I’ve enjoyed all of my courses at Heller, and it would be impossible to choose a favorite. That said, one of the best things about Heller is the option to take module courses, half-semester classes which offer a chance to explore a more specialized topic in what is typically a small seminar setting. In my first semester at Heller, I chose to take “Labor Income, Labor Power, and Labor Markets,” co-taught by Professor Robert Kuttner and Dean David Weil. I found this course so engaging and informative that it is hard to believe, in retrospect, that it only met for seven weeks! While adding a fifth class for half a semester made my finals period quite intense, it was 100% worth it.
Part of my motivation for pursuing an MPP, and the Heller MPP in particular, was that this type of degree seemed like the ideal combination of academic subjects including history, political science, and economics, all in the service of gaining skills needed to analyze and advocate for effective and just policies. This course reflected that balance perfectly. It combined discussions of the economics of labor markets, lectures on the history of the labor movement (including lots of colorful and inspiring stories), and reflections from students on their own experiences with work and labor issues in a multinational context. Professor Kuttner provided insights from his time as a journalist covering labor issues and politics, while Dean Weil drew upon examples from his time in the Department of Labor and from his research related to the “fissured workplace.” Both were incredibly engaging and entertaining as professors. We also had the chance to hear from visiting scholars of labor history and economics. This meant that the course, while firmly grounded in history, also drew upon the direct experiences of our instructors and their work on contemporary research and policy challenges.
While I have been interested for quite a while in activism and social justice advocacy, this course helped me to see social movements in the context of political economy and to use analytical tools to assess and understand their impact. The chance to draw lessons from history and gain an understanding of how labor organizing can influence policy outcomes was very influential in helping me to hone my interests, which lie in the realm of workforce development and education policy. This course represents what I think is special about Heller – the opportunity to explore themes of social justice and equity in an academically rigorous, critical, and collaborative fashion. I am thankful that I chose to take a chance on a fifth course last semester – don’t forget to check for interesting modules at Heller!