Month: August 2020

Heller Reading List: Sami Rovins Shares Her Favorite Readings

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

The readings I encountered in Professor Firchow’s course, “Theory and Analysis of Conflict Resolution and Coexistence” were especially compelling. In this debate-centered class, we read a lot of material that made me think critically about a range of topics related to conflict resolution and peacebuilding. While discussing the topic of civil resistance, Professor Firchow assigned us to read Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s 2011 study. Their study focused on the effectiveness of 323 different nonviolent campaigns that took place between the years 1900 and 2006. Their findings indicated that civil resistance campaigns are significantly more successful than campaigns that are violent. Chenoweth and Stephan contended that nonviolent campaigns are successful because they include participation from a wide array of citizens, because they encourage regime defections, and because they employ a diversity of strategies and tactics.

I was struck by this study because it clearly contributed significant and concrete data to the field of civil resistance. The authors did so by surveying a wide array of nonviolent campaigns taking place over 106 years. The 323 campaigns Chenoweth and Stephan analyzed demonstrated that nonviolent resistance campaigns against authoritarian regimes were twice as likely to succeed as violent movements. Nonviolent civil resistance also increased the chances that the overthrow of a dictatorship would ultimately lead to peace and democracy. They also found that during those 106 years, countries in which nonviolent campaigns failed were about four times as likely to later transition to democracy as countries where violent resistance movements took place. Essentially, Chenoweth and Stephan argue that nonviolent resistance is not simply the “moral” thing to do, but it is also the most effective means of creating change.

I found the authors’ arguments convincing and appreciated their use of data collected over a vast number of years. Their findings were a huge contribution to the fields of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. I also think the authors’ arguments are so valuable now more than ever, considering the protests we’ve witnessed across the US. These protests have predominantly been nonviolent, yet there have been incidents of violence and looting as well. For those of us who are fighting and hoping for change, Chenoweth and Stephan’s study could not be more relevant today. I also appreciate this aspect of the readings we were assigned in Professor Firchow’s class. These readings provide for intellectually stimulating debate in the classroom, but they also serve a very practical purpose as we move forward in our careers as peacebuilders in this world.

The Start of a New Year

Growing up, the start of the new school year was always my favorite time of year. I loved buying new notebooks and highlighters, decorating binders, and adding in meetings and important dates to my agenda (can you tell I was a bit of a nerd?). To me, the new school year meant a fresh beginning, a clean slate. The struggles of the last year were wiped away, and I was now able to re-invent myself however I chose: maybe this year I would try out for a school play, or learn an instrument, or join a new club.

This year feels a little different (for starters, we are still dealing with the struggles of last year). As yesterday morning’s nationwide outage of Zoom effectively demonstrated, there will certainly be even more challenges ahead of us this school year. Heller is embarking on an ambitious project: not how to adapt our community and our academics to a virtual environment, but how to improve it. How to make something that is not an imitation of the past, but something that envisions a better and brighter future.

It’s difficult for me to not feel that there is some parallel between this project and the current state of the world. All across the nation, all across the world, people are asking themselves, “How could this be different? How could this be better?” Demanding change is often seen as complaining, or as nit-picking, but I see it another way: asking for change is a result of indefatigable optimism. To demand change, one must believe that things can be better, that there is always room for improvement, that each moment is an opportunity for a new start…

Which leads me back to the beginning of the new school year. Tomorrow, our incoming students will begin their first classes at Heller. These students come from all over the world, from every background imaginable: we have students who have worked in U.S. embassies, students who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, students who are refugees, students that have spent years working for top research institutes, students who grew up halfway around the world. The following week, our application for the next entry terms will open. Over the next months, my team and I will be reading applications from students from all over the world. We’ll get a chance to dive into your personal stories, read recommendations from those that know you best, have conversations with you at our virtual events. Our students come from such diverse backgrounds, and yet they are united by the idea that the world can be better, that we each have the power to change not only our own lives, but our community and our society.

There are challenges ahead, but I am confident in the Heller community’s ability to not only meet them, but exceed them. If you are reading this, I am confident in your ability to exceed them. In spite of it all, I think that the 2020-2021 academic year is going to be a very good year.

Get ready for orientation with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Before my first semester at Heller began, my COEX cohort started to bond during our orientation. One particular highlight from orientation was our visit to Plymouth Plantation. We had the opportunity to learn Indigenous boat-making, interact with actors portraying 17th-century villagers, and glance into the complicated history surrounding Massachusetts’ early settlers and the indigenous people whose land they settled on. Orientations for Heller’s programs will be held online this year, but there are certain things we can still expect to learn and gain from the orientation experience.

Heller faculty and staff are always eager to engage in thought-provoking discussions, and always happy to answer any questions that pop into students’ minds. During this year’s virtual orientations, we can anticipate having the support of Heller staff and faculty in this same way. You should feel empowered to ask them about your schedule, class topics, resources for graduate students, and your career aspirations, just to name a few. You will be meeting people virtually who are extremely passionate about their students, classes, and the Heller community as a whole.

Orientation is also an exciting opportunity to meet the people who will make up your cohort over the next few semesters. Orientation will introduce you to your new community and your support systems. I recall meeting many people on those first two days of orientation who are now dear friends and colleagues. My advice is to be as open-minded as you can, as you’ll be meeting many people from many different places and backgrounds. It’ll soon become clear how much you can benefit from the relationships you’ll build with your classmates starting those first days of the semester when orientation takes place.

Lastly, virtual orientation will be an excellent introduction to what your experience over the next year (or two) will look like. For me, I was nervous and worried before starting at Heller, but orientation was a means of easing my fears and making me feel comfortable in this new experience. Not only is orientation a way of meeting your classmates and Heller staff and getting your questions answered, but orientation is also a way to introduce you to Waltham, to what you can expect academically, and to all the options and opportunities you’ll have as a Heller student.

Although Heller’s orientations will be held differently this year, there are many aspects of orientation that won’t change. You will meet and bond with your classmates and pave the way to lasting friendships. You’ll also meet Heller staff and professors who will be eager to answer any and all questions you may have about schedules, your academic interests, or the support you may need. Orientation is a thorough introduction to the Heller community overall, and an integral way to begin your time as a Heller graduate student.

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Advice

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

The “Heller experience” varies from student to student. There is so much to do, and for me, not having been in school since I graduated from undergrad in 2011, I wanted to do it all! Your time at Heller allows you to try new things, meet new people, and sign up to be a part of many exciting Heller and Brandeis wide events. As we approach the new school year, I want to pass along three pieces of advice I would give any incoming or prospective student:

1.  Prioritize career development, such as having an internship or Career Development Services workshops. While I chose to be very involved on the Heller campus through my on-campus work  and extracurriculars activities, I wish I had made it a priority to do more career development along the way, such as internships with organizations, especially because for the MBA, it can count as credit. There are a number of incredible organizations, including health, public policy, international development all within the Boston area. Having graduated, I think that if I had put an effort into connecting with local organizations while in school, I would have at an advantage in the job market. If internships can’t fit into your schedule, Career Development Services has a number of great workshops and informational packets as well. I would advise that students reach out sooner than later for help with interview prep or resume reviews, because graduation creeps up on you quickly!

2. Take a look outside of Heller.  It’s already overwhelming to see the options of exciting classes to take at Heller. But don’t forget, there are options to take classes or attend conferences and events at universities in the Boston area! Students often take courses for credit or for audit at the Brandeis International Business School or through the Consortium (which includes local universities such as Babson, MIT, or Harvard). During my time at Heller, I attended events and conferences that were hosted at Harvard or Boston University and appreciated the networking opportunities. I also had the chance to attend a conference in Detroit with Net Impact. Even better, you can apply for a Heller conference grant which will help offset your conference fees.

3. Challenge yourself with the social entrepreneurship events at Heller. I may be biased as someone who was known at Heller for loving everything related to social entrepreneurship, but I highly recommend that students, regardless of their degree program, sign up to take part in Heller Social Impact Startup Challenge and Hult Prize Challenge, which are two social entrepreneurship events at Heller. During my two years at Heller, I was actively involved in this event, first as a participant and then as a Director. It allowed me to plan, lead, and organize events with layers of complexity, which I have been able to reference in many of my interviews! Participants I have worked with have enjoyed this event and have found that it helps hone their leadership, presentation, and teamwork skills.

There are many opportunities for you at Heller, Brandeis, and in the Boston area. Remember that although you may be going to graduate school to further your professional goals, it’s not just the degree that matters: the connections you build and the skills you acquire can be a major asset in your future. Keep an eye out for the different events and enjoy being in school!

Campus Connections: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’ve made many connections during my past year at Heller who have changed and enhanced my life personally, academically, and professionally. One of the connections I’m most thankful for is my friend Hadeer. She and I come from different backgrounds and grew up in quite different places, but our friendship was nearly immediate, and over the course of our first semester at Heller we grew a strong bond. I have learned so much since connecting with Hadeer last Fall, and I continue to value her friendship tremendously!

On the surface, Hadeer and I might seem like two very different people. She grew up in Egypt, and I am from Philadelphia. My family is Jewish, and Hadeer was raised Muslim. Yet we quickly bonded over our shared interests and goals. From our mutual love of cheese, to our shared taste in music, to our career aspirations, we learned about each other and so many similarities popped right out. I think this is the true beauty of many Heller friendships. Seemingly different people are brought together into a context where their similarities matter more than their differences.

Hadeer and I first met during Heller’s orientation. Then, as classes started, I quickly witnessed how eloquent, passionate, and informed she is. Many times, Hadeer has demonstrated her natural way of making me feel that my interests and opinions are especially valuable. She is always a “safe space” and I know I can express to her any problems I might have without feeling judged.

The range of what I’ve learned from Hadeer is wide, and I’m very thankful for that: from adding Arabic words to my vocabulary, to enjoying all the musical artists she’s introduced me to (like the duo Amadou + Mariam from Mali). Hearing Hadeer’s thoughts on international development, peacebuilding, and feminism has been endlessly enlightening for me. My friendship with Hadeer is a perfect example of what it’s like to make friends at Heller. You will share and trade ideas, passions, and interests. You’ll learn bits of new languages and gain new perspectives. You will meet wonderful people who you ordinarily might never come across.

I appreciate my connection with Hadeer in particular because it’s a multi-level friendship. We connect with each other on school, philosophy, food, and our mutual love of dogs, just to name a few. We offer each other emotional support and always lend an ear when it’s needed. Our differences are not irrelevant to our friendship; Instead, we use our differences to learn from one another and gain insight into each other’s experiences. I feel lucky to have forged a friendship with Hadeer early on in my time at Heller. She has been such an excellent resource for me in so many ways – not only personally, but academically and professionally as well.

Heller Bucket List: Elizabeth Nguyen’s “Must Do” Experiences around Waltham

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

There are a number of exciting things to do and see when you start your program at Heller. For those of you moving to the area for the first time (or even those of you who have been here your whole lives), the amount of “must-do” activities can sometimes seem overwhelming, but remember, you have your whole program to cross them off your list. After two years at Heller, here is my list of things to make sure you do at Brandeis, in Boston, and in the New England area!

  1. Go to Brandeis events – Sign up for the general Brandeis listservs and follow the Brandeis Facebook pages to find out more about Brandeis events going on outside of the Heller building. I follow the Campus Activities Board and have gotten information about great events the past two years that I have signed up for with my Heller friends. During Halloween, there was a fun zombie escape room (we escaped!), a zoom chat with John Finlay from Netflix’s show “Tiger King”, free tickets to a Red Sox game, and even free ice cream in the summer!

    A group of eight students smile in a dimly lit room

    My team after completing the Escape Room

  2. Check out the Mapparium in Boston – This three-story tall stained-glass globe is one of the coolest places I have seen in Boston, and every time I have someone visiting, we try to go see it. The map itself is from 1935 and has some countries with different names compared to today. As a traveler and history nerd, it always is so interesting to find new bits of information on the map and see how the world has changed! Since it’s a perfect sphere, it also has fun acoustics, so bring a friend to test it out.
  3. Explore Cambridge and Boston –  There is a great free campus shuttle during the school year that drops you in Cambridge or Boston for you to explore the city for the day. Cambridge has great options for food, including coffee from Tatte or Pokeworks for sushi. I sometimes also like to explore the Harvard campus with its beautiful buildings for some hidden places to study. Boston is a great city to explore as well, from its historic Freedom Trail sites to museums like the Museum of Science, the Aquarium, and the Museum of Fine Arts. Some of these places are free with a student ID!
  4. Take a day trip outside of the city – As someone from California, it still amazes me that driving an hour and a half can easily bring you to another state. Living in Massachusetts, you have the option to drop into Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and hike mountains, sunbathe at beaches, and explore cute little towns! I like going to Newport, Rhode Island for a quick getaway or up to Maine to shop at the different outlets. Sometimes, I will even drive with friends and family along the New England coast to look at the beautiful lighthouses!
  5. Go leaf-peeping in the fall – New England is famous for its fall/autumn leaves, and rightly so, because they are so beautiful. Make sure to follow along on the leaf peeping maps to tell you where you should drive to see in New England to best see the peak leaf season… but even just walking to campus, you will see the leaves change color dramatically. This fall season makes you fall in love with the Boston area and will make you want to stay forever.

As you can see, I’ve tried to include choices that are safe in our “new normal”, but these will be experiences to cross off your Heller Bucket List for years to come. No matter when you’re joining us, you’ll find that the area has a lot to offer, so make sure you get out and experience all that you can: you’ll be surprised at how fast your program flies by!

Deciding on a Dual Degree: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I came to Heller as an MPP student, intending to focus my studies on research, quantitative analysis, and policy communication. Having worked for years in higher education, I was interested in how universities and other non-profit organizations make strategic and financial decisions, but as a policy student with an interest in economic inequality, I admittedly was a bit skeptical of corporate America and the financial system. For that reason, I was unsure if an MBA could ever be a good fit for me.

However, after beginning my MPP courses at Heller, I met numerous MBA and dual MBA/MPP students who shared my passion for social change and economic equity. As I gained a greater understanding of the different types of organizations engaged in policy work and social advocacy, including nonprofits, foundations, and public agencies, I became increasingly curious about how they work in a strategic and operational sense. I also became interested in gaining a deeper understanding of finance and corporate structures, topics that many policy researchers who are concerned with inequality and labor issues need to understand. It became increasingly clear that the Heller MBA coursework would enable me to greatly expand my skill set and give me a chance to focus on leadership, consensus-building, and operational thinking.

To be sure that the MBA was the right fit, I enrolled in “Strategic Management,” taught by Prof. Carole Carlson, this past spring. The course was taught in an accelerated format and met for 4.5 hours once a week. However, I was pleased to find that the time flew by. The class was heavily discussion-based and required us to think on our feet and speak extemporaneously about complex cases involving business and organizational strategy. I found that over the course of the semester I became more confident speaking up in class and better able to analyze business plans and management decisions, areas in which I had limited prior experience. My classmates brought perspectives strongly influenced by values of social justice and equity, and drew upon their work experience in diverse settings including education, healthcare, and international organizations like the UN. This experience convinced me to apply to the Social Impact MBA, and I am excited to begin the program in earnest this fall.

Completing the summer quantitative pre-course has been challenging at times, and it’s a bit daunting to think about taking accounting and finance courses, subjects that are entirely new to me. Still, I’m looking forward to focusing more on quantitative skills this fall, and I’m excited about opportunities like the Team Consulting Project next summer. I really appreciate the breadth of opportunities at Heller, and the opportunity to complete a second degree in such a short amount of time.

Heller To-Do List: Sami Rovins Goals for the next year

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

My Heller “to-do” list is long, but a few events in particular come to mind. Before my time at Heller comes to a close, I’d love to throw a party and invite my cohort and other fellow Heller students in different degree programs over to my house. Heller students are a tight-knit group, but we are all so busy that we don’t always find the time to relax and unwind together. Throwing an off-campus get-together would be the perfect opportunity for that. As graduate students, we can become so hyper-focused on school that we sometimes lose sight of other important aspects to our lives. It’s so valuable to socialize with each other and to find the time to relax after a busy week at Heller. It also feels important for us to celebrate our accomplishments together as a group. We all work so hard throughout the week, and a party on the weekend would be our chance to unwind and ultimately get to know each other even better.

I would also love to attend more Graduate Student Association (GSA) events. In the past, I’ve felt hesitant to join for a few reasons. Either I had way too much work, or I felt too tired at the end of the day, or I was anxious about socializing with people who I didn’t already know. But once the event happened, I would realize that attending it would have been a positive experience and would have enhanced my day: the GSA provides a wide range of events, and it seems there is truly something for everyone. My bucket list also includes spending more time in the office of Graduate Student Affairs, which is very close to the Heller building on campus. There’s always something delicious to eat there, and it’s a terrific place to spend some time if you need a break from Heller’s building.

Another outing I’d love to go on with my cohort is to spend a beach day at Walden Pond. Only 25 minutes from campus, Walden Pond is the perfect place to spend a fun and relaxing Spring or Summer afternoon. This type of off-campus adventure is also on my Heller bucket list because I know how much my fellow classmates would enjoy it. I’d love the opportunity to drive over to Walden Pond with a group of Heller friends. It would be yet another way to unwind, relax, and get to know each other away from campus and the context of school. Walden Pond is also a significant and historic place to visit in the Boston area. Visiting it with Heller friends would be a great opportunity for all of us to get to know our new home better. I hope to have the opportunity to check off Walden Pond and all of my bucket list items before my time at Heller comes to an end!

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