Currently viewing the tag: "Student Stories"

Time to return to the first-year students who I hope will be two-year bloggers, sharing their Fletcher stories with you.  Today we’ll meet McKenzie, who describes her path to the MIB program and her first two-plus months in it.

McKenzieHi everyone!  My name is McKenzie Smith.  I’m thrilled that I will be sharing my experiences in the Master of International Business (MIB) program over the next two years.  To get started, let me share a bit about where I come from, where I’m going, and how I plan to use my time at Fletcher — the things I imagine you’re considering yourself.  In short, I’m here at Fletcher to explore the growth and adoption of impact investment that helps develop emerging markets.  In particular, I’m interested in the role that capital flows can play in encouraging businesses to consider their environmental, social, and governance impacts on society in the course of their operations.

Before Fletcher, I spent four years as a consultant helping public- and private-sector clients solve complex challenges related to strategy and operational efficiency, organizational design, and large-scale program management.  I also supported business development efforts for multiple projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and Indonesia.  Prior to that, I taught kindergarten in Colorado after studying international development and international politics at Georgetown University.  One thing I’ve learned from my varied experience is that tackling multi-dimensional challenges necessitates interdisciplinary solutions.  Leveraging finance to build vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems and promote economic transformation requires a complex set of actors, from investors to academics, NGOs to businesses, who must work in a coordinated manner to enable citizens and businesses to create economic value.  Achieving this through a lens of social impact can be even more challenging as investors and entrepreneurs seek to create social value that does not cause a loss of financial returns.

Yet, while facilitating the growth and adoption of impact (or “socially responsible,” or “Environmental, Social, and Governance/ESG”) investing is fraught with obstacles, I find myself saying, “Challenge accepted!”  In fact, individuals around the world can and are finding innovative ways to blend social value with financial returns.  A growing number of investors from the millennial generation are demanding it, and more and more institutions are devoting resources to research and fund development that creates opportunities for investors to “put their money where there values are.”

I could keep going, but I’ll jump to the question you’re likely asking at this point: in light of these goals, why Fletcher?  In short, I came to Fletcher to focus on international finance and social enterprise in emerging markets because Fletcher offers the right mix of rigorous MBA-type skills and an understanding of the multiple social, political, and economic issues inherent in conducting business around the world.

In terms of core business and finance skills, this semester alone I’m taking courses in corporate finance, global investment management, and financial statement management.  I’m building concrete skills in valuation, financial analysis, portfolio construction, and strategic decision making.

In terms of social enterprise in emerging markets, I’m taking a course called “Emerging Africa,” which examines the role of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and the private sector in African economies’ transformations.  This course is unique at Fletcher, especially for MIBs.  While many of us considered traditional MBAs and could have found similar courses in those programs, we would not have had the chance to take these courses alongside friends focused on human security, development economics, negotiation and conflict resolution, security studies, or environmental and energy policy.  Because the growth of entrepreneurship in emerging markets is intimately intertwined with an in-depth understanding of many of these issues, the Fletcher experience for students interested in international business cannot be beat.

As before, I could certainly go on.  In some ways, it’s hard to believe I’ve only just arrived!  At the same time, already in the second half of my first semester at Fletcher, it’s hard to believe how quickly time flies.  I can’t wait to share the rest of my experiences with you as the year progresses.

Until next time,

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Today, I’m happy to introduce the first post from one of the new students who will report on their Fletcher experience in the Student Stories feature.  Tatsuo and I met last summer when he had recently arrived on campus, and I’m very excited to be able to highlight the experience of a student from Japan.  Fletcher benefits every year from the perspective of Japanese students, many of whom, like Tatsuo, have been sponsored by the organizations for which they work.  I’ll let Tatsuo supply the details.

TatsuoHello!  I am Tatsuo Sakai, a first-year MALD student.  I feel very happy to have the opportunity to share with you my future tough, but surely enjoyable, days at Fletcher, by posting in the Admissions blog.

My first-priority interest at Fletcher is international development.  I’d like to study theories and practical implications of development today.  I think there is a lot of room to pursue interdisciplinary work examining development studies for developing countries and regional development policies in well-developed countries.  I believe such integrated studies can contribute to both the less developed countries and to disadvantaged areas in well-developed countries.

Additionally, I am also interested in security studies.  As I will explain later, a position in homeland security is one of my future possible jobs.

Before Fletcher, I worked in the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT), as a legal officer in three areas:

1) The city planning division
2) The international affairs office for Civil Aviation, and
3) The road administration division.

During my five years in MLIT, I worked on planning policies for reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011; negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other economic partnership agreements; reform of public road policies, including the introduction of private funding into public infrastructure projects; and promoting disaster response capabilities.

As a ministry official who was assigned to study abroad with a Japanese government long-term fellowship, I had some options for my graduate studies, from the west coast to the east coast, and including public policy schools or design/planning schools.  Finally, I decided to study at Fletcher for three reasons.

1) Fletcher’s broad and flexible curriculum

I am a person who cannot narrow my interests into a certain area.  Thus, in my work, I was in charge of broad fields, from very domestic policy, such as city planning legislation, to global negotiations with foreign counterparts, for example for the TPP.  I may even be assigned to be a Coast Guard officer in the future.  I am curious about and able to enjoy everything I encounter.  In this, my first semester at Fletcher, I am taking four courses — Law and Development, Development Economics: Policy Analysis, Foundations in Financial Accounting and Corporate Finance, and Crisis Management and Complex Emergencies.  The classes are very diverse, from law to economics to security studies.  Fletcher has courses and professors with expertise in many different areas, and we can take any courses we want within the program’s flexible requirements.

2) The community

Fletcher is well known, even in Japan, for its strong community.  After other Japanese students and I received our admission decisions from Fletcher, one of Fletcher’s alumni, the Pakistani ambassador in Japan, held a welcome party at his official residence.  We met many alumni from various government sections and countries.  I also feel the strength of the Fletcher community as a student here.  It’s my first time living in a foreign country, but I enjoy and relax with friendly support from classmates, even in an unfamiliar environment and with a tough workload.  I surely believe that the tight bonds in the community will contribute to our success around the world.

3) Fletcher’s reputation in international affairs

As you know, Fletcher is the oldest graduate school for international relations in the world.  We have a lot of successful alumni who have built a great reputation for the School in the United Nations, World Bank, or other international organizations, and of course, governments and the private sector.  The reputation prevails even where I didn’t expect it.  When I traveled to a rural town in Montana this summer, I wore a sweatshirt with a Fletcher logo.  An old couple asked me, “Are you a Fletcher student?”  I said yes, and then, they said, “You can save the world!  Please do it!”  I was surprised and really proud at that moment.

I have nearly completed my second month at Fletcher.  I’m looking forward to experiencing many strange, curious, surprising, and enjoyable events during my two years.  I hope you will enjoy sharing my experience at Fletcher through my posts in the blog!

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Time to wrap up the reports on summer internships.  Today, Ali tells us about her summer at YUM! Brands, a major multinational company that just happens to be located in her home town of Louisville, Kentucky.

When’s the last time you looked at a utility bill?  What about 20,000 utility bills?  That’s what I was doing this summer at YUM! Brands — the parent company for KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.

Ali and the ColonelIt may sound mind-numbing, but I thoroughly enjoyed the task.  It cut across key departments and supported answers to questions, including:

  • What is the role of a for-profit company in addressing global climate change and water scarcity?
  • How do we communicate with franchisees about sustainability and cost tradeoffs in the supply chain?
  • What’s the best way to collect and manage CSR (corporate social responsibility) data from places like the U.S., China, and Australia?  Are we only responsible for equity markets, or are we responsible for franchisee markets, too?
  • What do investors care about, and how does sustainability affect YUM!’s stock price?
  • Should investors and governments encourage utilities to standardize units, billing cycles, and other statement features, as they increase their corporate water and greenhouse gas accounting requests, too?

Under the guidance of the Chief Sustainability Officer and YUM!’s Global Sustainability team, I collaborated with employees from government affairs, foundation, supply chain, IT, investor relations, and more, to author the company’s WDP (water disclosure project) report; develop its water stewardship strategy; select a new data management system; and engage employees, investors, and ESG (Environmental, Social And Governance) research agencies, around YUM!’s sustainability efforts and their connection to its stock price.

I enjoyed my time at YUM!, and this semester, I’m continuing my work from there through my involvement with Net Impact and my internship at Breckinridge Capital Advisors, where I’m learning about sustainability from the fixed income investor’s perspective.

Breckinridge actively recruits Fletcher students, and I’m grateful that coming here for my degree gives me the opportunity to shift my career focus and intern in different settings than I’ve worked in before.

I’m looking forward to reporting more about the great and final year ahead!

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The second of our returning student bloggers to report this semester is Aditi, who spent her summer in Rwanda, where her experience taught her some lessons that she hadn’t anticipated.

Aditi_Patel JPGThanks to the Leir Fellowship that supports Fletcher student internships, I was able to work in Rwanda over the past summer.  It was my first experience traveling to Africa, but having spent time in India, the U.S., and South America, I felt as though I was well-prepared for what the experience might throw my way.  In some ways, I was right: I wasn’t overwhelmed by the crowds, or paralyzed by the sight of poverty, or surprised at the presence of expensive restaurants and a thriving nightlife with international music playing at every club.  In several other ways, however, I found that the experience was new in ways I had not anticipated.

The organization I was working with, Manos de Madres Rwanda, works in partnership with a local clinic that has worked in Kigali for over a decade.  The patients are women and children living with HIV/AIDS. Several grew up orphaned, and most are desperately poor.  The clinic provides its patients with physical and psychological care, and Manos de Madres offered to partner with the clinic to provide the women with livelihoods and skills training.  The organization has a program manager, a marketing manager who I helped hire during my time there, and three young “Cooperative Agents” who are part-time staff and also patients of the clinic.  This team runs a number of different programs with various cooperatives of women: an organic market garden called Baho; a screen-printing business called Dutete; a jewelry-making cooperative called Ejo Hazaza; and a microloan program for young mothers.

My day-to-day work consisted of visiting each of the cooperatives and participating in their meetings, followed by team meetings with the Manos staff. Although I was originally hired to start work on Manos’ monitoring and evaluation of its programs, it quickly became clear that the need of the organization was improved general management. I had to be responsive to the needs of the organization, and although I wanted to test my newly-minted monitoring and evaluation skills, I realized that it would be a far more impactful contribution to help the team with its daily management and putting in place systems and processes. I spent a lot of my time conducting trainings with the team—on business plan creation, so they could work better with the cooperatives; on reporting; and on using Excel. I created a new reporting structure for the Manos team to use and trained them on how to fill out and submit reports.

KigaliLiving and working in Kigali was a mixed experience for me.  It was my first time living in a country where I was absolutely unable to communicate with most people around me, and before this summer, I definitely underestimated the impact this would have on me.  Being unable to communicate with the women we worked with was incredibly frustrating, as I always had to request translation or else be left out of the conversation.  It made me deeply uncomfortable, and it has made me question the effectiveness of working in a country for which I have no local language or context skills.  It will make me think twice about future career decisions, and tread carefully and think through my own assumptions before embarking on a career living or working in an environment where I do not speak the language.

Aside from the personal growth and thoughts about how I would like to shape my career, I had the opportunity to see a lot of the country.  I hiked up a volcano to see a crater lake at the top, and went on my first African safari at Akagera National Park.  The country was phenomenally beautiful, with the bus rides being more than enough of a treat to justify a disappointing destination, had there actually been one!

I was also very interested to see how Rwanda is changing its national image from a country scarred by genocide, to one that is increasingly a tourist and investment destination.  The process of building this new identity while remembering and memorializing the genocide is a tricky balance, and one that I am curious to learn more about.

Professionally and personally, this summer in Rwanda has helped me solidify how I want to build my life and career post Fletcher — it was a perfect way to tie together my first and second year at Fletcher.

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Launching the Student Stories feature for 2015-16 is second-year MIB student, Alex, who is reporting on his summer internship in the Boston area.

Alex SFletcher is not the type of school where everyone hopes to spend the summer as a consultant or banker in New York.  Ask a dozen people here what they did for their summer internship, and I bet you will get a dozen completely different answers.  With people scattered across the world doing everything under the sun, it would be quite difficult for me to describe the average Fletcher internship.  Instead, I can at least provide you with one data point by telling you about my summer, spent in the most unlikely of places for a Fletcher student: Boston.

My internship was with a rapidly growing solar energy project development company in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, which I secured with the help of one of my professors.  I worked to build out their “Community Solar” offering, which is the hot new thing in the industry: instead of mounting panels on their roofs, anyone can subscribe to centralized solar installations, effectively opening up the market for the 80% of people who could not go solar previously.  As you may remember from earlier blog posts, I am interested in innovative business models and financing mechanisms for clean energy infrastructure, so this was right up my alley.  Furthermore, working on the development side provided a good experiential addition to my internship with the wind energy private equity firm last semester; now I know both the money side and the project side of the deal.

Actually getting to build out a new product offering, with all the requisite business processes, was a great opportunity as well.  In my previous role as a strategy consultant, I was generally looking at the bigger picture instead of tackling all the nitty-gritty pieces of building something new.  It was an eye-opening experience, which brought some concreteness to my thinking.

The size of the company was another aspect I enjoyed: at 45 employees, it was much smaller than Monitor Deloitte and much bigger than some of the start-ups I have worked with in the past.  At this size, a company has the expertise and basic processes in place, but does not yet have the silos that beset many larger organizations.  I felt empowered to reach across the organization, make decisions, and execute as I saw fit, which I greatly enjoyed.  Also, I was excited to be surrounded by experts in all aspects of building our energy sources of the future.

Internship mapSo, while I have to admit I was jealous at first of all my friends jetting off to cool and exotic places for their summers, I ended up being happy that I kept mine local.  One of the great perks was my commute, which included biking along charming Charles Street in Beacon Hill, through the verdant Public Gardens, and then down bustling Newbury Street in Back Bay.  I feel lucky that I was one of the few who got to stay in Boston, and appreciate the opportunities and beauty of the great city in which we live.

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One of my favorite aspects of overseeing the Fletcher Admissions Blog is working with students and alumni to share their stories with future students/alumni.  I’m happy to say that tomorrow’s post will be from one of our returning Student Stories writers, Alex.  This is the fourth year of the Student Stories feature and applicants tell me that reading about the student writers’ paths is especially helpful as they chart their own.

My instructions for the Student Stories writers are relatively loose.  They agree to write four posts each year, divided roughly into the two semesters (though some slipping into the winter or summer break is o.k.).  Whatever topics are interesting or important to them are fine with me, too.  I should note that the student writers are volunteers, and I hugely appreciate the time and effort they put into their writing.

I’m still working with the new student volunteers, but the three returning students, Ali, Alex, and Aditi have all agreed to keep writing this year.  Ali is an MIB student who applied to Fletcher through the Map Your Future pathway.  Alex is also an MIB student, and Aditi is a MALD student, originally from India.  Tomorrow, Alex will share details from his summer internship.

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When Diane first introduced herself nearly two years ago, she detailed her pre-Fletcher experience and her path from her home country of Australia to graduate school in the U.S.  Today, having graduated from the MALD program in May, Diane describes her path back home to Australia — though she may not be there for long.

It’s now two months since graduation, and where has the time gone?  Those last months at Fletcher were certainly fast and furious, with a mixture of finals, fun events, Dis-O, friends visiting, day trips around Massachusetts, graduation, and many sad farewells.

I decided to base myself near campus in Somerville during my job search.  It was really lovely to experience Boston in warmer weather.  Yes, it was much quieter than during the semester, but a walk past Fletcher always guaranteed running into another student I knew.  My job search seemed to be pointing me towards home, so I decided to book my flight back to Australia, and to hope everything would work out quickly.

I had come up with a strategy for my job search at the beginning of spring semester: given that time is always limited at Fletcher, I decided to apply for any fellowships or year-long programs where you rotate around the organization’s different divisions for training, as many of these companies only recruit once a year.  I left the bulk of my applications for individual job postings for after graduation.  I was lucky enough to progress past the first round of a number of the programs I applied for, which meant I spent a bit of time each week doing online testing and interviews through Skype.  This certainly helped to keep me motivated.

A few weeks before leaving Boston I received a job offer from GRM International to be part of their Young Professionals Program, allowing me to rotate around the company through different divisions and offices during the next couple of years.  This role felt like a really good fit, and allowed me to return to Australia for my first rotation.  Through the process of applying, interviewing, and accepting this role, I utilized the Office of Career Services on many occasions, which is another great advantage of being a student or graduate of The Fletcher School.

I planned some travel before heading home, visiting friends in Los Angeles and Idaho, including a trip to Yellowstone National Park. I was lucky enough to meet up with some Fletcher folks along the way who were home for the summer.

Coming home has been an adjustment, not only because it is winter here.  But after two years away, it is rather nice to be around friends and family again.

I am so looking forward to my next phase in life, after spending two wonderful years at Fletcher.

Diane and Dallin in Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Dallin Van Leuven, F15.

Diane and MALD graduate, Dallin, in Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Dallin Van Leuven, F15.

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I’m really sorry that Liam’s two years as a student blogger (and at Fletcher in general) have come to an end.  He has been a great partner in this project.  He will soon return to his career with the Army, which supported his studies to develop him as an officer.  Today, he shares reflections from his grad school experience.

Liam, 2014-2One of the most valuable characteristics of my Fletcher experience has been discussion, both in and out of the classroom, especially when it builds on the diversity of the student body.  As I look back on my two years here, I can’t help but think that many of my most significant takeaways came from classroom exchanges with such an amazing collection of people.  From them, I’ve learned an immense amount about the world, and along the way, I also have made some life-long memories.

One classroom example I would highlight is Prof. Khan’s course, The Historian’s Art.  Regardless of your academic and professional background, if you take one course at Fletcher, this should be it.  The timeless skills I acquired to interpret history through the lens of contemporary affairs are amongst the most important I gained at Fletcher.  Moreover, Prof. Khan’s teaching style, forcing you to take a side on a historical issue, to not waver, and to use empathy, detachment, and relentless skepticism in looking at anything, will inevitably help you become a better thinker.  In addition, and the point of this post, is that the variety of students in this class, from journalists to MIBs to military officers to Peace Corps volunteers, made discussions vibrant, insightful, contentious, memorable, and effective.  The unique nature of my fellow students ensured that, while there was always something to be learned, there were also multiple occasions where Harry Potter or Jurassic Park entered the discussions.  That’s just Fletcher.

As I sit here and reflect, I am filled with a wave of emotions and memories from the past two years.  While the class discussions I described above are an important part of the Fletcher experience, so, too, are the projects and papers you turn in, the lessons you learn from readings and in class, and the advice you get from sitting down with professors during office hours.  Everything that comprises the academic side of the Fletcher experience makes you a stronger professional, capable of returning to your old line of work or starting in a new career field, and better equipped to handle the challenges of the 21st century.  Learning at Fletcher embodies a remarkable combination of academic skills with real world perspective that is unmatched.

But I cannot overemphasize the importance of the Fletcher community.  The students and professors are what enable these meaningful classroom-based discussions.  Simply put, Fletcher attracts the most amazingly diverse cross-section of intelligent, caring, compassionate, and humorous people imaginable.  When I look back to when I was applying to Fletcher from Afghanistan in the fall of 2012, I remember reading through course catalogs and the CVs of professors whose interests matched mine, and I was hooked.  As important as that was to my enrollment choice, it wasn’t until I met my classmates at Orientation that I realized how glad I was that I made the decision to come to Fletcher.  Relationships are key to success in life, and after Fletcher, I am certain that I will go forward with a wide network of connections — throughout virtually any imaginable profession and region — that I could not have acquired in any other place.  If you’re reading this blog and thinking about applying to Fletcher, I can tell you that, if I had to make the choice one hundred times, I would make the same choice one hundred times.

And, so, as I look back on what has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life, what I will remember are the people.  The people are what makes Fletcher what it is, and I wouldn’t trade the experience of our shared discussions for anything in the world.

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Continuing the internship theme from Tuesday, Aditi reports on her internship and other plans for the coming months.

Summer has finally arrived in Boston!  After a grueling couple of weeks for finals, I’m done and can enjoy the beautiful weather for a little before I leave for my summer internship.

This summer, I will be working with a small NGO in Kigali, Rwanda, on their monitoring and evaluation plans.  Another Fletcher student worked with the same NGO last summer, and was responsible for hiring me and training me; she was an incredibly useful resource for learning more about the organization and its work, her experience working with them, and Kigali generally.  I’m really excited to be in Rwanda — it will be my first time in Africa! — and I’m lucky enough that I will have the company of five other Fletcher students who will also be doing internships there.

I was fortunate to receive funding from Fletcher, through the Office of Career Services, to support my work over the summer.  My research partner and I also received a grant from the Hitachi Center (which I wrote about earlier) to conduct research for our capstones, which we will write next year.  The research will lead me to Nairobi, Kenya for a week after wrapping up my summer internship.  And once that’s done, after heading home to India for a week, I’ll be back on campus in mid-August as the teaching assistant for the Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation (DME) series taught by Prof. Scharbatke-Church.

What I’m most excited about for the summer (in addition to beautiful Kigali and exploring a new country) is the chance to put my DME coursework to use through my internship.  Looking back to August 2014, I’m so glad I took the pre-session course and went through the series all the way through Advanced Evaluation this semester, because it gave me new tools with which to think critically about development and the underlying logic behind it.  It’s an excellent class for anyone who has worked, or wants to work, in development or peacebuilding.  In addition to giving you a set of in-demand skills (because, jobs), it also helps you understand how much higher the bar should be for good development work that can create change, and what steps we can take to reach that bar.  It’s an incredibly challenging course that makes you question your assumptions, but the hard work and heavy reading load is completely worth it.  If it interests you, definitely consider taking it.

In the meantime — have a wonderful summer, and I’m looking forward to meeting all of you who are new students come August!

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Ali started contributing to the blog last fall, and now, with two semesters behind her, she is pursuing her summer internship.  Today she describes how her internship plans came together.

The “first years” are done with our first year of graduate school!  It’s an exciting, sad, and anxious feeling — all at the same time.

We’re excited that we survived, and that we get to meet the new first years in the fall.  We’re sad that the graduates are leaving Boston, and we won’t see them as often anymore.  Finally, we’re anxious to succeed at the summer internships we’ve landed, most of which start in the coming weeks.

The latter subject is the topic of my final blog post for the year.  When I last wrote, I promised to update you on the summer position that Fletcher and Net Impact helped me land.  I’m happy to say I’ll be working with the YUM! Brands sustainability team in Louisville, KY (my hometown!) this summer — performing data analysis and reporting for the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and updating the company’s sustainability strategy with new goals and partnerships.  YUM! — better known as KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell — is facing a lot of industry-representative sustainability challenges right now, regarding its use of antibiotics, palm oil, and forest fibers, and I’m excited to help them develop innovative solutions responsibly.

Prof. Rappaport’s Corporate Management of Environmental Issues class, Net Impact’s new SolutionsLab series, and Fletcher’s alumni are three resources that have been useful to me in securing the position.

Prof. Rappaport’s class — offered in conjunction with Tufts’ Department of Urban and Environmental Planning — exposed me to many of the corporate challenges and trends that I discussed in the interview for my internship position.  Her class also provided me with multiple opportunities to expand my sustainability network.  For example, she invited a former UEP student who is now the Senior Sustainability Manager for DirectTV to speak to our class, and she allowed me to invite Walmart’s Director of Product Sustainability to speak to our class after I met him at a conference.

Net Impact’s SolutionsLab provided me demonstrable experience in food business issues with large corporate players like Monsanto.  Because Fletcher’s Net Impact chapter is an active network participant, we were selected to host the series’ first SolutionsLab event on our campus.  The event highlighted my ability to form and execute successful partnerships and was reported on 3bl Media just one day before a post about an upcoming Twitter event with YUM! and Triple Pundit.

Finally, as always, Fletcher’s alumni prove to be an invaluable resource.  When I found out I’d be helping YUM! with their CDP reporting, I sent a note to a Fletcher alum at CDP.  It turns out, there are multiple alumni there, and the YUM! Liaison at CDP is a Fletcher alumna, as well.  It’s nice to go into my internship knowing I have a broad network of support.

So, that’s it.  I’m off to my hometown to spend a wonderful and productive summer.

Thanks for following my story this year, and see you in the next.

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