Heller Admissions Blog

Demystifying the application process

Author: douglasnevins

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 Reading List: Doug Nevins Shares His Favorite Readings

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

For this week’s blog post, I’ll be reflecting on a few interesting readings which were assigned in my MPP courses this past year. Before starting my program,  I actually missed having assigned readings and the opportunity to discuss them in a class setting. Heller has more than lived up to my expectations in terms of the rigor and relevance of assigned readings.

Summer reading: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander Cover of The New Jim Crow

MPP students typically read this book over the summer and discuss it with their cohort during orientation. While I had been familiar with some of Alexander’s findings and arguments, I had never read the complete book until last summer (I regret not doing so sooner). It is truly a remarkable, troubling, and eye-opening book. The book documents how mass incarceration functions as the newest form of racist, structural oppression in a long history of oppressive systems in the United States. Alexander is particularly adept at tracing the judicial history that has codified our racist policing and carceral systems and insulated them from legal challenges. I think The New Jim Crow is essential reading (for policy students and for pretty much anyone), particularly in our current moment.

Fall and spring semester: The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Gøsta Esping-Andersen

Cover of the Three Worlds of Welfare CapitalismI know – it probably sounds a bit dry! However, reading selections from this book in two courses at Heller really influenced my thinking about history and comparative political economy. If you’ve heard Bernie Sanders talk about the virtues of Danish health care and social welfare, but wondered what historical factors actually influenced the differences between US and European social policy, this book provides an excellent introduction. It served as excellent fodder for classroom debates about how fixed and permanent the differences between the three welfare state models identified by Esping-Andersen actually are, and about what lessons we might draw from non-US contexts about ways to improve our own system.

Fall semester: Beaten Down, Worked Up by Steven GreenhouseCover of Beaten Down, Worked Up

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I am very interested in labor history and policy, and thoroughly enjoyed the elective which I took on this subject in Fall 2019. This book provided an excellent and very readable historical overview of several key periods in US labor history, from early victories by garment workers’ unions in NYC, to the conflicts between public-sector unions and Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, to cutting edge organizing efforts led by gig economy workers. Greenhouse is a former NY Times labor reporter, and his style is both informative and fun to read. Prof. Bob Kuttner invited Greenhouse to visit our class and discuss labor history past and present. This was a great opportunity to hear stories about labor organizing and to learn a bit more about the process of reporting on unions worker-led organizations.

I’ve really appreciated the balance of different types of assigned readings at Heller, which has included accessible non-fiction works, journalistic and historical accounts, political and sociological theory, and policy and research reports. I hope these three examples provide some insight into the value of the readings assigned in the MPP curriculum. I know I’m looking forward to this coming year’s assignments as well!

Changing the World 101: Labor Income, Labor Power, and Labor Markets

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I’ve enjoyed all of my courses at Heller, and it would be impossible to choose a favorite. That said, one of the best things about Heller is the option to take module courses, half-semester classes which offer a chance to explore a more specialized topic in what is typically a small seminar setting. In my first semester at Heller, I chose to take “Labor Income, Labor Power, and Labor Markets,” co-taught by Professor Robert Kuttner and Dean David Weil. I found this course so engaging and informative that it is hard to believe, in retrospect, that it only met for seven weeks! While adding a fifth class for half a semester made my finals period quite intense, it was 100% worth it.

Part of my motivation for pursuing an MPP, and the Heller MPP in particular, was that this type of degree seemed like the ideal combination of academic subjects including history, political science, and economics, all in the service of gaining skills needed to analyze and advocate for effective and just policies. This course reflected that balance perfectly. It combined discussions of the economics of labor markets, lectures on the history of the labor movement (including lots of colorful and inspiring stories), and reflections from students on their own experiences with work and labor issues in a multinational context. Professor Kuttner provided insights from his time as a journalist covering labor issues and politics, while Dean Weil drew upon examples from his time in the Department of Labor and from his research related to the “fissured workplace.” Both were incredibly engaging and entertaining as professors. We also had the chance to hear from visiting scholars of labor history and economics. This meant that the course, while firmly grounded in history, also drew upon the direct experiences of our instructors and their work on contemporary research and policy challenges.

While I have been interested for quite a while in activism and social justice advocacy, this course helped me to see social movements in the context of political economy and to use analytical tools to assess and understand their impact. The chance to draw lessons from history and gain an understanding of how labor organizing can influence policy outcomes was very influential in helping me to hone my interests, which lie in the realm of workforce development and education policy. This course represents what I think is special about Heller – the opportunity to explore themes of social justice and equity in an academically rigorous, critical, and collaborative fashion. I am thankful that I chose to take a chance on a fifth course last semester – don’t forget to check for interesting modules at Heller!

Campus Connections: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I was excited to start graduate school at Heller partly because it was an opportunity to meet lots of passionate, engaged, and friendly people. Connecting with peers and making new friends is a huge part of the Heller experience, and it’s impossible to walk around the building without seeing several familiar faces. When I visited for the MPP accepted students’ day, one of the first people I met at Heller was Norman, one of the Heller admissions graduate assistants. Later, we spoke on the phone and I was able to ask extensive questions about the MPP program. Being able to connect directly with current students was a big factor in my decision to attend Heller.

Having the opportunity to become friends with second-year students has been a great part of my first year at Heller. The two MPP cohorts organized social activities including bar nights and primary debate watch parties together, which gave us the chance to get to know second-year students better, and the graduate assistant job in Heller Admissions has also given me the chance to meet students in other programs. In part through hours spent at the admissions front desk, Norman and I got to be friends, and have kept in touch during the recent period of remote learning and social distancing. We share an appreciation for unintentionally funny bad movies, intentionally funny comedy, and politics (despite the occasional political disagreement). He was one of the people who strongly advised me to consider applying for the dual MBA program (and patiently answered numerous questions during my period of indecision). If not for the chance to hear from Norman and other dual degree students further along in the program, I would not have considered it as strongly.

I think the ease with which I have been able to make friends at Heller, not just in my cohort but across years and programs, is a testament to the close-knit and welcoming community at Heller. Everyone here wears a few hats — Norman was the TA for my strategic management course, for example — so there’s a good chance that your new friends and classmates will also be your coworkers, TAs, or group project partners. The collaborative and non-hierarchical culture at Heller facilitates moving between these roles comfortably. I am fortunate to have met so many great people in my first year at Heller, and these relationships have made my time here thus far all the more rewarding.

 

Hello Heller!: Doug Nevins’ Acceptance Story

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I had considered applying to programs at the Heller School for several years before I actually took the plunge. As an undergraduate alum and Brandeis staff member, Heller was always on my radar, but I wanted to be sure of my interests and goals before committing to graduate school. After considering applying to programs in education policy, law, and international affairs, I decided that an MPP was a perfect mix of interdisciplinary subjects, applicable to my current interests and flexible enough to explore new territory.

Funnily enough, when I received my admission update from Heller I was already on campus at my job in undergraduate admissions. Having been on the other end of sending decision letters for many years as an admissions counselor, it was a great feeling to receive one myself! I was so excited to be admitted to Heller.

Since I already knew the Brandeis community well, I had no doubt that I would enjoy my time at Heller. Still, I tried to learn all that I could. I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and openness of everyone I interacted with at Heller. For instance, after attending an admissions event, I emailed a thank you message to Mike, the MPP program head, who promptly invited me to a book talk at Heller that same evening! I walked up the hill from my office, was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a cocktail hour preceding the talk, and then spent an hour listening to a fascinating lecture about the 2018 midterm elections. In all my conversations with current students there and at other events I attended, everyone was gracious, friendly, and clearly passionate about Heller.

I ultimately chose Heller not only because of my long-term connection to Brandeis and positive associations with the university, but because Heller is its own unique community. The commitment to social justice and inclusion is real, and the academic culture is collaborative and fun in addition to being rigorous and engaging. I have loved my first year at Heller, and feel just as excited as when I first opened that email!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Beginning classes at Heller this past fall after several years out of school, I was excited to get back into an academic mindset. While focusing on class is key to grad school success, it’s important not to overlook the amazing opportunities Heller has for research, career advising, and just generally connecting with people who are engaged in important and interesting work. My biggest piece of advice for new Heller students is to hit the ground running and identify folks on campus whom you want to meet. This might be a Heller faculty researcher whose work fascinates you, a peer whose interest areas are similar to yours, or a staff member who can connect you with helpful resources.

In my case, I was fortunate to get involved in the Heller Admissions office, through which I’ve met students in other degree programs and many staff members, and to be connected with Heller researchers through an assignment in my first semester research methods class. I also took advantage of career treks to Washington, D.C. and New York City this semester and connected with alumni working in public policy. I’ve gained a lot from these experiences, and I’m glad that there’s more at Heller still to discover. At the same time, it’s never too early to reach out and make connections.

Graduate school is really what you make of it. Everyone at Heller has a totally unique experience, and there’s no reason not to branch out and pursue opportunities outside of the core courses in your degree program. Research, working groups, campus jobs, volunteer activities – all can be a great way to get more value out of your Heller experience. One of my goals for the remainder of my time at Heller is to either get involved in a research institute or pursue an independent study. It’s great to know that faculty and advisers here will support me in this goal. When you first arrive at Heller, don’t wait to find the opportunities that will make your time here great!

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