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The Alumni Perspective

Hans Binnendijk

Hans Binnendijk (F'72) has made a career in the field of security studies, whether it is serving as special assistant to President Bill Clinton as senior director for defense policy and arms control on the National Security Council or his current role as vice president for research at the National Defense University, run by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The field, however, is always changing, as new security issues emerge and warfare evolves. His Fletcher education, says Binnendijk, has helped him adapt to a shifting landscape.

"Fletcher teaches you how to think in a globalized world."

— Hans Binnendijk

"Fletcher teaches you how to think in a globalized world," says Binnendijk, who serves on the school's Board of Overseers and co-chaired this year's 75th anniversary gala.

He cites the school's interdisciplinary focus. "When I was at Fletcher, I learned about diplomatic history. I learned about nationalism. I learned about international economics. I learned about public diplomacy, and so on. What you find is you really you have all the different tools at your disposal. "

That history is key to understanding where we are today. In 1933, when The Fletcher School was founded, the world was at a critical juncture between the two world wars, and the ways those wars were waged differed dramatically, says Binnendijk. While World War I was fought in the trenches and on battlefields at a remove from civilian populations, World War II saw newly mobile armies, the dawn of the age of aircraft carriers and significant civilian casualties on both sides.

He noted another change after the Vietnam War, which was in its latter stages as his Fletcher education came to an end.

"By 1975, when the Vietnam War ends and we lose it, our military goes into a significant set of changes," explains Binnendijk. For the 30 years that followed, including Desert Storm, the conflict in Kosovo and the beginning of the war in Iraq, Binnendijk says the military focused on waging high-tech conflicts, what he calls "network-centric warfare."

"Then we find around 2003 to 2005 that that's not the end of the story," adds Binnendijk. "Once you topple a regime, it doesn’t mean you won the war. You find in Iraq that the enemy essentially goes underground, and the same thing is true for the Taliban in Afghanistan."

This is a new kind of warfare, one that Binnendijk says has many names—counterinsurgency, asymmetrical warfare and stability operations, to name a few—but only one course of action: to adapt.

"We have had to shift," he explains. "It's much more about understanding cultural intelligence. Anthropologists are suddenly a key asset to be used by the military. This is all very different."

The Fletcher School has stayed on top of such trends throughout its 75 year history, whether it's by adding new programs—such as the new master's degree programs in international business and international law—or incorporating new developments in foreign affairs into the curriculum, such as the emergence of non-state actors or the large number of students eyeing careers with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Another key strength of the school, Binnendijk adds, is its people, and he should know: not only did he meet his wife at Fletcher, but both of his daughters attended the school, as well.

"When I was at Fletcher, I probably learned as much from my immediate environment as I did in the classroom," he says, citing the diverse global perspective in the student body. "The relationships that you develop stay with you for a lifetime."

RD Sahl

RD Sahl has the classic baritone you would expect from a respected television news anchor. But the 1995 Fletcher graduate and New England Cable News broadcaster knows firsthand that delivering the news is about more than having a great voice—it's about knowing how to package it.

"What became even clearer to me based on my Fletcher experience was that in reporting international stories, it just wasn't enough to do the headline of the day," says Sahl. "You had to look for a way to put a frame around that picture of the day. And that's a challenge in a minute and 45 [seconds]."

Sahl was lured to Fletcher mid-career by Professor Richard Shultz, whom he knew from his foreign affairs reporting for Boston's NBC affiliate, WHDH-TV (Ch. 7). After leaving the station, he enrolled in the school's one-year master of arts program, eager for the opportunity to challenge himself in the area of foreign affairs.

"No question was out of bounds," Sahl recalls of the discussion in courses such as international conflict resolution and 20th century diplomatic history. "The faculty constantly pushed the envelope with you." He notes the continuing relevance of courses he took more than a decade ago.

"How could you not have gotten something out of the international oil course in the past few years?" asks Sahl. "[That] course was a great primer for what has proved to be an ongoing story."

While the message changes from minute to minute, it seems that now the medium changes almost as frequently. Sahl recalls the seminar he took on transnational regulation of communications, held in the historic Murrow Room, when many of the technologies taken for granted today were in their embryonic stages. While the outlook for the digital age was unclear then, historical context formed the groundwork for understanding the new era of communications.

"If you have an academic experience that helps you gather, parse and package information of a timely nature with the framework and perspective, then you've done something."

— RD Sahl

"We went back in that course and looked at the evolution of regulation of broadcast and other communications, not only in the U.S. but how systems evolved in other countries," recalls Sahl. The course explored "the notion that it's all 1s and 0s crossing borders seamlessly, how suddenly no one quite understood where [technology] was going to go."

The job of a journalist is to quickly adapt to telling new stories about an ever-changing world, and Sahl says his Fletcher education equipped him to do just that.

"When you work in the news business, you come to understand very quickly that events can turn on a dime," says Sahl, who still occasionally references class notes and readings. "Every day, you have the chance to go home a little smarter about something. If you have an academic experience that helps you gather, parse and package information of a timely nature with the framework and perspective, then you've done something."

Mieke van der Wansem

All it took was one class to change Mieke van der Wansem's life forever.

Before coming to The Fletcher School, she had never thought too seriously about studying the environment; she was eyeing a career in international communications. But a course on natural resource economics made her realize the full impact of resource consumption.

"I hooked onto that as something I thought was really important," recalls the 1990 Fletcher graduate and associate director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP), who has worked on environmental issues since then.

Back when she was a student, van der Wansem cobbled her curriculum together from courses across Tufts, including Fletcher, environmental science, urban and environmental policy and planning, and other departments. As times have changed, van der Wansem has watched The Fletcher School evolve to meet the increasing demand for a focus on environmental issues.

"That's the beauty of Fletcher, it was then and it still is, that whatever you're interested in, you can pull it together. You can make it happen."

— Mieke van der Wansem

"That's the beauty of Fletcher, it was then and it still is, that whatever you're interested in, you can pull it together. You can make it happen," says van der Wansem. "That's what I've always thought is the great niche of Fletcher."

Van der Wansem is gratified that the environment is seen as a more relevant topic than it was 20 years ago, even if took the harsh reality of climate change to bring that shift about for some.

"It's the most infinite topic you have," she says. "The problem has been that people haven't realized it's a part of everything you do… It's a component of everything in life.

Fletcher students are increasingly aware of that. Van der Wansem notes the applicants for the school's new master's in business program who cite a desire to explore the overlap between business and the environment and energy policy, and she sees energy studies as an area of growth for the school.

"That's new," she says. "It's very exciting to see they're still interested in business but they acknowledge the relationship and interaction between the two programs."

Van der Wansem's return to Fletcher two years ago was prompted by her long-standing collaboration with Professor Bill Moomaw, director of the CIERP, whom she first met as a student and teaching assistant.

"He's the nicest man in the world," she says. "He's a guru in the field of climate and energy." Van der Wansem says that having someone like Moomaw, who sits on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on the Fletcher faculty speaks to the school's emphasis on blending academic and practical experience.

"When he comes back from those meetings, he tells the stories about what really goes on in there," says van der Wansem. "It's invaluable to learn first-hand how those things work, and what does science really mean in a policy context?"

It's that kind of perspective that van der Wansem says Fletcher students crave, and gaining it enables them to tackle a multitude of issues.

"The kind of people who come to Fletcher tend to be the people who see the bigger picture," she says. "I feel the education I got prepared me to do a whole host of things… I felt like it opened my eyes to possibilities, not to narrow myself down and always realize that no matter what you're working on, it has impacts on many different sectors."

Profiles written by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

Archival photos courtesy of Tufts Digital Collections and Archives

This story originally ran on Oct. 20, 2008.