From Fellow To CEO: Rob Fenstermacher On The Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program

Sep 12, 2012
Rob Fenstermacher, President and CEO of Cultural Vistas

We recently discovered that Rob Fenstermacher, President and CEO of Cultural Vistas, began his career in international education and exchange on the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program, one of Cultural Vista’s most prestigious programs for young professionals in the United States. The Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program annually offers twenty accomplished young Americans the opportunity to complete a comprehensive 9-12 month professional development program in Germany. The program, which heads into its 30th year in 2013-14, provides intensive German language training program to Fellows as needed, before they embark on two customized work phases at leading German institutions and several professional seminars across Europe. Cultural Vistas also offers a similar program for young professionals in Russia, called the Alfa Fellowship Program, which accepts up to 15 American and British citizens per year and also provides intensive Russian language training. For both programs, Fellows are recruited from across business administration, journalism, law, public policy, nonprofits, and closely related fields. Because Rob started his journey to becoming CEO on the Bosch Fellowship, we asked him more about his experience and his vision for the fellowship programs.

1. What inspired you to apply to the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship in 1999?

Ever since I was a high school exchange student in West Berlin in 1987, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that involved German-American relations. During one of my study abroad experiences in Germany during college, I learned about the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship and was intrigued by its focus on providing high-level professional experience in Germany and thought it was a program that would help build my career once I obtained graduate degree and relevant work experience in the United States. I applied in 1998 for the program because my work experience focused on developing exchange programs between the United States and Germany and helping create a future workforce with a global skill set. I hoped the fellowship would provide me with professional contacts in Germany and Europe, as well as give me a much better understanding of how Germany and Europe promoted and supported international training programs. The lessons learned would help further my professional growth and enhance international training programs in the United States.

2. How did the fellowship impact your career path in international education and cultural exchange?

The 2010-11 Bosch Fellows
The 2010-11 Robert Bosch Foundation Fellows

During the fellowship, I completed professional assignments at the German Ministry for Education and at DaimlerChrysler, which was a huge new transatlantic merger. Both opportunities provided me with top-level access to the decision-makers at these institutions and with an insider’s view of the role international training plays from a government’s perspective and from a multinational corporations perspective. The people I met and the experiences I had proved invaluable to me upon my return to the US in terms of developing new exchange programs and helping give a greater number of people the opportunity to benefit from living and working overseas. Overall, the Bosch Fellowship experience and the knowledge I gained about German and European business practices in my field certainly were one of the factors that led me to my current position leading an American nonprofit exchange organization.

 3. As the current President and CEO of Cultural Vistas, what is your vision for the fellowship programs and what legacy do you hope to leave?

Cultural Vistas has been extremely fortunate to serve as the U.S. partner of the Robert Bosch Foundation for almost 30 years and to help administer this excellent program for young professionals. As a result of this program, our organization now administers the Alfa Fellowship Program to Russia, supported by AlfaBank in Moscow, and we are looking to develop similar fellowship programs to Brazil and India in the near future. I firmly believe that the alumni from these programs, who often go onto leadership positions in think-tanks, government institutions, and multinational organizations and companies around the world, are vital to addressing the challenges of the modern world. The contributions of our alumni have influenced fields as diverse as foreign affairs, education reform and workforce development, environmental concerns, trade and finance, immigrant integration and technology development. The challenges that confront us all in these areas are enormous, but the opportunities are even greater. Our fellowships equip individuals with the tools needed to succeed now and in the future.

Rob Fenstermacher was appointed as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Cultural Vistas (formerly AIPT and CDS International) in January 2011. In his 15-plus year tenure at CDS, Rob was responsible for the development and administration of a variety of exchange programs, the coordination and expansion of the organization’s marketing efforts, as well as the planning and implementation of U.S.-European international study tours for educators, policymakers, business and industry representatives focusing on vocational training and workforce development issues.  Rob is a graduate of Haverford College and completed his Master of Public Administration degree at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. 

© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.