Alumnae Spotlight showcases amazing Laurel women and the paths they have charted since graduation. Whether they are doctors, designers, artists, authors, scientists, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, engineers, pharmacists, or civic activists or volunteers, Laurel women inhabit nearly all careers and corners of the world helping to make it a better place. Our alumnae and the journeys that they have taken speak to the essence of a Laurel education and what makes this School and the community of women who call it their own distinctive. This space highlights their fascinating lives and the mountains they continue to move.
If you would like to be featured in our Alumnae Spotlight, or know of an alumna who might, please email Megan Findling.
April 2018 Alumnae Spotlight
Therese Claxton Fleisher ’03
From her office at Boston Children’s Hospital, Therese Claxton Fleisher ’03, Global Health Program Coordinator and manager of the Liberian Pediatric Residency Program, works to save lives halfway across the world. The Pediatric Residency Program was developed by the World Bank, Ministry of Health and Dr. Michelle Niescierenko after civil wars and an Ebola outbreak left the African nation with only two working pediatricians for its 1.3 million children. Today, Therese is involved in every aspect of the day-to-day operations of training the next generation of Liberian pediatricians. Her passion for healthcare access developed during her time in the Peace Corps, where she worked with a South African organization that supported those affected by HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. She then went on to earn a Master of Public Health at Boston University and now works to help rebuild the Liberian healthcare system. Therese truly epitomizes Laurel’s call to “better the world.”
Can you tell us about your favorite memory from your time at Laurel?
My favorite memories at Laurel were working on the yearbook, hanging out in the Junior homeroom with friends, and spending long hours in the photography lab.
What are the hallmarks of a Laurel education?
For me, it was learning how to think critically and to challenge convention when I was presented with something I didn't agree with or wanted to learn more about.
You studied political science and government at Clark University in Massachusetts. What drew you to Clark? Do you have any advice for current Laurel students applying to college?
I found Clark through my wonderful college counselor Joan Pfeiffer who knew I was interested in going to a small school on the East Coast. I was drawn to Clark by its overall philosophy of making positive change in our world and the liberal student body that shared my values. At that time, I was in Claudia Boatright's course on the Middle East Peace Process and the Irish Troubles. So I was focused on an education that would help me build skills to make change in the greater world. When looking at schools I think it's most important to find a place where you feel comfortable (size and community-wise) and that has lots of opportunities to try things out of your comfort zone. I would encourage Laurel girls to find a place that fits their interests and personality and to not be too concerned if they don't exactly know what they want to study in college-finding a place with a strong liberal arts program is really helpful in discovering your passion.
After college, you served 27 months with the Peace Corps in South Africa. Can you tell us about your experience living abroad and working with organizations combating the HIV/AIDS virus?
My time in the Peace Corps was the most rewarding and challenging of my life. I was lucky that I was placed in South Africa because I had studied abroad in Namibia and was passionate about improving the public health response to HIV/AIDS. I worked and lived in a rural village in the KwaZulu Natal Province and worked in a local organization that's mission is to support those infected with and affected by HIV, AIDS, and Tuberculosis. I joined the Peace Corps directly out of college and learned so much about working in a non-governmental organization (NGO), how public health programming and campaigns operated, and the nitty gritty of running a program like this. The most valuable part of my experience, however, was getting the opportunity to live in a village with my host family, friends, and coworkers and truly become a community member instead of an outsider. It was an experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.
What prompted your return to school to earn an MPH from Boston University in 2013?
I became interested in getting an MPH while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I saw the type of work and job that I wanted and realized that I wouldn't be qualified for it without the advanced degree. While I had learned so much from the on-the-job training aspect of the Peace Corps, I wanted a formal education that would help me utilize those skills in the future. I chose Boston because I loved the city and the program was promising.
Congrats on your new job! After managing a community health clinic for three years, you recently accepted a position as Program Coordinator in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Health Program. Your current focus is on managing a pediatric residency program in Liberia—can you share a little about your work?
I manage the Liberian Pediatric Residency Program. In order to understand the program's work, it is important to understand Liberia's history. Liberia's civil wars from 1989-2003 had a drastic effect on the health care system. As a result of this conflict, 90% of the country's health workforce fled the country and 80% of the healthcare facilities were rendered inoperable. During reconstruction in 2014 Ebola struck, killing an additional 8% of healthcare workers. Before the residency program, Liberia had two working Pediatricians for the approximately 1.3 million children in the country. We are now working with the Ministry of Health, Liberian College of Physicians and Surgeons, and World Bank to create Liberia's first Residency Program to train the next generation of Liberian Pediatricians. Our goal is to run this program within the West African context-while sharing the expertise of both Boston Children's and West African pediatricians. I run the day-to-day operations of the program, meaning that I am involved in every aspect that goes into training 12 Liberian Pediatric Residents, other than teaching them. I manage the program from Boston, as it requires a great deal of logistical maneuvering from both Liberia and the US. This includes everything from hiring specialists to paying bills to managing the monitoring and evaluation program to prove that our program is improving the system and is worth the Liberian government making a permanent funding commitment to the program for its sustainability.
How difficult is it to coordinate a program from a different continent? What skills are required to be successful project manager?
It is definitely hard to manage a program with a five-hour time difference. However, my position exists to provide the infrastructure for the professors to teach without obstacles, which can be done at any time of day. I would say the most important skill to have as a project manager is to be able to meet people where they are-especially in this program. I am working with people from different backgrounds, experiences, skill levels, and expectations-so I need to change my approach with each and every person. Being patient and able to roll with the punches is so important. Without that you would easily get frustrated and overwhelmed. I traveled to Liberia in February and will most likely go back a few times over the life of the project. It was a fantastic opportunity and I enjoy getting to work in person with my colleagues in the hospital where the residency is based.
Are there any other projects you are working on?
I also manage the Global Health Fellowship Program, Pediatric Skills Week CME course, grants programs and other emerging programs. Since we are a small team of three, I get to work on every aspect of the program-development, management and even marketing and fundraising, so every day is different, which I love. Personally, I am currently working on raising Nolan (1) and Charlotte (3), who take up lots of my spare time. I also am trying to reinvigorate my creative side, which can be hard to do when you are busy with kids. My current love is contemporary embroidery. This fall we are planning on doing lots of work for candidates in running for the House and Senate in neighboring New Hampshire.
How do you think your time at Laurel influenced the years since graduation?
Laurel really taught me how to think critically and not take information at face value. Laurel affected the trajectory of my career as it opened my eyes to life in developing nations and taught me that with hard work and commitment I would be able to do what I wanted when I was an adult.
Outside of work, how would you spend your ideal vacation day?
Honestly, with two small children, my ideal vacation day is one just doing general adult things without them with me-like sleeping in, catching a movie, dinner, and maybe going to a bookstore. I do love to travel internationally and my ideal vacation would be hanging out with my husband in Kenya, where we were lucky enough to go on our honeymoon.