Woodbridge Fellows Get a ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Look at Yale

I always thought that after graduating from Yale College, I would head straight to graduate or professional school, teach En­glish overseas or find work in a non-profit organization.

I never expected I would still be in New Haven, working in a job that has so far involved having lunch with Alan Alda in one of Yale’s psychology labs and developing a website that highlights Yale’s efforts to preserve its historic campus.

While many of my friends from the Class of 2008 left New Haven after graduation to pursue opportunities outside the Elm City, nine recent grads, including myself, remained at Yale and embarked upon a year as Woodbridge Fellows.

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This year’s Woodbridge Fellows are managing and initiating some of their own projects as they work with officers of the University. The fellows are: (left to right, front row) Yuan Ren, Altaf Saadi, Fiza Ahmed and Erin Johnson; and (left to right, back row) Deeona Gaskin, Clairelise Rodriquez, Adam Scharfman, F. Jamal Fulton and Thuy Tran.

As Yale College students, the nine of us represented a broad spectrum of the student body. We belonged to different residential colleges, studied different majors and hailed from different parts of the world. We were selected by the Office of the President and the Secretary of the University to become Woodbridge Fellows and are now full-time Yale staff members, engaged in a number of projects and activities across campus.

As Woodbridge Fellows, we have the unique opportunity to receive a behind-the-scenes look at our alma mater while we gain new perspective into what it takes to run a university like Yale. As students, we were involved in myriad activities. As fellows, that hasn’t changed. Our individual projects are as diverse as we are.

Adam Scharfman, the fellow for the Office of the Secretary and the Office of International Affairs, for example, spends his days sifting through books and the University archives, searching for objects and documents that illustrate Yale’s international history. The information he uncovers will transform an empty room in Sterling Memorial Library into a reading and exhibition space chronicling the history of Yale’s internationalization process from the time of the first foreign student -Yung Wing (B.A. 1854) - to today’s global partnerships and initiatives.

Not far away, Altaf Saadi works in the Chaplain’s Office, where she is developing new opportunities through which the Yale community can think about issues of faith, dialogue and interfaith work. Although no longer a student herself, she is in constant contact with undergraduates as she helps them to implement their ideas and develop new programs. This fall, she brought several speakers to campus and helped organize a Queer Faith Film Series.

And then there’s me. Since beginning at the Office of Public Affairs in July, I have assisted in the promotion of a variety of University initiatives including historic preservation - which, serendipitously, aligned perfectly with my interests as a history major - international outreach, the arts and the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism. I have helped plan two special walking tours of campus, escorted media visiting from all parts of the globe, penned a few press releases, and can now add writing an article for the Yale Bulletin & Calendar to my list of accomplishments.

The other six Woodbridge Fellows have equally varied portfolios (see below).

Established in 2005 by President Richard C. Levin, the Woodbridge Fellowship is a one-year program (with an opportunity for renewal, if warranted) that places recent Yale College graduates in different sectors of the University administration. The fellows are under the direction of one of the officers of the University and Nina Glickson, assistant to the president. Designed to introduce recent graduates to the world of higher education administration, the fellowship also enables participants to gain leadership experience and hone their professional skills.

When the program began three years ago, there was only one Woodbridge Fellow, who was based in Woodbridge Hall, home to the Offices of the President and the Secretary of the University. Since then, the program has expanded to include more fellows and additional offices across campus. Careful consideration to our interests and skills were used in determining our placements within these offices.

“I am delighted by the success of the Woodbridge Fellowship,” says Levin. “Our graduates have appreciated the opportunity to work with senior members of the Yale administration, and they have gained a unique perspective on how Yale works. I am very pleased that we were able to expand the program this year to include participation by even more officers of the University.”

“The Woodbridge Fellowship,” says Glickson, “presents a special way to pair recent graduates with senior administrators so that everyone benefits. In addition, the nine fellows have connected with each other to learn what’s happening in other areas of the campus and to share ideas.”

As Woodbridge Fellows, we enjoy the project-oriented nature of our work as well as the fact that we are contributing to the University in a meaningful way. As students, we enjoyed all of the opportunities Yale has to offer in terms of resources and activities. Now on the planning side of events and programs, we find ourselves managing our own projects and taking leadership roles on key University projects and initiatives.

“I love learning about all the ways the Office of the General Counsel is involved in Yale that I never realized as a student,” says Deeona Gaskin, the Woodbridge Fellow in the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and the Office of Digital Dissemination. “I now have a greater appreciation of the work they do.”

Woodbridge Fellows enjoy a certain level of independence to try out new ideas and take ownership over specific projects. Moreover, many of us are tackling projects that may have an impact that lasts beyond the year of our fellowship. Examples of these include the new rules and protocols that F. Jamal Fulton is helping to develop in Human Resources & Administration and Finance & Business Operations; the overseas contacts Yuan Ren and Fiza Ahmed are making through their posts in the Office of International Affairs; and the proposals Thuy Tran in the Development Office is writing to increase funding for science and engineering.

Fulton says of his work in Human Resources, “I’m excited to see how this project develops through the rest of my time here, and I’m even more excited to see how it turns out in the coming years.”

Special events such as our monthly get-togethers allow the Woodbridge Fellows the chance to catch-up and discuss our various projects, and often include meetings with guest speakers - staff and administrators from different sectors of the University - who share with us their experience and advice.

The administrators and offices who have Woodbridge Fellows benefit from the program as well - with many noting that, as former students, Woodbridge Fellows bring a unique perspective to their work.

“I feel fortunate to have a Woodbridge Fellow in my office for the year,” says Richard Jacob, associate vice president for federal relations. “Yale students do great work, and having a Yale College grad available full-time is very helpful. And what a way to spend a gap year! I hope the experience convinces at least some of the fellows that working in universities and other non-profits is interesting, challenging and rewarding.”

Although some Woodbridge Fellows will be leaving at the end of the academic year for graduate school and others may choose to stay for a second year, there is no doubt that this experience has made an impact on us and our future plans. The future is still up in the air, but the fellowship is giving us the skills and experience to succeed wherever our paths may lead. As Fulton says, “The best part of my job is the fact that I’m not wholly sure what projects are on the horizon.”

Brief profiles of the Woodbridge Fellows follow.

Fiza Ahmed works in the Office of International Affairs on Yale’s initiatives in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Most recently, she worked on planning Vice President Linda Koch Lorimer’s trip to Ghana, finding information across the University about Yale’s existing involvement with Ghana and planning and organizing events in the country for Lorimer’s trip. Ahmed received her B.A. in economics and grew up in Karachi, Pakistan.

F. Jamal Fulton reports to Janet Lindner, the associate vice president for administration, and has been working on communications for Human Resources & Administration and Finance & Business Operations, as well as record retention policy development and implementation for the University. He holds a B.A. in history and is from Memphis, Tennessee.

Deeona Gaskin works part time in the OGC on intellectual property issues (mainly trademark and copyright) and also works at the Office of Digital Dissemination, focusing on Open Yale Courses and other digital initiatives. She majored in political science and is from North Carolina.

Erin Johnson (a.k.a. “me”) works at the Office of Public Affairs assisting with the promotion of a variety of University initiatives including historic preservation, international outreach and media relations. I majored in history at Yale and am from New Haven.

Yuan Ren works in the Office of International Affairs on China-related initiatives. His projects include Levin and Lorimer’s trip to the Beijing Olympics, Yale’s media coverage in China, several joint programs with universities, international admissions in China, executive training programs for various groups and cohosting delegations from China. An architecture and economics double major, Ren is from China.

Clairelise Rodriguez is working for the Office of Federal Relations, which serves as the liaison between the University and the federal government. She works primarily to help encourage the government to take a university-friendly stance on higher education issues, such as financial aid. She majored in international studies and Spanish and is from California.

Altaf Saadi works in the Chaplain’s Office, where she is primarily involved in organizing student programs, such as the New Orleans Spring Break trip and other events like a “Queer of Faith” week in November. She also helped establish a monthly interfaith day of service. She is working to develop on-campus initiatives for minority faith communities, such as Sikhs, Hindus, Bahais and Zoroastrians. Saadi majored in international studies and behavioral neuroscience and is from Irvine, California.

Adam Scharfman is working for the Office of the Secretary and the Office of International Affairs on Yale’s internationalization program and China initiatives. He received his B.A. in Chinese literature and is originally from New York.

Thuy Tran is working in the Office of Development focusing mainly on fundraising for science and engineering. Recently, she has worked on proposals for major gifts to the University in the sciences, highlighting the groundbreaking research being done at Yale. Tran majored in cognitive science with a concentration in decision-making and judgment, and is from Everett, Washington.

— By Erin Johnson
Woodbridge Fellow, Office of Public Affairs

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