Brandeis GPS Blog

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

Category: GPS News (page 1 of 27)

GPS Student Spotlight

Headshot of McKenzie Little

Student Spotlight

McKenzie Little ‘23

California

Design Automation Engineer

Program: MS in User-Centered Design 

In her spare time, McKenzie likes to visit with friends, travel, hike, dance, bake, crochet, rock climb, and practice yoga. In her most recent trip, McKenzie spent a month in Washington State with her boyfriend and several friends working remotely and exploring the state on the weekends. Exploring new places is when she is happiest!

Get to know McKenzie Little! 

Why did you choose Brandeis GPS?

I chose Brandeis GPS due to the courses in the User-Centered Design program, as the topics were aligned with my career goals. I felt that I would get a lot of hands-on experience through project work and that I would learn a lot from the mentorship of industry professionals instructing the courses.  

What inspired you to choose your field of study?

I chose User-Centered Design because improving people’s lives through design and research aligned with my values. I also enjoy being able to express creativity through sketching and prototyping. Also, doing a part-time work rotation with a User Experience team at my workplace really solidified my desire to pursue this career.

How have you enjoyed your experience at Brandeis thus far? 

I have had a fantastic experience so far. I have met many talented students with similar interests and goals in the program. The instructors have been so helpful and inspiring to learn from.

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

I am looking forward to learning as much as possible in the four remaining courses I have left in the program. I hope to continue to strengthen my relationships with the other students in my classes and to learn from them as well.

What are your plans for after graduation?

After graduation, I am looking forward to applying what I have learned in the program and expanding my knowledge as I grow my skills in the industry.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

I highly recommend participating in the student mentorship program. My advisor reached out to me about this opportunity shortly before my first course in the program, and it was extremely helpful to have a mentor to share questions with as I progressed through the first few courses.

What has been your favorite class to-date? 

My favorite class so far has been User Interface Design with Dave Lumerman. This course is an elective, and it truly pushed me on a constructive way to improve my skills and grow. I took it early on in my program and it helped me get more comfortable with design ideation as well as prototyping.

For more information on the User-Centered Design program or any other GPS programs, visit our website.

The Most Important Skill for Data Professionals Is…

As Chair of the Strategic Analytics Program at Brandeis’ Graduate Professional School, I spend a lot of time thinking about our curriculum. Is it relevant? Is it serving the needs of our students in the highly competitive and rapidly evolving fields of business data analytics and data science? What’s the right mix of case studies, programming, project management, and mathematical skills to help our students succeed? Which sets of software tools and platforms should we adopt? What are the overarching learning outcomes we strive to achieve? All of these topics also come up regularly in conversations with many different stakeholders: faculty, school administration, curriculum designers, and of course, our students and prospective students.

In many of these conversations – especially the ones with students – I’m invariably asked some form of the question “what skills are most important for a successful data analytics career”? Not surprisingly, in my professional life – where I lead analytics teams and am a practicing data scientist – I’m frequently asked the same question, especially by job applicants and professionals just starting their data careers. Usually the conversations steer towards ranking the technical skills that data pros are known for – writing dazzling computer code in any or all popular languages, producing deep statistical analysis, creating compelling visualizations and dashboards, adroitly wrangling even the messiest data, and building cutting-edge machine learning models. So which one matters the most? What’s the secret data sauce? The short answer is: none of the above.

To be sure, all of these competencies are important. Most successful data professionals are highly skilled in at least one of these areas. And if you’ve a savant in one of these specialties, it’s rocket fuel for your career.

Before answering, let’s take a detour. What’s the difference between a good cook and a great chef? Both have a passion for cooking, both understand enough of the science and chemistry behind cooking to avoid kitchen disasters, and both have solid technical kitchen skills. A good cook opens a refrigerator, sees ingredients, follows a recipe, and can competently assemble those ingredients into a pleasing dish. A great chef will open that same refrigerator, see those same ingredients, and understand the sublime culinary possibilities in even the simplest set of ingredients. A great chef understands flavors and how ingredients connect with one another to bring their vision of an incredible dish to life.

So what does this have to do with data analytics? A good data analyst is competent with key technical tools, can query, transform, and explore data, identify an appropriate statistical or machine learning model, and –with a bit of care – assemble all of these “raw ingredients” into an analytical solution that will probably meet their stakeholders’ expectations.

But a great data analyst/data scientist – like a great chef – sees a business problem and can harness their experience to develop a deep intuition around how to recognize, formulate, and execute on analytical solutions. They routinely connect the dots between the fundamental characteristics, nuances, behaviors, and economics of their domain. They understand how to create effective analytical strategies for solving these problems using the models and methods of modern data analytics. The technical tools and software skills are a means to an end, not the end itself. The best analytics professionals are the ones that see this bigger picture and can repeatedly demonstrate a deep understanding of how to identify and cultivate business value using the ever-improving portfolio of data analytics tools.

As your career progresses, this “softer” skill will become increasingly important. You will probably find yourself transitioning from the purely technical mindset that most of us – including me – start our careers with to a more creative or strategic mindset. This is true, even in a field like analytics that is deeply tethered to mathematics and computer science. The hardest and most rewarding business challenges for data professionals rely on your ability to intuitively recognize valuable business problems that can be addressed by analytical and data-driven solutions. The “what” is almost always more important than the “how”.

Written by: Mark Coleman, MA, Program Chair of Strategic Analytics 

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: 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.

Faces of GPS: Meet Meredith Faxon – Assistant Director of Admissions

In the past few months, we have been lucky enough to welcome several new members to the GPS team. To introduce these outstanding individuals to the rest of the community, we’re bringing back Faces of GPS!

The first person we’d like to introduce is Meredith Faxon, our new Assistant Director of Admissions.

Get to know Meredith!

Q: What are some fun facts about you?

In my free time you can find me walking my dog, reading, watching new and old films, hiking, skiing, or trying new restaurants with my partner. We bought our first home in July 2022 and I expect most of my free time will be spent on house projects! 

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

I am a New Hampshire native and can honestly say I love living there. I grew up in Bedford, NH and spent a lot of time playing soccer, spending time with my brother and sister outside, and hiking, skiing, and camping. I started my undergraduate degree in Virginia, and ultimately decided to come back to the University of New Hampshire to finish my degree in Marketing and Economics. I met lifelong best friends at UNH, and was fortunate enough to spend a semester in London, where my world truly opened up. I traveled Europe nearly every weekend, and discovered my passion for exploration and global learning. 

After graduation I spent two years working at the University of New Hampshire as an international student recruiter, where I frequented East and Southeast Asia. Some of the best times of my  life were discovering these new countries that I never dreamed I would visit. This experience also opened my eyes to the field of higher education, admissions, program management, and recruitment, and I have not looked back since! 

I spent three years working at Phillips Exeter Academy as the Assistant Director of Global Initiatives, where I was able to learn more about a niche internal admissions process. I worked on sending high school students abroad for cultural exchange, language learning, and DEI initiatives, and even got to visit Peru before the pandemic. It was during this time I also decided to pursue my graduate degree, a Master of Science in Higher Education, from Purdue University. This program was very similar to Brandeis GPS programs in that it was fully online, part-time, and asynchronous. My graduate experience at Purdue prepared me for a position working in a higher education online learning setting. Now here I am at Brandeis GPS! I feel well prepared for this role as I reflect back on my experiences in recruitment, admissions, sales, and my own online learning experience. 

Q: What inspired you to work at GPS?

I feel that I am able to offer multiple perspectives to my new role as Assistant Director of Admissions at Brandeis GPS. My experience working higher education sales and recruitment opened my eyes to admissions, and I knew I wanted to learn more. I also have been an online graduate student, so I can relate to both the prospective and current students at Brandeis GPS. Brandeis University is well known for its research activity and academic contributions to multiple fields, and I wanted to be a part of that as well.

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

I’m excited to help students begin a journey that will change the course of their careers and set them on a path they are passionate about. I remember making the decision to pursue an online graduate degree and it was a really exciting time for me. I’m happy to be a part of that alongside Brandeis GPS students, in addition to working with the great team here and learning more about higher education recruitment, Slate, and admissions/sales.

To connect with Meredith or any other member of the GPS admissions team, please visit our Admissions Advisors 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.

An Introduction to Data

This is Not a Pipe

All data is semiotic. That is, it is representative and lacks meaning without context. A basic example of a datum is a count. This can be expected to be a positive integer, but in any case, it stands in for something else (e.g., my cat weighs 10 pounds).

Choosing to count something is an act that introduces bias, as is choosing not to count something. Creating data without some form of bias is impossible. An example of this problem can be seen in crime forecasting. We can use the number of arrests as a metric on a map to predict where more arrests will happen in the future, but we would not be seeing crime, but rather where arrests tend to happen. In this case, the number of arrests is a poor representation for crime.

Magritte’s The Treachery of Images has the label “this is not a pipe,” and he was correct, it is a painting of a pipe. (Magritte, 1929)

All Models Are Wrong

Due to the semiotic nature, it can be dangerous to deploy systems that make decisions based on data. In the above example, allocating resources based the on number of arrests will only reinforce existing structures. You may see more arrests, especially if there is a mechanistic relationship between resources and the number of arrests, but you are not actually addressing crime. This is not to say that we cannot use data towards beneficial ends.

For example, if I regularly weigh my cat and the scale always says she is 10 pounds, I can use that as a non-invasive health diagnostic going forward. If I put her on the scale and it says she is 12 pounds, I know that I might be overfeeding her; if the scale says she is 8 pounds, it is probably time to bring her in to see a veterinarian. My scale does not need to be accurate for this to work, and just because her weight fluctuates does not mean that there is a health problem. The aphorism, “all models are wrong, but some are useful,” (Box, 1987) reflects this. Data is always standing in for something, but we can still use it to make better decisions.

A Ship in Harbor is Safe

Your organization might have outstanding data management practices, but concerns about data security or the idea of offloading executive decision making to a machine. The only perfectly secure data is that which cannot be accessed by anyone, and if you don’t build models, you never have to use them. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for,” (Shedd, 1928) applies here. If an organization is so concerned about security that it does not tolerate its use, and there are no regulatory requirements, it should not spend resources keeping the data. On the other hand, if the hesitation is about relying on a novel approach, or making data-driven decisions, we can address that!

Written By: Travis Dawry, MS, Strategic Analytics Faculty

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

Works Cited

Box, G. E. (1987). Empirical Model-Building and Response Surfaces. Wiley.
Magritte, R. (1929). La trahison des images [Ceci n’est pas une pipe]. Belgium.
Shedd, J. A. (1928). Salt from My Attic. Mosher Press.

DMD or MBA: Why it’s important to specialize in marketing for your master’s

The search for the ideal master’s program is difficult, as one must consider many factors: timing, location, and, of course, unique program features and requirements. The search becomes even more complicated when the field you are interested in is closely linked to a wide variety of industries. Marketing, being an industry sheltered within the much larger, broader world of business, is one of these fields.

Pursuing an MBA may be alluring if one is interested in entering the field of marketing. On the surface, a program teaching the ins-and-outs of business management seems like a natural next-step towards marketing director and marketing management positions. However, depending on your learning goals, a specialized program in marketing may be the better step for your education.

Many MBA programs offer specialization in marketing, but they rarely provide a dive deep into the marketing industry and its functions. Much of an MBA program consists of management, finance, and accounting courses, which leaves little room for electives that would be more relevant to your intended career path in marketing. 

Marketing is an ever-changing industry with new optimizations, trends, and regulations to stay up to date on. The field is now almost completely digital, with social media and the internet gaining a larger and larger role in marketing strategies. Positions like the role of Social Media Manager and Digital Marketing Strategist require individuals to be highly skilled in the areas of copy-editing, graphic design, brand strategy, social media optimization, videography, and more. 

Digital marketing is a high growth field – which is why a degree in digital marketing can be extremely useful. The core classes in our Digital Marketing and Design master’s degree gives students a much deeper understanding of the inner workings of digital environments. Courses centering around concepts like Search Engine Optimization, Conversion Rate Optimization, and User Experience Design give students the tools necessary to run more effective digital marketing campaigns. 

The Brandeis GPS program in Digital Marketing and Design also stands out due to its inclusion of design. Despite its usefulness, design is rarely incorporated into marketing programs. With offerings like User Interface Design, Design Ideation & Prototyping, and Universal Design & Digital Accessibility, the Brandeis GPS program in Digital Marketing and Design offers students a competitive edge, helping them to gain expertise in both the technical and creative components of marketing.  

The importance of degree specialization should not be underestimated. If you are planning to further your education and enhance your career by pursuing a master’s degree, it is crucial that you keep this in mind.

For more information about the Brandeis GPS master’s in Digital Marketing and Design, visit the program webpage.

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