Boston in the Fall

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Trivia time! Name this song:

And I’ve never licked a spark plug,
And I’ve never sniffed a stink bug,
And I’ve never painted daisies on a big red rubber ball,
And I’ve never bathed in yogurt
And I don’t look good in leggings
And we’ve never been to Boston in the fall!

If you guessed “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything!” from Veggie Tales you’d be correct! Next logical question: why am I quoting Veggie Tales in a blog post made for Heller Admissions? Answer: BOSTON IN THE FALL!!

If you’re considering going to Heller, but feel some apprehension because you recharge in nature (like me) and feel there will be less nature to enjoy – fear no more. Boston in the fall is beautiful, not only within the city, but also in the surrounding areas – like Waltham. One of my favorite weekend activities is finding a new place to hike; be it with a friend or alone, after having been in brick buildings all week for work or classes, surrounding myself with living, breathing flora is – quite literally – a breath of fresh air. At Brandeis, there is a hiking club with folks who get together almost every weekend to explore the surrounding woodlands if you prefer to hike in groups. If you prefer solo hikes, there is a great app that I use that informs me on all aspects of a trail (call AllTrails). By using this app, I can see how heavily trafficked specific hikes are, their difficulty level, length, and proximity to me. I specifically really like to see the traffic levels because I tend to trend towards mid to heavily trafficked areas when hiking alone for safety.

Now, you may be thinking, “okay Hannah, we get it, there are hiking trails. I have trails where I live, so what’s the big deal?”. First of all, cut down the sass. Secondly, Boston is unique in the fact that if you were to drive 10 minutes in one direction you would be in a woodland that has little to no noise pollution, then drive 10 minutes in a different direction and you’re in the heart of a bustling city. So if you’re looking for the cliché “best of both worlds” this could be a nice fit.

Now, you may be thinking, “but Hannah, I don’t prefer to hike up mountains in my spare time – nor do I want to be attacked by a turkey in the forest”. To which I would reply – fair, but many of the trails in this area are pretty easy to stroll leisurely through. As far as the turkey goes,  that’s out of my hands… may the odds be ever in your favor. Some nice trails near/in Waltham (that do not all require a car to access) include Cat Rock Park Loop, Weston Reservoir Loop, Charles River Walkway, and my new favorite, Storer Conservation Land, just to name a few.

So, if you’ve never been to Boston in the fall, consider checking it out! It has beautiful foliage, lovely hikes, and fun and mostly harmless wildlife.

Applying to Graduate School as a First Generation Graduate Student

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Applying to graduate school as a first generation graduate student is not always as easy as it may seem.  When I started my senior year at Boston University, I was on the pathway to become a law student. I spent all summer and most of fall prepping for the LSAT, deciding what schools I wanted to apply to, endless amount of GroupMe messages… it was all super draining.  Yet when it came time to write my personal statement I could not find the words to say why I wanted to be an attorney. Was it because I wanted to help my community? Was it because I will be financially stable? What was it? I spent the last  two years prepping for my journey into law school and now I can’t even say why I want to be there. I think I was turned off by the law school process. I did not understand the purpose of the LSAT when all the 1L and 2L says the LSAT has barely anything to do with your classes. I did not understand why I would choose to sit in a class discussing outdated laws. I did not understand the process for the bar exam. It all just seemed like a rigged system to me and I no longer wanted any part.

Once I officially decided that law school was not for me, I was right back to the drawing board. Well, what am I supposed to do now? I was set to graduate from BU in less than 5 months and I just shut the door on what I thought was my dream career. I remember speaking with a old supervisor of mine about my concerns: I told her I knew I wanted to help people but I wanted to make a everlasting impact, I wanted to be within the community making the changes they want to see, and that I was thinking of applying for a MPP or MPA degree. She told me it sounded like a great idea and if she could had gotten her MPP or MPA instead of law school she would have 1000% done it. She said to me, “I did not want to study law I wanted to learn the legal and government system to make it better.” From that statement alone I began thinking some more about my personal goals and the field I saw myself in. Once that became clear, I began my search for masters programs.  I had few goals for this new journey: find a master’s program that did not require the GRE (hey, what can I say I was burnt out from standardized testing), only apply for 5 schools, and secure a scholarship offer.

One thing I forgot about once I narrowed down my choices and began my application process was that in undergrad I had way more assistance. I had more time to polish my personal statement, I had more time to search for schools, I had more time to submit scholarship applications, and on top of that, I was chosen as a Posse Scholar, and they pretty much do all the work for you– all I did was show up to an interview and a few meetings. I was on a time crunch submitting grad school apps, finding recommenders, and submitting scholarship essays. Not only did I have to deal with being on a time crunch, I had to deal with the most hated question of college students, “What are you doing after you graduate?” I would answer, “Grad school” only to receive responses such as, “Why would you want to go to grad school right after undergrad?”, “What do you plan to do with a second degree?”, questions I honestly did not have the answer to and probably still don’t have the answer to.  However, my mentor, my posse, my friends, and my family where all very supportive of my decision to get my masters. They always wanted me to do what made me happy and I can not thank them enough for the support. Friends offered to read my statement of purposes, people always asked for updates and when acceptances letters came in I was showered with words of wisdom and encouragement. Most of my family never went to college and sometimes its hard for them to understand the challenges I have to face, but they never doubted my ability to finish strong. One piece of advice I want to give a first generation graduate student is that breaking generational curses starts with you and even when the road looks foggy, trust the light is always at the end.

Giving Thanks

My mom called me last night absolutely frantic. Even though I told her last week that my fiancé and I would be coming to visit, I guess it took a while for it to sink in that she’d have to plan what we’d eat for Thanksgiving. Here’s the catch: both my fiancé and I are pescatarians (meaning we don’t eat any meat except for fish and seafood), so no turkey, no ham, and nothing with bacon. I spent the next thirty minutes reassuring her that it really didn’t matter to either of us what we ate and that we were just happy to have the time to spend with her and a much-needed break from work.

Especially in comparison to last year’s Thanksgiving, where I almost didn’t visit her because I was afraid of inadvertently affecting her, it strikes me that the idea of having a day set aside to celebrate with your family and friends and to share what we’re grateful for is really pretty special. As unsavory as I find the history and the food surrounding the holiday, the sentiment is a good one. So with that, here are some things I’m grateful for this year:

Our new blog writers. This time last year, we had three graduate student assistants writing for the blog, and now we have almost double that. One of our very first blog writers, Doug Nevins, is still with us (although he’s graduating this semester!), but we’ve had some great student workers contribute to the blog over the past year, and I love getting to read their individual stories and learn about their experiences at Heller. Especially now, when the office is still running on a hybrid schedule, I feel like I’ve gotten to know our graduate assistants really well through this blog. Which reminds me…

Being back on campus (at least part-time). Oh no, is that cheesy? Even if it is, it’s true and I have to give credit where credit is due. I had only been at Heller for seven months when the pandemic forced us to move to work from home, and it would have been so easy for me to feel isolated and disconnected if not for my amazing co-workers. Even now, when we’re still working on a hybrid schedule, we still take the time to check in with each other. And for the two days a week I am on campus, it’s such a pleasure to get to see other staff members and faculty I hadn’t seen in more than a year. I also find the view of the changing autumn leaves through the windows of the Zinner forum incredibly beautiful, and am happy to be back on campus to enjoy the foliage.

The re-release of Taylor Swift’s Red album. One of the things that I love about Brandeis is that there are a variety of small walking trails that will lead you to a great view of the fall leaves, or an unexpected piece of art hidden in the woods, or an outlook where you can see Boston in the distance. While I’m walking around during my lunch hour, I usually like listening to podcasts, but lately, I’ve really been enjoying listening to Taylor Swift’s re-release of her album Red. I know that may be a little bit basic, but it really invokes some powerful nostalgia in me and just seems like the perfect “fall” album.

For this post, I’m opening up the comments: I’d love to hear what you’re grateful for!

Things to think about when choosing a graduate program (that might not be immediately obvious)

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As I near the end of my time at Heller, I’ve reflected a bit on the criteria I had when I was applying to and choosing graduate programs, and on how my impressions of Heller have played out during my time here. I wanted to share a few criteria that I considered and discuss in a bit more detail how these factored into my search.

Faculty background

I was drawn to the fact that many Heller faculty serve as researchers in various centers and institutes here on campus, while many also have experience working in federal or state agencies related to health, labor, education, and other social policy areas. Knowing that core courses would be taught by faculty with backgrounds specific to social policy, and with policy-relevant work and research experience regardless of their formal academic training, was a big priority for me, and made Heller a compelling option. My primary interests are education and workforce development, and I’ve gotten to work with faculty who have served in the Department of Labor and managed national job training non-profit organizations. Heller has enabled me to delve deeply into topics of interest in both required classes and electives.

Geography and professional connections

My sense is that many policy schools excel at connecting students to jobs in Washington, DC, as well as in the area where they are located. This motivated me to consider Heller, since I am from the Boston area and interested in opportunities here, as well as DC, where there are of course more jobs in the federal government and in national-level policy organizations. That said, Heller places students around the country and abroad, which I viewed as an additional advantage to attending graduate school here – I’ve made connections with peers and with faculty who themselves have connections in many different locations.

Peer interests

In addition to faculty at Heller tending to have direct professional and research experience in social policy fields, the fact that my peers are passionate about social justice and social policy has been a big advantage of attending Heller as well. While Heller is not homogenous, there is definitely a sense of shared values and a commitment to social change. This was a powerful motivator in my decision to attend Heller, and the experience that students have in non-profit, government, and social impact settings has really enriched class discussions.

Flexibility and options

While I entered Heller in the MPP program, I was interested in adding a dual MBA, and knew that doing so would only add about 6 months to my time in graduate school due to the accelerated schedule of the MBA program. Knowing that there were options like this available also informed my decision to attend Heller. In general, the culture here is to help students figure out how to accomplish what it is they want to do. I am glad that my impressions of this culture when I decided on Heller have been proven correct by my 2.5 years here!

Hello Heller! Andy Mendez’ Acceptance Story

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

When I read over my acceptance letter on a snowy day in January 2020 in an apartment on Chicago’s northwest side, I thought about what it had taken for that letter to land in my inbox. I thought about how I had borrowed books from the Peace Corps library in Morocco and studied for the exam every day of Ramadan. I thought about how I raced against a snowstorm and the clock to make it seven hours north to the capital to take the GRE at the AMIDEAST center in Rabat. While I was serving in the Peace Corps, I had 8 to 10 schools on my list at any given time. When the time came to actually commit, I thought about where I could really see myself and that was Heller. I withdrew the only other application I had submitted, put all my eggs in the Heller basket and it had worked out!

The problem was I had committed to a second term of service with AmeriCorps VISTA in Chicago that would run from February 2020 to February 2021. To attend Heller, I’d have to end my service 6 months early. I had just transferred from a position as a VISTA Member to a position as a VISTA Leader supporting a full 45+ member cohort of volunteers working on sustainable, anti-poverty solutions.

Maybe you can understand why it was hard for me to type out my deferral letter. If I had accepted, I knew I would be leaving a lot unfinished in my role at AmeriCorps and I would be forfeiting another $6K Education Award. With my pre-COVID-19 naiveté, I thought an extra year would allow me to gain more work experience, build my Chi-town network, and still leave a few months to volunteer abroad. A week after my deferral request was accepted, my office went remote, my campus tour was canceled, toilet paper was flying off the shelves, and the reality of our new normal started setting in. In that week, I realized my decision to defer had much bigger implications. It meant avoiding an uncertain year of virtual school. It meant committing to a year of national service that would look very different than what I had anticipated. It meant that the third-largest city in the country had been reduced to the four walls of my bedroom.

When I received my updated Admissions decision a year later, the COVID-19 situation was still unclear, but my resolve to attend graduate school was firm. The pandemic had clarified a lot of things for me, including my desire to be at a mission-driven institution and to be in an environment where I could build my quantitative skills and technical expertise. I knew that, despite the uncertainty, I was ready to become a part of the Heller community. I knew that I didn’t want to delay the start of this journey any longer.

Need a break or snack between classes? Daniella has you covered!

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Due to the pandemic, I began my time at Heller in the virtual classroom. Now that we are back in person, I am excited to take advantage all that school has to offer, and that includes finding the best spots for food and otherwise! I have lived in the greater Boston area for five years, and beyond a few scattered visits to Brandeis in the past to see friends or go on a campus tour, I have not spent a considerable amount of time in Waltham. I am eager to add new eateries and locations to my repertoire. Instead of starting from scratch, I crowdsourced with my colleagues to learn more about Brandeis/Waltham and hear about places that are special to them. I compiled a list for myself and now want to share their recommendations with you. Whether you are new to Waltham or have lived here for years, it’s always nice to have some suggestions to look back on. I hope this will help you as much as it’s helped me during my first few months at Heller!

Favorite place to pick up a quick bite between classes:

“I love the sandwiches at South Street Market. Their bread is fresh and the people working there are always so kind” – Amelia MPP ’22

“I like getting lunch at Tree Top Thai. Their Thai food is always super yummy and enough for leftovers too plus they write your name in beautiful handwriting on the to-go bags” – Hannah MPP ’22

The Prime Deli. Period, end of story” – Sierra MPP ’22

Leo’s Place Diner! Great food and lovely owners. It always feels like home” – Louisa MPP ’22

Molti on Moody for delicious sandwiches!!” – Lydia MPP ’22

Cafe on the Common has great coffee and wifi and it’s not too far from campus. It’s a good place study for a few hours if you need a change of scenery!” – Paulina MPP ’22

“I love grabbing groceries at the Waltham Indian Market, they have everything you can imagine and need!!” – Mariela MPP ’22

Favorite place on campus: 

“Brandeis has some great views of Boston. I love to take a moment outside to appreciate the scenery between classes. I highly recommend the outdoor area of the science center and the lawn in front of the skyline for the best views” – Kerin MPP/MBA ’22

“The balcony of the Shapiro Science Center has one of the most beautiful views on campus, especially when the weather is warm and the trees are green!” – Adam MPP ’22

If you find yourself in Waltham, for a visit, a campus tour, or school, please leave a comment of what you did or where you ate so we can keep growing the list. I’ll add that in addition to the places mentioned above, I love Taqueria Mexico. The food is delicious and affordable. What keeps me coming back is the staff, who are so friendly and accommodating.

Succeeding in a Class out of my Comfort Zone

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

When I made the decision to come to Brandeis, one of the things I loved about Heller was the variety of classes available. There’s quantitative classes, qualitative classes, policy classes, and theoretical classes on ethics and more! One thing I promised myself when I started here was that I would make an effort to take some classes outside of my comfort zone. My background being in communications, I wanted to get some more experience with the research and data side of things.

With that in mind, I signed up for Professor Godoy’s Survey Design class in module 1. I was really worried about this class and doing well, but I decided to sign up for it anyways to learn a new skill. It was an online class, which was definitely something I had to get used to. I had to employ specific strategies to make sure I continued paying attention throughout the entire class, such as taking breaks to walk around, eat something and drink something.

In this class, you learn about how to create an ideal survey for a project. You learn about different biases that can occur both when selecting survey participants and interviewing them. You also learn about measurement errors when creating your hypothesis and designing your equation.  All of these were things I did not have experience in, so I was coming into the class completely blind.

However, now having finished the class, I can say I’m really glad that I took it. I really enjoyed the experience of getting to design my very own survey with a group and getting to apply all that I learned and put it into practice. While it was challenging, I was still able to succeed. Whenever I was confused, I made sure to ask the professor or the TA to clear up my confusion. Being able to see all the concepts at work in real life really helped to depend my understanding and it made the class less challenging in my opinion. I also feel that by the end of the class, I really gained a deeper understanding of what makes a good survey and of more mathematical terms in general.

In conclusion, take that class you’re nervous about! It can expand your skillset and even unleash a greater passion for the subject than you thought was possible.

Housing in Waltham: Sharing a Space with Others

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

One of my biggest stressors when planning to move to Waltham (just outside of Boston) was finding housing. I think most felt this similar roller-coaster ride of emotions:

Emotion 1,  excitement: “Wow! Living in Boston will be just like in the movies. I want a nice 1 bedroom studio near the water, I’m sure my $800 a month will go a long way!”

Emotion 2, inquisitive: “Look at all these options… wait, when I enter my budget I can’t seem to find my dream apartment, what is going on?!”

Emotion 3, rational: “Ahh, okay I guess I will just have to opt for a nice big shared house with a roommate or two.”

Emotion 4, confused: “Wow, that’s not going to work either. Okay, smaller house with a few more roommates it is.”

Emotion 5, accepting: “Okay, looks like a small townhouse with 4 roommates will have to work!”

Emotion 6, nervous: “But what will living with 4 other people be like, how will I find them, how will they find me?”

I bring you to today. Real talk: I was not excited about having to live with 4 other people (who I did not know) in a small place when moving here; and, for many, their situation is like mine in which they are working on a tight budget and need to make every penny count. But let me tell you, IT WILL BE OKAY!

In fact, if you’re looking to build community, living with others is great. In my mind, I worried that I would have super messy, loud, rude roommates who made every moment home unbearable. But, my experience has not looked like that. Instead, I now live with 4 other Brandeis students who are wonderful. My roommates include another Heller graduate student (in the MBA/SID program), a PhD student in History, a graduate student in Business Analytics, and a graduate student in Finance. If I had opted to spend (A LOT) more money to live by myself, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to enjoy casual dinner conversations while I make my usual dinner of broccoli and potatoes. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the yummy smells that come with foods from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I wouldn’t have had others to commiserate with after a long day of classes.

If you are like me and feeling a bit apprehensive about finding housing in this area as a graduate student, let me tell you: odds are you will encounter some pretty smart, talented, kind and caring individuals in your pursuits because Brandeis seems to pull those types of people in.  There are also plenty of resources provided to graduate students to help you on your housing search. So, don’t worry and just trust and enjoy the process. Hey, you may even make some awesome new friends because of it!

Getting Involved through Extracurriculars

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Believe it or not, I had planned not to join any extracurricular actives in my first semester here at Heller.  I felt that I was somewhat overly involved in my undergraduate career and I wanted to go with the flow of school before I began to commit my time to other activities. Yet as the semester got underway, I felt I didn’t have many connections outside of my cohort and I wanted to get to know more students across Heller.  I opened my email one day and saw that the Heller Student Association (HSA) was looking to fill some positions. From my experience in my undergraduate program, I didn’t really want to join a student association as I felt they were never really for the students and there were always problems, so I wasn’t eager to apply.

But after reading the previous executive-boards’ (also called E-board) bios and the HSA mission statement, Heller’s HSA seemed like a team that wanted to serve the students of Heller wholeheartedly without any gimmicks. It seemed like a good fit so I took my chance and applied for the Administrative Coordinator position, note-taking for meetings and events while also serving on the Graduate Student Association (GSA) Senate as a Heller representative. I did not know what to expect joining HSA, I just hoped that everyone was open-minded, driven to meet the needs of Heller students, and friendly. To my surprise, the HSA team embodied all these qualities and many more. Even though it is only the beginning of our journey together as the HSA 2021-2022 E-board, so far we have been able to host a successful first Town Hall/ Meet the Board and also a Halloween Event where we provided games, arts and crafts, music, and good conversation amongst the students. In addition to our events, we have also begun petitions in support of Heller student parking and to re-open our favorite coffee shop in Heller, Starbucks.

At the moment, I don’t think I will be joining any other E-boards, but I hope to be able to make a lasting impact for the students at Heller with my team. Joining extracurricular activities in graduate school can be difficult when juggling academics, work-life balance, and home, but even if you do not join organizations’ executive boards, it is always good to remain connected with what organizations on campus are doing to enhance your graduate school experience.

Keeping Up with the… Current Affairs

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I’ve recently been thinking more about my go-to sources of information about current affairs and policy, in part because I have a new job responsibility in which I have to compile interesting items related to data and higher education on a weekly basis. One of the great things about attending Heller has been discovering new sources of information and learning how to better use both popular press and more wonky, research-based sources to keep abreast of developments in the policy and non-profit spaces. I thought I’d share some of my favorites in this blog post.

One of my top recommended sources is probably already familiar to many prospective Heller students – the NY Times. I find that their coverage of national politics, the pandemic, and the economic recovery is some of the best out there, and they also are a resource to find examples of great data journalism. In courses at Heller in which I’ve had to do data visualizations, maps, or dashboards, I’ve turned to the NYT for inspiration on how to design an effective graphic. The Times is pay-walled, unfortunately, but you can get a subscription through Brandeis for free!

I’d be remiss not to recommend a publication co-founded by Heller Professor Robert Kuttner and former professor Robert Reich – The American Prospect. This is a great magazine with free online access to articles and blog posts. It’s a great source for in depth analysis of public policy developments and the legislative process in Washington, particularly if you are interested in issues related to the economy and workforce.

If you are looking for more local news, I find the Politico MA Playbook to be a great resource. I subscribe to their email list so that I get a brief update almost every day. Politico provides quick, succinct updates on legislative and policy happenings on Beacon Hill, and is great to follow if you are interested in Massachusetts or Boston politics.

An invaluable resource for MPP and other Heller students are think tanks which research domestic public policy issues. Some of the think tanks whose reports have been regularly assigned in my courses include EPI, Brookings, and Demos. While these offer more of a specific perspective, rather than objective news reporting or analysis, they also tend to produce reports with more extensive research and detail than what you would find in a journalistic source. While you have to be careful to balance these with more academic sources in papers, reports from these types of organizations can be great options for citations.

Last, but certainly not least, is less a particular source than a chaotic, unregulated mix of hot takes: Twitter. Still, despite the fact that many Twitter accounts possess no particular expertise in the topic area they post about (and although it can be a time waster and procrastination tool), Twitter is also heavily used by journalists, policy analysts and researchers, and academics. Some of my favorite sources for policy perspectives are NYT Opinion columnists Jamelle Bouie and Ezra Klein; economists Arindrajit Dube and Branko Milanovic; and the climate reporter Kate Aronoff.

Reading strong policy analysis in many forms, whether columns, reports, or tweets, is a big part of learning to write stronger policy analysis. The emphasis on writing has been one of my favorite parts of my Heller experience, and I appreciate the many recommendations I’ve gotten from faculty and classmates of smart commentators to follow (and imitate!)

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