Month: September 2020

Hello Heller!: Andrea Tyree’s Acceptance Story

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Fun fact: I accidentally ignored my Heller acceptance letter for an entire week. Ironically, this came after weeks of obsessively checking my email in hopes of seeing “The Heller School” in my inbox and months of gushing over the school to anyone who would listen. But you know what they say: a watched pot never boils. Needless to say, when I finally saw that name in my inbox with the subject “Application Update,” my stomach leaped into my chest.

So many thoughts raced through my head before I opened the email. My journey to Heller had been a long one. After obtaining a B.A. in Political Science from Howard University, I went directly into the Peace Corps, serving as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in East Timor. I entered the Peace Corps with hopes of finding direction in the human rights field. Yet my time in the tiny Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste showed me the immense impact of community development when led by the community itself. Though I cared about a number of human rights crises around the world, nothing struck my heart quite like my own community’s crisis: racial discrimination and police brutality against Black Americans.

After my time in the Peace Corps, I was determined to follow my passion and make a difference for my community. I came back to my home, West Virginia, and worked for an anti-poverty nonprofit, learning the powers of organizing and policymaking. I knew I wanted to continue my education in order to make a more substantial impact for racial justice and, luckily, I had a mentor who guided me toward a Master’s in Public Policy. When searching for the right school, my priority was to find a school that emphasized the impact of policy on communities. The Heller School quickly rose to the top of my list.

Yet it wasn’t until I visited the Heller School that I fell completely in love. A normal campus visit usually involves one (short) meeting and maybe a class visit. However, my morning at Heller involved a campus tour, three separate meetings with assistant and associate deans, coffee with a current MPP student, sitting in on a COEX class and viewing second-year MPP student summer internship presentations. On top of all of that, I was encouraged to organize calls with professors skilled in my area of research. Prestigious professors, like Anita Hill, took time out of their day to speak with a prospective student to brainstorm research ideas! By the time the application deadline came around, I had already begun praying for an acceptance letter.

Back to the infamous email: I took a deep breath, attempted to embrace the mantra of “everything happens for a reason,” convinced myself that I would be O.K. with any decision, closed my eyes and clicked.

“There has been an update to your application.”

…that’s it?

“Well, that’s anti-climactic,” I thought.

The suspense was definitely lost but my patience was rewarded as I went through the admissions portal to find my prayers had been answered. I was accepted… with a scholarship!! I’ll spare you the cheesy details of my reaction (spoiler: it involved jumping on my bed and blasting “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen) because it’s the reactions of my father and mentor that I remember most. The joy pouring from my dad as he gave me a bear hug and the tears from my mentor on the phone solidified the feeling that this was it. I had applied to other prestigious schools in the Boston area, but I knew firsthand that no school would share my values, and value me as a student, like Heller. After only a month as an MPP student, I still believe this to be true.

Welcome Back: Doug Nevins

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Back to school!

After a strange and unprecedented summer (which nonetheless seems to have flown by), I am back to school at Heller this fall for my second MPP year, and first MBA year. In keeping with a slightly corny family tradition of first day of school photos, I took a selfie on my front porch, laptop in hand, to mark the first day of classes. After having a few months to get used to Zoom meetings and remote work, transitioning back into virtual classes felt more natural than I expected. I’m excited to be back “at Heller” and delving into new subject matter.

I’ve found that it’s important to create routines and structure that better approximate the feeling of being in school full-time under normal circumstances. To that end, I’ve been setting my alarm to a bit earlier in the morning, trying to be a few minutes early to every class, and connecting with classmates on Zoom or in person, outside, for study sessions. Having a support system of fellow students to collaborate with outside of class has been invaluable, and it’s been great to reconnect with other MPP students whom I didn’t see this summer, and to meet my new MBA cohort. I’ve also found that continuing to work part-time, including at the MPP internship which I started this summer, gives my week some added structure and variety.

Doing a dual degree program at Heller can be intense. I’m currently taking 5 classes and have already had one major assignment due. That said, I’ve already learned A LOT this semester (I can balance a balance sheet, I think?) and am really enjoying being back in the classroom, virtual though it may be. The way that different classes, and degree programs, reinforce one another at Heller makes the whole experience that much more engaging and immersive.

As unorthodox as this “back to school” season has been, I’m so grateful to be at Heller and to be a part of this community.

Peace Corps + Heller: A Perfect Combination

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

Editor’s Note: This is a bittersweet post, because it’s Elizabeth’s last one for the blog. She graduated from the SID/MBA dual program at the end of last year, but remained on staff for the summer while she was looking for a job… and she was offered a full time position as a Program Manager for Social Entrepreneurship for All starting last month! Congratulations again, Elizabeth, but you will be so missed!

Walking the halls of Heller, you will inevitably come across a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. These students and leaders are recognizable because they will inevitably have stories of living overseas, starting their conversations with the iconic “When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in….” It’s an identity that comes with leaving the US behind to spend 2+ memorable years as a grassroots international development worker in another country. 

As a member of this elusive group, I can proudly say that my Peace Corps experience in Swaziland (now called Eswatini), has been a life-changing experience that has defined my career path and time at Heller. As a recent Heller graduate who completed the Social Impact MBA and Master’s in Sustainable International Development (SID) concentrating in Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Management, I brought my experiences from my Peace Corps service into all of my conversations and projects, both inside and outside of the classroom. 

I officially started my service as a Youth Development Volunteer in Swaziland, a small landlocked country in southern Africa in 2013. But because of my family and upbringing, I knew in high school that I wanted to join the Peace Corps. As a first-generation American-born citizen, I was raised with a strong commitment to service, as exemplified through my family trips to Vietnam, where we worked in rural communities by building homes, supporting school children with school supplies, and advocating for health and hygiene.

The natural progression for my love of service grew into joining the Peace Corps. Throughout my three and a half years, I worked primarily on supporting students at a A group of students stands smiling together in formal clothingchildren’s home. I also ran a handcraft social enterprise supporting over 70 women and men in three rural communities. It was my first introduction to managing a business, and I was responsible for everything from creating a budget and international marketing strategy to planning trainings for the artisans. I was challenged but thrived, learning through this experience, that I loved the social impact part of enterprises. I decided to stay a third year in Swaziland to work with Enactus, an international organization working with youth social entrepreneurship, where I helped develop the communications and programs of the organization to increase impact with the students we worked with and the communities we served. 

I returned to the US and knew that I wanted to pursue a Social Impact MBA to further my education and to learn more about how to run a business so that I can best support other entrepreneurs around the world. At Heller, the MBA classes have helped me better understand business strategies, financial management, and even business pitches. My SID classes have helped me focus my work on Southern African countries like South Africa and Swaziland. 

I even was able to help plan the annual Social Impact Startup Challenge and Hult Prize competitions, encouraging other students across all programs with ideas to start businesses. Last year, I was also asked to present in front of an audience at Brandeis University’s Africa Culture Night, where I was able to highlight my experiences in Swaziland. It amazes me how much my service has changed my life and directed my time at Heller and as I move forward into my next job as a Program Manager for Entrepreneurship for All, I am excited to bring my Peace Corps and Heller experiences to create maximum impact for entrepreneurs and their communities.

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary Part 2

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’m working with Shadhika this summer as a Project Intern. Shadhika is a women’s empowerment organization based partly in Denver, and in various sites throughout India. Our goal is to increase the agency and autonomy of women and girls through comprehensive education projects. Now that I’m about a month and a half into my internship, I’m noticing the pace of my work speeding up as my responsibilities expand and evolve. I am currently working on a project to monitor and evaluate Shadhika’s programs from a human rights-based perspective. A regular day for me looks like this:

7:30 am – I meet with my supervisor via Zoom. She is located in Pune, India, and since there is a nine and half hour time difference, we generally speak early in the morning.

8:45 am – I grab another cup of coffee and a slice of toast, and dig into Shadhika’s records to analyze grant reports from 5 years ago. Since I can’t be at our project sites in person, these reports help me get a better sense of our programs.

10:00 am – I hop onto Zoom again for a staff meeting. We’re a small staff of seven people, so we have the opportunity to chat and catch up before getting into work-related discussions. I also give a short presentation on what I think are key takeaways from analyzing the reports I read earlier, and I’m excited to receive feedback from the rest of Shadhika’s staff.

11:50 am – Unexpectedly, I see an email from the Executive Director of Shadhika. She’s read the document I wrote and offered encouraging feedback and thoughtful questions. I feel great that she takes the time to dive deep into the work I’m doing!

12:35 pm – The “what am I going to have for lunch?!” debate begins…

2:00 pm – After grabbing one more cup of coffee, I respond to my ED’s comments and questions on the document I produced. I feel confident about the work I’ve completed and grateful for the constructive feedback I’ve received so far.

3:15 pm – I take a much-needed break and take my dog for a walk in the woods. It’s a beautiful Summer day!

3:45 pm – I begin the next step in my long-term project and start gathering research on other programs using similar human rights-based frameworks.

5:10 pm – It’s been a long day, but a fulfilling one. I call it quits and move on to some Netflix-ing while my dog snoozes next to me on the couch.

At this point in my internship, I feel more focused in my goals and more engaged in the work Shadhika is doing. Although this internship has often been challenging, I find myself learning and growing more with each challenge I tackle. I appreciate that despite being many miles away from all of the other staff members, I feel connected to and supported by my supervisor, my Executive Director, and everyone else working at Shadhika.

How to Choose the Right Graduate Program: Narrowing Your Search

Now that Heller’s 2021-2022 Application is officially open, I’d like to take the opportunity to provide a guide to making a list of which graduate schools to apply to. I’ll be covering some similar topics as my previous post, but this series will be aimed at prospective students, taking you from the beginning of your journey right up to the application stage. Make sense? Great, let’s start.

US News and World lists 1,168 institutions offering graduate programs in the US; many of those institutions have more than one graduate school, and within each school, there can be as many as thirty programs within each school. So when you start your search, there are more than 6,000 individual graduate programs to choose from. Narrowing this search is the first step: most admissions professionals will tell you to apply to between 4 to 6 programs per round.

So how do you move from 6,000 to 6? Well, the first order of business is to identify the type of program you want. It’s obvious that if you’re interested in economics, an engineering program isn’t going to be your best bet. But within each field, there can be a lot of variance in the type of degrees offered. You might be interested in an Master’s in Public Administration, but have you looked into a Master’s of Public Policy? Or, if you’re interested in Public Health, have you been limiting your searches to MPH degrees? Programs like Heller’s MS in Global Health Policy and Management might be an equally good fit, or an even better fit.

Research at this phase can be crucial. I recommend working backwards, by searching for degrees held by people in your desired field. There are a few ways to go about this: Identify a few people in your desired field across all stages of their careers, and look into not only where they went to school, but what type of program they were enrolled in. If you have close relationships with these people, you might even reach out to them personally for their recommendations. Or, if you’re currently working in your chosen field, connect with a hiring manager and ask them what types of degrees they typically see, or what trends they’ve noticed for people entering the field at your desired level. US News and World offers a graduate program search tool that can give you a list to start with, once you know the field you’re interested in. GradTrek‘s search tool is also a good place to start. Depending on your answers, this will likely narrow your search to between 20 and 50 programs.

Once you’ve narrowed that down, your next steps are to determine your priorities. At the end of the day, why do you want to go to graduate school? Do you want to form connections? Look for schools with smaller populations, where faculty will have more one-on-one interactions with students, and you’ll be able to form closer bonds with your cohort. Gain new skills? Check if your program has a practicum or internship component. Deepen your theoretical knowledge? Look for schools with course descriptions that match the holes in your current knowledge.

That should yield you a list of about ten. These are the programs that you’ll want to deeply research. We’ll talk about how to do that next week!

Changing the World 101: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Favorite Classes

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

Managing the Triple Bottom Line, which is an MBA elective that is taught by Senior Lecturer Michael Appell, was one of my favorite classes during my time at Heller because it made me think differently to understand the business world in a new light. Highlighting that the MBA at Heller has a focus on social impact and social justice, this unique seminar-style course emphasizes why traditional businesses also need to have a social impact and what strides are being made currently in companies and corporations around the world. 

As the only class related to corporate social responsibility at Heller, it had students from all different degree programs who brought their diverse international and domestic perspectives to the classroom. The classroom dynamic was always conversational and exciting, with Professor Appell constantly asking everyone their opinions and creating spaces to have deep conversations challenging the status quo. The class also had many incredible guest speakers, who brought in their personal perspectives in the field, covering topics including impact investing, B-corps, corporate foundations, and even ESG (environmental, social, and governance) reporting. 

I was interested in this class because my work pre-Heller had introduced me to the phrase “triple bottom line” or “people, planet, and profit”, which is increasingly becoming an urgent focus of corporations. During the previous summer, I had a further introduction into this area of work when I completed my MBA Team Consulting Project with Oxfam. During this capstone project, I was working to create toolkits to pressure international agribusinesses to improve their environmental sustainability and human rights practices. Entering this class, I was excited to learn how corporations are focusing on a “new” bottom line that prioritizes not just traditional financial returns but also environmental and social returns.   

Throughout the class, I was introduced to areas of corporate social responsibility that was new to me, including the emergence of public-private partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations, ones like Starbucks with Conservation International, which are mutually beneficial – Starbucks increasingly has a positive image in conservation while Conservation International receives funding and international support for their programming with coffee farmers.

One area of the class that was memorable, was when we had deeper dive into understanding the role of industry leaders such as Nike in CSR to see if they have been able to uphold change and progress. Many times, these corporations have gone through a “public relations crisis” which has informed their pivot towards corporate social responsibility. For my midterm paper, I researched SeaWorld, and their ongoing public relations crisis after the documentary “Blackfish” was released exposing their treatment of killer whales and the death of a trainer at SeaWorld. I was able to create an analysis of their response to the film over the years, their operational and strategic pivot, and how they were able to respond to the controversy to improve their image and overall business.

Walking away from that class allowed me to rethink and reassess businesses and their role in the larger world. While I would often hear at Heller that for profits and corporations are the “bad guys” who are only profit focused, it was important to see and understand that their role is critical to creating impact and enacting social change. Yes, companies have the money, but they are increasingly realizing that their money can be used to help nonprofits – ultimately supporting the people who need it the most.

Socializing while Socially Distancing: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

The thing I miss most about being in-person at Heller is the spontaneous interaction with fellow students, faculty, and staff that happens in the halls, Zinner forum, and at the front desk of Heller Admissions when people say hello to me during my shift. As much as I’ve missed having opportunities to grab coffee with friends at the Heller Starbucks, discuss assignments after class, or chat with my fellow Somerville residents on the commuter rail, it’s been great to keep in touch with people via virtual and socially distanced hangouts.

The MPP program faculty have been sure to plan opportunities to meet as a cohort and talk about how our summers are going. We periodically have “tea” with the director, Mike Doonan, over Zoom, and check-in with smaller groups by concentration. As MPP students, we’ve arranged a Zoom happy hour each week and have been able to meet many of the incoming students virtually, while I’ve also been able to take part in trivia and other virtual ice breakers with the incoming MBA cohort. I recently had a chance to discuss my summer internship, and hear about other students’, during a Zoom meeting with faculty and career services staff. It was great to hear what amazing projects people have been involved with despite the challenge of remote work.

I’ve also attended Zoom birthday parties with friends from Heller, watched humorously bad movies and Tiger King, and met up with classmates in Somerville and Waltham parks as the weather has gotten warmer (with six feet between us). I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much my MPP cohort has kept in touch, and I’m excited to begin a new academic year virtually knowing that the camaraderie and collaborative spirit of Heller endures.

Campus Connections: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Perspective

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

My first experience visiting the Heller School as a prospective student was memorable. I had decided to fly up from Washington, DC to visit the Brandeis campus, where I was slated to attend a class on Social Entrepreneurship and meet the professor and MBA Director, Professor Carole Carlson. When I walked in, teams of students were practicing their business pitch presentations for their final project. I very excited about this class in particular because of my previous work supported social entrepreneurs. Through the entire class, there was palpable energy and passion for starting these businesses. Carole was leading the class and it was clear that her questions were motivating and guiding the classroom as well. I always joke that this class was what sold me on the Heller School, mainly because I instantly knew that I wanted to learn more from this incredible professor.

Reflecting on my many interactions with Carole, I am grateful that Heller is a tight-knit community where professors know the students. Since I went to a large school in California where professors didn’t know the students as well for my undergrad, I chose Heller for my graduate school knowing there were smaller, intimate classrooms. As a student, I would often interact with Carole through MBA town calls and other events like many of MBA students, but I was able to work with her more often when I planned a series of MBA events at the Heller School including the Social Impact Start Up Challenge, the Hult Prize, and the Case Competition. It was exciting to be responsible for important events at Heller, with the support of Carole to make sure that the event went smoothly. I was always impressed with how responsive Carole was to all of our emails and occasional panic and how she was able to support us when plans changed.

I was able to take Carole’s Social Entrepreneurship class in Fall 2019, where I was able to learn everything I had been excitedly waiting for and hoping for. Armed with my new MBA knowledge of Strategic Management, Financial Management, and other classes, I felt that this experience was different than when I shadowed the class because by this time, I had could to reference the lessons I had learned in other classes aside from my work experience before Heller. A few months later, Carole contacted me to help her write a few chapters on a textbook that she was creating on social entrepreneurship. Knowing that this is what I am passionate about, of course I said yes! I felt like this was a “full circle” moment – seeing that I admired this professor from before starting the MBA program and then getting to work alongside her for this exciting project.

Carole is a great mentor and connection to have as I move forward in my career. I have learned a great deal from her over the years, and I am so grateful I sat in on her class years ago before I even applied!

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