Currently viewing the tag: "Student Stories"

Last week I came to a sudden realization that I had never written anything, or had a student write, about exams.  Neither midterms nor finals.  Seemed like a major oversight, since exams certainly have an impact on students’ graduate school experience.  Aditi has plugged that gap by writing about the most recent round of midterms.

Spring break this semester was a much-needed pause from our busy Fletcher lives.  Between midterms and various internship and job applications, all of us at Fletcher were pretty much at maxed-out levels of exhaustion!

Midterms are usually a combination of exams, presentations, and papers, depending on the classes you take.  For instance, my Econometrics class had an in-class, closed-book traditional exam, while my Financial Inclusion class had a group presentation.  I personally found midterms to be somewhat more stressful this semester than in the fall, since one of my classes is at the Friedman School, which follows a slightly different schedule than Fletcher.  Although the advantage of the mismatched schedules was that my exams and papers were spread out over two weeks, the downside was that my “midterm week” lasted twice as long.

In addition to midterms, if you happen to be taking half-credit courses, then those classes are either beginning or ending (depending on which half of the semester they are scheduled for) while you’re trying to focus on exams.  In my case, I am taking Advanced Evaluation and Learning, which takes place over the second half of the semester, so as we were studying for midterms and preparing for presentations, those of us in this class were also trying to keep our heads above water with all the assigned reading.

But of course, midterms come and go.  The major stress during spring semester midterms is related to the internship and job hunt process, since everyone is trying to balance applications and interviews with their coursework, other activities, and campus jobs.  It definitely began to feel like the universe had conspired to make sure all deadlines fell into the same two-week period.

In the middle of all my stress and exhaustion, a friend said something that both made me laugh and also gave me a lot of perspective, when I complained to her about how hard grad school is.  “Yeah, it’s hard — but it’s hard in a really easy way.  Exams, papers, and presentations…let’s compare that for a second to the issues we’re trying to learn about: Poverty, terrorism, malnutrition….  Give me grad school any day!”

So now you know why I’m complaining about midterms on this blog instead of by talking to my friends.

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The blog has some new readers, so I wanted to introduce you to the writers in the Student Stories feature.  This is the third year for this feature, which aims to highlight the path through Fletcher of a few of our students.  I try not to assign subjects for their posts.  Rather, they write about topics of importance or interest to them, and some are able to write more than others.  Let me, then, introduce each of them.

This year’s writers are:

Aditi: first-year MALD student from India

Alex: first-year MIB student, with a focus on clean energy

Ali: first-year MIB student, who originally applied through Fletcher’s Map Your Future pathway to admission

Diane:  second-year MALD student from Australia

Liam:  second-year MALD student, taking time out from the U.S. Army

Mark: second-year MIB student who has also completed a degree at Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy program

Previous year’s writers were:

Maliheh F13, MALD

Mirza F14, MALD

Roxanne F14, MALD

Scott F14, MIB

And in the first year of this fledgling effort, I also included a first-year graduate, Manjula, who gave me the idea to create Student Stories, which then led to the posts from First-Year Alumni.  I hope you’ll enjoy scrolling through and reading about their Fletcher experiences.

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I always prefer sharing a student perspective on Fletcher life, rather than writing myself.  Today I’m sharing a post Alex sent along last week about the new Strategic Plan.  When I say “new,” I mean newly completed.  It has been in the works for more than a year.  Let’s let Alex tell you about it.

Right now, Fletcher students are in a very short-term mindset.  Survive midterms.  Land an internship.  Make it to Spring Break.

Luckily, the administration is thinking a little bit more long-term, and has recently developed a new Strategic Plan for The Fletcher School: To Know the World.  The five-year plan’s vision is to go even further to make Fletcher the “premier institution for preparing a highly selective and diverse network of global leaders, whose influence is felt across the public, private and non-profit sectors.”

The plan includes four overarching, mutually reinforcing objectives:

  • Relevance: enhance professional and academic preparation of students as problem solvers, future leaders and agents of change;
  • Reputation: bolster the School’s reputation by increasing research productivity and impact on decision makers;
  • Resources: ensure a robust and more diversified revenue stream to support pursuit of School’s mission;
  • “Right Stuff”: maintain a sustainable, diverse and high-quality student body across all our degree programs.

These objectives are supported with myriad initiatives, from strengthening research centers and enabling professors to do more research, to upgrading facilities and leveraging technology to enhance learning.  I would highly recommend looking through the plan, to see where Fletcher will be going in the next couple of years.

Of course, I was most curious about what the immediate impacts of the plan will be for current, admitted, and prospective students.  How will Fletcher actually be different in the Fall of 2015?  So I went right to the source, and met with Dean Stavridis.

The Dean mentioned a number of exciting plans, but a couple stood out.  The administration is in the process of hiring a professor with expertise in cyber, to help keep Fletcher on the cutting edge of this growing field.  They are also building a television studio on site to help facilitate media appearances by the faculty (Dean Stavridis, alone, has done over 160 in the last 12 months!) and for use in classes such as The Arts of Communication (one of my favorite last semester).  Finally, one of the most exciting plans in the works is establishing a strategic partnership with a globally-focused think tank in Washington D.C.; this will provide an opportunity to collaborate on research, participate in exchange programs, obtain internships, and in general serve as a home base for Fletcher in the nation’s capital.

At a school known for producing exceptional strategic thinkers, it is fitting that Fletcher should have such a stellar Strategic Plan.  I look forward to seeing it in action.

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Returning to the students writing about their Fletcher experience, today Liam describes his progress on developing his Capstone Project, which is both a graduation requirement and an opportunity for students to build a curriculum that meets their individual needs.  New students arrive at Fletcher with the full range of thinking on their capstones — from no idea whatsoever what they’ll write, to perfect clarity on their topic and planned field research.  All have the option of selecting an “incubator” course, which is designed to help them develop their ideas and research.  Liam has opted to write a traditional academic thesis, but other project formats are also options.

As I begin to wind down my time at Fletcher — and thus have to start ramping up my capstone efforts — I thought a post about lessons I’ve learned regarding the capstone process could be useful.

First, it’s perfectly fine if you have no idea what you want to do for your capstone when you come to Fletcher, or really even through the first semester.  I spent my entire first year thinking about a topic for my thesis that, at year’s end, I ultimately decided just wasn’t where I wanted to go.  That’s okay.  I found that meeting about twice a semester with Professor Shultz, my advisor, was a lifesaver, because as we began a dialogue about what I was planning and where I had trouble, he asked good questions that prompted me to think about what it was I really wanted to get out of the experience.  Shifting gears at the end of my second semester meant that I had more of a focus over the summer to do research.

One thing I wish I had done better throughout my first three semesters was to tie term papers to my thesis topic.  I’m writing about the U.S. Army’s security force assistance efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to compile best practices on what works going forward, but the only course for which I’ve written a paper relevant to that topic was for Internal Conflicts and War, my capstone “incubator” class.

Obviously, not every class is going to be a good option for writing a paper that pertains to your thesis.  But instead of writing papers on the Iran Hostage Crisis (Crisis Management and Complex Emergencies), the U.S. mission in Somalia in the 1990s (Peace Operations), or right wing terror groups in the U.S. (Modern Terrorism and Counterterrorism), I probably could have chosen topics for those classes that, while not fitting perfectly into my thesis, were at least relevant to Iraq and Afghanistan.  I certainly learned a lot in the research and writing of those papers, but I probably could have been more strategic in picking topics that would support the research for my thesis.

Another thing that is important to note is that if you want to do any type of interviews, you need to put in for an institutional review board.  It’s not that big of a deal, but even if you’re requesting a waiver, it’s still a process through Tufts that takes some time, so I would recommend doing it as soon as you have an idea what you want to research.

Your capstone really is what you make of it.  In my experience, I feel I missed a chance to tie more papers to my thesis, especially since I knew my topic by my second semester.  However, the biggest lesson I’ve taken away is to sit down with your capstone advisor early, and then at least once or so a semester, to just spitball ideas on what you are thinking and where you want the process to go.  I’ve gotten a hold of some great resources that way, and it has kept me on track as I try to finish up one of the last remaining milestones of my Fletcher experience.

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With a fluid community of students who are on campus for only one or two years, it is often possible for new members of the community to take leadership roles in the organization of their choice.  Student blogger Ali recently took the helm for Fletcher’s Net Impact chapter.

The last time you heard from me, I had just returned from the annual Net Impact conference in Minneapolis.  That was a few months ago, and a lot has happened since then!

After the conference, projects with several of the contacts I met came to fruition: A corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultant from VOX Global hosted a campus workshop on CSR consulting tools within the communications realm, looking at stakeholder mapping, the Global Reporting Initiative, and more.  The community relations manager from Southwest Airlines expressed an interest in receiving graduate assistance with partnerships along the airline’s new international routes, and is now sourcing that help through Fletcher’s Global Consulting class, taught by Prof. Tunnard every spring.  Lastly, a CSR analyst from Brown-Forman agreed to come speak at Fletcher’s upcoming Sustainability Conference, hosted by the school’s Institute for Business in the Global Context, and to meet with Net Impact members separately.

All these very exciting turns have been part of my pathway to becoming the new president of Fletcher’s Net Impact chapter, as the previous co-presidents head off to exciting beginnings — one to complete her dual MALD-MBA degree at IE Business School in Madrid, and the other to continue her independent research with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Mentorship and leadership transitions between first- and second-year students are an important part of daily life at Fletcher, since the school has an abundance of student clubs and traditions that need to be carried on from year to year.

My Net Impact experience was a highlight of my first semester, and probably will continue to be one throughout my two years here.  It allows me to work in teams with some of my favorite classmates to plan events; to contact professionals and create programming that empowers students to drive social impact; to develop leadership skills for my resume; and to connect with other Boston-area students to participate in Net Impact events with the broader national network.  I look forward to updating you when I discover what summer internship it helps me land!

Until then, I’ll leave you with a video of my favorite Fletcher moment in 2014: waltzing with MALD student Peter Worth in front of the Symperoper in Dresden, Germany.

It was our submission to Fletcher’s annual “Where The Hell Is Fletcher?” video.  Here’s a past version, which I highly recommend you watch!

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I’m a big advocate of using the admissions waiting period (between submitting the application and hearing back from schools) to line up your financial plan.  (That’s assuming you haven’t done so already, which is an even better idea!)  Today, student blogger Aditi helps you out with information about working on campus, with special notes for international students like herself.

Deciding to come to graduate school is a daunting process, not least because it most often means giving up a regular income for two (or more!) years.  For international students in particular, dealing with unfavorable exchanges rates while adjusting to a new environment can be very overwhelming.

Although a few previous blog posts have talked about jobs on campus, they have all referred specifically to teaching or research assistant positions.  However, these positions are limited in supply, and most Fletcher students work in more traditional “office” jobs within the larger Tufts community — for example, one of my jobs is helping with prospect research at the Tufts Advancement (fundraising) office.

Before embarking on the hunt for a job, it’s important to bear in mind that international students face certain restrictions to working here, including not being allowed to work off-campus or more than 20 hours a week (though few students can spare the time for that, anyway!).  Upon arriving at Fletcher, all international students are briefed on the process they need to go through in order to start working on campus, including getting a social security card once you have a job.  Reiko Morris, the international student advisor, is a wonderful resource and always takes the time to answer any questions people have.

Having worked on campus in the U.S. as an undergrad, I came to Fletcher under the assumption that I would find a job soon after arriving, and budgeted for graduate school accordingly.  However, it wasn’t until well into my first semester that I found a job — which led to much panic, re-planning my finances, and feeling stressed instead of enjoying my first few months here.  I did eventually find two different jobs, and here are some tips I learned along the way:

Finding a job:

  • If you’re planning your budget for graduate school with a student job in mind, remind yourself to be patient about finding a job when you get here.  I made the mistake of assuming I would get a job quickly, and was stressed when it didn’t happen as fast as I thought it would.  In retrospect, I should have given myself at least a semester to settle in and look for a job.
  • Fletcher sends around emails to all students when jobs here become available, but remember that there are jobs in the wider Tufts community that are available to Fletcher students as well. There is an online resource (JobX) that you will become familiar with, which is usually the best place to look for student jobs.  Remember that in addition to serving as a teaching assistant (TA) for Fletcher classes, you can also look into TA-ing undergraduate courses at Tufts.
  • It might seem like a lot of jobs are only open to work-study students (and therefore not to international students), but don’t get discouraged!
  • In terms of deciding what kind of job to get, it’s important to be clear on what your goals are: do you want any job that pays, or do you want a job that ties neatly into your academic and career goals?  Obviously, it’s ideal if the job does both, but those jobs are rarer to find.  If you are very determined to find a job that is directly relevant to you, remember that that might mean spending more time looking, and passing up on other jobs in the meantime.

Managing your time:

  • The number of hours per week that Fletcher students work varies considerably.  Last semester, I was able to work a full 20 hours per week (which is more than most students do) but of course, this might change based on my courseload in coming semesters.  Working 20 hours a week was very challenging, and I had to learn how to manage my time well.  It also means that you face a very difficult trade-off in terms of attending all the amazing events, lectures, and parties at Fletcher!  One piece of advice I received was particularly helpful in navigating this trade-off, and that was when a friend told me that I have to decide whether financial stress or time-management stress is harder for me to deal with.  I decided that financial stress worried me more, and that I could find ways to manage my time efficiently.  However, if managing your time well is difficult for you, then it’s probably not a great idea to work more than 10 hours each week.

The process of finding a student job and then working while at Fletcher can be overwhelming, and in retrospect, I wish that I had approached the process more calmly.  If you would like to talk more about working on campus as an international student, leave your questions as a comment on this blog.  I’d be happy to answer!

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Our Student Stories bloggers are back on campus and checking in.  Today, Alex reflects on his first semester in the MIB program.

My first semester at The Fletcher School was quite an experience: immersing myself in my business and energy classes, getting to know my accomplished and passionate classmates, and participating in events with Nobel laureates.

First and foremost, I have been struck by the immediate and tangible benefits of being a part of such a small, tightly knit school.  Let me give you a couple examples of these benefits from my experience so far:

Small Classes, Meaningful Discussions

Many of my classes were quite small, facilitating open and deep discussions, as well as fostering much more meaningful relationships with professors.

One example was my Managing the Global Corporation course taught by Prof. Thoman, F67, whose accomplishments and accolades include being the CEO of Xerox and Nabisco, the CFO of IBM, and a recipient of the French Legion d’Honneur.  Instead of just teaching us analytical frameworks pulled from textbooks or reviewing business cases of other people’s experiences, Prof. Thoman helped us understand how decisions are actually made in the C-suite, based on examples from his own extraordinary career.  This class only had a dozen students.

Another example was my Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy class taught by Prof. Kates-Garnick, F84, who was the Undersecretary of Energy for Massachusetts.  As Massachusetts has one of the most advanced and successful clean energy policies in the U.S., Prof. Kates-Garnick is precisely the type of person you want to learn about energy policy from.  Instead of simply discussing theoretical policies, she put us in the decision-maker’s seat and had us consider the tough trade-offs associated with different options.  This class only had seven students.

The opportunity to take courses sitting around such a small table with industry forerunners and policy makers with real-world experience reaffirmed that this school is not just teaching us theory; Fletcher truly is a school for practitioners, taught by practitioners.

Exclusive Conferences, Valuable Insights

As part of this focus on staying connected to the real world outside the halls of academia, Fletcher encourages us to attend the plethora of conferences hosted in Boston.  A great thing about Fletcher, however, is that it can help you get into the ones that actually matter.

For example, Prof. Kates-Garnick invited me to a small private conference held jointly by The Fletcher School and the Harvard Kennedy School for one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world.  The meeting, attended by the top energy minds of the two schools and the top executives of this global firm, was an eye-opening experience on how corporations inform and conduct their highest-level strategic planning process.  I was impressed by the executives’ grasp of international affairs (it came as little surprise that some were Fletcher graduates), and was reminded of the value of the Master of International Business (MIB) degree I am pursuing.

I was also able to attend a cleantech conference with the leading businessmen and women in Boston thanks to a generous grant from Fletcher’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.  Just about every other person at the conference was a president or CEO, while I was one of only three students able to attend, due to the cost.  Access to the event proved invaluable, however, both in terms of the content of the panel discussions and the contacts I established; I left with an internship for the next semester doing research for a private equity fund acquiring wind farms across North America.

Not only are these types of conferences interesting, they provide access to the fields students are interested in, and to the people who shape those fields.  If it had not been for Fletcher, I would not have been able to attend, or even have heard of, these conferences.

Fletcher is a small school that delivers monumental output.  The professors and events students have access to are but a couple of the benefits of attending a small school.  It is these types of opportunities that ensures that students are at the leading edge of their fields, and that The Fletcher School stays at the forefront of the world’s most pressing issues.

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At the start of each academic year, the Admissions Office reaches out to a group of students to ask if they would be willing to have their profiles included on the website.  Around that same time, I reach out to a few students to ask them if they’d like to write for the Admissions Blog.  This year we achieved significant overlap in our groups — four of the six students writing for the Admissions Blog also have profiles.  If you would like to know more about the students behind the Student Stories posts, check out the profiles for Diane, Alex, Ali, and Aditi.

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Completing the round of posts from our returning student bloggers, Mark looks back at his first year at Fletcher from his second-year vantage point.

Mark Attia 1I recall that when I arrived on campus last fall to begin the MIB program, I observed our second-year brethren interacting in the halls after returning from summer.  Like long-lost siblings reunited, not a twosome could pass each other without a hearty embrace.  Equally memorable was learning of all the impressive and often exotic ways the MIB’s had spent their summer.  But what was even more inspiring to me was the certainty with which second-years assured us that we, too, are embarking on what promised to be a spectacular year.  They were right.  Our first year has since passed in a blink, and I, for one, learned first-hand what was behind all that enthusiasm.

I last wrote in the spring on how I was developing my own area of expertise by tailoring coursework to specific academic and professional goals.  I was focused on learning about international project and infrastructure finance, and looking for an opportunity to break into the field.  Thanks exclusively to the Fletcher network, I landed a position with OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which was, without exaggeration, exactly what I was aiming for.  OPIC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, and it offers a range of products designed to help U.S. firms invest in emerging markets.  OPIC also plays a meaningful role in advancing foreign policy goals in a way that I characterized as “fostering peace, through superior debt financing,” which is my own commentary on how militarism has been eclipsed by more subtle measures of economic statecraft and leverage.

I joined the Structured Finance division, where my team and I worked on loans for large and complex multi-party projects, including a wind farm in Pakistan, a concentrated solar power plant in Israel, and a social-impact-oriented housing finance facility in Haiti — projects that cost over one billion dollars together.  My responsibilities included credit analysis, due diligence, research on foreign regulations, economic assessments, and interpreting elaborate concession and loan agreements; all tasks that required me to draw on my training outlined in my earlier post on a daily basis.  But what arguably proved to be most invaluable was a broad and nuanced understanding of the global context in which I was operating, enabling me to offer authentic perspectives on matters with an insight that only Fletcher can provide.

The experience convinced me that, in purely commercial terms, the MIB program equipped me with precisely the right set of skills and body of knowledge to excel in an internationally focused financial career that was otherwise entirely new to me, and it was Fletcher that made the opportunity possible.  But the value Fletcher creates for us does not stop there.  In my case, I have participated in the Building Bridges Symposium to learn from the industry’s foremost thought leaders, and have been provided connections to many astonishing alumni in the field, including international banker John Greenwood (F04), prolific builder Philip Asherman (F04), and pioneer Mimi Alemayehou (F98).  These are just a fraction of the resources available to us, all part of a brilliantly executed mission to prepare future leaders for the global stage and illuminate a path forward.

Returning to campus this fall, I was greeted in the hallway by our dean, James Stavridis (F83, F84 and the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, mind you), who inquired about my summer with equal fascination as a parent.  The moment was striking, and reinforced a sentiment solidifying in my mind since I first witnessed those second-year classmates interact.  There is an unmistakable culture that resonates throughout Fletcher, a kind of kinship that binds not only students together, but also us to our faculty, to our staff, and to our alumni.  In my view, our culture is the real prize, the engine of enduring value, and an honor to be a part of.  Like my classmates before me, I know first-years will discover their untapped potential, see locked doors swing open, and become a part of the Fletcher family, as I have; and all after merely one year.

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The second new student who will be blogging throughout her two years at Fletcher has actually already been heard from, when she and Miranda wrote about technology studies at Fletcher.  I met Aditi last spring, and I made a note to contact her in the fall to see if she would blog for us.  My email request to her crossed paths with her offer to write the first post — I’m really happy to have an eager writer.  Today, Aditi introduces herself.

Aditi_Patel JPGI am a first-year MALD student, (still thinking about) concentrating in International Business Relations and Development Economics.  As you have read in a past post, my main interests are in the use of digital technology for development programs, so I also plan to weave that interest into my coursework.

Before Fletcher, I worked back home in Mumbai at a non-profit called Dasra, doing a combination of fundraising and impact assessment work.  Having been in the Boston area for my undergraduate degree at Wellesley College, I’m really excited to experience the fall again, with all its beautiful colours — but nervous about being back in the Boston winter.  (My friends have informed me that I’m not the most pleasant person to be around when it’s cold.)

In the spirit of sharing my Fletcher journey with the readers of this blog, here are some of the things about Fletcher that most surprised me when I arrived here:

  • The MALD program has a very flexible curriculum
  • Fletcher has a wonderful sense of community

Just kidding!  I know that those are facts that are repeated over and over, and that everyone applying to Fletcher has probably heard them before.  So here are a few things that really were surprises:

  • They’re not exaggerating! Everyone is REALLY NICE at Fletcher, and the prevailing culture and environment here is one that takes great pride in kindness.  A not uncommon example: I have the wrong edition of a textbook for a class, and one of my classmates helped me out (without me having to ask) by sending me photos of every single assigned problem in the book so I could make sure I had the correct homework.
  • The sunsets here are breath-taking.  I definitely did not except beautiful sunsets in Medford, Massachusetts — but the sun setting over the Fletcher Field is an incredible sight.
  • The amount of time students get with our professors outside of class, through office hours and meetings.  Even when I have reached out to professors whose classes I’m not currently in, they have been very approachable and willing to chat.
  • A) The number of events and receptions that involve (free) food and drinks, and B) the importance placed on events and receptions that involve (free) food and drinks.  These are values I appreciate deeply.

I haven’t had a day so far at Fletcher that’s been the same as any other, and so I’m constantly finding new things to be surprised by.  I look forward to sharing all these aspects of my two years here with the Admissions Blog!

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