Category: Academics (page 1 of 4)

Hello Heller!: Hannah Lougheed’s Acceptance Story

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As my parents and I were directed to move to the side and wait with the crowd of other hungry onlookers to be seated, I casually refreshed my email inbox on my phone and found I had an “update on my Application” from Brandeis University. We were at a chain restaurant that boasts an Americanized Italian cuisine, and up until that moment my mind was consumed solely with thoughts of chicken and gnocchi soup, but this certainly broke my hunger haze. I anxiously logged into my admissions page to see – I was in! It was my first graduate school acceptance letter up until that point, and I was ecstatic.  I informed my parents of the good news, to which they congratulated me, and then we returned to waiting in silence for our buzzer to ring. Sorry, a little anticlimactic – I know.

The Lougheeds are a pragmatic people; we celebrate, then quickly and systematically come back down to Earth. As we slid into our faux leather, well-worn booth, we began looking at what Heller had to offer in terms of cost, opportunities, etc. How naive we were to spend considerable time talking about what the physical campus and city of Waltham could offer for social activities and outdoor recreation. But, to be fair, this discussion took place in January 2020 when COVID-19 had yet to find a daily permanence in our vernacular.  All that aside, by the time we had consumed half our body weight in pasta, we had discussed many of the pros and cons of the Heller school.

At this point in my story you may be thinking, “Wow, is she a paid sponsor for Olive Garden?” To that, I would respond, pass me those affordable and delicious never-ending breadsticks and just hear me out.

As I emerged from my pasta-induced coma the next morning, I was delighted to see multiple emails welcoming me into the Heller family. I was showered by warm smiles, stories of the impact that Heller has made on students and faculty alike, and a sense that this graduate program was different from the others to which I had applied. I also deeply appreciated that this program was seemed to uplift students to succeed, whereas others boasted about their competitiveness and challenging material within the program. To be candid, I was sold on Heller but still had one reservation: name recognition.

I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, then moved to rural south-central Pennsylvania when I was young, so my exposure to higher ed institutions had been limited. I have always been starstruck by institutions with “big” names and dreamed of dawning a sweatshirt that proudly read “Johns Hopkins” or “Harvard” so the world knew I had “made it”. So, sillily enough, one of my major reservations for attending Brandeis was that many people, at least in my small circle, had never heard of the school. I reached out to meet with my undergraduate academic advisor and general giver-of-great-advice human and he reassured me that Brandeis does have great name recognition within academia, and that I would be foolish not to go to a school that fit me well just because the name is not “big” enough.

I spent considerable time still assessing my options, but found that the Heller school was a perfect fit. My advice and something I am working to change in my own thinking: do not let names alone guide your path. For grad programs, jobs, etc. You are special and your value is not validated by a name on your resume, but by who you are innately.

How Sami Rovins Manages Self Care (And How You Can Too!)

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As a grad student, relaxation can sometimes seem impossible. I’ve found that learning how to relax and unwind is a skill that requires practice! And it’s such an important skill to have. Being able to unplug from school is crucial to maintaining your sanity and a sense of self. I find myself getting “lost” in my Heller-related responsibilities sometimes, but learning to relax and unwind after a long day of classes and assignments has been so valuable. Sometimes, I find myself feeling guilty when I “clock out” and turn my focus away from grad school. But it is so important to remember that taking care of your mental health and engaging in quality self-care will help to improve not only your mindset, but also, ultimately, your work at Heller.

Meditation is easier said than done, but in my experience meditation has been such a valuable tool for self-care. At first, I felt intimidated, but gradually I came to learn that meditation simply requires practice. One helpful meditation tool is an app called Headspace. This app provides meditations ranging in time from as short as one minute to much longer guided meditations. Taking time daily to center yourself and focus on your thoughts can improve your mood, which will help to improve your performance as a grad student.

I also recommend connecting with your classmates outside of Heller. Making connections that revolve around more than classes is so rewarding! Try to find other students with shared interests that don’t involve just your career aspirations and academic goals. A great way to meet people is through the Graduate Student Association. You’ll also be able to meet graduate students from other schools at Brandeis this way. Building relationships is another rewarding way of maintaining your sense of self during times when you might feel lost in a mountain of schoolwork.

Don’t forget to treat yourself! There are plenty of places to eat in Waltham that are perfect for a delicious bite to clear your mind. I love to stop by Kung Fu Tea on Moody Street to indulge in a bubble tea or mango slushee. Or you can hop across the street and grab brunch at another favorite of mine, a restaurant called In a Pickle. A bit farther from campus is another gem, a tiny Mexican spot called Taqueria El Amigo. Taking yourself out for a meal, or enjoying it with a friend, can be truly rejuvenating!

There are many ways to refresh yourself and clear your mind while studying here at Heller. My recommendation is to continually practice this skill. Relaxation and self-care are so crucial to being a good student, a good employee, and a good friend. Make sure to take care of yourself by unplugging and shifting your focus, because it’s too easy to get lost in school-related worries and stress!

A Week in the Life with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

The new Spring semester started just a few weeks ago, and I’ve got a packed schedule! I’m taking five classes during Module 1, a mix of required MS-GHPM courses and electives from different programs across Heller. It’s my last semester here at Heller, so I wanted to take a big mix of classes before I go.

My Monday morning started with Professor Nandakumar’s class, “International Health Financing”. It was great to start the week with a class taught by a professor with so much experience in the field! Professor Nandakumar also offered us some great advice: He implored us not to focus too much on our grades, but to focus instead on simply learning.

On Tuesday afternoon, I had the first session of an elective course I’ve been very excited about! The class is called “Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing”. Professor Bailis made a great first impression — he was excited and friendly and eager to hear from his students about our backgrounds and interests. I’m looking forward to future class sessions because I want to learn how to be a more effective advocate for issues such as reproductive health and racial justice.

Wednesday mornings are for “Monitoring and Evaluation” with Professor Godoy. Having taken another M+E class last year as a COEX student, it’s interesting to see the ways in which this class is similar or different. I like the structure of the class: lots of breakout rooms and an ongoing group project. Group projects are great especially now, when everything is online, because they provide an opportunity to get to know classmates.

On Friday, I’ll have two more classes I’m looking forward to. In the morning I’ll take “Current Issues in Health Care Management” with Professor Gaumer. I’m excited to get more into the details of how to address and remedy problems that can take place in health care facilities. Later, in the afternoon on Friday, I’ll be taking Professor Sampath’s course, “Culture, Power, and Development”, another elective. Having taken Professor Sampath’s class in the Fall semester, I already know I can expect to get happily lost in readings about social theory.

Every student at Heller has their own schedule, and this is just a peek into mine. My days will also be filled up with meeting fellow students for group projects via Zoom, working remotely as a Graduate Assistant for Heller Admissions, and of course, I’ll be keeping busy with readings, assignments, and projects. Last but not least, I’ll also be working on finishing up my Capstone paper for my COEX degree. It’s so crazy to think that in just a few months, I’ll have finished all of it!

Facing Challenges with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I would not describe myself, traditionally, as someone who has sought out coursework about finance or accounting. As I’ve referenced in prior blog posts, my undergraduate career as an English major did not prepare me directly for certain types of courses I’ve taken at Heller, and in fact, was guided in part by an effort to avoid quantitative coursework. Since beginning grad school, I’ve rediscovered the potential for mathematical thinking and data analysis to actually be fun, and I’ve really enjoyed courses involving data visualization, like Evaluation for Managers and Intro to GIS. 

This semester entails a new kind of challenge, as I am enrolled in not one or two but three courses involving finance and economics – Managerial Accounting, Financial Management, and Public Finance and Budgeting. This schedule, which I would have undertaken as an undergraduate only in an anxiety dream, is one that I have actually been excited about since enrolling in the Social Impact MBA. Working in non-profit settings after college demonstrated to me the importance of financial decision-making and budgeting and the degree to which these considerations are almost more central for managers and analysts in non-profit, mission-driven organizations than in traditional corporate settings. Following politics and policy debates has motivated me to learn more about economics and the role of government economic intervention – for example, I’d like to better understand the details and competing priorities contained within President Biden’s stimulus proposal. I also wouldn’t mind having a better than half-baked take on Gamestop! 

One of the best things about Heller has been the variety of coursework and many skills which they engage. In the MPP and MBA programs, and I imagine in all Heller master’s degrees, writing- and research-intensive classes are balanced with courses in statistics, economics, and finance. Many classes integrate a combination of these skills, since analyzing data AND being able to communicate your analysis effectively is necessary for many management, research, and analyst roles. I’ve found it helpful, as a graduate student in a professional degree program, to redefine my understanding of a liberal arts approach to education – while as an undergraduate I took advantage of academic flexibility to focus largely on humanities courses, in graduate school I’m enjoying the holistic approach taken in my core coursework. While I won’t be offering any stock tips in the near future, I’m excited about this semester and about future coursework in Corporate Finance and other related areas. 

 

How to Get Ready for Grad School in Less Than an Hour a Day: A Guide by Andrea Tyree

 

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Preparing for graduate school can feel overwhelming. After the high of acceptance passes, you’re hit with some tough questions Where will I live? How will I pay for it all? Am I ready for class discussions?

Personally, that last question hit me hard. I worried that I wouldn’t be as politically savvy or knowledgeable as my classmates. Now half a year in, I can assure my past self—and you—that you are fine. Chances are, if you’ve made it into one of Heller’s graduate programs, you know enough about the issues within your field to get by. But if you’re like me and want to be as prepared as possible, do it in the least stressful way: listen to podcasts.

Okay, I know at least 25% of you just rolled your eyes cause it’s 2021 and podcasts are done to death. I know, I know, I know… But that’s also what makes them so great! No matter what you’re interested in, there’s a podcast for it. Need to up your financial game? There’s a podcast for that. Want to better understand race relations? There’s a podcast for that. Want to watch The Office while you’re driving? There’s a podcast for that (and it’s fantastic).

So if you’re looking to prep for grad school by catching up on current events, history, politics, breakthroughs in medicine or science, or anything else, try listening to a podcast in your spare time! With the help of some of my classmates, I’ve put together a starter list of useful podcasts for incoming and current students:


  1. Up First by NPR

I recommend this for anyone who feels like they don’t have enough time in their day. This 10-15 minute NPR podcast is a great listen while you’re getting ready in the morning. It reviews some of the top (usually national) news stories that will help you feel prepared for that 9:00 am class.

  1. Today, Explained by Vox AND/OR The Daily by The New York Times AND/OR Pod Save America by Crooked Media

If you want a deeper dive into current issues (or hear about more than 3 topics), then any of these podcasts are great alternatives. The episodes run a bit longer (~30 min to 1 hour), but if you want to hear a thorough breakdown of the news, these are three podcasts I recommend.

  1. Worldly by Vox AND/OR Global News Podcast by BBC

Tired of hearing only about American politics? Want to stay on top of what’s going on in the rest of the world? Check out one of these podcasts! Worldly deep dives into the issues by placing them in the context of history and politics, while Global News provides daily updates on various issues.

  1. Justice in America by The Appeal

If you’re interested in criminal justice, then this is the podcast for you. It covers a wide range of topics within the criminal justice system and examines each piece’s impact on impoverished communities and communities of color.

  1. Code Switch by NPR

Truly one of the best podcasts out there. It explains how race affects everything, provides a platform for the most marginalized and underrepresented to speak their truth, and puts it all into a digestible format. If you’ve been wondering how to be a better ally to people of color or understand how their struggles affect all of us, then this podcast is for you.

  1. Adulting by WNYC Studios

Okay this isn’t a serious podcast about politics, social issues, or current events, but I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning one of the most hilarious podcasts out there (imo). If you need a good laugh, want to feel seen as a struggling grad student/adult, or just need a distraction from the state of the world, this podcast is for you. Plus, if you’re not a Michelle Buteau stan, what are you doing?

The Final Stretch: Sami’s Last Semester

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

After a year and a half at Heller, I’m finally approaching my last semester as a grad student. It can feel sometimes like I have one foot in Heller and one foot out the door. I’m still focused on my assignments and school projects, while also thinking about potential jobs and what my next moves might be. Do I want to move back home to Philadelphia, or try living someplace new? What kind of work environment do I see myself thriving in? What are the next steps I should take to reach my goals?

This is an exciting place to be in my life, but it is also challenging. It can be hard to stay focused and motivated when I’m so close to being finished with my degrees. I keep myself on track in a number of ways. First, I stay as organized as possible so nothing slips through the cracks. I do this with the help of my Google calendar, a journal, and many, many sticky notes. For me, it’s much harder to forget a task if it’s written down on a list!
To keep focused, I also make sure to find the time for self-care and socially distanced time with friends. In the COVID era, it’s so easy to feel isolated, which shifts my focus away from my school work. Seeing friends and engaging in self-care is just as important to maintaining motivation as keeping organized and on schedule. Spending time chatting in a friend’s backyard leaves me feeling refreshed and provides me with a much-needed breath of fresh air. This picks my spirits up, and allows me to renew my motivation so I can get back to work.
I also make time to think about potential future jobs, moving away from Waltham, and starting a new stage of my life. I find that it’s important to set aside this time, otherwise thinking about these topics seeps into the time I need to spend on writing my Capstone paper, for instance. Setting aside time to think about the future, rather than trying to suppress these thoughts, allows me more time to concentrate on the work that still needs to get done.
I know that my last semester at Heller will be difficult for many reasons. The classes will be challenging, I’ll be worrying about future plans, and I’m sure I’ll feel nostalgic looking back on my previous semesters. But I feel prepared knowing that I have the skills and resources to take care of myself and to stay on track.

My First Semester: A Look Back with Andrea Tyree

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

With finals season officially at a close, it feels as though I’ve just awoken from an enlightening, yet hectic, dream. My first thought was: “Wow, my apartment is a mess.” But after a thorough spring cleaning (in the middle of a literal snowstorm), I was able to genuinely reflect on my first semester at Heller and remember some key lessons learned.

Like most students, I was worried about starting graduate school in the midst of a pandemic. Because classes were completely online, I chose not to move to the Waltham area and instead, remained in West Virginia for the semester (and if you’ve ever looked at the rent in the greater Waltham area, you’d get why). Yet I worried how connected I would be to everyone.

I also worried about the workload. The idea of taking four classes didn’t seem too overwhelming, but I had been out of school for about three years—just enough time to forget what it felt like to write a 10- to 20-page paper. Other graduate students warned me that I’d need the extra hours available during the week to keep up with the workload. Was I up to the challenge?

Three and half months later I can confidently say (pending final grades) that I was, thanks to some incredible support from my classmates and professors!

Whether you find a place right in the center of Waltham or 500 miles away, you’ll find that your classmates are there for you. My MPP cohort is spread out from one coast to the other and yet we communicate nearly every day. I mean, being in a classroom is nice, but have you ever shared real-time reactions and memes with your 20-40 classmates about what’s happening in class? It can truly turn some of the slowest guest speaker lecture days into one of your favorite classes.

Pro tip: Download Slack before graduate school and use the Newly Admitted Heller Facebook page to build your cohort’s Slack channel! You’ll thank me later, trust me.

On a serious note, being able to communicate with my classmates outside of monitored spaces was a godsend when I was lost in a lecture or missed a class. The kind of people who attend Heller are the kind who are willing to go above and beyond to help their classmates. We’re truly all in this together (cue HSM earworm) and I’m constantly amazed by the things that I learn from my classmates.

The workload wasn’t the easiest adjustment, yet it didn’t take long to find a study routine that worked for me. Remember: If it works for you, stick with, don’t compare it to others. Imposter syndrome is real and will have you feeling like you’re not doing enough real quick. Don’t let it get you!

But if you feel like you’re struggling more than you should, be honest with yourself and others. Talk to your classmates to check if you’re doing too much. Are you skimming most of the five 30-page reading assignments, or are you deep reading all of them? Are you finding 50 sources for a 10 page paper or a reasonable 20? We’ve all been there! I definitely have…but being honest and speaking about it with my classmates and professors prevented endless future headaches. Heller professors want to build you up, not break you down. Don’t be afraid to meet with a professor one-on-one to talk about where you’re at. I promise they (at least MPP professors) won’t bite.

Looking back, this semester wasn’t too bad (though I may be wearing some rose-colored glasses). But I know I couldn’t have gotten through it without my cohort. To the applicants and newly-admitted students, find the people who will have your back during this experience. Trust me, it’s not as hard as it sounds!

Reflecting on the Fall Semester with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As the Fall semester begins to wind down, I’m beginning to reflect on my greatest accomplishments over the past few months. Some of these accomplishments are big, others are much smaller. Sometimes I get caught up in how tough everything seems to be, on the assignments I didn’t do too well on, or how much work I have left to do in the next few weeks. That’s why I think it’s important, especially when things are stressful and difficult, to think about my successes at Heller so far.

I feel proud that even while I was up to my eyeballs in work for the Global Health Policy & Management program, I managed to begin work on my Capstone paper and presentation for the program I did last year, Conflict Resolution & Coexistence. I feel proud that I have been able to carefully balance both of these large responsibilities. I am writing my Capstone on the need for comprehensive, culturally-competent sex education for women and girls in India. I have been able to utilize some of the new skills and knowledge I’ve gained in the MS program and apply it to my COEX capstone. For instance, I can now better understand a large survey of teens’ knowledge of reproductive health. I now know what a regression is and how to interpret it within studies about sexual health. Being able to marry the skills of COEX and MS has been a big accomplishment for me this semester.

I also take pride in researching and writing a 16-page paper for one of my classes, Democracy & Development, over the course of one week. We were given a broad assignment of researching any topic that related to the class and I chose to write about the influence of various radical women on the politics and philosophy of Malcolm X. I also consider this a big accomplishment because I was juggling my other four final exams and projects at the very same time. In the end, I consider my paper to be a well-researched and well-written success!

My last accomplishment revolves around my ability to maintain important relationships while simultaneously managing finals. In all the madness of finals, it can be easy to forget friends, family, and loved ones. But I know I couldn’t possibly have completed this semester without the help of the people closest to me. I made an effort to make some time to meet friends for a socially distanced visit, to watch a film with my roommate, and to FaceTime with my parents. Reaching out to them for support makes such a difference and I consider it a huge accomplishment to maintain these connections despite the craziness of finals season.

FINALS!: It’s Crunch Time for Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As another semester draws to a close, Heller students find ourselves in the midst of another finals period. Returning from Thanksgiving break to a marathon session of exams and other assignments is a bit of a rude awakening, but luckily the end is in sight!

In my first year as an MPP student, my midterms and finals mostly consisted of research-based papers and policy briefs. Getting back into the swing of academic research and writing was a challenge after years of being out of school, but ultimately I felt like I was reviving skills I had used frequently in college. Having been an English major, I wrote a lot of essays in college! Exams, not so much. Now, as a first-year MBA dual degree student, I have found myself confronting both papers and exams, both take home and “in-person” (over Zoom). This is a new challenge entirely and has required me to rediscover study skills long neglected since high school. Flashcards? Check. Moments of frustration about a persistently confusing concept? Check.

The best thing about studying for exams at Heller is that everyone is in the same boat and that studying need not be a solitary activity. As much as I have sometimes found that the most productive use of time is to rewatch lecture videos, review textbooks, and drill accounting and econ problems on my own, in general, I have found it even more beneficial to hop on Zoom with a friend or two and go over course content together. This would be my number one recommendation for future Heller students. No matter how well you think you understand a concept, you’ll feel more confident once you’re able to explain it to someone else. I often find that when I study with friends, our collective intelligence (I recommend the Leadership and Organizational Behavior course if you’re interested in this concept!) far exceeds our individual knowledge of the material.

This same principle holds true for writing papers. Part of the appeal of studying public policy for me was the prospect of discussing topics with curious, knowledgeable, and critical peers. This has definitely been the case at Heller, where I know that my MPP classmates will offer insightful comments and feedback on my ideas for research papers and projects. I’m actually looking forward to the last few assignments I have, once I’ve completed my more quantitative finals because I’ll have the opportunity to dig into a policy area of interest.

The finals period is no picnic, but the supportive culture at Heller makes it manageable. Faculty care about our learning and growth, and assignments are intended not to trip us up but to help us confirm that we understand course concepts and can apply them. As weird as it is to be taking exams again, I know this process will help me feel more confident upon leaving Heller that I’ve gained new knowledge and skills. Plus, we have a long, well-earned winter break at the end of the finals period! Good luck to my fellow students – we’re in the home stretch!

Heller Reading List: Andrea Tyree Shares Her Favorite Readings

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Recently, an old friend visited my apartment and, as I was showing him around, he noticed something peculiar. I have a stack of books on my desk, some I’ve read in preparation for coming to Heller and some for specific classes. Most of my class readings are online (invest in blue-light blocking glasses, folks) but there have been a couple I’ve purchased or borrowed (thanks Mom!) outright to really annotate. This particular stack included How to Be Antiracist, The New Jim Crow, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, and Hillbilly Elegy.

Noticing this stack, my friend stopped and laughed out loud: “One of these things does not belong.” He wondered why in the world Hillbilly Elegy was included in a stack of social justice literature? Why would professors at Heller, a quite progressive institution, have us read such a biased and inaccurate portrayal of the Appalachian region? (P.S. The new Netflix film is worse.)

“Because,” I beamed with pride, “we tore it apart in my Assets and Social Policy class.” I picked up the book and showed him the countless tabs I had placed throughout the book where I found faults in the author’s storyline and argument.

Now I know I’ve already written about my Assets and Social Policy course, but this course has some of the most enlightening and engaging readings. From learning about the cultural wealth and capital that communities of color have built as a result of systemic oppression (“Whose Culture Has Capital?”) to examining the role of gender-based violence on women’s assets and wealth (“The Role of Sexual Violence in Creating and Maintaining Economic Insecurity Among Asset-Poor Women of Color”), I’ve gained knowledge in this course that I’ll carry with me throughout my life.

Yet my favorite lesson focused on rural poverty—a form of poverty not often acknowledged in social and racial justice conversations—centering on an analysis of Hillbilly Elegy. I warned my classmates ahead of time, “Y’all, as a native West Virginia, I have to represent the thousands of us who cannot stand this book. I’m about to go in on J.D. Vance (the author).”

And go in I did.

Our professor, Jess, created space for a thoughtful and critical conversation on the narrative of poverty within this book. We analyzed how the author placed the responsibility of poverty on Appalachian communities, identifying it as a character flaw rather than the result of generations of systemic oppression, resource drain, and lack of external investment in these communities. We addressed our personal and societal biases against rural, impoverished America and discussed ways to invest in it.

It was one of the first classes where I truly felt seen and heard. I’m grateful that my peers were able to analyze and critique a novel that feeds into the negative narrative about rural America and, specifically, Appalachia. And I’m proud of how I stood strong for my community. It’s moments like those that remind me of why I chose Heller and excite me for what’s to come.

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