Alumni of the Mason Program Reflect on Their Experiences

Alumni of the Mason Program—which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary—offer testimonials to the power of their Mason Fellows experience, showing how their year at the Kennedy School has influenced their careers and lives:

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong MPA 1980
Prime Minister

Joining the Mason Program in 1979, I was struck by the wealth of courses available, and the enormous flexibility I had to tailor a program to meet my needs. I decided to focus on economics, policy analysis, and strategy and was fortunate to study under leading scholars like Howard Raiffa, Thomas Schelling, and Richard Zeckhauser. I picked up useful analytical tools, but more than that, a systematic way of looking at problems, analyzing them, and thinking about how markets work and how people react to incentives. I found these perspectives invaluable in public policy. In Singapore, we apply them widely, be it to keep public housing estates racially integrated, tackle traffic jams through road pricing, or design a negative income tax.

I also benefited from the diversity of the Mason Fellows. We came from a wide range of backgrounds and brought different working experiences and perspectives. We learned much from one another, beyond the academic content in class. Almost three decades later, my memory of the year at the Kennedy School remains fresh, not out of nostalgia, but because of its continued relevance to today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.

Gayane Afrikian MPA 2005
CEO, National Competitiveness Council

I was in Bamyan Province of Afghanistan as a political affairs officer for United Nations Mission in Afghanistan for a year and a half prior to arriving at the Kennedy School — a culmination of 19 years of professional experience in areas including the Balkans and the Caucasus.

My experience had taught me that solutions to even the largest problems — war, famine, failed states — can be found if we bring all our experiences together and learn from our differences and similarities. My expectation, coming to the Mason Program, was to meet remarkable people, and I did just that. That expectation was totally met.

The experience was a growing process in every way. The program provided me with a safe and rewarding environment in which I could experiment and challenge myself with high-stakes ideas. It also gave me the opportunity and time to analyze my own story, with my classmates’ help, and learn from it. But my most extraordinary memory of the program is the way it consolidated in me a dedication and belief in a more competent public sector.

Becoming a Mason Fellow, or rather becoming a member of the Mason Fellows family, has given me the most comfortable sense of community. Everyone in that community is as passionate as I am about the issues that I deal with in my everyday life and work. I still write to my fellow classmates with issues of concern for me in my professional life or private life, and I know that I will get the best advice and support.

Shri Vinod Rai MPA 1988
Comptroller and Auditor General

I went to the Kennedy School in 1987. At that time I was serving as the district collector and magistrate in the state of Kerala, India, a very important watershed in the career of any civil servant in India, combining revenue administration and developmental and magisterial functions. Hoping to specialize in financial administration, I applied to the Kennedy School.

The academic course curriculum afforded me the opportunity to study macro- and micro-economic theory and development, project appraisal methodology, public finance administration, rural development, and food systems policy formulations. The case studies were very illuminative and, for a hands-on public servant, very effective.

I particularly benefited by interacting with persons with similar administrative backgrounds from developing as well as developed nations. This was a remarkable learning experience and gave me a very wide perspective of economic and development management in different countries.

The camaraderie among the Mason Program participants was remarkable. We were particularly touched by the manner in which the spouses and children hit it off with each other and in fact spent their time as a part of a large family. I have continued to maintain my association with some of the Mason Fellows in the “neighborhood,” and it is a major attraction to go to a country and try to network among the Mason Fellows in the administration there.

The experience helped enrich my entire persona. Professionally it has helped me to contribute at every level in administration.

Nathalie Cely MPA 2001
Minister of Social Development

At my current job as minister of social development and head of the social cabinet of Ecuador, I have learned to treasure my days at the Kennedy School. I often put into practice what I learned as a Mason Fellow, from leadership skills to policy analysis. When I joined the program, its flexibility allowed me to personalize a curriculum that helped me refine my leadership and analysis skills, focusing on economic and social development. Moreover, it helped me to develop a framework to analyze almost any development problem and to design solutions that really tackle problems at their roots.

The Kennedy School also offered me the opportunity through cross-registration with the Harvard Business School to explore more in-depth business issues, which has helped me facilitate the implementation of private and public partnerships. I always think of my days at the Kennedy School with a mix of joy and nostalgia because I not only had the opportunity to learn from great professors, such as Merilee Grindle, John Thomas, Ricardo Hausmann, and Dani Rodrik, among others, but I also learned so much from my classmates from all over the world. We developed a very tight community that remains incredibly close even today. Thanks to blackberries, e-mail, and most recently Facebook, we keep in touch, share memories and projects, and help and advise each other professionally. This has been of great value and support to me.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Lee Hien Loong MPA 1980, Prime Minister of Singapore.

"Almost three decades later, my memory of the year at the Kennedy School remains fresh, not out of nostalgia, but because of its continued relevance to today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities."

Gayane Afrikian, CEO, National Competititiveness Council

Gayane Afrikian MPA 2005, CEO, National Competititiveness Council.

"I still write to my fellow classmates with issues of concern for me in my professional life or private life, and I know that I will get the best advice and support."


John F. Kennedy School of Government 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-495-1100 Get Directions Visit Contact Page