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Demystifying the application process

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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!

Last Chance to Submit Your Application!

Hi everyone! Tomorrow’s the big day: the last chance for domestic students to submit their application to a master’s program at Heller. If you haven’t, check out my earlier post with five tips for finishing your application, but sometimes, we need a little motivation! So today, rather than sharing the how of finishing your application, I’m going to share three reasons why you should submit your application to motivate you to cross the finish line.

  1. 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 276 schools of public affairs. For 2021, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and top 20 for health policy and management. Heller is one of only two New England graduate schools of public affairs to be ranked in those specialty areas.
  2. 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 66 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), making international students about a third of our incoming class. 39% 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.
  3. 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.

You’re almost there! Just push through and press that submit button, and then help yourself to your favorite treat to celebrate! Best of luck; I look forward to welcoming you to Heller!

Why Heller? 60 Reasons for 60 Years! (Part 3)

41. “The level of discipline and rigor I learned at Heller has kept me and my organization sustainable and excellent in the work we’ve done. It’s required an intensive strategy and relentless discipline, which I would have never gotten without the Heller School.” Toni Burke, MPP’09
42. “Heller’s mission of using knowledge to promote social justice is really what I see as my mission.” Robyn Powell, PhD’20
43. “The staff during orientation recognized the sacrifices that everyone had made in order to come here, which was very important.” Zizwa Mwafulirwa, MS GHPM’20
44. “Heller is the only public policy school I know of that advertises itself as a social justice graduate school. That means there’s a self-selection on the part of students: They’re not just here to get a credential, but to gain a deeper set of insights so that they can do social justice work more effectively. That’s what I love about teaching here.” Robert Kuttner, Meyer and Ida Kirstein Visiting Professor
45. “At Heller, we go through simulations that relay real-world experiences. Our professors are respected international experts in their field — and we learn the word is mightier than guns, and that by bringing people together, they can work through their differences.” Peter Ter, MA SID/COEX’14
46. “Heller is truly a people-centered school. I knew that my professors were interested in my learning and development. The small size of the MPP program helped me get to know them and feel comfortable asking them for advice.” Erin Robinson, MPP’16
47. “Since I’ve come to Heller, I’ve loved seeing how committed the students and alumni are to pursuing careers where they tackle core issues.” Benny Belvin, Assistant Dean of Career Development
48. “Heller stepped up with a way I could conduct my own education and research that was relevant to the queer rights movement and HIV policy. I’ll be honest: the dual MPP and MBA was extremely difficult but so rewarding, because I learned more than I ever thought I could have.” James Miller, MBA/MPP’11
49. “For me, the SID program was a stepping stone to a dream career in international development. The research and project management skills I learned in the program have been very useful in my job. Being a part of a diverse cohort was also a very unique learning experience that only Heller could offer.” Megha Hedge, SID’14
50. “Here, I can get experience from the stars of our field. That’s really exciting. It’s like a great football club—like I’ve been invited to play with Barcelona, one of the best clubs in the world—that’s what it means to me to study at Heller.” Nikita Trafimovich, COEX’20
51. “We all have values and an image in our mind of the way the world should be. These are our roadmap for seeking to improve society, which is of great importance to the Heller School. But it is not enough. Our students must know how the policy world works and how public actions actually affect us.” Jeffrey Prottas, Director of the PhD program
52. “You’re not only learning from the faculty, from the professors, you’re also learning from your peers as well. It’s not just you alone, trying to find answers to the problems of this world. You find a community of people from different cultures and countries and ethnicities that all have the same goal.” Esther Daniel, COEX/SID’20
53. “Both the SID and MBA programs mix the theoretical with the practical. Together, these programs—along with the Heller staff and faculty— built upon my previous professional and educational experiences and positioned me well to get to where I am today.” Josh Cramer-Montes, MBA/MA SID’17
54. “Heller people are my people. Everybody here has done such interesting things with their lives to affect positive change.” Leila Quinn, MBA/MPP’19
55. “The students, alumni and researchers at Heller are chance agents, working to build a more equitable and just world, addressing an urgent need.” Kate Kaplan, Director of Development and Alumni Relations
56. “There’s also diversity of thought. It’s really common that a student will say something in class that I never, ever would have thought of myself. I love that about this program.” Tozoe Marton, MS GHPM/MA SID’20
57. “The chance to study with University Professor Anita Hill is the main reason I was drawn to Heller, and has far exceeded my expectations. Professor Hill not only champions social change but embodies a professorship that fosters and energizes that power necessary to influence policy discourse and help shape history.” Nicole Rinier, MBA/MPP’21
58. “At Heller, we are very involved with what’s happening on the ground. We provide research to support action. As a policy researcher, I want to impact policy discussions and policy creation.” Tatjana Meschede, Senior Scientist
59. “Heller is a great place for people who would like to be bridges.” Kristen Whited Beals, MBA/MPP’15
60. “Heller’s motto, ‘Knowledge advancing social justice,’ emphasizes our ongoing responsibility to grapple with emerging social policy challenges. Even as we recognize the strides we’ve made, the real spirit of our 60th anniversary and the next chapter is about addressing pressing societal problems at local, national and international levels. We eschew simple answers or ‘silver-bullet’ solutions. Instead, the Heller community devises evidence-based responses from multiple disciplines in teaching, research and public engagement.” David Weil, Dean and Professor

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

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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!

 

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Housing Part 2

I’m following up on my recent post on finding housing while in graduate school with a special post about avoiding scams while looking for housing. According to a recent survey conducted by College Pads, approximately 15% of students encounter a rental scam when looking for housing— unfortunately, it’s much more common than you would think! Although some scams are easily weeded out with just a little bit of investigation, others can be quite convincing, so it’s important to do your homework and keep these tips in mind.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Before you fall in love with a 2,000 square foot studio apartment with sweeping views of the Charles for only $500 a month, ask yourself if the price lines up with the other apartments you’ve viewed. Although there are certainly good deals to be found, Boston real estate is notoriously expensive, and anything significantly less than the average for the area should be treated with caution. With roommates, you should expect to pay between $500 and $800 in rent in the Waltham area, and between $600 and $1,000 in Boston or Cambridge. If you’re looking to live alone, most studios in Boston start at around $1,500. Anything significantly lower than that should be treated with caution.
  2. Do a grammar check. Once you start communicating with a landlord or realtor, pay special attention to the emails you receive. Poor spelling, incorrect grammar, excessive punctuation, or language that seems overly “robotic” should all be red flags that the listing may not be legitimate. If the signature of the realtor contains a company website, check that out too; company websites should also look legitimate and use correct grammar and punctuation.
  3. Make Google your best friend. Always, always, always, do a search on the person or company you’re dealing with. If a scammer is targeting you, chances are that it’s not the first time they’ve done this, and you can usually find negative reviews and comments online. Remember that people can pay for positive reviews and delete negative comments on their websites, so look for third-party review pages (like Yelp or GoogleReviews) and look past the first few comments. If there are multiple people complaining about their experience with the landlord or real estate company, treat that as a red flag.
  4. Know your rights. In Boston, landlords are not allowed to charge you an application fee, a credit check fee, or a fee to ‘hold’ the apartment. If they ask for any of these, that should be a huge warning sign. Once you sign a lease, you may be asked to pay first, last, and a security deposit on an apartment, but you should only do this once you’ve signed a lease or seen the apartment at the very least. You can find more information about your rights as a renter on the City of Boston’s website.
  5. See the apartment if at all possible. For students coming from across the country, or even internationally, this may not be an option, but if at all possible, try to see the apartment. If you’re not able to visit the apartment, see if one of your roommates or another close friend in the area can visit it on your behalf, and ask them to take a video of their walkthrough of the apartment so you can see it. This is slightly complicated by the current pandemic, but most landlords are now showing apartments; at the very least they can do a video walkthrough for you (ask to see the apartment from the outside to verify the address and ask them to state your name or the date so you can verify they’re not showing you an old or out-dated video).

Unfortunately, if you have been scammed, it’s often difficult to get your money back, so if possible, pay with a check so your money can be traced and you can cancel the check if something goes wrong. The good news is that if you follow these tips and use good judgement, you’ll be able to weed out the vast majority of rental scams. Happy apartment hunting!

 

Hello Heller!: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Acceptance Story

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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.

Campus Connections: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

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

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

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

 

Editor’s Note

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, over the past two weeks, in lieu of our regularly scheduled blog posts, I’ve chosen instead to share with you messages from Heller’s class of 2020. We’ll be resuming our content next week: not as a return to business as usual, but because at Heller we recognize that you— our prospective students, our admitted students, our current students, our graduates— can help bring about the change and healing our local communities, campuses, cities, and our country so desperately need, and it’s our role to help you in this journey.

By the time our students arrive at Heller, many have already done amazing things: started their own charities, worked for innovative NGOs, worked on the campaign trail for a political candidate they believed in, served in the Peace Corps, volunteered in their communities, conducted groundbreaking research… our applicants never fail to surprise me with their incredible backgrounds. Our students come to Heller because they are motivated to change the world, and they graduate with the tools to do it.

So in what will certainly be a contentious election year, in the midst of a pandemic, while needed protests are sweeping the nation, I chose to share recordings of two of our commencement speakers because they gave me hope. If you’re reading this, I know that you share the desire to affect the change our world needs, and that gives me hope too.  I look forward to continuing to providing you with information, tips, and perspectives from our current Heller students next week, and beyond.

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

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…

Sustainable International Development Commencement speaker: Prince Mujumbe Salama, MA SID’20

In lieu of our planned post for today, I’d like to share with you the words of this year’s Sustainable International Development Commencement speaker, Prince Mujumbe Salama.

 

I’d like to personally extend my congratulations to all of Heller’s amazing 2020 graduates and to congratulate our prospective students, applicants, and deposited students on their commitment to becoming, as Prince said, “the light that our planet so desperately craves”.

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