Heller Admissions Blog

Demystifying the application process

Author: samirovins

Heller To-Do List: Sami Rovins Goals for the next year

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

My Heller “to-do” list is long, but a few events in particular come to mind. Before my time at Heller comes to a close, I’d love to throw a party and invite my cohort and other fellow Heller students in different degree programs over to my house. Heller students are a tight-knit group, but we are all so busy that we don’t always find the time to relax and unwind together. Throwing an off-campus get-together would be the perfect opportunity for that. As graduate students, we can become so hyper-focused on school that we sometimes lose sight of other important aspects to our lives. It’s so valuable to socialize with each other and to find the time to relax after a busy week at Heller. It also feels important for us to celebrate our accomplishments together as a group. We all work so hard throughout the week, and a party on the weekend would be our chance to unwind and ultimately get to know each other even better.

I would also love to attend more Graduate Student Association (GSA) events. In the past, I’ve felt hesitant to join for a few reasons. Either I had way too much work, or I felt too tired at the end of the day, or I was anxious about socializing with people who I didn’t already know. But once the event happened, I would realize that attending it would have been a positive experience and would have enhanced my day: the GSA provides a wide range of events, and it seems there is truly something for everyone. My bucket list also includes spending more time in the office of Graduate Student Affairs, which is very close to the Heller building on campus. There’s always something delicious to eat there, and it’s a terrific place to spend some time if you need a break from Heller’s building.

Another outing I’d love to go on with my cohort is to spend a beach day at Walden Pond. Only 25 minutes from campus, Walden Pond is the perfect place to spend a fun and relaxing Spring or Summer afternoon. This type of off-campus adventure is also on my Heller bucket list because I know how much my fellow classmates would enjoy it. I’d love the opportunity to drive over to Walden Pond with a group of Heller friends. It would be yet another way to unwind, relax, and get to know each other away from campus and the context of school. Walden Pond is also a significant and historic place to visit in the Boston area. Visiting it with Heller friends would be a great opportunity for all of us to get to know our new home better. I hope to have the opportunity to check off Walden Pond and all of my bucket list items before my time at Heller comes to an end!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

For me, starting grad school was simultaneously an overwhelming, exciting, confusing, and invigorating experience. I certainly had no clue what to expect. So, what advice would I give to someone just beginning their Heller journey?

First, I want to remind incoming Heller students to stay calm: you are here for a reason, and you should be confident in your ability to do important and impactful work here. At times, you may slip into comparing yourself to other students, measuring their professional backgrounds and experiences against yours. But here at Heller, we are all in the same boat. No one is doing “better” or “worse” work than anyone else, and Heller is certainly not a competition. Essentially, everybody has the same goal of being a benefit to their communities, their nations, and the world.

Another piece of advice I can give is: the cold weather isn’t as horrible as everyone makes it out to be! Granted, I am from the Northeast and therefore used to the cold. Be sure to buy good, sturdy snow boots, especially if you intend on walking to Brandeis, or around Waltham and Boston. Get waterproof gloves, wool socks, a warm hat that covers your ears, and a waterproof coat— these items are definitely necessary to get through winter in Waltham comfortably.   But remember, winter will always come to an end and Massachusetts summers are beautiful.

I would also recommend that you explore Boston and the surrounding areas as much as possible! I sometimes get stuck in “campus mode” and spend all day tucked away in Heller. It will make a huge difference to your mental health if you find time to explore outside of Brandeis. The historic Walden Pond is only a 20-minute drive from Waltham, Cambridge has wonderful bookstores, and Salem offers everything from cute vintage shops to museums about witches. Leaving campus helped me to clear my head, and ultimately allowed me to perform better as a student. Exploring is also a great way to gain ownership over your new home and a way to feel more present and “at home” in Massachusetts overall.

The last piece of advice I want to emphasize is about cultivating relationships at Heller. I am prone to shyness, and in my first few weeks at Heller, I felt reticent to begin fostering significant relationships with professors and with my cohort. My advice to you is: Don’t hold back! Again, everyone is in the same boat and we are here at Heller for the same reasons. Share your interests and experiences with your classmates and with Heller faculty. Take advantage of professors’ office hours, attend on-campus events, and make weekend plans to unwind with your cohort. The opportunity to foster and cultivate relationships is one of the most valuable things Heller offers to its students. Ask your professors questions, even if you think it might sound silly. Listen to the members of your cohort as they describe their unique experiences. I am so very thankful for the people I have met during my first year at Heller. I have met faculty who sparked new interests within me, and friendships I am certain I will maintain throughout my life. Studying at Heller is a significant experience that we all share – cultivate those relationships and let them flourish!

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

This summer I’m interning with Shadhika, an NGO that strives to empower women and girls through holistic education initiatives in various parts of India. As Shadhika’s Project Intern, I’m using a human rights framework in order to re-visit and re-tool the organization’s theory of change. My role involves primary and secondary research, and ongoing communication with Shadhika’s partner NGO’s in India. Today, I’ll be walking you through a typical day at my internship.

8:00am – I get my coffee ready and hop on an early Zoom call with my internship supervisor at Shadhika. She is in Pune, India, so our calls tend to be during my morning, and her evening. We catch up with each other before discussing my work from last week and my action plan for the coming week. She and I will chat again during tomorrow’s meeting with the rest of Shadhika’s staff. There are 7 of us total, and I love that the organization feels like a tight-knit group.

9:00am – After taking my dog for a long walk, I grab a slice of toast and another cup of coffee before getting back to work.

9:51am – I’ve been reading grant reports from Shadhika’s partner NGOs in India to get a better sense of the organization’s programs since I can’t be there in person. There’s a lot of material to get through, and I’m beginning to feel the stress of getting everything done in time. I remind myself to breathe deeply; I’ll get it all done.

11:35 am – I’m already starting to daydream about lunch.

1:15 pm – Finishing up my notes on the different grant reports, I start to compile and analyze the common indicators of success across the partner programs. This task is challenging for me, but I’m enjoying gaining a better understanding of Shadhika’s goals and activities.

2:30 pm – I want to reach out to my supervisor to ask a few questions, but instead, I’ve got to be patient and wait until tomorrow. It’s late in the evening in India now, and I definitely don’t want to wake her up! Yet another challenge of interning virtually, and across time zones.

4:20 pm – At last, I finish up my work for the day. I feel relaxed and confident after completing the task of mapping different indicators of success across Shadhika’s partner organizations. Time for another long walk with my dog and my favorite podcast. Now, I’m starting to daydream about dinner…

Deciding on a Dual Degree: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I began my time at Heller as a Conflict Resolution and Coexistence student, but quickly realized I wanted to pursue a degree in Global Health Policy and Management as well: I am extremely interested in the intersection of conflict management, gender, and sexual health, and in the future, I hope to work with women and girls in conflict zones to address their sexual and reproductive health needs.  I feel confident that earning degrees in both COEX and GHPM will further this goal and will allow my knowledge in these fields to expand even greater.  I love that I have the opportunity at Heller to blend the curriculums of the COEX and GHPM programs and that I have the chance to tailor each program to fit my professional goals and interests. 

When I was first considering adding a dual degree, I wasn’t sure if the GHPM and COEX programs even made sense together: the two degrees seemed completely different from each other, and I was worried about how the dual degree would work, or how it might be viewed by future employers. Luckily, I had Heller faculty to ask a million questions about it. Sarah LaMorey, COEX’s practicum coordinator, was incredibly helpful and encouraging of my idea to pursue a dual degree. Sandy Jones was also a great resource; she is the Executive Director of Global Programs (COEX, SID, and MS-GHPM), in addition to being one of my professors. With the encouragement and positivity of Heller faculty on my side, I became much more confident in my goal of pursuing a dual degree, and feel more confident that combining these two degrees will propel me forward in my chosen career.  I really appreciate having the chance to combine two degrees which truly seemed completely different from each other at first. 

I do still feel nervous, though, about starting the Global Health Policy and Management portion of my dual degree in the Fall. I have never studied medicine or health policy, and science has never been a subject I’m particularly good at, so I know it may be an academic struggle for me at times. I am especially nervous about understanding statistics and analyzing data – I’m not exactly a numbers person! Even still, I feel confident that the GHPM degree will bolster the knowledge and experience I have already gained from COEX in a way that is crucial towards advancing my career aspirations. 

As my year as a COEX student is now coming to an end, I am looking forward to starting my journey as a GHPM student. I know it will be quite a challenge, especially as someone without a background in science or medicine. Luckily, I already know what I can expect from Heller – a supportive cohort, excellent professors, and challenging, enlightening classes. 

Changing the World 101: Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Choosing my favorite class at Heller so far is not an easy task, but one course, in particular, does come to mind. Professor Nanako Tamaru’s class, “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” was an excellent course for so many reasons. First, I appreciated the class size. Most classes at Heller are relatively small, but Nanako’s course had only 11 students enrolled. As a result, “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” felt particularly intimate and personal, and allowed for even more equal participation among the students. Although it was technically a COEX course, I was the only COEX student there, and my classmates came from a variety of programs at Heller; I really appreciated the differences in perspective that this fostered and encouraged.

The course began in module 2 of my second semester at Heller, the same time quarantine was beginning. Virtual learning hasn’t been easy for me, but Nanako’s class was engaging, challenging, and fun, despite the difficult circumstances. She was able to conduct the class with so much enthusiasm and an eye for detail. Nanako was conscious and considerate of the difficulties her students faced as we suddenly transitioned to online learning, and I always felt comfortable asking for the help or clarity I needed. Nanako managed to turn a potentially rough and tricky transition into an opportunity to engage deeply with her students. Nanako was always happy and eager to illuminate the course with her own professional experience and knowledge.

Most classes at Heller have many assignments intended to be worked on as a group of students, but “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” mainly focused on individual assignments. Although I do usually enjoy group work, I loved the variety in the individual assignments we were given. Our assignments included writing an op-ed, as well as giving a presentation on anything that interested us relating to women and security. I also loved the freedom Nanako gave us in choosing what we each wrote our op-ed on, which gave me the opportunity to explore in greater detail the topics that were most relevant to me, my interests, and career choices; I decided to write about how women from the lowest caste in Indian society are on the vanguard of creating radical change in South Asia. Nanako published everyone’s op-eds on the class’s website, which fostered an even greater sense of accomplishment. And now I have the experience of constructing and writing an op-ed under my belt!

In the end, Nanako’s course taught me how and why women need to be incorporated into all aspects of peacebuilding and development. Without women’s inclusion and participation, the programs we design and implement as practitioners will simply be ineffective. As someone who intends to focus on women’s health as my career moves forward, this lesson was especially important and impactful. Although there are many other classes at Heller that left a profound impression on me, Professor Nanako’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” was absolutely one of the most challenging, helpful, and enjoyable courses I’ve taken as a grad student.

Hello Heller!: Sami Rovins’ Acceptance Story

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Sami Rovins, COEX/MS’21

I was halfway out the front door to go to work when I got the email from Brandeis letting me know there was an update to my application. I held my breath and opened up the application status page. When I saw that I had been accepted to the Heller School, my top choice school, I let out a happy scream so loud it woke up my dog. I was thrilled and immediately called my parents to share the good news. I spent the rest of the morning joyfully texting friends and struggling to contain my excitement while at work. 

The next day, I officially accepted my offer to study at the Heller School. I felt proud, anxious, thrilled, and excited all at the same time. For the past year, I had been envisioning this moment, and it was certainly worth the wait. I felt completely ready in that moment to begin my degree in Conflict Resolution & Coexistence (COEX).  

My journey to Heller had begun almost three years earlier when I first started researching graduate programs and came in contact with Sandy Jones. Sandy is COEX’s Deputy Director, and she was happy to guide me every step of the way for months until I finally submitted my application. I credit Sandy greatly with my decision to study at the Heller School; interacting with her was my first glimpse into how individualized my time at Heller would be. It was clear Sandy cared about me, my interests, and my goals. I felt encouraged knowing Heller could provide this type of graduate school experience. 

Ultimately, I also chose to study at Heller because COEX seemed to be a truly unique program perfectly tailored to what I hoped to focus on in my career, and I knew I wouldn’t find the same degree anywhere else. Having built trust with Sandy Jones and other attentive staff members at Heller, I felt very comfortable in my decision to accept Brandeis’ offer of admission. I could tell I would be joining a true community, not just a degree program. 

I was right – the community at the Heller School serves as friends, colleagues, and mentors to each other. From the start of our orientation, I immediately felt motivated by my classmates and knew I was listened to with genuine interest. We are a kind, caring, funny, and hard-working community at Heller. This was clear to me from the very start, based upon my many, many emails and Skype appointments with Sandy. 

I remember the day I was accepted to the Heller School so vividly, and I still experience that same excitement and joy when I think of my school, my classmates, and my professors now. It was clear to me from the start of my application process that Heller is a place where everyone is welcomed, cared about, and listened to and the Heller School has repeatedly proven itself to be exactly that place.

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