No. 132


Jesse Gerstin '07 is a stellar example of a Shansi Fellow who was always curious, took steps to learn about life in Indonesia, made connections and decisions, and then launched himself into a career using all of the resources available to him through his time in Indonesia on his Fellowship.


Jesse Gerstin was a Shansi Fellow in Banda Aceh, Indonesia from 2007 to 2009. Today, he is Senior Policy Manager at the Clinton Climate Initiative, where he is responsible for programs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We caught up with Jesse in early October when he was in Oberlin to attend the After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy conference on climate change. He dropped by Shansi House to talk about the impact of his Shansi Fellowship on his career and his life.


Jesse said two factors drove his interest in the Aceh Fellowship. First, he was excited to be a pioneer. He and his co-Fellow, Sarah Newman, were the first two Shansi Fellows at Syiah Kuala University. They had the opportunity to work closely with Syiah Kuala professors and administrators to define the roles and responsibilities of Shansi Fellows, and to establish the foundation for this program, now entering its tenth year. They taught English, established a language library, and built close relationships with their students.


Aceh also attracted Jesse because he was eager to learn more about international development. After he arrived in Aceh, he looked for ways to engage with the community of international and local NGOs and civil society organizations working with the local community to rebuild Aceh after the devastating tsunami of 2004 and decades of separatist conflict. After settling into his life and teaching role in Aceh, he began working with the International Center for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies, a research group affiliated with the university. Jesse worked with this group to build up the library and digital archive of records that survived the tsunami. He eventually got involved with monitoring and managing a team of about 100 researchers who were going into the field doing socio-economic surveys of the forest communities in Aceh. This was Jesse’s introduction to local communities that depend on forest resources for their own livelihood and survival.


After completing his Shansi Fellowship, Jesse stayed in Aceh for another year and a half. The networks he had built as a Shansi Fellow led to working with the provincial government on forest conservation projects, and with a private local environmental consulting company. He joined the Clinton Foundation in 2011, moved to Jakarta, and spent three more years there working on programs in Aceh and across Indonesia. Jesse now makes his home in New York.


Asked about the connection between his Fellowship and his professional life, Jesse stated,

"What I found so unique about being an Oberlin student is a sense of community, sense of exploration, sense of questioning, and really trying to understand the world around us.  The Shansi program was a way for me to extend this and apply that in the rest of the world.  It was the bridge between my life as an Oberlin student and my life as a professional now doing conservation work.  The biggest reward was being able to take all of the issues that I found very important and were the reason why I was an Oberlin student to begin with, and to find a way to take these with me and use them productively and creatively towards a career and towards the rest of my life."


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