Brandeis GPS Blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

Month: August 2022

Faces of GPS: Meet Abigail Kim – Student Advisor

In this next addition of Faces of GPS, we’re thrilled to introduce Abigail Kim, who will be taking on the role of Student Advisor. Read below to learn more about Abigail and her position at GPS!

Get to know Abigail!

Q: What are some fun facts about you?

I absolutely love to cook. It’s my favorite creative outlet. I love looking at a bunch of recipes and then winging it from there- it usually turns out pretty good. Fitness is also a huge part of my life. In addition to my role as a Student Advisor at GPS, I also teach pilates classes part time.

Q: Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut (Somers) so I knew that for my undergrad experience, I wanted to try a bigger city out. I completed my Bachelor’s degree at Suffolk University in Boston, MA and studied Psychology and International Affairs. After graduating, I started working in college admissions at Wentworth Institute of Technology as well as Northeastern University. While working full time at Northeastern, I enrolled in a Master’s degree program through their College of Professional Studies, a fully remote, asynchronous degree program very similar to our GPS. My time in my graduate studies was awesome. I loved the flexibility that the program provided and the experience working with students and faculty based all over the United States and even all over the world.

Q: What inspired you to work at GPS?

In my previous job, part of my role entailed serving as a student advisor at a private High School. This part soon became my favorite aspect of my role. I loved connecting with my students and helping them to succeed in their studies. When I decided to move on from my previous role, I knew that I wanted to focus on positions that would help me find that advisor title again.

Q: What are the responsibilities of your role at GPS?

All things related to supporting GPS students and keeping them on track in their programs! I’ll be here to assist you with registering for courses, suggestions for upcoming courses to take, navigating relationships with your instructors, and making sure you’re on track with and aware of all registration deadlines and start dates. I’m also here to serve as your first point of contact, any question you have or anytime you don’t know who to go to, you can come to me and I’ll help connect you with the right person.

Q: What excites you the most about your new position at GPS? What are you most looking forward to?

Having experienced what it was like to complete my Master’s degree in an asynchronous, online program, this role at GPS seemed like the perfect fit for me. Knowing the challenges and rewards of juggling a full time job, a personal life, and a degree program is something that I look forward to supporting my students with. I’m looking forward to building relationships with the students that I advise and helping them with anything they need to help make their experience in their program a success.

To connect with Abigail or any other member of the GPS advising team, please visit our Advising page.

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Read more Faces of GPS stories.

The Connection between Learning Design and Storytelling

By Elizabeth Santiago, PhD

I have two passions: learning design and storytelling. For a time, I thought they were distinct, separate areas of interest, but I have come to realize they are foundationally similar even if the output is different.

As a fiction writer, I draw inspiration from everyday occurrences, my own personal experiences and, sometimes, from stories I hear from others. I tend to feel a spark – a little jolt that reverberates through my body letting me know there’s something I want to explore. Once I acknowledge that I’m intrigued by an idea, I allow my creativity to flow and I build a basic premise. That premise may be a one line description of what the story can be. For example, “A person travels to Puerto Rico and discovers ancestors they never knew they had.” 

I then start to build upon that basic idea and ask myself questions like, who are the characters in the story? What are all the settings? What happens to the characters to change them for the better or the worse? Once I answer all these type of questions, I write a first draft. I enlist beta readers to read that first draft then I revise and finalize. 

That process closely mirrors a design thinking process. The below image from the Interaction Design Foundation closely aligns with how I approach a new work of fiction and a learning design endeavor.

As a learning designer, I often get asked to design learning to solve problems. Here is an example of a recent request I received: How can we make research more accessible to undergraduate students? Students have expressed the desire to do more research, but they are not sure where to begin. They have shared that they would take a short course that provides an overview of the process. Can you help?

This real scenario started from a place of empathy – empathy for the student and their desire to learn and grow. I liken this empathy to the spark I initially feel in the creative writing process, which is from connecting to my surroundings and other people.

From that premise, I began to outline and define what a solution might look like. This is a similar process as writing a basic one line premise for a story concept. Once I get approval on the concept, I begin to ideate and ask questions like, what do I want students to be able to know and do after engaging with this course? What are the existing resources, materials and assets I have to work with and what needs to be created to fill gaps? How will I know that students have acquired knowledge?

Once all these type of questions are answered, I create a prototype that has enough of a feel of the learning experience to get feedback on the approach. I test it with the target audience to determine if it has met the originally stated needs and goals then I revise and finalize.

While writing fiction and designing learning is much more involved than this high-level overview implies, aligning the design thinking process employed in both is eye-opening. Design thinking is creative, yet provides a method for solving problems and gathering input from those who will interact with the myriad of experiences you are developing.

Elizabeth Santiago, PhD is the chair of the Learning Experience Design program at Brandeis University. Her debut young adult novel, The Moonlit Vine, will be published in January 2023 by Lee and Low. 

For more information about the Learning Experience Design program or other online master’s degrees available at GPS, please visit brandeis.edu/gps.

Faculty Spotlight: Annie Shebanow

What led you to the business and technology fields? Growing up, I loved science technology, and I was fascinated by computers. After finishing high school in Iran, I immigrated to the United States to attend U.C. Berkeley’s Computer Science program. I wanted to be at the forefront of inventing new technologies that could help every person and connect them together like never before. 

After I graduated college, I worked for different Silicon Valley tech companies. As my career progressed, I wanted to do something beyond working for large companies. I wanted to focus on specific areas that I was deeply passionate about, one being agriculture. 

Over time, I started multiple companies, each using some form of computer technology and software to solve problems. Each endeavor was as exciting as the one before it. It wasn’t long before I realized that I loved entrepreneurship. I loved that I could blend my love for business and technology together and see it succeed. 

My hope is others can fall in love with the two like I have. It’s really something else!

What industry trend is currently exciting you? I’m immensely excited by the space industry. We are seeing a space race amongst private companies all the while countries like the United States and China are working to send people back to the moon. NASA’s James Webb Telescope left me in awe by how far it could peer into the cosmos, and I remain on the edge of my seat by what it could potentially discover about life on other planets. I cannot wait for what is to come in space discovery over the next two decades. 

What are your best hopes for Strategic Analytics students who take your courses? My hope is that all my students leave my class wanting to be lifelong learners in this field. Strategic analytics is such an exciting journey. We can sift through enormous amounts of data and information in ways that can solve the world’s biggest problems. This is a lifelong exploration that you can never stop learning from, and my hope is my class helps in this adventure.

What is a fun fact that the Brandeis GPS community may not know about you? Hmm… a couple fun facts: 

  • I love Ted Talk videos! My YouTube suggestions are filled with various talks and I often find myself watching multiple videos a week.
  • My first name is Anna but somewhere somehow in my legal documents it got switched to Annie. Someday it will switch back.
  • I’ve grown deeply passionate about global warming issues and its impact on agriculture. I’m now exploring ways data analytics can help coffee bean research and production!
  • I have a small cat that frequently interrupts my Zoom calls.

For more information on the Strategic Analytics MS or other online master’s degrees available at GPS, please visit brandeis.edu/gps.

Faces of GPS: Matthew VanDemark – Student Services Coordinator

We’re pleased to introduce Matthew VanDemark – our new Student Services Coordinator – in this next addition of Faces of GPS. Read below to learn more about Matthew and his position at GPS!

Get to know Matthew!

Q: What are some fun facts about you?

In my free time, I like to play video games, hang out with friends, and try new restaurants, among other hobbies. I also practice violin and compose music for fun–I am currently looking for opportunities to perform in the Boston area.

Q: Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m from a suburb outside of Rochester, NY in Upstate New York. I spent my undergraduate years at Syracuse University, where I obtained a Bachelor of Music (BM) in Music Industry with Performance Honors. I also completed minors in Business Marketing and Music History & Culture.

This was the first major step in my career. The foundations of my skills and passion for higher education began here. On top of my academics, I also held leadership positions in Student Association, Alpha Phi Omega, and the Society for Collegiate Leadership & Achievement (SCLA). Additionally, I also worked in Food Services, the Law Library, among many other functions of the University and an outside retail job. I also studied abroad during my sophomore spring semester in France.

I continued to study at Syracuse after undergrad, completing a MA in Audio Arts. Afterwards, I took all of my skills and abilities and brought them to Boston, the “epicenter of higher education,” and built a larger network of international professionals across varying industries at the Hult International School of Business, where I earned both a MSc/MIB in International Business and a MSc in International Marketing. I have remained a resident of the Greater Boston area ever since.

Q: What inspired you to work at GPS?

Brandeis is not only a recognized institution of higher education but builds its community through a personalized approach (low teacher/student ratios) and nurtures students in unparalleled ways. My calling was apparent when I researched and applied for my current position at GPS, a respected and hardworking community.

Q: What are the responsibilities of your role at GPS?

My top three responsibilities in my role as the Student Services Coordinator are: Advising students, handling/coordinating financials, and providing support to other departments in GPS. With my team, I assist with inquiries on the financial aid process, am a middle-person on academic challenges students face, and also participate in events that welcome newly admitted students and prospective (interested) students to our programming.

Q: What excites you the most about your new position at GPS? What are you most looking forward to?

Working with students on their academic development is very exciting to me–as I’ve been in several graduate programs, I understand the importance academia is at this level, and I know what resources play a crucial role in student success. Additionally, I understand the frustrations of the financial aid and payment process–easing the process and being a voice of confidence for students is something I take pride in. I am looking forward to being a part of a team that takes feedback from students seriously, makes changes to keep programming up-to-date, and keeps community members engaged with each other and with GPS even after they graduate from their respective programs.

To connect with Matthew or any other member of the GPS advising team, please visit our Advising page.

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Read more Faces of GPS stories.

Brandeis GPS Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight

Madhumita Sen ‘23                                         

Westford, Massachusetts

Senior Manager & Scrum Master at CVS Health Inc.

Program: Project and Program Management

In her spare time, Madhumita likes to spend time with her family and pets.

Get to know Madhumita Sen! 

Why did you choose Brandeis GPS?

I chose Brandeis because of the University’s social justice foundation, strong culture of diversity and inclusion, and reputation as a place of learning.

What inspired you to choose your field of study?

As a senior Agile Project Manager working for a major healthcare organization, I found the need to expand my understanding of Program Management as it relates to agile software development. I wanted to gain perspective on how agile software development might scale at a Program and Portfolio level.

How have you enjoyed your experience at Brandeis thus far?

I am delighted to share that the last couple of years have been a rich learning experience. The professors are top notch, responsive, and reachable – always sensitive to student queries and concerns. Studying to ensure good grades while balancing a full time job and attending to teenager needs as a single parent has not been an easy journey by any means. I am just thankful to have been able to manage it all.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the rest of your time at Brandeis? 

I am looking forward to wrapping up the Project & Program Management degree with some great class discussions while gaining fresh perspectives from other fellow students.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I hope to be able to contribute further in the field of Agile Program Management and mentoring/growing Agile Project Managers. 

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Be willing and open to imbibing new perspectives that might be different from yours. I am always inspired by the following quote:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” –Benjamin Franklin

What has been your favorite class to-date? 

The class I am taking this semester – “Communication for Effective Leadership” – just might be my favorite one yet.

For more information on the Project and Program Management MS or any other GPS programs, visit our website.

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