Category: Academics (page 1 of 6)

Reflecting on my Letter to my Future Self: Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

I sat by my window in my third floor apartment in Cambridge and looked out on to the street, at the rain ricocheting off the trees. I tried to verbalize Why Heller after a semester of online learning and the weight of a dreary day.  Now, as I sit inside the Heller building on a sun-filled spring morning, I am again lost for words, yet for a completely different reason. There are days when I am unsure of what I’ve learned or frustrated that I have to leave bed, but over the last week, amidst finals and presenting my capstone, I have felt nothing but nostalgia and pride. For better or worse, I have faced a multitude of roadblocks over the last two years. Some of which were felt by the collective community and others more personal. Yet, nothing has deterred me from my studies and my time at Heller. At first, I resented the pandemic for forcing me to choose a local school as opposed to leaving the Boston area. I now (job permitting), intend to stay in the Boston area for work, as Heller has provided me a community here that I’m not ready to say goodbye to yet (of course, unless you are a DC hiring manager, and then I am eager to leave this all behind!).

I am actually shocked to re-read what I wrote in early February 2021 and realize that I was so articulate about my field of study and what I hoped to accomplish. I did not know what I was doing a semester in, and while I am much more equipped now, I still do not have all the answers  (as I aptly surmised). But that is something I’ve come to understand over the last two years, there will always be a new theory, a proposed law, a unprecedented leaked SCOTUS decision that will alter the socio-political landscape. Well, hopefully not the last one… Regardless, Heller taught me to conceptualize the historical foundation in order to adapt to new contemporary issues that arise.

My commitment to gender policy has only intensified and I sometimes get dizzy thinking about the breadth and complexities of the issues. During my time at Heller, I have researched workplace policy, Paid Family and Medical Leave, pay transparency laws, gender-based violence policy, the Violence Against Women’s Act, queer anthropology, carceral feminism, and HIV-prevention policies. Within each of those categories, I have employed an intersectional approach— dissecting the impact of socio-economic standing, race, ethnicity, age, citizen status, gender,  and historical implications. I see myself as something of a gender generalist.

To answer some of the questions from my past self— Heller did in fact provide me a deeper and more theoretical/academic comprehension of contemporary issues to ground the work. I also feel more confident about my critical thinking skills.  While I did not engage too frequently with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office at Heller, I was a member of the Racial Equity Working Group (REWG) and helped to push diversity and inclusion on campus and hold the administration accountable, and I feel very proud of REWGs’s reach. Past self, I did take classes from renowned lecturers like Laurence Simon, Lisa Lynch, Jess Santos, Kaitie Chakoian, Brian Horton, Mary Brolin, Sarah Soroui, Maria Madison and so many more. And I was even able to fit in the Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing course with Larry Bailis.

My time at Heller has been invaluable and I feel so blessed to have spent the last two years learning at such a vibrant, passionate, socially-conscience, and diverse institution.

I am honored to be a Heller student and come May 22, 2022, I look forward to my next role as Heller Alumna.

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!

Daniella’s Top Ten Reasons to Choose Heller

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

It was just announced that the Heller School for Social Policy and Management has once again been ranked as one The US and News Report’s Top Ten Social Policy Programs in the country. As such, it only seems fitting that I do my own calculations.  Here are my top ten rankings and how they play out in my day-to-day schedule as a graduate student at Heller (numbers in no hierarchical order)

  1. The Research Institutes: Heller has ten research institutes on campus that are each at the forefront of their fields. Many of the researchers teach at Heller, and many more present their work frequently on campus and in classes. I feel embedded in social change.
  2. The Professors: The staff and faculty are some of the most caring, intellectual, and encouraging educators I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside. They are so well-versed in their academic fields and promote  open debate, dialogue, and discussion in every class. Going to school in the midst of a global pandemic and publicized racial reckoning can be daunting, and not one class went by where a professor didn’t check in on our wellbeing, providing space for us to process collectively, as one community.
  3.  The Courses: The wide array of course subjects allows each student to find classes in their interest area. Every course  investigates each topic through an intersectional lens, employing a holistic educational system. Each student sets their research topics for each class, which allows students to study their concentration in every class and through an intersectional approach.
  4. The Atmosphere and Commitment to Social Justice: Heller’s commitment to social justice manifests in the students who attend. Staff and students alike constantly push for the university to improve and meet its mission.
  5. The Friends: I would be nowhere without my cohort– check out my earlier blog about my peers and the make up of people who attend Heller.
  6. The Only MPP Program That Requires a DEI Course: That title says it all. Based on student feedback, Heller decided to integrate a DEI course into the core curriculum for the MPP program. And starting in Fall 2022, every students enrolled at Heller will be required to take a DEI course.  I am proud of the students before me for advocating for this class and impressed with the administration for listening – but that’s on brand, have you read points #3-#5?!
  7. The Concentrations: Heller offers students many concentration to help inform and structure their academic journey. There is also the opportunity to create your own concentration if not one encompasses a student’s needs. Most of the concentrations are linked to a research institute, solidifying their institutional reach.
  8. The Leadership: The shared field experience of Dean Weil, our newly appointed interim dean, Dr. Maria Madison, and many of our distinguished lecturers enhances the caliber of our curriculum.
  9. The Aid: Heller’s commitment to support every student’s education can be felt in all of the numbers above. However, this is reinforced in its generous aid packages to students. Education needs to be more accessible and Heller is working towards making higher education a reality for everyone.
  10.  The Alumni Network: Being associated with Heller is like wearing a badge of honor. People are proud to be a member of the Heller network; alumni hire alumni, staff help current students, Heller advocates for justice. Being a Heller graduate student is one of the highest accomplishments of my life and I look forward to being an ambassador for Heller as I enter the professional world.

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!

The Sprint to the Finish Line

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

I see the end. I am in the last half (or Module 2 as Heller lovingly refers to it), of my final year of grad school.  I have less than 6 weeks left, wrapping up a 2 year process in the pursuit of my MS in Global Health Policy and Management, and my MA in Sustainable International Development.

I had this rose-colored ideal of what my final month at graduate school would look like: dancing through a field of spring flowers while socializing with friends and having enough time each day for a midday nap. In this ideal, however, I was not accounting for the triad of a 20 hour a week internship, courses (and a capstone paper), and job applications. Oh, how the mind deceives.

So, in the midst of this chaos – with acute senioritis kicking in – it can feel like you are slowly being lowered into a bubbling vat of assignments with no way to slow the speed at which you descend… a bit dramatic?  Okay, maybe just a bit.

BUT, I am here to tell you – with time management and small goals, you can work to overcome this  impending sense of doom when you too are at this point in your graduate career. Today I present to you (to take or leave as you’d like), some ways in which you can work to proactively stay on top of assignments, especially when lengthy papers are all due the same week.

  1. Do a little each day – even weeks before it’s due. I have found that when I have time, I like to bite off small pieces of monster papers. So, when I wake up early I may work on a paper for just 30 minutes to write even a paragraph or two. For me, the hardest part of doing an assignment can actually be starting it, so this helps with that roadblock. It does not seem like much, but you will thank yourself later when almost half of the paper is written before the time crunch sets in. It also allows you to brainstorm when not working on the paper over a couple of weeks, instead of days.
  2. Set a time for your mind to rest. If you have read my other blogs, or know me at all, you will know I am a morning person, which means that bt the end of the day I am hardly capable of following a recipe. In undergrad, I used to think that I should not have the luxury of relaxing until I had everything done on my list. Now, however, I have learned that it is okay to set a “no-homework” threshold. For me, that is 7pm (keeping in mind I wake up around 5am, so adjust that time as you see fit in your schedule). When I hit that time, I allow myself to watch tv, go for a walk, call a friend, take a bath, whatever I need to do to relax. I do not think about the assignments due, nor do I allow myself to stress about them. This has really helped me in this season.
  3. Set manageable weekly goals. I have, in total, around 50 pages (at least) of writing I need to complete in the next 6 weeks for various classes and projects. If I opted to put them off until the last two weeks of school, I would not only be stressed out of my mind, but the work quality would surely suffer. So, I have listed out all – that’s right, every single assignment due from this point until the end of the semester and broken down how I can work on them each week. For some, I give loose guidelines like “general outlines” or “begin research and start listing sources” for this week. For others, I give hard guidelines like “at least 2 pages written each week”. This helps me because I am slowly working through a project, and doing various ones on rotation so it keeps my interest levels high; also, I am a list-maker so having the ability to cross things off each week really keeps my motivation level soaring. I make the tasks doable as well, so I don’t get discouraged.

As a graduate student, assignments are such an important part of the learning process, but sometimes – it feels like just too much. I hope my  little tips help – I have found them to help me. Keep reminding yourself why you began this process in the first place, you can do it! We can do it!

 

What Advice Would You Give To Your First Semester Self?

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

As my time at Heller is slowly drawing to a close, I have been reflecting a lot on what I’ve learned over the last year and half. At some moments, it’s hard to conceptualize who I was before this program. I was curious how my peers were processing as well, so I presented them with a simple question, what advice do you want to give your first semester self? Here is what some of them had to say:

“When it comes to exploring new policy areas, follow the fun! I know that a lot of us come in with an idea of what we’re going to do, but try to embrace the new and potentially unfamiliar places that your research and curiosity take you!” Adam Jones, MPP ’22

“I would urge first semester me to look outside of the program-specific classes to find other options that may be intriguing! Talk to second years to find out classes they really enjoyed and do not be afraid to look outside of MPP/Heller classes.” Hannah Orbach-Mandel, MPP ’22

“Trust yourself and the process; you got in for a reason and deserve to be here.” Sierra Dana,  MPP ’22

“I would say ‘get to know your classmates/cohort’ because I’ve learned as much from them as I have from my professors and they have been a great support system. ” Sasha Himeno-Price, MPP ’22

“This is pretty generic, but I wish I had stayed true to my interests and goals for the program, and committed to seeking out resources across Heller to explore those further. I found it easy to get sucked into weekly assignments and feel like I have not made the most of the larger landscape of people, research, sources, etc. that the school has to offer!” Lydia Slocum, MPP ’22

“I would tell myself that it is okay to not know your specific policy interest yet and that the program helps you figure all of that out – which you will.” Louisa Duggan, MPP ’22

“My advice to first semester self would be to prioritize rest, the work will always be there – Rose Farrell MPP, ’22

“Do not be afraid to ask questions and engage with your professors.” – Kerin Miller, MPP/MBA 22

Finally, I would like to add my own personal anecdote, some words I wish I followed as a first semester student: I came to Heller for gender policy, as you my have read in my previous posts, and when I first started, I was so intimidated by my peers who all had particular interests within their policy areas — and here I thought I was already ahead of the game because I wanted to study gender policy! Do not ever let imposter syndrome get the best of you and do not let yourself feel small alongside your peers. The impact you will each make is tremendous.

A Spoon Full of Sugar / Applied Regression Analysis

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Richard & Robert Sherman once penned these lyrics which would later be iconically sung by Mary Poppins:

“In every job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job’s a game

And every task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake
A lark! A spree! It’s very clear to see that

A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way”

Last summer, as I was scheduling classes for my MS-GHPM Fall degree courses, I dreaded the thought of having to take the required Applied Regression Analysis course. I so enjoy discussing theory, writing papers, and talking out big ideas; tell me to open a program and run some statistics and you will find me in a full-on cold sweat.

Fast forward to the first week of classes as I stumble into class already in a mindset of ‘just get through this’. I’m greeted by a jolly man (pun intended as he has a slight resemblance to Santa Claus) who shares that he will do his best to make this course more enjoyable. I am still a bit hesitant and am thinking, ‘sure, I’ve heard that before. Good luck holding my interest in statistics!’. This medicine did not seem like it would go down easily – think coughing, bad taste, acid reflux and all.

Right off the bat, he had a warm and non-threatening presence. He made jokes, told stories, and was clearly extremely well versed in statistics. Somehow, over the course of just a few weeks, I was feeling extremely confident in my regression analysis abilities. The pace of the class was manageable, the assignments were not overwhelming, and I grew to look forward to the course. I went from having almost no data analysis skills to confidentially crafting a final paper analyzing univariate, bivariate, and multivariate models, improving the models, and creating a logit model predicting probabilities using real data processed through Stata. I was so proud of myself when I submitted that final paper!

As I now reflect on that entire experience over the semester, that Mary Poppins song came to mind: Professor Steve Fournier was the spoon full of sugar that helped the medicine go down! I knew I needed to brush up on my data analysis skills, but I avoided it at all costs because I thought it would be too challenging. He not only made it understandable and clear, but made me genuinely enjoy the learning process.

So, if you are afraid of challenging yourself in a new skill, or even applying for a program like MS GHPM with a focus on data please know professors here at Brandeis want to see you succeed – not fail. I am a testament to that fact as I took Regression and not only survived, but thrived!

If you’re reading this: thank you, Professor Fournier! You were excellent!

Why Study Global Health Policy and Management?

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Ah, it feels like just yesterday. My second grade teacher (Ms. Higgins) tasked us with presenting a response to the classic: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” prompt.  With an ever-uncrushable confidence, I proudly walked up to the front of the classroom, took a deep breath and proclaimed, “when I grow up I want to be a doctor, a bus driver, or a researcher evaluating effective health financing models for overall health system strengthening!”. Okay… maybe I am not recalling the details exactly as they happened – my dad does often likes to remind me of my sanguine personality type when I struggle to recall everything.

So, if not birthed with a natural desire to pursue Global Health Policy and Management, how does one stumble upon this career path?

Here is my personal segue in:  As a native born Canadian and naturalized United States citizen, I have been engaging in health financing discussions since before I knew what health financing was. It seemed a natural conversational cadence to A. find out I am Canadian (through my accent – now largely hidden, or because of my English pronunciation of ‘zed’ as opposed to ‘zee’). B. ask about the various nuances of Canadian life (did you live in an igloo? Are there penguins on the street? Have you met Justin Bieber?) C. inevitably bring up Universal Health Coverage D. give me a very loose allegory about a friend of a friend who had a bad experience with Canadian health coverage. Challenged by not having an eloquent and factually verified rebuttal, I began researching health financing in Canada vs. the US in middle school. 

Fast forward many years and I found myself – thanks to nepotism and the need for financial stability – working within a rural Pennsylvanian 32 bed Emergency Department (ED). As a registrar, I began to see first-hand the complexities of health insurance and the amazing way in which a patient could go into financial ruin after a 3 hour stay in our ED without insurance. Who was at fault? Should they have invested in insurance or planned ahead? Is it okay for our system to charge thousands for a simple fracture and X-ray? I then began assisting with utilization in the coordination of direct admissions and transfers of patients and again was struck with the immense complexities embedded in our system. Additionally, I was inputting the ED Doctor’s charges and saw exactly how much they charged first hand.

Those were two of the more formative experiences that pushed me into health policy. I thoroughly enjoy hearing unique ‘origin’ stories from each individual within the Global Health Policy and Management Masters program. One thing is certain, folks do not often stumble into health policy but are typically driven into this realm out of an abundance of frustrating encounters with the health system(s) at large. So, if you ever wondered why someone would study health policy, or you are interested in studying health policy yourself, please reach out to me anytime! It is a wonderful, scary place full of folks like me who lean on hope, optimism and knowledge to not lose heart. Second grade Hannah would be so proud to see where she has ended up today!

Professor Spotlight: Marji Erickson Warfield and Lisa Lynch

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Too often in academia,  you get stuck learning from a tenured professor who is out of touch with students (Netflix plug – The Chair). I attended a liberal arts university for my undergraduate degree, which allotted me the flexibility on the courses I took, choosing based on interest and professor ratings. So when entering into a more structured degree program, I was nervous about my ability to connect both with the required material and the professors.

I am about to finish my third semester at Heller, with a total of seven required courses under my belt and I have only good things to say about my time so far (taking into account that I completed six of those courses online due to the pandemic). Each professor adapted and modified their courses to support and uplift students while we were completely virtual, and have found ways to engage students who join class virtually during our current hybrid semester.

But I would be remiss if I told you I didn’t have favorites. Marji Erickson Warfield and Lisa Lynch have taken two subjects that many might cower away from and made the material accessible, entertaining and informative. In a degree that attracts policy-driven individuals, more tactical courses like research methods and economic theory can be daunting at the onset. I am in awe of the intellect and integrity both professors hold. Dr. Marji Erickson Warfield is a Senior Scientist and Lecturer at Heller. Her work is designed to understand and evaluate ways to promote the well-being of children, youth and young adults with disabilities and the adaptation of their families.  Dr. Lisa Lynch is the Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy at Heller. She is a Brandeis powerhouse and focuses her research on labor markets, unemployment, and organizational Innovation.

Both Marji and Lisa found ways to enliven subjects that might come off as dry and teach in such a way that makes the material not only understandable but demonstrate how it’s applicable to my professional goals. On top of their in-class work, they are wholly available to students outside of the classroom, through office hour appointments, events on campus and personalized emails with news or opportunities that match your specific policy interests. I have never felt like blank face in a sea of students; they go out of their way to chat in the halls and contribute to student-led initiatives. I am grateful to both professors for their inclusive teaching, and to Heller for prioritizing the hiring of such great faculty.

Closing out the First Semester of Grad School

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Finally! I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for my first fall semester of the MPP program. As I near the end of the semester, I have had time to reflect on the challenges, accomplishments, and personal goals I want to set for myself next semester.

When entering the program, I had no idea what to expect initially. Being one of the few in my cohort who began the program straight out of undergrad, I had to work around the preconceived notions and tactics I have built being a student. How would the professors be supportive? How will my cohort be supportive? What resources are offered on campus if I am having a hard time or struggling? At my previous school, grades mattered the most— if you did not receive anything over a C+, you were frowned upon by peers and professors. My professors at Heller were very supportive, responsive, and understanding. At the beginning of the semester, they all instituted that we should not focus just on our grades, but we should focus on how we connect with the material and find ourselves when writing and discussing these issues with our peers, teaching assistants, and professors. This made me more comfortable with meeting with professors outside of the classroom because I felt confident enough to ask questions and express my concerns. Additionally, although I see myself as a social butterfly, I entered Heller in a cocoon. I did not know how to really engage with my peers or start conversations that were not always school-related, but my cohort made it very easy. They all wanted to get to know each other, not just on a surface-based level, and being able to grab a seat in Zinner Forum and have a conversation with a few of my peers has made my days lighter.

After overcoming these small challenges, I can say I am very proud of myself for how far I have come in an academic space. Even though I still have a small fear of bringing my own opinions up in class discussions, I noticed I am not afraid to share more on issues that may directly or indirectly affect me. I also find myself really taking my time with the assignments I turn in, asking follow-up questions prompts, deadlines, or anything else that comes my way. During my time in undergrad, I became very self-conscious about my writing skills, but after this semester, I am more confident in working with my peers on peer reviews, making numerous drafts to get that final one, and really putting my best foot forward when writing on issues that I am passionate about.

Graduate school is still not easy, but this first semester has been very eye-opening and has allowed me substantial room to grow. My goal for next semester is to be able to lead more discussions in my classroom and also fight the urge to procrastinate when a project or assignment presents itself. I want to be able to really connect my personal experiences and passions to the research presented to me and flesh out more ways to combat the issues in a social justice manner. I am super excited to be kicking off my second semester and can not wait to see what it entails.

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