MY YALE F&ES EXPERIENCE: DAVID J. SOLOMON
Graduate school has been an incredible opportunity to deepen my knowledge and professional skills, broaden my scope of career paths, and greatly expand my network of individuals who are not only future influential leaders in their field, but also great friends. Yet, grad school has also been a very busy and sometimes exhausting phase, full of crowded schedules, constant digital communications regarding projects and programming, and high academic standards and pressures.
During nearly three semesters at F&ES, I’ve sought to navigate this range of grad school joys and challenges, creating a balance of school work, passion projects, and hobbies that have both fulfilled and invigorated me throughout this highly dynamic chapter of my life:
Courses Having worked in US-China trade relations for several years prior to arriving at F&ES, and committed my undergraduate and early professional years to focusing on the opportunities and challenges associated with China’s national ascendance, I enrolled at F&ES as a Master of Environmental Management candidate with a specialization in Business and the Environment with the goal of better developing my understanding of corporate sustainability. However, after only a short while into the program, I began to shift more into entrepreneurship, something that was strongly aligned with my personality and professional curiosity.
Since this shift, I have immersed myself in a range of entrepreneurship courses that nicely complement my environmental studies and other skill-building courses. Currently, I am enrolled in International Entrepreneurship, Principles of Entrepreneurship, Global Social Entrepreneurship: India, as well as Advanced Seminar on Industrial Ecology and Waste Management, and two independent studies of particular interest. During the upcoming spring semester, I look forward to complementing my current courses with Renewable Energy Project Finance, Foundations of Accounting and Valuation, Entrepreneurial Finance, Financing Green Technologies, and continued independent study. Taken together, these courses are enabling me to fulfill my Business and Environment requirements, explore my growing professional passions for entrepreneurship, and learn about opportunities to apply these interests in both China and the US, and perhaps beyond.
Most importantly, these courses have been quite enjoyable as I find myself excited to do readings, work on projects, and attend classes each week—a signal, I hope, that this is a natural and worthy career pursuit for me long term.
Passion Projects As I mentioned, among my courses these past two years have included two independent studies, which have served as more than just class experiences, but also opportunities to explore my intellectual and professional passions.
Starting last fall, I began working with two classmates, Aaron Feng of China and Paul Hatanga of Uganda, on a big research project focused on China’s infrastructure investments in East Africa, through the lens of the Chinese financed and constructed Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Kenya, and proposed equivalent project in Uganda. For this study, which has extended through our entire two years at F&ES, Aaron, Paul, and I have examined the environmental, social, and economic implications of this project as a way of better understanding the value and risks posed by China’s investor role in Africa and other developing countries. After many months of discussions and pitches, Aaron, Paul, and I were able to raise enough money across four different institutions to afford a two week spring break trip to Kenya and Uganda that permitted us to experience SGR firsthand, as well as engage directly with a range of stakeholders connected to the project. The three of us are currently planning a follow-up comparative study that examines similar Chinese financed and built SGR projects in other countries of East Africa.
In addition to this project, I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to work under Professor Marian Chertow on a research grant focused on Rwanda’s domestic industrial policy, in particular on the country’s push to develop its apparel industry by raising tariffs on secondhand clothing from the US and other developed countries, and China’s role in the market. For this project, I was fortunate to travel to East Africa yet again, this time alongside Professor Chertow and Ph.D classmate Matt Gordon to Tanzania and Rwanda during late spring to examine these issues through meetings with government officials, textile factory operators, and academics. This school year, I am continuing to work with Professor Chertow on the project, as we craft an article for publication and continue advising the Rwandan government.
These projects have not only created fascinating subjects to study during my degree, but provided a valuable platform for diversifying my longtime interest in China to a broader focus on China’s influence on the world more generally, while widening networks that could open doors for potentially exploring these topics professionally full time.
Chinese Lessons Beyond my studies and projects, I also have spent the past two years participating alongside classmate Kate Logan in the Fields Fellowship program, through which we receive Chinese lessons with a tutor twice per week. This has been a wonderful way to maintain advanced Mandarin skills, while also honing and developing these skills toward subject areas at the intersection of my career interests. I began with this fellowship during spring 2019 and look forward to continuing with it through the end of my degree.
Other Hobbies Outside of school, I’ve also taken up a variety of hobbies that give me a lot of life and offer a fun outlet for escaping the routines of school. In many ways, exploring these hobbies has proven just as rewarding as the more conventional pursuits of my degree.
Starting this past spring, I began DJing, an activity I had long wanted to pursue, but didn’t have the time. Now in my second year at F&ES, I’ve had a total blast DJing a number of events throughout the school, including Thursday night dance parties at the Yale graduate bar, Gryphon’s Pub, and official F&ES parties. I look forward to continuing with this routine for the rest of the school year and well beyond.
Also music related, this semester I took up voice lessons at the Yale School of Music. Having played a number of instruments in my past, and as an avid music listener who sings along to a huge number of songs, I decided I wanted to improve my vocal range and technique. So, throughout the fall, I’ve been studying opera with a Yale School of Music graduate student and am currently preparing a famous Italian piece, “Caro Mio Ben” with my instructor. While challenging, this has been a great activity for getting out of my comfort zone and building more depth to my passion for music. I’m seriously considering taking up drum lessons, an instrument I used to play, next semester as a continuation of this focus on music
Finally, I also have taken up a new hobby in brewing kombucha. I recently met a new friend at SOM, a joint medical and business student, who offered to teach me how to brew. Having been drinking increasing amounts of kombucha, a product that is not particularly cheap but known for improving energy levels, digestion, and immunity, I decided to begin brewing myself. It’s proven to be a fun and rewarding hobby. My friend and I are even talking about launching a kombucha business while at Yale.
Social Routines As many folks know, the community at F&ES is absolutely stellar, made up of fun, kind, and smart people from all over the US and the world. While no two people in the program are exactly the same in terms interests and career goals, the community is bonded together strongly through a shared passion for solving environmental challenges and promoting social equality and inclusiveness. I often feel really fortunate to have landed in such an intelligent, fun-loving, and creative community during my late 20s, a time when most people don’t have the luxury of meeting so many new, wonderful friends.
Whether it be at F&ES parties, weekly meet-ups at Irish pubs, trips to all-you-can-eat sushi, or even just hanging out at Kroon or Sage, spending time with F&ES friends is always a guaranteed mood booster and good time. It’s one reason I sometimes avoid Kroon so I can ensure I get my work done and don’t get distracted by all the fun people surrounding me. Just kidding, sort of.
Going Forward Now in my third semester of four at F&ES, I’ve been feeling increasingly fulfilled and gratified by my studies, activities, and social life. Although graduate school will always be challenging and demanding, I’ve been very pleased with the lifestyle I’ve been able to gradually carve out for myself during my stint at F&ES. Already flying by quickly, I look forward to all of the interesting opportunities, wonderful travels, fun times, and continued hobbies that come my way during the rest of my second year here in New Haven.