachings with the practice of my prospective employer. Having taken Prof. William Martel’s course on the evolution of grand strategy, I felt I could answer this challenging question adequately. I obviously had to tell Prof. Martel about this afterwards, and his response — that he was pleased to hear that Clausewitz and grand strategy remained relevant — was the last I heard from him before his truly tragic passing this January. (For those interested, Jessica wrote a beautiful post about Professor Martel after his departure.)
In the end, though, I ended up in a research position at PluriCourts, an Oslo-based research center for the study of the legitimate roles of the judiciary in the global order. Much like Fletcher, PluriCourts employs an interdisciplinary approach, using political science, law, and philosophy to study the legitimacy of international courts and tribunals. Since starting, I have been very thankful for the breadth requirements of my Fletcher education, as this was a field I originally had not expected to work in. The ILO course on International Organizations, with its focus on the interaction between international law and politics, has been incredibly helpful in understanding the work PluriCourts does.
At PluriCourts, I work closely with our researchers on their various projects, assist in the many workshops and seminars we organize, and everything in between. The work also involves a bit of traveling, and soon I attended a workshop in Barcelona on the normative aspects of the legitimacy of international courts. The research project I’m currently working on involves looking at the independence of international courts from states, and this requires a thorough assessment of the various courts based on a series of indicators. It’s still in the preliminary stages of data collection and coding, and it’s really exciting to be a part of a research project from the very beginning. This way, I’m able to both witness and be a part of how the project progresses.
All in all, the transition back to work life has been both fun and exciting. I’m confident that Fletcher has prepared me well for the future challenges ahead, whichever way my career path takes me.
We’re rapidly approaching the one-year post-Fletcher mark for the graduates in the Class of 2014. Today we meet Julia Leis, whose path from pre-Fletcher to her current location involved several countries on three continents. Julia used her time at Fletcher to develop her interests and explore new areas, resulting in the perfect job that weaves everything together.
While working at an agricultural school for Burmese youth in northern Thailand in March 2011, I confronted two major decisions: 1) which career/life path to choose; and 2) whether to return to the U.S. that August. I knew I wanted to continue my education and, while my undergraduate studies at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service had prepared me well in international relations, picking the right graduate program was a challenge.
The decision was complicated because I felt I had too many interests. Urban planning, social enterprise, natural resource management, and public policy all fascinated me, as each area incorporated my previous work experience and passions. In addition to these interests, I knew I wanted a graduate school with an international focus on development. Thanks to mentors and supportive family back home in Chicago — and a Fletcher student, who I found through the Fletcher Admissions Blog and who Skyped with me while I was in Thailand — I found the ideal place, where I would have the flexibility and support to pursue multiple avenues of interest: The Fletcher School.
Now, four years after I considered my future plans, I can happily report that enrolling at Fletcher was the best decision I ever could have made. Not only did I find an incredible group of friends and peers at Fletcher, but I was able to pursue all of my interests in various capacities through courses, by organizing conferences, and in research assistant positions.
The sense of community that I found at Fletcher from the first day was unparalleled. The first weeks of school were both exciting and overwhelming, as I struggled to find the right balance between building off my previous background and exploring new subject areas. By the end of my first year, while I knew I wanted to pursue a career abroad, I did not know in what capacity.
In between my first and my second year at Fletcher, I was able to pursue an internship with Millennium Challenge Corporation in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, working on agricultural development, M&E, and land tenure reform projects, which allowed me to broaden my development skill set while working in a French-speaking context.
In my second year at Fletcher, I cross-registered for a course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, under Visiting Professor David Sanderson, called Design for Urban Disaster. This course, along with Field Studies in Global Consulting with Prof. Rusty Tunnard, reignited my interests in complex urban issues, resilience, and human-centered design, and I considered more seriously pursuing a career in humanitarian response. With the support of Prof. Tunnard, I also self-designed a Field of Study in international urban planning and development. In January 2014, I joined a graduate school field trip with Prof. Sanderson to Léogâne, Haiti, to conduct a participatory evaluation on transitional shelters.
In preparing for life post-Fletcher, I attended an Office of Career Services information session with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the fall semester of my second year, and I decided to apply to their International Development Fellows Program (IDFP). My interest in the IDFP was further solidified by courses such as Essentials of Humanitarian Action and Gender, Culture, and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies with Prof. Dyan Mazurana and Prof. Elizabeth Stites.
CRS selects approximately 20 IDFP fellows each year, and places them across CRS country programs in Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia, and Central America. I discovered that at least one Fletcher student had done the IDFP each year prior to me in places such as Haiti, Kenya, and Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza. I was able to connect with these talented alumni, who highlighted what an excellent opportunity the IDFP offered to pursue a humanitarian career abroad, as a majority of fellows will, after nine to ten months, transition to program manager positions within CRS. I knew that the IDFP would allow me the chance to work closely with communities and partners at the local level, and with an organization I deeply respected. I was fortunate to be selected and offered a position with the CRS Philippines country program in early May, and my posting was scheduled to begin in September 2014.
As I graduated in May 2014, I needed to find summer employment to get me through to September. Again, Fletcher provided me and other students with an excellent opportunity to conduct field research related to topics that interested us. I joined my phenomenally talented research partner Anisha Baghudana (MIB ’15) in Nairobi, Kenya as Junior Research Fellows with the Institute for Business in the Global Context and MasterCard Worldwide. We completed a qualitative study on how digital innovation is improving urban mobility in Nairobi. Connecting with Nairobi’s tech and start-up community provided an exciting glimpse into how entrepreneurs are creating solutions to solve some of Nairobi’s biggest urban transport challenges, including traffic congestion, poor road quality, and safety and security for passengers and pedestrians.
In my current position as a CRS fellow in the Philippines, where CRS has been working since 1945, I have worked with exceptionally talented Filipino and international colleagues in Manila, Davao, and Tacloban City. In Eastern Leyte and Samar, CRS is responding with Shelter, WASH, and Livelihoods programming after Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the area in November 2013. I’ve supported multiple projects, including an urban disaster risk reduction program called SUCCESS (Strengthening Urban Communities Capacity to Endure Severe Shocks) in Metro Manila, and the December 2014 Typhoon Hagupit emergency response in Eastern Samar. My training from the class on Essentials of Humanitarian Action proved extremely useful and applicable, as I helped with shelter and WASH kit distribution in affected communities, wrote situation reports, and attended coordination meetings with local government agencies and UNOCHA.
Like Hanneke, while I dearly miss my family back in Chicago and my Fletcher family, I never cease to be amazed at how close we remain. Despite being in vastly distant locations now, such as South Sudan, Washington, DC, Uganda, Nepal, Guatemala, and Boston, we support each other in any way we can, especially as the transition after grad school is not always a smooth one. They have supported me through countless Skype calls, and even with a month-long visit to the Philippines. It is this unique network of support that so attracted me to Fletcher in the first place, and I know that it will remain with me for years to come.
Time to hear from another Class of 2014 graduate. Yuko Hirose was one of those students who are organized and systematic in their approach to their studies, but who still maintain an open mind toward post-Fletcher opportunities. Here she describes her three-year path from Tokyo, through Medford/Somerville, to Nairobi.
It’s been more than seven months since I graduated from Fletcher, and I find myself writing this from Nairobi, Kenya where I have been living for the past four months. If someone had told me three years ago that I would find myself working as a global development consultant in Nairobi, I certainly wouldn’t have believed it! Life throws you wonderful opportunities when you least expect them, and Fletcher has played a tremendous role in helping me get here.
Three years ago, I was working as a management consultant in Tokyo, knowing that I eventually wanted to transition to working on global development issues. My passion for working in developing countries grew through meeting microfinance clients in the slums of Mumbai and Dhaka and a homestay in a rural village in Thailand during my undergraduate years. A study abroad at UC Berkeley exposed me to the world of social innovation, and I devoured books and other opportunities to learn about harnessing market approaches to improving the lives of marginalized populations. This was also when I first learned about Fletcher; a trusted friend and mentor attending Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy mentioned that her fiancé was attending Fletcher and loved the school’s strong curriculum in international affairs, as well as the warm and passionate community. Going to Fletcher became a dream of mine.
After university, I wanted to quickly build my skills in problem-solving and management, and I decided to join a consulting firm. There I met wonderful mentors and developed business skills that would eventually help me be effective in development projects. Though I had opportunities to work on pro bono projects with Japanese non-profits after the March 2011 earthquake in northern Japan, I still craved the opportunity to more directly apply the skills I had gained to the issues that I cared about. I started taking steps realize this dream, using any time I could carve out to apply to graduate school.
I was ecstatic when I received my admission letter from Fletcher in late 2011. Fletcher provided the perfect blend of development economics and international business courses that could help me transition from a career in the private sector to one in global development. In the end, what finalized my decision to join the MALD program was the warm alumni community I met during a reception hosted for admitted students at the residence of a Fletcher alum, Mark Davidson F86, who was then serving as U.S. Minster-Counsel of Public Affairs to Japan. I remember riding the train home that evening in awe of how humble the Fletcher alums were, despite their countless accomplishments, and touched by how fondly they spoke of their experiences at Fletcher and the friendships they developed there, even after many decades. If I was taking a leap into an uncertain future, I knew I wanted to spend the two years of my master’s program in a warm community of peers who are passionate about changing the world — as cliché as that sounds — and helping each other in the process, and Fletcher turned out to be exactly that.
After two years there, I can honestly say that going to Fletcher was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Not only did the courses help me to better understand development issues and tools such as impact evaluation and development finance, but Fletcher alums were extremely supportive in helping me transition my career. My summer internship was with an inspiring Fletcher alum at the International Finance Corporation, working on how to incorporate a gender lens into IFC’s investments. This internship helped me to work with TechnoServe in Ethiopia over the winter break of my second year, assessing the successes and challenges of a guarantee facility between IFC and a local bank. Seeing I was both nervous and excited about this trip, an Ethiopian Fletcher friend and other Fletcherites who had spent time in the country readily shared advice and introduced friends. My month in Ethiopia and a weekend in Nairobi to visit a close Kenyan Fletcher friend exposed me to the excitement of working in East Africa and supporting private sector development in the region. During the DC Career Trip organized by OCS, I attended a site visit at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, hosted by a Fletcher alum, and found out about an opportunity to work on exactly this topic. I hadn’t considered going back to consulting when I left Deloitte, but each case interview with Dalberg made me more excited about their work and I joined their Nairobi office six months after that visit.
Working as a consultant at Dalberg has been an amazing experience. The firm provides strategic advice to leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to accelerate their impact on issues such as access to finance, health, education, energy, and inclusive business. My most recent project was with the MasterCard Foundation on setting a learning agenda and designing a learning lab to enhance access to finance for smallholder farmers in Africa. My next one will be a project revamping the CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy of a large Kenyan financial company. As one of three Japanese in the firm, I am also helping drive business development in Japan to encourage Japanese businesses to engage with the continent in a way that meets the needs of local marginalized populations.
I am fully using everything I learned at Fletcher and Deloitte on a daily basis, and am grateful to be surrounded by a passionate and capable team that is as diverse and loving as Fletcher was. The Fletcher community in Nairobi has also been a huge source of support, as I navigated my way in a new city. More than ten recent Fletcher grads gathered for lunch during my second weekend in Nairobi, and that is when I realized that it is really true that you can find a Fletcherite anywhere in the world (and they will gladly take you in)! I’ve kept in close contact with Fletcher friends who are now working in places like Kabul, Yangon, Delhi, Juba, and NYC. While we are scattered across the globe, we support each other virtually as we navigate new cities, careers, and life events.
I am grateful to Fletcher for giving me the opportunity to be part of this warm community that inspires me to strive to create positive change. I hope potential applicants with a thirst for engaging deeply with global issues consider joining the Fletcher family — you will find a community of fellow students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are committed to helping you succeed in this quest and who will continue to inspire you for a long time to come!
Tagged with: First-Year Alumni
Next up among our 2014 graduates is Hanneke Van Dyke, an old friend of Admissions, having served on the Admissions Committee for two years. We miss her! Here’s her update on her first year post-Fletcher.
As winter settles in back in the States, I’m sitting in front of a fan in my office in the relative comfort of southern hemisphere summer. “Relative” because it’s not exactly comfortable, but after three winters in New England, I am welcoming the reprieve.
After graduating this past May from both Fletcher and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, I began a Global Health Corps (GHC) fellowship and relocated to Lilongwe, Malawi in July where I work as a Community Nutrition Support Fellow for the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI).
CDI operates as a social enterprise here in Malawi, linking commercial production of groundnuts, soya, and maize to smallholder (generally, farmers operating on small-scale family-run plots producing for both sale and household consumption) outreach programs designed to build technical knowledge around best agronomic practices in order to increase productivity, income, food security and overall well-being. In our role at CDI, my “co-fellow” (more on that later) Hector and I are working to build a community nutrition program that is integrated into this commercial and smallholder approach. These first few months have been dedicated to developing relationships with government counterparts and municipal leaders in the district and traditional authority where we work, building our information base by engaging in community-level discussions, and becoming more familiar with the programming across CDI’s different departments.
GHC itself is a leadership development and placement organization that works with leading health organizations to identify talent gaps, and then competitively recruits young professionals from an array of non-medical sectors to fill those gaps. Those in the GHC community share the common belief that health is a human right and that everyone has a role to play in advancing social justice through the health equity movement. One of my favorite aspects of GHC is that fellows work in pairs at their placement organizations — one national fellow and one international. My co-fellow Hector was born, raised, and educated in Malawi, and working as a pair is giving us the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other. It is teaching us both a lot about communication, authentic partnership, and the benefits of a little constructive discord here and there.
Now in its sixth year, 128 GHC fellows (representing 22 countries) are working with 59 partner organizations in the U.S., Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. This diversity, both of origin and of experience and background, is so fundamental to the beauty of the Fletcher community, and it is something that was important to me to seek as I was planning my transition away from Medford. (In fact, applications recently opened for the 2015-2016 fellow class and I encourage anyone who has an interest in global health and social justice to explore the diverse offerings.)
Prior to Fletcher, I worked in rural community health education with the Peace Corps in Morocco and then spent a school year teaching elementary school English in the Marshall Islands with WorldTeach. It was during this time that I began to understand the value of working closely with communities and gained exposure to an array of challenges related to health and nutrition, taking a particular interest in their effects on children.
While at Fletcher, my chosen Fields of Study were Human Security and Public & NGO Management and at Friedman, I focused on International Nutrition Interventions. I had a bit of a unique opportunity in that I did not have to limit my course selection strategy to just one school. While aiming to strike a balance between more theory-based coursework and more hands-on and technical coursework, the approach I took and the perspective I maintain is that Fletcher largely served to further inform the wider context of working within the international system, while Friedman largely served to develop the specific technical knowledge that would inform my day-to-day work in nutrition and food security, though of course, there was some blurring of these lines.
Courses such as Actors in Global Governance with Dean Ian Johnstone and Political Economy of Development with Prof. Katrina Burgess were exceptional in broadening my understanding of the international context. As a Fletcher student, I also had the opportunity to enroll in a university seminar during my first semester called International Perspectives on Children in Exceptionally Difficult Circumstances (maybe the longest name of any course I’ve taken and what some of my friends will remember well as the course that made me cry every week), which served to provide more solid footing for the central purpose of my graduate studies.
Because my program spanned three years, I was able to spend two summers pursuing internships abroad: the first, with a small NGO named Sok Sabay in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, whose work is focused on early intervention for child trafficking; and the second, in Kinshasa and Bandundu Province, DR Congo, with Action Against Hunger, doing qualitative research on community-specific causes of malnutrition. Both have proved invaluable (directly and indirectly) in preparing me for the work I am doing now and in helping me to more narrowly define my scope of work as I (attempt to) plan my career.
After all of this, it’s still easy to feel a bit scattered at times, and while I am loving learning about my new home and investing in my new community (and particularly loving mango season!), Fletcher remains solidly at my core. I am beyond grateful for the connectivity granted by Whatsapp and Skype and am not only continually inspired as I watch the work my dear friends and classmates have committed to, both back in the States and further afield, but am regularly reminded (by the delivery of a milk frother to aid in my latte-making efforts, updates about of the goings on of Corgis around the D.C. metro area, and emails marked URGENT detailing a lobster parade in Nova Scotia) just how caring, brilliant, and hilarious they are.
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