Heller Admissions Blog

Demystifying the application process

Author: elizabethnguyen

Graduating During a Pandemic: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Experience

Class of 2020 – Graduating this past May, my cohort had it differently than most Heller graduates. I think the word that I would use to describe the majority of this year is “surreal”… When March hit, COVID-19 was escalating quickly and it was clear that all of our in-person classes would need to move online immediately. It felt like that the transitions of all of my classes (including ones I was a student in or a teaching assistant in) to online happened quickly and dramatically – one day, we were in class, and then the next, the Heller building was closed.

Twenty students pictured in a Zoom call

Maintaining community through Zoom

My Operations Management class was one of the first classes to transition online.  Fortunately, many of the MBA classes are also already taught through the Heller School’s Executive Physician’s MBA, which contributed to a seamless transition. Regardless of the graduate program, every professor had to adapt their classes, whether that included introducing an offline component, uploading additional documents onto LATTE, or utilizing Zoom functions such as breakout rooms for added smaller group discussions. All of the professors were also very flexible with the students, readjusting different classroom requirements and projects to accommodate the changes and challenges that the students were facing. There was also a request for constant feedback from the professors and the Heller Administration to provide insight to the professors and helped them adjust their classes as needed.

Dean Weil toasting the community during a Zoom Call

Dean Weil hosts Cocktails with the Dean

I think that one of Heller’s strengths through the pandemic is that there was a push to maintain the sense of the Heller community. There have been official and unofficial events to continue to connect with people the Heller community. For example, the Heller Student Association planned an exciting Heller Trivia Night event which included hundreds of students, staff, alumni, and prospective students. In planning for this event, I recruited my core group of friends from my MBA program – and we won first place!  In true Heller form, my team also decided to donate our winnings as gift cards to Healthy Waltham to help the Waltham community. The Dean also hosts consistently hosts Heller-wide “Cocktails with the Dean”, which is a great chance to see the faculty and staff of Heller in a casual environment.

Over the past few months, my friends and I have managed to stay connected across states and often countries through using Zoom. We will have Zoom calls to check up on everyone, weekly movie nights, and even recently had a fun “Powerpoint Presentation Party” where we presented powerpoints about obscure and interesting topics. While we cannot be in person to connect, I am grateful for technology connecting people I haven’t seen in a long time.

Elizabeth in a cap and gown smiling next to the Heller School Sign

Ready for graduation!

As a 2020 Heller Graduate, the entire graduation process also felt “surreal” at first. Because we were not going to receive the cap and gown until after graduation, I borrowed a cap and gown from a recent graduate to take photos at Brandeis. I think this was the beginning of everything feeling “real” to me. While I watched the online graduation ceremony, it was still disappointing not to be able to see my classmates and my family who were supposed to fly in for the graduation. To help make the graduation more personal, I had two Zoom calls, including one for family and for friends to celebrate. One added benefit of the online ceremony was that I was able to have my extended family, including my grandparents, watch the graduation. Even my Zoom calls were able to bring together from different aspects of my life – high school, college, Peace Corps, and graduate school. In this sense, regardless of the disappointing aspects of graduation, there was still a silver lining! I was able to see and celebrate with more people across the US because of technology. Brandeis has promised an in-person ceremony next year and I am hopeful it will help make the graduation feel more real!

Working to Change the World: Elizabeth Nguyen on her Team Consulting Project

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

The MBA Team Consulting Project (TCP), or the MBA program’s capstone project was one of my favorite parts of Heller experience. Over the summer, teams of 3-6 MBA students work with an organization to help with a proposed management challenge. What’s unique however, is that organizations pitch proposals to the students, who are then asked to form teams around their preferred choice. I wanted a project that combined both my MBA and MA in Sustainable International Development degrees, and was excited when Oxfam, a well-known international organization, was one of our choices. The Oxfam team that was formed included three other classmates with international development, corporate social responsibility, and supply chain experiences and expertise that made the group ideal for this project.

We worked with Oxfam’s Private Sector Engagement division on their “Behind the Brands” initiative to pressure the supply chains of the ten largest food and beverage companies in the world. While consumers recognize names such as Unilever, Nestle, or Coca Cola, the agribusinesses who supply to these companies are less visible and less pressured to improve their environmental sustainability and human rights practices. Our goal was to provide our client with a toolkit of resources for future conversations with these agribusinesses in four key areas – land, climate, gender, and transparency and accountability.Three students stand in front of a board with sticky notes

We examined the agribusinesses’ current Oxfam scorecard results, analyzed where they fell short, and researched policies, commitments, and best practices that could be referenced for improvements. The project allowed us to pull from MBA classes such as “Managing the Triple Bottom Line” and “Strategic Management” through analyzing how to make the business case for corporate social responsibility and developing a sweet spot analysis and a theory of change.

Teamwork for this project was a challenging learning curve. Early on, we identified our individual leadership styles and communicated how we work in groups. We also established ways to destress, such as having lunch together or walking around campus. This helped us step away from our work and remember that despite our disagreements, that we were all still friends.

Chart with various projects outlinedThis project was high stakes, with months of team meetings, stakeholder interviews, and research culminating in final presentations in front of the Heller community and Oxfam stakeholders. In preparation for the presentation, I memorized and recited my lines over and over again. At one point, I apparently was even reciting my part of the presentation in my sleep! Our presentation was visually appealing and well executed, showing all of our expertise, research, and analysis. When my cohort finished presenting our TCPs, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief – we were doneFour students smile in front of an Oxfam America sign! Our client, who flew in from DC for our two presentations, was happy with our deliverables and hard work over the summer.

The overall experience of completing the MBA Team Consulting Project was incredible and when I think of all of our final presentations, I am still amazed at how much the teams have been able to accomplish in just a few months!

 

Hello Heller!: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Acceptance Story

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

I found out that I was accepted into the Heller School on my birthday! At that time, I was living in Washington, D.C., working for the federal government. I remember getting onto the green metro line and seeing that I had received the alert that my application status had been updated. My excitement and eagerness meant that I only waited a few days to accept my invitation. In the end, I didn’t even finish the application process for the other two schools I had initially applied to because I had already gotten into my first choice with a great scholarship. It felt like the decision was already made – The Heller School was a school that I wanted to go to and that also wanted me.

Before starting my dual programs, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland (Eswatini), where I ran a social enterprise in rural communities and worked with university students who were interested in starting community-based social enterprises of their own. This introduced me to social impact-driven businesses or social enterprises, essentially what I see as the “good side” of business. As I started looking at various graduate programs, I was searching mostly for MBAs focusing on nonprofit management, social impact, and social entrepreneurship. I was specifically looking at programs where I could gain tangible skills and academic knowledge to support the work that I had done in the field, especially because I wanted to learn the ins and outs of businesses so that I could best support the communities that I had started to work with.

Another factor in my graduate school search was my desire to continue my education at a school that supported Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. I looked at schools that had a strong Coverdell Fellows program and a strong community, both at the university level and the local city level. I found that Brandeis had a commitment to RPCVs by offering generous scholarships. I saw that there was a community of service-driven individuals with a commitment to international development and knew that I had found a second home.

During the application process, I had the opportunity to come to the Brandeis campus and visit Heller. The class that I shadowed was Carole Carlson’s social entrepreneurship class and it instantly confirmed that this was where I needed to be. (As I was a student, this ended up being my all-time favorite class at Heller.) Over the summer after my acceptance but before classes started, I decided that I wanted to add the Sustainable International degree as a dual degree. While I was traveling in Belgium with limited service, the MBA Admissions Director at Heller was very accessible and provided me with all of the documents I needed to go through the process. It made me even more confident and excited about my degrees. I felt extremely supported by the Heller staff to help me achieve my dreams.

There are two main decisions in my life that I have never had to second guess – joining the Peace Corps and completing my Social Impact MBA and MA in Sustainable International Development.

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