Author: amandamiller (page 2 of 7)

Five Fast Facts about Interim Dean, Maria Madison

Last week, it was announced that on July 1st, Dean David Weil will step down as dean of the Heller School. Though I’m very sad to see Dean Weil step down, I was so excited to learn that Dr. Maria Madison will serve as our interim dean. Dr. Madison is currently the associate dean for equity, inclusion and diversity and director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity (IERE), and I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with her throughout the PhD admissions process. So, to celebrate this announcement, I thought I’d share five facts you probably don’t know about Dr. Madison.

  1. She’s a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Heller is known for attracting RPCVs (Heller is ranked the 3rd most popular graduate school for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), and Dr. Madison is no exception! Dr. Madison was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaire for two years, focusing on international development.
  2. She’s the co-Founder and President of a nonprofit. The Robbins House, Inc is a historic home and nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness of African-American history in Concord, Massachusetts that focuses on the long civil rights movement in America. The house commemorates the legacy of a previously enslaved Revolutionary War veteran and his descendants, including a “fugitive slave” from New Jersey and his daughter who legally challenged the nation’s first Civil Rights Act of 1866. The house is an interpretive center for thousands of annual global visitors.
  3. She was the first to hold her current position at Heller. The creation of the Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity position was largely advocated for by Heller students, many of whom participated in Ford Hall 2015, a 12-day student sit-in. In this role, she developed and implemented a targeted, evidence-based approach to improving DEI for all members of the Heller community.
  4. Her background is in global public health research. Dr. Madison has a B.S. in Mental Health, an M.S. Urban and Environmental Policy and Civil Engineering (both from Tufts University) and a Sc.D. Population and International Health from Harvard School of Public Health; after getting her Sc.D,  she spent 17 years managing clinical research studies in the private and public sectors.
  5. She has a legacy of social engagement towards social justice. Dr. Madison’s father was a particularly strong role model for her: in order to provide his children with the best possible public education, he sued through the ACLU to move their family to the all-white city of St. Joseph, Michigan. Her parents brought her to NAACP meetings where she was introduced to “community activism through meetings and projects promoting opportunities for social and fiscal capital—investing in resource-constrained communities.”

There you have it, five facts that you probably didn’t know about Heller’s (soon-to-be) Interim Dean, Dr. Madison!

Heller Town Halls

One of the things that I, as a staff member, really appreciate about Heller is the Town Halls that we hold each semester. It’s actually something I hadn’t experienced before in my own graduate program or in other schools that I’ve worked at, so I’ve come to see it as a hallmark of Heller that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of what we’re trying to do here.  In short, Heller Town Halls are opportunities for the leadership at Heller to update students on the work or projects that are being done, and to give students the opportunity to comment or ask questions– and even to make demands– of the school’s leadership. Since we had a Town Hall earlier this week, I thought I’d report back on this semester’s town Hall.

The event kicked off, as it usually does, with a welcome from the office of the Dean, which includes representatives from career development; admissions; equity, inclusion, and diversity; academic and student services; communications; alumni relations; research; and many more. After each of the representatives from these offices had a chance to introduce themselves and provide updates on what their offices have been doing, the meeting was turned over to Maria Madison, who leads our Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Office.

Dr. Madison shared the results of the most recent climate survey, which typically happen every year but have been delayed due to COVID. Climate surveys are really important at Heller, since they’re one of the ways that we measure Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity progress, through looking at demographic, vulnerabilities (like health, safety, wellness, employment, housing, food security), belonging and inclusion (including perceived discrimination, and satisfaction with Heller and willingness to recommend to others. These four measures let the staff and faculty know whether we have been making progress in our commitment to social justice. Since Dr. Madison let us know that the numbers were preliminary, I don’t want to go into too much detail, it looks like in spite of the pandemic, overall, student satisfaction and willingness to recommend to others has improved. Dr. Madison also talked about important next steps for contextualizing and embedding anti-racism, anti-bullying and anti-discrimination into pedagogy, research, and policy work across Heller.

After some quick updates from Ravi Lakshmikanthan, Assistant Dean, Academic, and Student Services and Ron Etlinger, our Chief Administrative Officer, our current Heller Student Association chairs, Zari Havercome and Hannah Lougheed (who of course is also one of our talented GAs who writes for this blog!) shared the results of the elections for the new chairs of HSA and gave some end-of-the-year updates.

With all of that out of the way, the floor was open for questions from students, faculty, and staff and cupcakes were brought out to celebrate Heller being ranked in the top ten for social policy once again!

Ten Reasons to Love Heller

In light of the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings placing Heller tenth social policy (and eighth for health policy and management!), I thought I’d share ten reasons why I love Heller. Everyone has a different story of what attracted them to Heller, but these are what I’ve come to appreciate about Heller in my time here as a staff member.

  1. An interesting and passionate group of prospective students. I’m sure that at some schools, reviewing applications or talking to prospective students can sometimes be a snooze, but that is never the case at Heller. The students I talk to all have fascinating stories: they’ve worked in the Peace Corps, founded their own companies, worked as doctors in their home countries for twenty years… it really runs the gamut! Students who are interested in Heller are passionate, enthusiastic, and dedicated individuals, and speaking with them about their backgrounds and career aspirations is always a lot of fun.
  2. Our peers agree: we’re top-notch. Heller is consistently ranked a top-ten school in social policy by US News and World, which reflect peer assessments of deans, directors, and department chairs at 267 schools of public affairs. For 2023, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and for health policy and management. Heller has been ranked in the top ten for social policy for over a decade!
  3. Diversity is more than a buzzword at Heller, it’s a commitment. When you join Heller, you’ll become a part of an incredibly diverse community: last year, we welcomed students from 53 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), and 41% of our incoming domestic students were students of color. Moreover, Heller is home to many students with disabilities, students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and students from a variety of religious backgrounds. This diverse environment challenges every student to consider new points of view and offers the unique opportunity to learn not only from our experienced faculty but students who are nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, policy analysts, and more.
  4. The Boston area is a great place to be for graduate school. I may be biased because I moved from Atlanta to Boston for my graduate education, but I truly think the Boston area is a great place to be when you’re getting your master’s degree. The MBTA system (which connects to the commuter rail line that goes right to campus) makes the city easy to explore, and the city is filled with intelligent, passionate people in a similar place in their lives, whether they’re studying engineering at MIT, or music at Berklee. The Waltham area is great because if you choose to live in Waltham, you’ll be able to find more affordable living, but if you want to live in the city, it’s easy to commute to campus. Once you’re in Waltham, there’s plenty of restaurants and beautiful paths along the Charles to keep you busy.
  5. The history of Ford Hall. The term “Ford Hall” at Brandeis generally refers to two periods of direct action led by black students and other students of color with the goal to promote racial justice and build a more inclusive, equitable and diverse student experience at Brandeis. The first Ford Hall took place in January 1969 and was an 11-day student sit-in; the second Ford Hall (commonly written as #FordHall2015) took place in November 2015 and was a 13-day student sit-in. Heller students were involved in both events as well as sustained efforts during the interim years to promote policies and structures that advance diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. At the Heller School, the second Ford Hall resulted in hiring an Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the creation of Heller Forward, and the creation of Community Day, a biannual, day-long workshop event centered on Heller’s commitment to eradicating social injustice and ensuring a more inclusive culture. To me, this shows that Heller students are truly engaged within their communities and that Brandeis and the Heller community are responsive and willing to change and adapt to student needs.
  6. Our faculty. Not only are Heller faculty well-renowned in their field, they’re also incredibly interesting people. Diana Bowser, the PhD program director, is a marathon runner who has worked with the governments of Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Swaziland, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Chile, Belize, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Ukraine, Kosovo, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Haiti, Egypt, Oman and Kuwait. Maria Madison, a lecturer at Heller, Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, and Director Institute for Economic and Racial Equity, is co-founder and President of a nonprofit, The Robbins House, Inc. The nonprofit focuses on the long civil rights movement in America, through the lens of African descended inhabitants of the eponymous 19th century house, including a black woman activist who attempted to challenge the nation’s first civil rights act of 1866. Brenda Anderson currently serves as academic director of Our Generation Speaks, a start up accelerator focused on bringing together young Palestinian and Israeli leaders to work across ethnic and political lines in building high impact social ventures within the region. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Anita Hill, who needs no explanation!
  7. Living up to the motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice”. One of the things I love most about Heller is that even though I’m not a student, Heller consistently pushes me to learn. In January, faculty, staff and students participated in Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, and the 7-Day Neurodiversity (ND) Inclusion Challenge just wrapped up last week. Heller’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity also maintains a list of books, articles, documentaries, movies, and even music meant to help advance knowledge and understanding on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice as well as inspire positive and equitable social change. As someone who considers themselves a life-long student, I really value the emphasis that Heller places on educating yourself for the social good. Michael Doonan, the MPP program director, started his career as a legislative aide for Senator John Kerry where he worked on health and environmental issues.
  8. The Heller magazine. Maybe it’s because I’m perpetually nostalgic for my teenage years, but I love a good magazine, and the Heller magazine is no exception. I read every copy cover to cover, and it’s genuinely a pleasure to read! I walk away even more impressed with the work our faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni are doing. Some of my favorite articles from the past few issues include: Q & A with “The Farmer Foodie” , Creative community-building during a pandemic school year, and 2020 asks us: If not now, when? 
  9. The views from Zinner Forum. The Zinner Forum is a huge, multi-story open space that connects the two wings of Heller (and is where Rose’s coffee shop is housed). When we’re in-person at Heller, we use the Zinner Forum for pretty much everything: orientation, Coffee with the Dean, community events… but when it’s not being utilized for an event, it’s a great place for students to study, socialize, and grab a bite to eat. One of the walls of the Zinner forum is made entirely out of windows with beautiful views of the wooded area outside. In the fall, the views of the changing leaves are absolutely stunning, and in the winter, watching snow fall outside the windows is so soothing.
  10. Being a part of the Brandeis campus. At times, being at Heller can feel like being on your own little island: if you’re a student, you’ll probably have all your classes in the Heller building, and as a staff member, I don’t usually have much of a reason to venture outside of Heller. But when I do, I remember how much I love the campus. There are so many hidden walking and hiking trails that wind their way through campus. Some of them lead to a great view of the Boston skyline, while others will take you to a hidden piece of statuary. I love Brandeis’ campus art in general; the Rose Museum has an impressive collection, of course, but I also love Chris Burden’s “Light of Reason” and the student art projects you can sometimes find behind the arts’ building.

So there you have it: my top top reasons to love Heller. I hope that you join us in the fall and make a “Top Ten” list for yourself!

Expect the Unexpected

Last week, I had a conversation with a student who was interested in applying to Heller’s PhD program. “I’d really like to finish the program in four years; what’s the best way for me to do this?” Uh….

I’ll tell you what I told him: that’s a hard thing to do. Undertaking a PhD is a big step! Your dissertation is essentially the length of a (pretty lengthy) book, and it’s hard to get that done in the year. But, as I told him, if you’re determined to complete it in four years, there are a few things things that you can do right now that will set you up for success. When I sat down to write this blog post, I realized that the advice I gave him actually scales to any student about to undertake a graduate level degree. Doing these three things right now, before you enroll in graduate school, will ensure that you have the best experience possible and get the most you can from your program.

Number one: Get your finances in line.

This isn’t the time to say, “Oh, I’ll figure it out once I’m in the program” or “I’m sure I’ll be able to get loans that will cover my program”. To be successful in your program, you’ll want to have as little stress outside of grad school as humanly possible, and financial stress is an important part of that. You don’t want to be in the middle of taking your midterms, worried about whether or not you’ll be able to make rent next month. Make a budget for grad school: on one side, write down any money you’ll have coming in (a stipend, your savings, a scholarship, your salary) and on the other side, write down any money you’ll have going out (the cost of your program, your rent, your living expenses). Ideally, the first number should be larger or the same as the second. If that’s not possible, the difference will represent the amount you’ll have to take out in loans.

Number two: Identify your support systems. 

Getting a graduate degree is tough. There are late nights, stressful finals weeks, and not a lot of time or money to take vacations. Before you begin a graduate program, I would suggest that you identify things or people in your life that you can lean on when things get tough. It’s been said that everyone should have three hobbies: one that helps your body, one that helps your mind/emotions, and one that helps your finances. I would try to find a hobby for each of those, but also find a person in your life for each of those categories as well.  For body, it might be a personal trainer, a friend that you schedule a weekly walk with, a friend who’s into yoga classes, a partner that will make sure you eat; mind or emotions could be a close friend that gives great advice, a therapist, a supportive parent figure who’s always ready to take your calls; wallet could be a mentor in your field who will give you honest career advice, a partner who is willing to shoulder more of the financial burdens while you’re in school, or a professor who is always in need of a research assistant.

Number three: Expect the unexpected.

Ever heard the phrase, “The best laid plans of mice and men”? The second part of the phrase is, “Often go awry.” This holds especially true if the mice and men are in graduate school. If you can do so without causing undue stress, take a moment to consider some “worst case scenarios” and how you would deal with them while you were in graduate school. If you’re using the school’s health insurance, familiarize yourself with your new coverage. Ask about what the medical or personal leaves at your new school look like. Ask about what happens if you fail a class, or what support there is on campus for students who are struggling. If you have a partner, talk to them about what would happen if they lost their job, or were offered an amazing job in a different area. These can be hard conversations, and scary to think about, but I promise, the more you’re able to have things “lined up” in the event of a problem, the more prepared you will be to solve that problem.

Love is Blind: Admissions

Like many others across the nation (and even the world: there’s now both a Japanese and Brazilian version), I spent a good portion of last month binge-watching season two of Netflix’s hit show Love is Blind, and tuned in this past week for the reunion episode. For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the show, it goes a little something like this: over less than two weeks, potential couples participate in a version of speed dating where they can hear, but not see each other. By the end of the pod dates, some couples choose to get engaged, if accepted, the two will meet face to face for the first time. The show then follows them out of the pods to their honeymoon, and then back to real life where they meet each other’s friends and families. At the end of three weeks, they then decide if they want to get married or not.

Okay, Amanda, what’s your point? I’m getting there! The show has been very much on my mind, and we happen to be at the point of the admissions cycle where we’re both still admitting students and trying to yield the students we’ve already admitted this cycle… and when I sat down to write this blog post, I realized that in admissions, we often use words like “perfect match”, a “good fit”, or “knowing in your gut”, the same things people often talk about when they’re dating. It got me wondering if Love is Blind just may have some important lessons for students in the process of applying to grad school. Here are some of my takeaways:

Love, whether it’s for a graduate school or a romantic partner, can (and maybe should!) be blind. In the pods, contestants are challenged to fall in love without knowing what the other person looks like. When exploring schools, or choosing the right school for you, I implore you to try to do the same. Strip away the prestigious name or the high ranking, look past how other people might judge you for your choice and ask yourself, how do I feel here? Does the environment feel right to me? Do this school’s values mesh with mine? Could I see myself fitting into this community? Those questions, more than a flashy name, will help you choose which school is the best fit for you.

These things take time. Couples that seem like the strongest in the pods often fall apart after a week in the outside world. All the bonding that they do through the walls amounts to very little when they’re confronted with each other’s families, friends, apartments, conflict styles, love languages, etc. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to love, and I suspect there may not be a shortcut to finding the right graduate school. It takes careful research, meeting with people in the community, a visit to campus (if possible!) to figure out if the school might be the right one for you. Don’t try to rush into things!

There’s no such thing as “The One”. Something I was struck by in Love is Blind is how frequently contestants will say something like, “I never connect with people outside… but in here, I have three guys that I could see as my future husband!” I think that goes to show that the myth of one soulmate or one perfect school may just be that… a myth! There are probably a few dozen schools that you could be happy at, so don’t take rejection too hard. Even if you don’t get into what you think is your dream school, it may just be that there’s another school out there that you would ultimately be more suited for.

While I don’t think Love is Blind is necessarily the best way to find a romantic partner, I think there are some takeaways that are actually better applied to graduate admissions. But worry not– you don’t have to enter into a pod to see if Heller is right for you.

Learn the Lingo: Graduate Admissions

“Ah, yeah, his app is showing as incomplete because he never sent verified TOEFL scores to us; his GRE is waived but since he self-reported, he’ll need to send those too. But once he pays his application fee we should be ready to review him for the first priority deadline.”

If that sounds like gibberish to you, never fear! As we move further into the application cycle, I thought it might be helpful to share some lingo that’s common in graduate admissions. This glossary can help you make sense of all the information you’re sorting through.

Application Fee: The fee required to submit an application to the program. Heller’s application fee is US $55;his fee is waived for applicants from developing nations and current or returned Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, City Year, and other service organization volunteers.

Curriculum Vitae (CV): A detailed document highlighting a person’s professional and academic history. CVs usually include work experience, achievements and awards, scholarships and grants, completed coursework, research projects, and publications. This is similar to a resume, but with a few key differences.

Deposit/ Enrollment deposit:  In order to confirm your space in the incoming class, you must fill out your “Reply to Offer of Admission” form by the deadline stated and pay a non-refundable tuition deposit.  The deposit will be credited toward your first semester tuition charges and will secure your place in the entering class.

Duolingo English Test: The Duolingo English Test is an English proficiency assessment. The test is available online, on demand. You don’t have to make an appointment or travel to a test center—you can take the test from your home via a computer and webcam.  The test is administered using computer adaptive technology, meaning that the question difficulty adapts to each test taker. The test also integrates a video interview and writing sample, which are sent to an institution along with your proficiency score when you send your results. The entire test experience takes just under an hour. Test results are certified within 48 hours, and they can be shared with an unlimited number of institutions.  The majority of our successful applicants tend to have a score of at 115 on the Duolingo English Test.

English Proficiency: As an international applicant, you must demonstrate proficiency in the English language. For some international students, your English Proficiency requirement will be automatically waived based on your citizenship or where you obtained a previous degree. For other intrnational students, you’ll have to demonstrate your proficiency by taking a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam, IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam, or Duolingo English Test.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans (also called Unsubsidized Stafford Loans) are non–need-based guaranteed educational loans. With a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan, students can borrow up to $20,500 per year. Unlike Subsidized Loans, Unsubsidized Loans accumulate interest while students are in their program, and this interest is added to the principal amount. However, students do not have to make payments on their loans while they are enrolled in their program at least half-time.

GMAT:  A standardized graduate business school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council, which measures verbal, quantitative and analytical writing skills. For Heller’s Social Impact MBA program, we usually require either the GMAT or GRE (Note: Heller has extended its test-optional policy for applicants to the MBA, MPP, or PhD program for the Fall 2022 cycle, although International applicants must still either qualify for an English Proficiency Waiver or submit IELTS, TOEFL or Duolingo English Test scores.).

Graduate Plus Loans: The Graduate PLUS Loan is a fixed-interest student loan guaranteed by the federal government that allows graduate students to borrow the total cost for their graduate school needs, including tuition, room and board, supplies, lab expenses, and travel, less than any other aid. The Graduate PLUS Loan is a non-need, credit-based loan similar to a private student loan with the benefit of having a fixed interest rate and federal guarantee.

GRE: A standardized graduate school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), which measures verbal, quantitative and analytical writing skills. Heller’s Master of Public Policy or PhD in Social Policy program usually require the GRE;  Heller’s Social Impact MBA program,  usually requires either the GMAT or GRE (Note: Heller has extended its test-optional policy for applicants to the MBA, MPP, or PhD program for the Fall 2022 cycle, although International applicants must still either qualify for an English Proficiency Waiver or submit IELTS, TOEFL or Duolingo English Test scores.

IELTS: The International English Language Testing System (IELTS)  is an English proficiency assessment. Students taking the IELTS to apply for graduate school should take the IELTS Academic Test IELTS is graded on a scale of 1-9.  There are six sections;  the total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes.  The majority of our successful applicants tend to have a score of at a 7.0 on the IELTS.

Merit-based aid/ merit scholarships: A type of financial aid awarded to students who have demonstrated special academic ability or talents, regardless of their financial need. This is what Heller uses! All applicants are automatically considered for merit-based scholarships, and recipients will be notified along with their admission decision.

Official transcript: Official transcripts must a) Be issued directly by the institution and b) include one or more of the following features: the registrar’s signature, the registrar’s seal, an institutional watermark, and/or be printed on official institutional paper. If you have been admitted, and you have accepted that offer of admission, we will require official transcripts; we do not require official transcripts at the time of application.

Priority Deadline: The date by which an application must be received in order to be given full consideration. At Heller, this can apply to admissions and financial aid. After the priority date passes, applications are considered on a rolling basis until the next deadline.

Rolling Admission: An admissions process used by some colleges and universities in which each application is considered as soon as all the required materials have been received, rather than by a specific deadline. This is what Heller uses, starting after our first priority deadline.

Statement of Purpose: The statement of purpose is a pivotal piece of the entire application package and should discuss the reasons for applying to the degree program of your choice. In the statement of purpose, you should highlight any previous academic and professional experiences that make you a strong candidate for this degree. You should provide the admissions committee with further insight about your personal and professional interests, and include an in-depth discussion of your career goals following completion of the program. The statement of purpose should also highlight what aspects of this program appeal to you most, and why you’re specifically interested in completing your graduate education at the Heller School. The committee would like to know what you hope to gain from the degree and what you believe you can bring to the program.

Stipend: In addition to tuition, fees, and the individual health insurance premium, the Heller PhD program also provides stipend support to full-time PhD students. Stipends are a fixed amount of money given to students to support them while in their program; at Heller, your stipend is completely separate from any requirement to work on campus.

TOEFL: The TOEFL test has 4 sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The total test takes about 3 hours to complete. Official TOEFL scores must be sent directly through ETS to our institution code 3097 at the time that you apply. The Heller School only considers TOEFL scores from a single test date, not MyBest™ scores. The majority of our successful applicants tend to have a score of at least 94 on the TOEFL,

Unofficial transcript: We accept unofficial transcripts at the time of application. Many institutions allow students and alumni to access their grade report online; these reports are sufficient for application file review.

Waitlist:  A list of qualified applicants to a school who may be offered admission if there is space available after all admitted students have made their decisions. At Heller, only the PhD program uses a waitlist; all other programs have rolling admission.

Heller Winter 2022 Magazine Highlights

Every quarter, my colleagues in Heller Communications put out a new issue of the Heller magazine, and at the risk of sounding like a bit of a dweeb, I always read it cover to cover. Although I would say that Heller is better than a lot of workplaces at fostering community, there’s always so much going on that it’s hard to keep up with what everyone else in the building is up to. The Heller Magazine always does a great job highlighting interesting stories from students, alumni, faculty, and even giving a bit of Heller history. Some of my favorite articles from issues past include Beyond “Do no harm”The Best Lessons I Learned at Heller: Alumni share stories about their favorite professors, and 2020 asks us: If not now, when?.

When I came into the office on Tuesday, I was so excited to see the Winter 2022 issue in my mailbox, and have spent the last few days reading it cover to cover. You can find the full accessible PDF here, but I wanted to highlight some of my favorite articles from this issue.

Fighting for Energy Justice – This article profiles the work of an alumna of our Sustainable International Development program, Paula García. García’s interest in environmental issues began when she worked as a ranger in her native country’s (Columbia) national parks as a college student, but today she works as a senior bilingual energy analyst in the Climate and Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In the article, she shares what she’s been doing since she graduated from Heller, why green technology is essential for addressing climate change, how clean energy can combat climate change and deal with its impact, and the importance of energy equity. It was this last piece that I found especially compelling, and I learned a lot from the article that I’ll admit hadn’t really occurred to me before.

Stand-out quote: “On the customer side, a recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found just 15% of households with solar panels earned below $50,000 per year, signifying that the technology remains out of reach for residents who would benefit most from the energy cost savings. Low-income families are spending nearly 9% of their income on electricity, the Department of Energy has found, versus 3% for wealthier households.”

Preserving Concord’s Black History – This article immediately caught my eye for two reasons: 1. As an American literature buff, I love the town of Concord and 2. It focuses on the work of Maria Madison, who is one of my favorite people at Heller – I challenge anyone to talk to her for over a minute and not walk away stunned by her intelligence and warmth. In addition to being Heller’s Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity; the Director Institute for Economic and Racial Equity; and the co-chair of the Economic and Racial Equity concentration, Dr. Madison also is the founder and co-president of The Robbins House, a nonprofit focused on the long civil rights movement in America, through the lens of African descended inhabitants of the eponymous 19th century house, including a black woman activist who attempted to challenge the nation’s first civil rights act of 1866.

Stand-out quote: “Too often, she [Madison] says, historic sites and museums omit the Black history of the U.S. ‘Concord’s Black history is America’s history,’ says Madison, noting that Concord was the location of the first successful battle against British forces.”

Q & A: Meet Alison Elliott, MBA/MA SID’22: My partner is an environmental scientist, and through him, I’ve definitely become more interested in issues of environmentalism and sustainability; I’ve also been a vegetarian for almost two decades and love cooking, so this Q&A with Alison Elliott, MBA/MA SID’22, was basically written just for me. Elliot is the author of “The Farmer Foodie,” a blog and social media platform where she shares vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free recipes as well as sustainable culinary and farming tips with the goal of helping people reduce their environmental footprints.

Stand-out quote: “What is the biggest misconception people have about your work? People sometimes think their individual impact doesn’t matter. It definitely does, because people’s individual impact collectively makes a big impact. I often get asked, “Why should I compost? Why should I recycle?” At the end of the day, it adds up.”

You Ask, I Answer: What’s the Minimum GPA?

I’m continuing the “You Ask, I Answer” series where I respond to the most common questions I get from prospective or admitted students (you can find a previous You Ask, I Answer: When Should I Start Graduate School? here and You Ask, I Answer: How to Email the Admissions Office here). If you have a question you’d like me to answer in the next post, be sure to comment below!

This is definitely one of the top two questions that I and my other colleagues in Heller Admissions get (the other one would be “What’s the minimum GRE or GMAT score?”). As I explained in an earlier post, What Does “Holistic Review Process” Mean, Anyway?, this is a hold-out from a mostly-bygone time, when colleges would use “cut scores” (in which colleges wouldn’t consider applications from students with lower than a certain SAT score or GPA) to make the first “cuts” during application reading season. This practice is certainly less widespread now, but still the question persists; I think because students want some sense of certainty about whether or not they have a chance of getting in.

Unfortunately… it really does depend.

But, in the interest of transparency, I’m here today to share with you a little about what we look at when we’re looking at your transcripts, because contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about your GPA.

Challenging yourself. Let’s say two students apply with the exact same cumulative GPA from the exact same college, and majored in the exact same thing. If we were only looking at GPAs, we would hold these students in equal regard, but that’s not always the case. We also look at the courses the students took to determine how we should consider those grades. If Student A was using their electives to take classes like Astronomy, the Global History of Capitalism, and Supply Chain Analytics, and Student B was using their electives to take Tree Climbing, South Park and Contemporary Social Issues, and The Art of Walking (all real classes offered at schools across the US, by the way!), well, we’re probably going to give Student A an edge. That’s not to say that you can’t take a course that’s a little off-beat or pursue a niche subject that you’re genuinely interested in, but we want to see that, for the most part, you used your time in college (or your first graduate school degree, if that’s the case) to challenge and better yourself.

Relevancy of coursework. Don’t get me wrong, students at Heller come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some of the most common include public health, sociology, education, international relations, history, law, economics, social work, anthropology and psychology, but we have students that majored in English, biology, art history, journalism, chemistry, studio arts… the list goes on and on. But with that being said, we want to make sure students are set up to succeed in our programs. For example, if a student were applying to our PhD program, we’d want to see high grades in courses like economics, statistics, research methods, or some other class along those lines; if they received an A in all their other classes, but low scores in those, it might be a cause for concern. Especially in our more quantitative programs, we’ll want to make sure that students have the relevant backgrounds that they need to succeed at Heller, although that can come in many different forms, of which coursework is just one.

Trends or growth. You probably heard this when you were applying to college, but application readers do look at trends in your grades. A difficult first semester in college isn’t likely to tank your chances of getting into graduate school, nor is a tough semester with extenuating circumstances explained in your statement of purpose. What may be more concerning, however, is a student that starts off strong whose grades gradually go down, which might suggest that they struggled with more advanced course material.

If, after reading this, you take a look at your transcript, and you find that there are some yellow flags in your transcript, all is not lost! As I explained in my earlier blog post about holistic admissions, there are opportunities to course correct. It’s probably too late to get a new job to put on your resume, but you can decide who your recommenders are going to be, what to highlight on your resume, and what to write in your statement of purpose. Addressing these issues in your statement of purpose, or demonstrating that you have those skills in other ways, are easy ways to provide context to those grades.

New Years Resolutions and Your Statement of Purpose

It’s almost that time again: that time of year when, against all evidence to the contrary, we promise ourselves that this time it’ll be different. That this year will be the year we a) start working out more, b) give up a bad habit, c) keep our kitchen cabinets organized, d) stop buying stuff we don’t need or e) all of the above. If you’re anything like me, you spend all of December making promises to yourself, all of January being good, and then all of February wondering how it all went wrong.

You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with your statement of purpose, so here it is: as someone who would really like to be better at New Year’s resolutions, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about goals, and how to set a good goal, and a lot of what makes a good goal also makes a good statement of purpose. You’ve probably heard that you should be setting S.M.A.R.T goals (specific, measurable, attainable/achievable, relevant, and time-bound), but have you ever thought about writing a S.M.A.R.T. Statement of Purpose? For example, instead of writing, “Gaining a master’s degree from Heller will help me to achieve my goals” why not get more specific by telling us how it will help you, or what those goals are? Or, instead of saying, “Ever since I was young, I have wanted to help people” why don’t you make that more measurable by saying how you want to help people, or which people/populations?

When you look through your statement of purpose, I encourage you to circle the places when you lean into generalities and apply a “S.M.A.R.T. check”; ask yourself in these places, can I be more specific? Can I make this more measurable? Can I show why I believe this is attainable or relevant? Can I allude to the time frame of this (i.e., when do you hope to achieve a certain milestone)? By asking yourself those questions, you transform your statement of purpose from a wishy-washy statement of your hopes and dreams, to an action plan that your reader can get behind. We know that you want to change the world– that’s why you’re applying to Heller! Your job for your Statement of Purpose is to tell us how… remember, be S.M.A.R.T. about it!

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!

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