Category: Student Perspectives (page 1 of 13)

Hello Heller! Brielle Ruscitti’s Acceptance Story

Brielle Ruscitti, MS GHPM/MA SID'24 Headshot

Brielle Ruscitti, MS GHPM/MA SID’24

Throughout my undergraduate career, I planned to go to medical school. I studied biology, shadowed doctors, participated in research but when it came time to study for the MCAT, I hit a wall. Through my undergrad, I realized that becoming a physician wasn’t the path for me and that my passions lay other places. I had developed a passion for fostering social change, worked with global health non-profits and had completed international development research projects. I had my own version of a quarter life crisis and scrapped my medical school plans.  After some thinking, graduate school was my new plan, and I was specifically looking at social impact MBA programs, which indirectly lead me to Brandeis. I knew I wanted to be on the East Coast and through the classic Google search, I stumbled upon Brandeis, starting reading about Heller and, not too long after, started my application.

At the time, I had recently graduated and was working as a third grade teacher, trying to make plans for the next year. I remember trying to plan ahead when I would make the move to Boston, if I were to be accepted, but was concerned I was planning for something that wasn’t guaranteed. I’m sure you can imagine that I was counting the days to when my admissions letter was going to be released, and I quite literally did: I estimated that it would come on Valentine’s Day, a Monday, and with the two hour time change, my letter should come by three pm… I told myself that was the best case scenario.  Three o’clock passed and I hadn’t received an email. After repeatedly checking my inbox, I headed out to my afternoon duty to help with student pick up and other end of the day activities.  At this point, I assumed that I would hear later and casually checked my email heading back to my classroom. That’s when I saw it: “There has been an update to your portal” and my admissions decision had been released.  Since running isn’t allowed in the hallways, I walked as fast as I could to my computer to check my portal and anxiously checked my letter and read that I had been admitted. I told my co-teacher first, because she was right there.  All I said was “Oh! I got in!” She laughed, shook her head and congratulated me. I laughed and quickly called my partner to share the news and messaged a few other family members.

My immediate feeling after reading my letter was relief. I felt like I knew what I would be doing, where I would be going, and that I could start planning for my future. My partner and I planned to move to the East Coast together and my acceptance cemented our plan – 30 hour road trip, here we come! After I processed what happened, I realized I could start finalizing plans and getting excited. I was excited for my future, the program and my Brandeis experience.

I had applied to other programs in the area, but knew that the Heller school was my top choice. The dual degree program design and field practicum would give me the opportunity study, gain experience, and fine tune my passion and knowledge before starting my career.  We are now about a month into school, and I know I made the right decision. While it is just the start of my time at Heller, I am excited for all that is to come!

Meet My Cohort: Katherine Gagen

Ronunique Clark, MPP'23 headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

In this blog post, I decided to branch away from my own journey, thoughts, and advice. I’m calling this mini blog series “Meet My Cohort”, where I am inviting  some of my classmates from our Fall 2021 cohort into the admissions blog room to hear about their experience before joining Heller and during their time here at Heller.  To kick off this mini blog series I had the lovely opportunity to interview my classmate Katherine Gagen.

Katherine Gagen is 28 years old from Newton, Massachusetts. She joined Heller in Fall 2021, she is now a 2nd year MPP/MBA student concentrating in Economic and Racial Equity. She started with the MPP curriculum upon arrival. During the Fall 2022 semester, she is currently enrolled in two Social Impact MBA courses and two MPP courses. She will be finished with her degree in December 2023.  She has her bachelors degree in Urban Studies and Hispanics Studies from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

headshot of Katherine Gagen

Katherine Gagen, MPP/MBA’23

What did you do before coming to Heller?

After graduating from Trinity College, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship where I served as a English Teacher Assistant in Argentina, assisting individuals who wanted to become English teachers; I did that for a year. I then returned back to the States, where were I worked as an Executive Assistant with a surgeon, which was an entire 180, because I had zero math and science in my background. We traveled around the country, researching health care disparities between people in urban and rural areas, going to locations such as Montana, Puerto Rico, and Appalachia. I was interested in hearing about people’s stories, less on the medical side, but more so on how each community knew what they needed to do and how each community had solutions. I learned there wasn’t a one-size fits all solution. This piqued my interest in policy.  I wanted to be in a more policy focused role and interacting with individuals on a policy level. If I stayed to work with her, I would be doing communications or marketing, which led to my job at the American Academy of  Arts and Sciences, where I served as an associate on their American Institutions society and public goods team. We put out 31 recommendations on constitutional democracy . We worked on a big project “Commission on the practice of democratic citizenship” on its final report “Our common purpose reinventing American democracy for the 21st century”. We talked about civil society, people, community trust building, polarization  Another project I worked on was “Making Access to American Justice”. I worked with this organization for two years. Then it made me realize I needed more skills. Even though I did as much as I did, I felt like I could not move up in the organization. Everyone I worked with had a PhD, so I knew I need to get these skills to do what I wanted to do and to make the impact I wanted to make.

Why did you choose Heller? 

I had known about Heller for a really long time. I grew up in Newton, which is 10 minutes away, but always said I did not want to go to school so close to home. Yet as I was learning more about different master’s programs, there were two things that stood out the most to me about Heller.  The first was the dual degree: schools like NYU have a MPA/MBA program, and other schools had numerous options for dual degrees. But Heller’s MPP/MBA dual degree stuck out to me because I knew I wanted to get the skills of the business degree, because I am not self-motivated enough to find these skills on my own, but public policy and social policy is what I am primarily interested in. The option to get both of these degrees, which compliment each other very well, provides a holistic review on how public and private organizations work together and gives you the skills to move between the two. The second thing that drew me to Heller was their commitment to social justice being underlined throughout all of the courses and all of the degrees.

What is your favorite class  at Heller? 

My favorite class was Practicing Social Justice Philanthropy: Purpose, Practice, and Problems with Professor Celeste Lee. During this class, we talked about what social justice philanthropy is and the questions that come along with it.  I personally want to go into the philanthropic sector, so it was really beneficial for me to talk through this philosophical questions about the most pressing issues happening to people today. We also got the chance to give out grants to organizations: we had $15,000 to give away. We spilt the class into two groups, my group focused on civic engagement and we ran a whole grant cycle putting out request for proposals, reviewed applications, conducted interviews and at the end we invited our grantees to come and celebrate with us. The class provided a good insight on what the grant making process looks like in practice using real world dollars, which was really cool!

What is your most challenging class at Heller? 

Accounting. But I will say the although the course itself is hard, Professor Brenda Anderson is so good at teaching accounting. She makes the hard topic easier to digest.

What are your plans after Heller? 

I would love to work in the philanthropic sector or social impact investing sector. There are a few things I am actually interested in: my public policy interest is in democracy building and urban planning (which is my background and what I studied in undergrad). I am really interested in creating more equitable and democratic cities where people can actually come together across divides. Thinking about how cities are planned, for example: highways are blocked off to so many communities, so how can we reimagine that, and think of creative solutions to not marginalize or cities or segregate our cities. On the philanthropic side, I am interested in looking into the power dynamics that exist between donor and grantee, and how to make this process more equitable as well thinking about what can we do to make the grant application cycle more equitable? How can we redistribute wealth and resources that individuals can actually benefit from, instead of the top-down donor approach of “I want to fund this so I will only be giving money to this certain thing”?  Ideally, if there was a way to combine these two interests, that would be really great. I am burnt-out from the non-profit space so I would be very excited to enter this other world.

Any advice you would  like to give to prospective students?  

Know why you want to attend graduate school. Don’t go to graduate school just to go. Have a reason even if that reason isn’t very specific. I know that sounds contradictory, but don’t do it just to get another degree, go to school with a purpose. If you have a purpose for why you want to go to graduate school, it will make your journey much more manageable in the way you navigate the courses you want to take and help benefit your career. If your purpose of going to graduate school is to narrow down your options, then that is okay, but do not do it just because. Also, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your financial circumstances when applying to graduate school .

Thank you Katherine for stepping into the Heller Admissions Blog Room. Stay tuned for the next post of “Meet My Cohort”!

Best Study Spaces, Part 2

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

In my last post, I shared my recommendations for study spaces at Heller and on the wider Brandeis campus. However, these are not your only options. If you’re in the mood to venture off-campus, here are the top four places I recommend.

Common Good Co.

Common Good Co. (not to be confused with Café on the Common or Common Café) is situated on Moody Street, an easy stroll to the Indian Market, Global Thrift Store, or the Dollar General. Common Good Co. is a café that doubles as a coworking space. It has a very casual and open atmosphere and students are welcome to sit at one of the tables or study on the couch. A few Heller students work here, so it’s very easy to run into someone you know. In addition to a selection of coffees and teas, Common Good Co. has a few baked goods and Cuban sandwiches. This is not the right place to go if you need to work in silence, but if you’re working with a group or looking to chill with other students, Common Good Co. is the place to go. 

Panera Bread

If you’re anything like me, you’ll understand how hard it is to study on an empty stomach. Panera offers a range of soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as indoor (tables or booths) and outdoor seating. The Panera closes at 10pm so it’s a great place to study and fuel up after an evening class. This Panera is located in the Main Street Marketplace, a shopping plaza that includes a salon, an urgent care clinic, and a vitamins and supplements shop. From this plaza, you have easy access to the rest of main street, including the Walgreens and the gas station. 

Waltham Public Library

The Waltham Public Library is conveniently located on Main Street, within easy walking distance from the Hannaford grocery market, the UPS store, and many restaurants. 

Many people do not think of the library as a very tech-savvy place, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! Your library account gets you free access to an eBooks and audiobooks database, movie and music streaming, and online e-learning classes. The library is also a great place to print, copy and scan class documents. If you need a break from academic reading, you can sign up for the library’s newsletter, which will send you tailored recommendations for novels in your favorite genre. In terms of study space, you (and up to three other people) can freely pop into one of the library’s four study rooms for two hours at a time. If you’re studying with a group, you can reserve a larger meeting room. These larger rooms can fit up to 15 people and can be reserved for as little as 30 minutes and as long as 12 hours. International students can also access adult ESL classes and conversation groups at one of the library’s partner organizations or online via their YouTube channel. 

Your Apartment

Sometimes, the best (and most productive) study experience can happen right in your living space. Depending on the layout of your apartment, you may be able to do work in your living room, at your kitchen table, on your balcony, or in your bedroom. Your own apartment is a great option because you have control over the space and the noise-level and you can be intentional about removing distractions. Studying at home also means you don’t have to worry about opening and closing times, or spending money, or changing out of your pajamas! Taking time to arrange your room and apartment’s common areas can lead to better study habits and overall well-being. In my next post, I’ll share tips and tricks on how to liven up your space. 

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!

 

Your First Semester

If you’re headed into your first semester at Heller, it can seem like there’s no end in sight when it comes to the amount of work that needs to get done. And while that’s true, it’s also important to remember that there are some ways you can prepare for this new chapter before you even start your classes. I’ve been there, too— I know how hard it can be to stay organized in graduate school, so I’ve compiled some tips to help you manage your work, stay on top of deadlines, and get through that first semester.

  1. Start strong. Yes, consistency is key, but the stronger you start off in your classwork, the better you’ll be prepared down the line, when assignments, exams, and group projects start to pile up. When I was in graduate school, I liked to start each semester by gathering all of my syllabi together and putting down important dates in my planner so I could see when things were coming up. That helped me to manage my time consistently.
  2. Reach out for help early. At this point in the semester, things haven’t gotten hectic for students or faculty yet, so take advantage of that. Spend the first couple of weeks getting to know your professors (see if they have walk-in office hours: it doesn’t have to be for a specific assignment, it can be to connect with them and to learn about what makes a student successful in their courses) and learning about the abundant amount of resources available to you on campus.
  3. Set a consistent schedule an stick to it. Do you work best first thing in the morning? Right after lunch? Late at night? Set aside a few times a week that you can commit to classwork and readings. Sometimes you’ll need more time, and sometimes less, but that’s okay: if you have less, it’s a good time to get ahead of schedule and prepare for the weeks ahead (i.e., start working on final projects or reviewing notes from classes). If you end up needing more time, it’s easier to find it when you at least have a few reliable times that you can dedicate to your work. You’ll find yourself working more efficiently if you know what your limits are and how long they last.

We hope that this will help you stay organized and set yourself up for success in graduate school. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about how to be more successful in graduate school, let us know!  Good luck; we hope that you enjoy your first semester of grad school!

Andy’s Best Study Spaces, Part 1

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

Across Brandeis campus, fall classes have officially begun! With a new semester (and for new students on an unfamiliar campus), an important question comes up – where are the best places to study? In today’s post, I will share my top three recommendations for study spaces on campus.

Best for Group Work

Around the corner from the Heller School building is the Goldfarb library. This library has an open area on the ground floor as well as multiple descending levels. If you’re looking to work with a group, however, the best place to go is the upstairs wing next to the Maker Lab. This space is much more casual and lounge friendly with couches and cushion-y chairs. There is a shelf full of board games if you need a mental break. There are also large group tables where you can hook up your laptop to a projector. The lower level of this space houses the Starbucks so you and your group mates can fuel up before or after your meeting. 

Best for Quietness 

If you’re willing to walk a bit, it’s a great idea to check out the Shapiro Campus Center. Most people go here for the Einstein’s or to buy school swag, but it also has a great study space. On the upper level, there is a small computer lab with MacBooks and desks that fit one-to-two people. This room has huge windows that let in a lot of natural light so you don’t feel like you’re studying in a cave. There tends not to be any talking in this computer lab and it’s high enough in the building that the noise downstairs doesn’t travel up, so it’s the perfect spot if you need a quiet space. It’s out of the way enough that you’re less likely to run into people you know – which can be useful if you’re a person who gets distracted easily.

Best for Spaciousness

If you don’t want to wander too far from the Heller School, the Schneider building has study spaces of its own. The areas my classmates and I have used the most are the breakout rooms next to the main classrooms. These rooms seat a ton of people and include both a whiteboard and a projector. This is great for practicing presentations or writing out accounting problems. These breakout rooms have large tables so if you are studying alone, you have the space to really spread out. In my next post, I’ll talk about the best study spaces off-campus.

Andy’s Second Year Fall Schedule

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

On August 25th, I will officially be starting my second – and final – year of graduate school. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed so quickly! As a dual degree student, my schedule this fall looks a lot different from my single degree peers. 

In the Social Impact MBA, the courses follow a strict sequence. Through this format, the concepts build on each other as we progress through the course load. It also means that we go through the core courses together as a cohort, building a strong sense of camaraderie along the way. In contrast, the design of the MA in Sustainable International Development (SID) program has a bit more flexibility and freedom. While students are required to take courses in required subject matter (Gender, Economics, Ethics, and Environment), students have a selection of courses they can choose from to fulfill these requirements. SID students also have the freedom to choose in what order they take these courses. This greater ability to tailor your schedule also means that you are less likely to be in class with the same students course after course. I’ve found that I need to be a lot more intentional when it comes to building relationships with students in my SID cohort. Another distinction between the MBA and MA-SID course design is the length of courses. MBA courses are almost entirely full semester, meaning students are able to get very deep and granular with the material. In contrast, most SID courses are modules – essentially half-semester courses. This means SID students are able to get exposed to many more topics, but are unable to do the kind of deep-dive that is possible in a semester-length course. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other – it’s all about maximizing the advantages inherent in each program.

This semester, my classes primarily meet on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from 9:00-11:50am. Earlier in the week, I will be taking the final two classes of my MBA degree – Human Resources Management and Evaluation for Managers (a module course). When Evaluation for Managers comes to an end mid-way through the semester, I will start Applied Cost-Benefit Analysis for Development Practitioners. I’ll also have a Friday afternoon class and, in the second half of the semester, I’ll have a Wednesday evening course. My Friday courses are Gender and the Environment in the morning followed by Ethics, Rights, and Development in the afternoon from 2:20-5:10pm. My Wednesday evening course will be an Introduction to GIS and will take place from 6:30-9:20pm – I may need to become a coffee drinker to make it through! 

The biggest difference between this fall semester and my first fall semester is that I will also be interning with the Social Innovation Forum! Since MBA students complete their capstone projects in the summer between their first and second years, students have the option of completing a part-time internship in their second fall. Although it’s not required, an internship is a great experiential learning and networking opportunity. Students who complete a fall internship receive both academic credit AND a stipend. The time commitment for the internship is about 10 hours a week and many, at the moment, are done partly or entirely remotely. My internship with the Social Innovation Forum (SIF) will involve research support for the organization’s new national leadership initiative. I’m looking forward to learning more about SIF’s approach to social change and networking building among nonprofit practitioners. Overall, I’m really satisfied with my fall course schedule and am excited for this next leg of my graduate school journey to begin. 

Ariel’s Advice for Getting the Most out of Heller

Ariel Wexler, MBA/SID22

Ariel Wexler, MBA/SID22

The Heller School is community-oriented, an environment that leans towards collaboration over competition. Graduate school is understandably a huge decision for someone and one that any person would want to get the full value from.  Admittedly, I was uncertain I would attend Brandeis when I was deciding where to go to graduate school. I applied to 8 different schools and was weighing my options. There are so many factors that go into making such a crucial decision, especially one that will enhance one’s career.  I ultimately chose The Heller School because I was able to combine my interest in obtaining technical business skills with a social impact lens in addition to continuing to work within a global scope. The combined dual Social Impact MBA/MA in Sustainable International Development was the best program offering for my interests and career trajectory. Now that I have graduated I can reflect on what made my experience significant and how you can get the most from your studies.

Tips and insights from a recent graduate:

  1. Connect: Developing relationships with professors, administrators, TA’s, and staff is a great way to connect with the greater Heller community. Professors are very friendly and approachable, if you have specific research and or career interest in mind make sure to reach out to relevant individuals that may be able to connect you with networking opportunities and resources in the future. Although I was quite shy during my studies I realize the positive impact introducing yourself to professors and staff can have. It’s also a great way to engage more in the classroom and seek out help when needed.
  2. Get Involved: Getting involved with working groups, on-campus jobs, speaker series, and other extracurricular activities is a great opportunity to get to know your peers better. I took advantage of the following extracurricular activities at Heller: Heller Board Fellows, Heller Startup Challenge, Brandeis Innovation’s Spark Incubator Program, and The Social Impact Case Collection. Getting involved with a program outside of the classroom helped develop my leadership skills and most importantly created a great sense of community and purpose as a graduate student.
  3. Take initiative: If you have a specific passion or interest that you want to explore there is always room to apply them to your studies. For example, at Heller, a majority of course assignments and projects are completed as a team and with your topic of interest. The advantage to this format is that you can tailor the majority of your studies to your passion and something you want to transfer to your career. Secondly, working under a common interest for example; housing justice, financial literacy, agricultural livelihoods, etc. allows you to bond through collaboration with other students. Lastly, The Heller Student Enrichment Funds and the Graduate Student Affairs are two great resources for students to subsidize or fund conference or research projects.
  4. Network: Informational interviews with Heller alumni is a great way to learn more about the job market and what type of career pursuits you may want to take advantage of upon graduation. Boston is a city with cutting-edge industries and innovation, explore the city and attend city-wide events for young professionals and students!

Most importantly, have fun, and best of luck!

The Graduate Housing Search

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

Moving to a new area can be daunting, but also very exciting! In two weeks, I’ll be moving to a new apartment for my second year of study. All the packing, cleaning, and decluttering has had me thinking back to my original experience moving to the Waltham area last year.

I began very casually looking for housing as early as late January 2021. In that month, I added myself to the Facebook Housing groups, signed up for the graduate housing email listserv, and began doing some very basic research on the neighborhoods in the area, such as Somerville, Cambridge, and Newton. I began responding to apartment listings in earnest in April. At the time, I was in a bit of an untraditional situation. I was technically based in Chicago, where I was doing access to justice work with a legal aid office as part of the AmeriCorps program. In early 2021, my office was still fully remote, so I moved back temporarily to Morocco, where I had completed Peace Corps two years earlier. This move allowed me to save up much more money toward grad school but, at the same time, it meant I could not visit any of the Waltham area listings in person and had to rely on photos and video tours. To give myself an advantage, I reasoned that I would aim to do a summer sublet in the area. This would give me time to get used to Waltham before school started and would allow me to be on the ground to scope out other places for the fall should I not end up liking my summer accommodation.

One of the most stressful things about the housing search is how limited the housing is in the Greater Boston area. Many people will be familiar with the housing crisis that had been affecting large coastal cities in the US even prior to the pandemic. Given Greater Boston’s 118 academic institutions, every year students flock to this area for degree programs and internships. Simply put, the demand is greater than the supply. Starting early allowed me to get a sense of the type of housing available and what areas made the most sense for my budget and commute. In particular, I made sure to note how far each apartment was from grocery stores, supermarkets, and public transportation. The Branda and MBTA apps were really helpful for learning the bus routes. By the time I was looking in earnest in April, I knew roughly what I was looking for. 

To stay organized, I created a very basic spreadsheet. On this sheet, I kept track of the contact person (usually one of the current tenants, but sometimes also the landlord or broker), the associated costs (including monthly rent, security deposit, broker fee, application fee), move-in dates, number of roommates, address, and distance from campus. 

It was really easy to find roommates who were also graduate students at either the Heller School, the International Business School, or the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences because they are also all looking for housing in the same area close to Brandeis. For me, this has been a great way to connect with people outside of my program. 

My biggest piece of advice is this – although housing is limited, you should not feel pressured to take the first thing you find. If you start early enough, you will end up having a few different options to choose between. This will make sure you find accommodation that is really right for you, rather than having to commit to something unsuitable out of desperation. With a little preparation, you can find a great new place to call home.

Get Involved! The Value of Student Working Groups

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

A university is not only defined by its ranking, degree programs, or faculty members. It is also defined by the quality and vibrancy of its campus community. When I was in undergrad, I worked 31 hours a week in the EdTech department. While I absolutely loved this experience, working this many hours as a full-time student meant that I did not have as much of a chance to become involved in the many student organizations on campus. Coming to Heller for graduate school gave me a second chance to get involved in the campus community. 

To understand the landscape of graduate student working groups, I attended a variety of info sessions, as well as the Fall Student Groups Fair held in the Zinner forum. At this fair, e-board (Executive Board) members from active student groups set up a table and talked with attendees about their working group’s mission, activities, and plans for the semester. All the groups had such good energy and were involved in really interesting initiatives. I left the fair wishing there were enough hours in the day to be a part of every group! 

During the lunchtime hour sometime later, I attended a follow-up info session with the Brandeis University Africa Forum (BUAF) which was led by two MBA/SID second year students, one of whom had been my TA for the summer Quantitative Fundamentals course. BUAF is a working group of African students and other members of Heller’s community who are interested in African history and the continent’s socio-economic development. Their mission is to coordinate cultural, professional, and social events to provide learning experiences, expand partnerships, and foster a sense of community on campus. I was immediately energized by the BUAF mission. A few weeks later, I was elected as Secretary and my tenure on BUAF’s e-board began! 

Although I’m a dual MBA/SID student, I have only been taking one SID class a semester. This means I have not had nearly as much interaction with members of my SID cohort as I have had with students in the MBA program, who I am in the majority of classes with. Being a part of BUAF has allowed me to connect and build relationships with not only other SID students, but with graduate students from other programs who I might otherwise not have had any interactions with. BUAF allowed me to learn from other professionals who’d worked and studied on the continent. By organizing a dialogue series in collaboration with my fellow e-board members Peter Masue, Shiko Rugene, Martin Alexis and Nush Laywhyee, BUAF was able to create space for dynamic, social impact-oriented conversations about current events and their impact on the continent. So far, our Africa Speaks sessions have covered such topics as the political and economic impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war on Africa and the military conflicts in Sudan and Burkina Faso. 

By far, the most rewarding aspect of my time with BUAF has been being able to experience the richness of multiple communities, including the larger graduate population at Brandeis, my fellow Heller students, and especially the black, African, and diasporic presence on campus. As a school with Jewish roots, the African community and student body may not be the first thing that comes to people’s minds when you think of Brandeis. However, the work of BUAF is helping people recognize and appreciate that this community is here. It’s active and warm and vibrant and deeply engaged in the work of creating a space outside of classes where students can connect, support each other, and have fun together!

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