Brandeis GPS Blog

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

Author: mtswanson (page 1 of 3)

Alumni Spotlight: Gaston Tchicourel

Program: Digital Innovation for FinTech

Graduation Year: 2020

Current Position: Information Technology Advisor at World Bank Group

Gastón came into the Digital Innovation for FinTech degree program with a strong background in both software development and technology consulting and management.

Q: What were your most valuable takeaways from the Digital Innovation for FinTech degree?
A: There were many reasons for why I enrolled in the Digital Innovation for FinTech degree program; however, I would say the main reason was to keep myself up-to-date with the current trends in the business. I have spent the majority of my professional career working on the technology side of the banking and financial services industries, so this program was an obvious choice toward that goal. And it definitely served that purpose. Not only did the degree serve as a refresher of both financial and technical concepts, but it also covered many other topics that span from regulatory frameworks to the future of finance.

Q: What was your favorite course from the Digital Innovation for FinTech degree?
A: There were many interesting courses throughout the program. It is difficult to choose just one so I will highlight a few favorites:

RDFT 130: Launching FinTech Ventures
In this course we covered and analyzed some of the best and most prominent business cases and success stories in the FinTech field. This is key knowledge for anyone looking to become an entrepreneur.

RDFT 160: Python Programming
As a software developer turned technology consultant and manager, taking this course felt like a break in my routine, like being a kid playing with Legos again! I can acknowledge that this is not the same for everyone.

Q: Do you have any advice for students currently working toward completing the FinTech degree?
A: Having completed the program, the best advice I can offer for current students is as follows:

Be curious: Don’t focus on just passing the courses. Read beyond the class requirements. Do your research online. Learn about success stories beyond the ones covered during the weekly sessions.

Build your network: Engage with your classmates and instructors. Attend industry events, both online and in-person. Stay connected on LinkedIn.

Stay sharp and stay involved: FinTech is moving much faster than other traditional industries. You have to be quick and flexible to surf this wave. Focus on data, learn about different DLTs and Blockchain technologies and crypto assets. This is the future of finance.

Q: What are your best hopes for your career in the future?
A: I’m hoping to get much more into crypto and, from a professional career perspective, complete my transition into the FinTech start-up space soon. I am hoping to jumpstart my own FinTech endeavor next…I’m working on a few ideas that I actually first thought about during the FinTech degree program. These ideas served as the core tenents of my capstone project.

Faculty Spotlight: Digital Innovation for FinTech

Faculty: Mike Storiale

Program: Digital Innovation for FinTech

Course: RDFT 101 The New Economy: Global Disruption and the Emergence of FinTech

Education: University of Hartford, M.B.A.

Bio: Mike Storiale is AVP, Innovation Development for Synchrony, the largest provider of private label and co-brand credit cards in the country. At Synchrony, Mike focuses on building the future of technology for their clients and cardholders. Prior to Synchrony, Mike was VP, Digital Banking Manager for Guilford Savings Bank in CT where he developed, implemented and managed all customer-facing technology. His responsibilities spanned the Bank’s digital properties, including online and mobile banking, digital acquisition channels, the corporate Website, voice response unit and the call center. Mike received his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Hartford, and his undergraduate degree in Business with a concentration in International Business and Marketing from Wagner College in New York.

Why is this course important or valuable to a FinTech student?

This course will give FinTech students a robust understanding of traditional banking and finance, as well as the major events that got us here. We pair that with exploration of the emerging and disruptive environments, bringing it all together to help students learn how to build competitive FinTech product strategies.

Why do you enjoy teaching this course? 

This course changes every year, and the environment of FinTech is evolving so quickly that students are often learning things that are happening in real time.

Anything else you would like to share with a student interested in enrolling in the course?

This course will help you learn how to think strategically about building new products, and is an exciting way to grow in the FinTech industry.

For more information on the Digital Innovation for FinTech or other online master’s degrees available at GPS, please visit brandeis.edu/gps.

Faculty Spotlight: User-Centered Design

Faculty: Amy Deschenes

Program: User-Centered Design

Course: RUCD 140 Research Methods

Education: Simmons University, MLIS

Bio: Amy Deschenes is a leader in UX and digital accessibility in higher education. She is currently the Head of UX & Digital Accessibility at Harvard Library where she works with librarians and archivists on digital projects. In 2015 she lead the establishment of the User Research Center, Harvard’s only usability and digital accessibility lab. She speaks about her work on a regular basis and has presented at conferences like Ladies That UX & UXPA. In addition to Research Methods, she also teaches RUCD 175 Universal Design & Digital Accessibility. You can see examples of her work on https://amydeschenes.com/.

Why is this course important or valuable to a UCD student?

This course gives you the opportunity to get real hands-on experience with a variety of UX research methods. You get to apply these concepts to a real research question or design problem of your choosing. It introduces you to key qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, including surveys, interviews, and usability testing. You also get to practice aspects of project management through your coursework. Even if you’re not intending to be a researcher full-time, this course will give you insight into why research is so important to user-centered design.

Why do you enjoy teaching this course?

This class is fun because students get to select their own research topics and I learn about subject areas outside of my own expertise through their work. In the past students have completed projects about how the pandemic impacted exercise preferences, preferences around video game player styles, and how pet owners find help online. I love being able to lead students through the process of applying the research methods in a real-world context.

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

Faculty Spotlight: Strategic Analytics

Faculty: Travis Dawry

Program: Strategic Analytics MS

Course: RSAN 150 Data Quality and Governance

Education: Brandeis University, M.S.

Bio: Travis earned a B.A. in Political Science with a focus on International Relations and Comparative Politics from the University of Central Florida in 2009. Since then he has worked in a variety of government organizations, most recently as a Library Specialist for Broward County, located in in South Florida. His language of choice for analytics, and everything else, is R. Travis earned a Master of Science in Strategic Analytics from Brandeis University in the Spring of 2016 and is now an instructor at the Brandeis Rabb School. He currently splits his time between South Florida and Christiansburg, Virginia, where he lives with a veterinarian and a bunch of cats.

About the course-

In RSAN 150 Data Quality and Governance we focus on understanding what data is, how it is used, what it represents, and how it is managed in organizations. This is one of my favorite courses to teach because students from diverse backgrounds each bring a different perspective on the challenges and opportunities presented by the underlying topics. Agnostic of industry, if someone works with data, we explore how their role works within a larger strategy.

 

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

Improving Technical Knowledge to Make Better Decisions Under Uncertainty.

In 2018, I co-founded AccuTennis, a computer vision company, with two electrical engineers. This endeavor is the most technically complex in my career. My experiences writing software and managing product development included a situation at a prior company where I made a very expensive mistake by directing the engineering team to develop an application, which made business sense. An enterprise customer demanded a solution and the engineering team’s primary objection was one of understanding the ROI. I made the case that this enterprise customer would renew its contract and we could upsell this service to our other enterprise customers. However, we ended up delivering a poorly performing solution because of some technical limitations that I should have uncovered during our debate over what to work on. Had I been better informed, I would have been able to ask the right questions to uncover some important technical debt, which inhibited the success of this project.

For my current venture, I needed to better understand the technical foundations of the products so I could make better decisions as CEO. Brandeis was one of the first places I looked for continuing education because I found the two other degrees that I earned there to be valuable (the university offers everything – I also met my wife at Brandeis!).

In general, a tech startup has three technical challenges: the underlying tech, its user experience, and measurement. The underlying tech is the most important and least appreciated because the core tech is often hidden behind the product’s user interface. In our case, we utilize raspberry pi-based hardware to track people and tennis balls in real time with a low margin of error. On top of this core technology are two user interfaces: (1) a TV screen that displays a player’s output in real time, and (2) a mobile app that allows users to authenticate themselves and select what games to play. Our system automatically generates reports that detail what each user (i.e. admin, coach, and player) does. When we implement any change, I filter the work through a user experience focus, which boils down to “does this allow AccuTennis to easily deliver real-time feedback that is useful better or worse?”. Any other consideration is a distance second. 

If we succeed in the above, we have a chance at growing our customer base, and if we do not, we will go out of business. We are a startup with limited funding an do not have many chances to recover from a major miscalculation on what we develop. This brings home the need to understand how the technical challenges relate to our business objectives. 

I found the curriculum within the Masters of Software Engineering, particularly the capstone class, useful in tying together (1) gathering business and technical requirements, (2) understanding stakeholders, and (3) building & delivering technology. Also, some engineers that I worked with in previous roles were snobs about only listening to people with Computer Science and Software Engineering degrees, so now they will.

Written by: Adam Sher

Software Engineering MS, class of 2021

Faculty Spotlight: Digital Marketing and Design

Faculty: Garrett Gillin, MBA

Program: Digital Marketing and Design MS

Course: RDMD 135 Conversion Rate Optimization

Education: Drexel University, MBA

Bio: Garrett Gillin, MBA, is a Co-founder and Principal at 215 Marketing, a 2020 INC 5000 company and Google Premier Partner agency, located in Philadelphia, PA, where he oversees the development and execution of integrated digital marketing initiatives with a concentration on programmatic advertising, marketing automation, and advanced analytics.

Why is this course important or valuable to a Digital Marketing and Design student?

Oftentimes in marketing and design we are so focused on the tactics, that we lose focus of the bigger picture. The CRO course helps students take a step back and look at the full customer journey and identify ways to grow a business through small, incremental improvements at various touch points.

Why do you enjoy teaching this course? 

When I developed this course in collaboration with the department chair, Steve Dupree, we wanted to create something that was relevant and actionable to all businesses regardless of type and size. My favorite part of teaching this course is that students often can use what they learn immediately in their day-to-day jobs and develop a more holistic view of marketing and design that they can apply throughout their careers.

Anything else you would like to share with a student interested in enrolling in the course? 

This course may be a bit different from other courses you have taken. We use your current place-of-work (or a business you are looking to start) as the basis of each week’s assignment, so you can directly apply the learning to the company and industry you work in. Students have found this approach to feel more organic and actionable, while making the content more relatable.

 

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

2022 Graduation Ceremony

Your academic achievements are made even more noteworthy because they were made in the midst of “real life”.  I want you to know that the entire University community has great respect for what you have accomplished and how you have done it.” – Dr. Lynne Rosansky, Vice President for the Rabb School of Continuing Studies, in her opening address.

The Rabb School of Continuing Studies honored 130 Graduate Professional Studies (GPS) graduates with an in-person celebration on May 22, 2022. Student speaker, Irina Gaziyeva, a graduate of the MS in Project and Program Management, addressed the Class of 2022 along with guest speaker, Michael Katz, Digital Marketing and Design advisory board member.

In her opening address, Rosansky congratulated graduates on their hard work and dedication during their master’s degree programs. 

“Each of you have persevered through many challenges, joys and disappointments as our world turned virtual,” she said. “Take a moment – reflect. Today is your day – the day to celebrate your success.”

Rosansky also honored User-Centered Design instructor David Lumerman as the recipient of this year’s Rabb School Outstanding Teacher Award. 

“Dave has a reputation for going “above and beyond” with respect to his responsiveness and attention to student needs,” she said. Instructors like Dave who show such dedication and passion shape the learning experience for GPS students.

“I am grateful that I was in school during these years because it allowed me to stay focused, self-motivated, and accountable, said Irina Gaziyeva, and she discussed the challenges of the past few years. “We faced these challenges together.”

Reflecting on her classes and the faculty, “I got to experience small classes and engaging discussions with my classmates. These discussions were the center of my grad school experience.”

Toward the end of her speech, Gaziyeva highlighted “Commencement means the beginning- A beginning of new adventures, new ideas, and new projects.”

Michael Katz, shared his professional journey and the struggles to find balance in life akin to a 3-legged stool “familial life, social life and professional life.” Emphasizing that “your professional passion is so important. Without professional passion, it’s hard to steady that stool leg.”

Katz encouraged graduates to find a company they want to work for. He added “You’re a Brandeis graduate after all, and you have so much to offer. The knowledge and experience you’ve gained throughout your graduate program will allow you the freedom and opportunities to be more selective and not settle.”

Diplomas awarded in each program as follows:

  • Graduate Certificate in Learning Analytics (1 graduate)
  • MS in Bioinformatics (10 graduates)
  • MS in Digital Innovation for FinTech (3 graduate)
  • MS in Digital Marketing and Design (29 graduates)
  • MS in Health Informatics (4 graduates)
  • MS in Health and Medical Informatics (5 graduates)
  • MS in Information Security Leadership (7 graduates)
  • MS in Instructional Design and Technology (1 graduate)
  • MS in Learning Experience Design (4 graduates)
  • MS in Project and Program Management (21 graduates)
  • MS in Strategic Analytics (15 graduates)
  • MS in Technology Management (10 graduates)
  • MS in User-Centered Design (16 graduates)
  • MS in Software Engineering (4 graduates)

The graduation ceremony will be viewed online. Congratulations to our graduates!

Featured Graduate: Gayathri Hariharan

Gayathri Hariharan, Internal Audit Manager, MathWorks
Program: Technology Management MS
Graduation: May 2020

I come from a family with humble roots and simple beginnings in Chennai, India. My parents instilled the importance of education in me at a very young age and raised me to believe that education and formal learning establish the foundation for a successful life. My mother is my greatest inspiration – one of her qualities that continues to amaze me is that she has never stopped learning and exploring. She has always motivated me to pursue higher education.

Brandeis GPS was the institution of choice when I decided to do my Masters in Tech Management. Several of my family members and friends recommended Brandeis either through their privilege of being an alumnus or through their network. Having the opportunity to study at such a prestigious institution was a valuable experience, given the diverse network of students and faculty. I started my program with the objective of learning about the current trends in technology with a focus on cybersecurity and data analytics – the ultimate goal was to improve my career trajectory. The coursework was structured in a way to allow me to manage my personal and professional life while providing an opportunity to excel in the master’s program. I was able to set aggressive goals for myself and keep the momentum throughout the program. The faculty and staff at GPS were extremely helpful in guiding me to select courses that enhanced my capabilities and knowledge base in Technology, Management, and Data Analytics. My peers made the experience even better by contributing great ideas and perspectives every week. I found myself gravitating towards supplemental reading, a habit that I’m glad to have acquired through this master’s program. I found it truly rewarding when I completed my final project for the last coursework – that sense of accomplishment is inexplicable!

While 2020 is a memorable year for the world due to the pandemic, it was a milestone year in my life as I received my master’s degree from Brandeis GPS. The program has been instrumental in helping me redefine my professional career. The orientation provided by the coursework has improved my strategic thinking capabilities and problem-solving techniques. I have seen a profound impact on the way I think, create, and work. I have become the go-to person at work to help strategize and drive complex projects – I now have a seat at the table! As a woman in Tech, an immigrant and a mother of two beautiful children, I find this to be empowering in a day and age where we are breaking stereotypes and stigmas, and the society at large has a heightened awareness of diversity and inclusion.

I can say with confidence that my master’s degree has added a new dimension to my professional life and enhanced my creativity. In a world that is rife with social unrest and injustice, knowledge alone will pave the way for peace and well-being. I wish the best of luck to all those who are sharpening their knowledge at this great institution to shatter the glass ceilings in today’s corporate world!

Gayathri is the Re-Commencement Rabb School student marshal.
For more information online master’s degrees available at GPS, please visit brandeis.edu/gps.

Lunch & Learn Recap with Alex Fedorov

On Thursday, May 12th 2022 I gave a talk entitled User Onboarding: Retaining more users by nurturing first time experiences. Here is a quick synopsis of the presentation.

I asked the questions: What is user onboarding, why is it important and to whom, and how should organizations think about applying it to their digital products?

This is relevant right now in my field because we spend a lot of time and effort getting the core product experience “right” but often tack on onboarding flows as an afterthought. This is a contributing factor in user churn and retention. Currently, almost 75% of people who download an app will abandon it within one day, and about 90% within one week.

Key takeaways:
  • Onboarding can be defined as the practice of optimizing a digital product for a user’s first-time experience with the goal of educating and orienting new users.

  • Good onboarding can be instrumental to retaining new users by helping them get started and realize value with minimal friction.

  • If possible, consider Gradual Engagement which is the practice of allowing users to try out some of your product before forcing registering.

  • Try to align your onboarding path with a core feature that users find valuable – in other words, get early users to the “A-Ha moment”.

  • Understand the core onboarding  patterns in use today: Instructional Tours, Wizards & Checklists, and Interactive Guidance to determine which is the right fit for your product. Note that some of the most effective onboarding employs a “learn by doing” approach.

  • Consider Out-of-app cues such as welcome emails, text messages and notifications to draw the user back in to ideally take a meaningful action.

  • Decide upon and implement onboarding decisions as a team. Measure and track metrics and activity related to user acquisition, early use, repeat use, and retention to see how your strategy is performing to retain the maximum amount of users.

Alex is an Advisory Board member for the User-Centered Design master’s degree program.

 

Join us next week for the Lunch & Learn seriesFor more information on the User-Centered Design MS or other online master’s degrees available at GPS, please visit brandeis.edu/gps.

Featured Graduate: Junayed Sarwar

Junayed Sarwar, Operational Specialist at SF Denim
Program: Project and Program Management MS
Graduation: May 2022

While working in the manufacturing plant as an operations specialist I felt I needed to enhance my managerial skills as I was assisting the firm’s management team to expand their production capacity and establish a new manufacturing plant to accommodate this growth. In 2020, when the pandemic started much of the world went into different variations of lockdown. At the time I was working in Bangladesh, the government had issued most companies to start working remotely except for export-oriented manufacturing firms to work remotely for 60% of the time and the remaining percentage from offices.  This allowed me to effectively utilize my time to enhance my skills so that I could improve my managerial skills. When researching online programs, I came upon Brandeis’s master’s degree in Project and Program Management. I liked how the program was designed for working individuals who were looking to further their skills in the field.  The program provided not just a fundamental understanding of project management but also its practical applications. 

The professors’ backgrounds were quite diverse and helped broaden my perspective and learn how to apply different tactics to better motivate and manage my team. For example, Professor Sean J. Milligan’s Challenges in Project Management class, further developed my skills in understanding the various challenges arising during the lifecycle. I learned how to anticipate and prevent/minimize challenges. As an experienced project manager, he was able to create a balanced learning environment of the fundamentals and practical implications. I feel lucky and privileged to complete a postgraduate degree from a renowned institute like Brandies. My master’s degree has not only enhanced my skills and further my career, it has also helped me grow as an individual. This experience has opened windows to opportunities both academically and in my career in the future.

Junayed is the Rabb School 2022 student marshal.

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

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