Month: November 2021

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 pescetarians (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-need 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.

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