Tufts University

Connecting Across Continents

GMAP studentsStudents in GMAP, a combined residency and Internet-mediated graduate program at Tufts' Fletcher School, are gaining an interdisciplinary education in global affairs, while making lifelong connections with their classmates from around the world.

Kent Wittler, a student in the Global Master of Arts Program (GMAP) at Tufts' Fletcher School, admits that balancing work, life and his graduate studies has been a bit of a challenge for him lately. During the week, the executive at a Boston-based capital management firm wakes up at 5 a.m. to read for his courses and on Saturdays, he squeezes in some of his son's soccer game before connecting with his classmates for a weekly conference call. While the pace of life has been hectic for Wittler, he says that the end result—a GMAP education—makes it all worthwhile.

"The GMAP experience, so far, has been challenging, but deeply enriching," says Wittler, who is expected to graduate from the year-long program in July 2007. "I came to The Fletcher School to broaden my knowledge of international institutions, globalization and diplomacy, and also to develop my global leadership skills."

"While we all have different professional and cultural backgrounds, we each share the common objective of increasing our ability to effect positive change in the world."

— Donald Best

Created in 2000, GMAP targets mid-career and senior-level professionals with aspirations similar to Wittler's. It's a combined residency and Internet-mediated graduate program that links people from fields as diverse as government service, international business, humanitarian aid and the media. According to Senior Associate Dean and GMAP Director Deborah Nutter, the program marries the traditional mission of The Fletcher School—to educate global leaders—with the technologies of the 21st century.

Through the Internet, GMAP students obtain and submit their assignments each week and interact with their instructors and classmates. According to students, the online discussions where the program's 35-40 students chat around-the-clock about the topics they are studying are a valuable supplement to course lectures and readings.

Learning Through Diversity

Early on in the program, Mahmoud Haidar, an advisor on business and regional development for Reuters in Lebanon, remembers spotting an unfamiliar acronym—WC—on one of the GMAP discussion boards. After finishing his weekly reading, he discovered that the WC stood for Washington Consensus, a controversial set of global economic policies developed by the United States. His classmates educated him further.

"I got to share in the many real experiences that my colleagues—these serious-thinkers from Latin America, Ex-Soviet Union, Africa, Americas and Europe—had to tell about the WC," says Haidar, who is also slated to graduate in July. "They brought in a wealth of personal experience, rich insights and genuine quests. I don't think there is a textbook or a forum that may have taught me this much about this subject in a short week."

Two students reflect on their GMAP experiences:

Robbie Graham Geri Smith

GMAP textbooks, which are shipped to students along with DVD lectures before each term begins, provide instruction in a variety of subject areas, including international trade, politics, finance, negotiations, business law and security studies. While most students agree that the coursework is rigorous and the faculty and staff are top-notch, they emphasize that a key element of their GMAP education is the interaction they have with one another.

"The incredible diversity of my classmates is a powerful source of learning and inspiration," says Donald Best, senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for a global technology media, research, and events company in Massachusetts. "Some of my GMAP colleagues are directly involved in helping to resolve some of the most intractable conflicts around the world."

His classmate, Josy Joseph, who recently completed his GMAP coursework, agrees.

"GMAP was a chance for me to understand the inevitable realities and challenges of the modern world through the eyes of many who are shaping it," says Joseph, a special correspondent for India's Daily News and Analysis. "The program is a great training ground for those who want to take part in the 21st century's progress amidst the chaos."

Part of the students' training involves a thorough assessment of international conflicts taking place around the world; they are often used to illustrate concepts being taught in the program.

"Every geo-political event that unfolded during the semester had some tangential relation to our coursework," he says. "When we began the program, Israel and Hezbollah were at war. Soon after North Korea test fired a missile and Iran made its nuclear ambitions known. We had an opportunity to examine the historical and root causes of these crises."

Best, who will also earn his GMAP degree in July, describes his experience in the program as "eye-opening." From day one, he says, the program has caused him to re-think many of his assumptions.

The father of three recalls a professor asking students during an international politics lecture at the start of the first term whether they were optimists or pessimists about the state of the world today. She posed that same question to them during the last week of the term.

"She asked if our answer to that question had changed over the past eleven weeks," Best remembers. "In the first class, I said I was a pessimist. After the term, I said that by learning how to take a more rational approach to evaluating world events, I'd been transformed into a cautious optimist."

Building A Global Network

Best's transformation was preceded by nearly three months of collaboration with his teammates, who he began working with during his first GMAP residency last summer. While a chunk of the program is Internet-based, GMAP requires three residencies; two are held on Tufts' Medford/Somerville campus and one is held off-site, in either Washington, D.C. or an international location.

During the initial residency, students are divided into teams of five or six, forming the group they remain with throughout the term. Wittler remembers his first assignment, which entailed the creation of a high-level proposal on a global issue of his team's choosing. The project's target audience: a foreign minister.

"Producing, communicating, collaborating and presenting on something with five diverse people in short order is excellent training," he says. "Repeating it over the course of the semester is priceless."

Teamwork is an integral piece of GMAP, according to Nutter, as are the residencies, during which "people live together, eat together, study together and get to know each other" over an intense two-week period, she says.

These on-and-off-campus visits are designed to provide GMAP students with the same strong sense of community that their fellow Fletcher School students enjoy on campus, Nutter explains. "When we created GMAP, we said we are going to keep that notion of a community—where it's a network of people who really know each other and stay together," she says.

In many GMAP students' eyes, The Fletcher School has succeeded in that endeavor.

"I'm building lifelong relationships," says Best, who keeps in contact with his team members through conference calls, e-mails, GMAP message boards and individual phone calls. "Without the support of my team, I don't know how I could have made it through the first term."

According to Best, he and his GMAP colleagues from around the world have bonded over a shared goal.

"While we all have different professional and cultural backgrounds, we each share the common objective of increasing our ability to effect positive change in the world," Best says.

Profile written by Meghan Mandeville

Homepage and top photos by Len Rubenstein

This story originally ran on December 4, 2006.