Category: Research

Health at Heller

It’s no secret that Heller is a top school for students interested in health policy or healthcare management. We’re proud to be ranked in the the top ten of U.S. News and World’s Report of graduate schools for health policy and management, placing at #8 on their list for 2023 (to paraphrase Beyoncé, “Top ten and we ain’t number ten”). There are so many wonderful faculty and students working on health policy, healthcare management, and healthcare systems at Heller that it might be a little overwhelming to figure out where you might fit in. Today, I’ve compiled a list of the programs and concentrations that focus on health at Heller so that you can find the right one for you!

Master of Public Policy: The MPP degree at Heller has not one, but two concentrations that focus on health & healthcare. The Health Policy concentration prepares students to address persistent problems in access, cost and quality. Areas of focus include health care delivery system reform, improvements in the social determinants of health and enacting improvements through state and national health care reform. Students in the Behavioral Health Policy concentration focus on the intersection of health, behavior, and systems of care, working to improve these systems in order to promote healthier lifestyles and assist individuals to engage in behaviors which lead to better health.

Social Impact MBA: The Healthcare Management concentration in our Social Impact MBA program prepares students to make an impact in today’s complex, ever-changing U.S. healthcare landscape. Whether you’re interested in addressing racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic healthcare disparities or developing strategies for cost reduction, with a concentration in Healthcare Management from Heller, you can contribute your expertise and insight as a manager, researcher, policy analyst or advisor working for a government agency, nonprofit or consultancy.

Master of Science in Global Health Policy and Management: Heller’s 9-month MS in Global Health Policy and Management program offers two concentrations: the Health Systems concentration and a STEM-designated concentration in Health Economics and Analytics. Regardless of the concentration, students graduate with a holistic understanding of health system design and function, so they’re prepared to design systems that will improve health outcomes for people around the world. 

PhD in Social Policy: The PhD program at Heller also has two concentrations that focus on health policy and health systems. The Health concentration in Heller’s PhD program prepares graduates for challenging careers developing research and policy that influence the quality, accessibility, financing and delivery of healthcare in the United States and globally. The Behavioral Health concentration prepares graduates for research and policy careers that focus on the intersection and linkage of health, behavior, and systems of care, targeting alcohol, drugs, and mental health issues.

Students in these programs benefit from access to the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy and Research, which conduct more than two-thirds of the outside-funded research at the Heller School and are the largest research institutes within Brandeis University, examining a variety of issues in the U.S. healthcare system, including access, quality, healthcare, delivery and utilization, and cost.

My Summer Internship Story

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

“Work all winter so you can have fun all summer” or whatever the kids are saying nowadays… was not my experience this summer! Since my sophomore year of high-school, I’ve challenged myself to obtain an internship during my summer breaks. Internships grant students the opportunity to showcase their soft skills, but also gives the chance to learn new skills. It provides the opportunity to gain real life work experience that is transferable to your future career goals and even in the classroom.

For the Master of Public Policy program here at Heller, it is highly recommended to do an internship over the summer for the reasons stated above and many others. This summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Department of Revenue – Child Support Enforcement  Division at the Metro office in Downtown Boston Government Center area. The Department of Revenue (DOR)  in Massachusetts manages the states taxes and child support. In addition to this, DOR  helps cities and towns manage their finances and administer the Underground Storage Tank program. The main focus of this agency is rulings and regulations, tax policy analysis, communications and legislative affairs.

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE)  Division provides tools and services to parents who pay child support and parents and caretakers who receive child support. Child support is a way for parents to share financial responsibility for their child even though they do not live together.  Even though I have previous experience in social/human services, the child support office was just a place I knew no parent wanted to be summoned too. The stereotyping around child support is that the state just wants to take your money and give it to a person that you no longer want to have any connections with whatsoever. Yet the person you no longer want to have relations with is now either the mother or father of your child or children, sealing that connection for life. So who is really at fault? Certainly not the child, so the DOR steps in. In the past year the division has allocated $2 million in compensation for children in Massachusetts.

My work was very clear, transparent, and extremely eye-opening. I worked from home Mondays and Fridays and hopped the orange line train Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  As I have stated in previous blogs, I have learned to attend new experiences with minimal  preconceived notions and expectations, especially with the work I would be doing and the customers I would interact with. I was tasked with a two part summer project which required me to take a deep dive into our GMT testing process. GMT Testing in “normal people terms” is paternity testing in order to establish paternity between the child and alleged father.  All parties, alleged father, mother, and child have to participate in paternity testing.  The first part of the project, I spent time conducting data analysis using Excel about variations in our appointment attendance and testing result rates. I was able to provide Regional Directors with data that would help them meet their testing goals for the fiscal year. This part was daunting, to say the least, because I had minimal Excel experience beforehand but my supervisor never held that against me and trained me efficiently on how to navigate it. I wouldn’t say I am an Excel guru now but I certainly obtained good Excel skills.

For the second part of my project, I conducted a phone survey with mothers who were on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or formerly receiving TANF about their experiences with the GMT test process. I chose TANF mothers as my sample population because majority of child support case referrals are directly from our DTA offices. I called 90 mothers in hopes they would participate in my survey, and I received a response from 37 mothers, which, for me, was huge because I had never conducted a phone survey, and because I did not know if these women would even want to participate. I was able to gather information regarding trouble with scheduling of appointments, problems accessing the testing location, and concerns with our policies. Being able to hear these mothers stories and concerns made me feel extremely anxious, because I am a public policy student who is currently trying to break into this system. However, the system was already established in a way where all I could say to mothers who expressed concerns I was not trained for was, “I will take down your information and pass it along.” I sympathized with these mothers as a child whose mother applied to receive child support, yet rarely was given anything. I was able to present these findings in a final presentation followed by my personal recommendations to CSE regional directors who were very pleased with the results. However, I can not tell you if they will follow through with the feedback and recommendations. Maybe it will be a blog for another time? I hope!

To close out, I can say I was very proud of the work I was able to produce, the skills I was able to learn, and the people I connected with over the course of my summer.  I enjoyed my work so much that I switched my concentration from Economic and Racial Equity to Child, Youth, and Family Policy (CYF). I felt that the CYF concentration would be able to provide me with the tools to that would foster a healthy development of children, youth, and families a concentration that I honestly should of started with from the begin of my graduate school journey. Better late then never, right? Excited to see what this concentration entails as I approach my final year of grad school. Thank you, DOR, for an amazing summer and thank you, Heller, for providing me with the tools to succeed in that space!

 

My Team Consulting Project Experience

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

On May 16, 2022, with a mind full of questions, a heart full of hope, and a suitcase full of island clothing, I boarded a plane with four of my MBA classmates. Destination: Belize City. This wasn’t the start of a “hot girl summer” vacation trip (though we made sure to fit in some much-needed beach time!). Our purpose in Belize was to conduct field research with The Nature Conservancy and the Belize Women Seaweed Farmers Association – two organizations at the forefront of the growing sustainable seaweed mariculture industry in Central America – as part of our Team Consulting Project (TCP). 

Instead of a thesis or practicum, Heller’s Social Impact MBA program culminates in a summer-long capstone project where MBA students form groups and provide consulting services for a client organization looking for support addressing a real-world management issue. This process started months before our plane departed Boston Logan Airport. It actually began mid-way through spring semester when the MBA Administration, headed by Carole Carlson and Larry Bailis, reached out with a survey asking for us to indicate industries and organizations of interest. What started off as a 50+ long list has been whittled down to 5 TCP groups serving 5 dynamic organizations. The selection process officially began with the TCP Fair, a two-hour evening event where organizations pitched themselves and their specific management challenge. From there, our cohort talked amongst ourselves, set up small group meetings with clients of interest, and obsessively monitored our ever-shifting “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet (created by the lovely Laura Burroughs!). 

My experience in the Heller Start-Up Challenge and in the SPARK Business Incubator program inspired an interest in working with early-stage entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color. As a result, I originally gravitated toward the Boston Impact Initiative. At the same time, my prior experience working with Syrian refugees and job-seeking immigrants piqued my interest in the Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Then again, as an RPCV and current student in the dual Social Impact MBA & MA in Sustainable International Development programs, I was eager to use this capstone project to further my experience working with local organizations in emerging markets. I was pulled in so many directions!

Around that time, I learned about a group of (at the time) second year students who had met with their TCP client, a women-owned coffee-centered social enterprise called Chica Bean, on the ground in Guatemala the prior summer with the support of funding from the Heller Enrichment Funds and the Office of Graduate Student Affairs. I was excited to learn that this was a possibility, but was unsure of what international organizations might be a feasible option. 

As the weeks went by, potential teams formed, collapsed, or reshuffled. At times, I felt super excited and hopeful about the upcoming TCP experience. Other times, I felt lost and overwhelmed by all of the options. Sometimes I was anxious. Would I make the right decision? Would I choose poorly and have an awful experience? I knew I had to be strategic, but did that mean prioritizing a project in an industry I had experience in or branching out into something new? I wasn’t sure if it was possible to have it all- the best team and the most epic project – so I zeroed in on identifying solid teammates. 

As I mentioned earlier, that spring I was also participating in weekly workshops with SPARK, an on-campus business accelerator for students who successfully pitched prize-winning start-up concepts at the SPARKTank competition. I was really impressed with the creativity and thoughtfulness of the five MBA cohort members who had also earned a spot in this incubator program. It was easy to imagine conducting a successful TCP project with (some combination of!) these classmates. However, based on our sprawling “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet, each of these classmates was interested in a different organization. Would there be a way for us to come together and agree on a project that suited everyone?

Tune in to my next blog post to see how our team finally formed and how we chose an organization to work with!

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.

Is the PhD in Social Policy right for me?

Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2021 is drawing to a close, we’re beginning to gear up for the Fall 2022 entry cycle, which means we’re doing a pivot over here on the blog: while we’ve been focusing on the needs of our admitted students for the last few months, now I’ll be shifting my focus to those of you who are just embarking on your journey to find the right program. Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a spotlight on our six programs to help you figure out if one of Heller’s programs is right for you. Next up?

PhD in Social Policy

What is it? The Heller PhD curriculum trains students to ask critical questions about social policies and their outcomes and to conduct rigorous, creative research in search of solutions to persistent social problems. The PhD program consists of a small set of core requirements, allowing students to design learning plans that support a broad array of research interests. Students in our program major in one of our four concentrations: Health; Behavioral Health; Economic and Racial Equity; or Children, Youth, and Families. In each of these, faculty resources and research centers of the Heller School are used to enrich the academic environment and also provide opportunities for students to work on research, outside practical training, and broaden their career network.

Who’s it for? Our typical PhD student has between 5-10 years of work experience, although we do sometimes admit students with less experience if they have strong academics. They’re driven to make systemic changes in policy rather than work with individuals, and they’re interested in conducting the research necessary for making informed policy decisions. If you’re the sort of person that likes doing a deep dive into social issues and wants to contribute to the body of knowledge advancing social issues, the PhD in Social Policy program might be right for you.

What kinds of classes will I take? You’ll take 60 credits over the course of two years before moving onto the dissertation stage of your degree. Courses in the Heller PhD program fall largely into three ‘buckets’: theory, methods, and your concentration area. In addition, you’ll be able to take electives like Immigrant Integration in the US: Policy, Practice and PeopleFoundations in Social Theory: From the Early Twentieth Century to Critical Race Theory, and Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Social Policy. From there, you’ll move onto your comprehensive exam and the dissertation stage of your degree, where you’ll select a four-person dissertation committee tailored to the needs of your specific dissertation topic. The committee members serve as mentors and guides through the dissertation process and always include a scholar from outside the Heller community (this could be a professor within Brandeis, someone you’ve worked with at another university, or someone working on research in your field).

Where will it take me? After graduation, about a third of our students go into academia, another third go onto work in research institutes and the last third go into roles within the government or non-profit organizations. However, regardless of what sector they’re operating in, most of our recent graduates are taking on roles related to research: recent graduates (graduating within five years) have job titles like Deputy Director of Regional & Community Outreach, Director of Research of the Institute for Health Equity, or Director for Behavioral Health and Opioid Stewardship. Students who have graduated ten or more years ago have titles like Associate Professor/Executive Director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation;  President of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate; and Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

How is Heller’s program different? Heller is a top 10 school of social policy, home to 10 renowned research centers and institutes that cover social policy areas ranging from disability policy to asset inequality. Heller PhD students concentrate in one of four policy areas (Health; Behavioral Health; Economic and Racial Equity; or Children, Youth, and Families), each of which is linked to a Heller research institute. The PhD cohorts within Heller are usually under fifteen students per year, allowing for increased interaction with faculty and facilitating tight-knit cohorts. Heller also provides funding for full-time PhD students for their first four years, including a stipend; at Heller, PhD funding is not contingent on working as a teaching assistant or research assistant. Many of our students do work as TAs or RAs, but your funding package is to reward you for the work you’ve already done, so any money you make as a TA or RA would go straight into your pocket.

Library Appreciation Day with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

After attending a really interesting library workshop this afternoon, I realized that for this week’s blog I’d like to give a shout out to the Brandeis library, especially since tomorrow (April 16th) is National Librarian Day. The library is an incredible resource for Brandeis students, and despite having not set foot in the building itself in over a year I still take advantage of their services on a weekly basis. And, after a year of studying at home without a change in scenery, I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of library study spaces next semester!

Here are some of my favorite features of the Brandeis library:

Research resources (virtual and physical)

The library has amazing resources for conducting research using primary and secondary sources. Innumerable databases and archival resources are available, as are physical primary source documents such as those held as part of Brandeis’ US government publication depository. These really come in handy if you need to find specific legislation or review the Congressional Record, as may be needed to write papers for MPP and other courses at Heller. In my experience, Brandeis has an excellent selection of books regarding 20th century US social and political history – while writing several papers in my first year, such as one on the role of left-wing organizers in the early US labor movement, I found lots of additional sources just by wandering the stacks near a book whose call number I’d found online.

…not to mention research librarians!

Two research librarians are available to assist Heller students with research, while data science librarians and other professional staff can assist with specific research needs and technology tools. An hour meeting with a research librarian will be more productive in terms of finding resources and refining a thesis than many hours spent spinning your wheels alone (speaking from experience). Heller-specific resources are available here.

Periodicals and software

In addition to academic research databases, Brandeis students have access to lots of archival newspaper records as well as free access to some current newspapers and periodicals like the New York Times. Additionally, lots of free or discounted software is available – for example, STATA, which is used in statistics courses at Heller, and ArcMap, used in Heller’s GIS mapping electives. It’s great to have a chance to learn these tools, for free, during grad school. Plus, we get a free LinkedIn Learning subscription, which is a great resource for learning how to use data science software or strengthen other technical and professional skills.

Workshops

In addition to LinkedIn Learning, the library itself offers countless workshops on a wide variety of topics. I’ve set a personal goal of doing as many qualitative and quantitative data–focused workshops as I can this semester. In just the past few weeks there have been workshops about qualitative data coding in Atlas.TI (great if you are doing interview-based research), basic and advanced Excel skills, and text mining using R.

Study spaces

As I mentioned earlier, I’m really looking forward to studying on campus again. The library has some beautiful spaces, some featuring tall windows and natural light, some nestled underground by the stacks for when you really need to hunker down. There are standing and treadmill desks, large tables for group work, comfy chairs, and computer clusters. There’s also a Starbucks location – critical!

This barely scratches the surface of what is available through the library – there’s also the Writing Center, Sound and Image Media Studios, the MakerLab, and University Archives. Brandeis is a major research university that manages to feel like a small college, and the library, with its vast yet approachable resources, really reflects that. The library should be one of your first stops if you visit Brandeis – having fun is guaranteed.

Heller Reading List: Doug Nevins Shares His Favorite Readings

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

For this week’s blog post, I’ll be reflecting on a few interesting readings which were assigned in my MPP courses this past year. Before starting my program,  I actually missed having assigned readings and the opportunity to discuss them in a class setting. Heller has more than lived up to my expectations in terms of the rigor and relevance of assigned readings.

Summer reading: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander Cover of The New Jim Crow

MPP students typically read this book over the summer and discuss it with their cohort during orientation. While I had been familiar with some of Alexander’s findings and arguments, I had never read the complete book until last summer (I regret not doing so sooner). It is truly a remarkable, troubling, and eye-opening book. The book documents how mass incarceration functions as the newest form of racist, structural oppression in a long history of oppressive systems in the United States. Alexander is particularly adept at tracing the judicial history that has codified our racist policing and carceral systems and insulated them from legal challenges. I think The New Jim Crow is essential reading (for policy students and for pretty much anyone), particularly in our current moment.

Fall and spring semester: The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Gøsta Esping-Andersen

Cover of the Three Worlds of Welfare CapitalismI know – it probably sounds a bit dry! However, reading selections from this book in two courses at Heller really influenced my thinking about history and comparative political economy. If you’ve heard Bernie Sanders talk about the virtues of Danish health care and social welfare, but wondered what historical factors actually influenced the differences between US and European social policy, this book provides an excellent introduction. It served as excellent fodder for classroom debates about how fixed and permanent the differences between the three welfare state models identified by Esping-Andersen actually are, and about what lessons we might draw from non-US contexts about ways to improve our own system.

Fall semester: Beaten Down, Worked Up by Steven GreenhouseCover of Beaten Down, Worked Up

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I am very interested in labor history and policy, and thoroughly enjoyed the elective which I took on this subject in Fall 2019. This book provided an excellent and very readable historical overview of several key periods in US labor history, from early victories by garment workers’ unions in NYC, to the conflicts between public-sector unions and Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, to cutting edge organizing efforts led by gig economy workers. Greenhouse is a former NY Times labor reporter, and his style is both informative and fun to read. Prof. Bob Kuttner invited Greenhouse to visit our class and discuss labor history past and present. This was a great opportunity to hear stories about labor organizing and to learn a bit more about the process of reporting on unions worker-led organizations.

I’ve really appreciated the balance of different types of assigned readings at Heller, which has included accessible non-fiction works, journalistic and historical accounts, political and sociological theory, and policy and research reports. I hope these three examples provide some insight into the value of the readings assigned in the MPP curriculum. I know I’m looking forward to this coming year’s assignments as well!

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