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Hello Heller! Hannah Plumb’s Acceptance Story

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

I distinctly remember when I got my acceptance letter from Heller. I was at a friend’s house, watching Bridgerton and unwinding from an exceptionally long work week. I heard my phone ding from an email notification and I excitedly pulled up the email. I held my breath while pulling up the page and waited for the response to appear…accepted!!

I yelled in excitement and my friend and I paused the show to get hype about it. We had a drink and some chocolate chip cookies to celebrate— might not seem like much, but I was incredibly excited. The journey to graduate school had been a bit of a tumultuous one for me .

After finishing my undergraduate degree in Communications, I was incredibly burnt out from school and unlike most of my friends, decided I wanted to work for a while before going back to school. I enrolled in the Peace Corps and was planning on spending the next two years of my life learning about Indonesian culture and the development world— COVID had other plans, however.

When I got evacuated from Peace Corps, I had no idea what to do. The plan I’d had for my life was suddenly in pieces. I took a random job at a COVID testing site to get back on my feet, and started reevaluating my next steps. I knew that I wanted to stay in the realm of nonprofit work and that I wanted to have an international focus. I started applying for jobs in these areas but was having little luck since several of them required Master’s degrees or more experience (and we were in the pandemic— the job market wasn’t great).

From there, I decided to look at the Heller school, and immediately it intrigued me. I loved the focus on social justice, the diversity of the student body, the interdisciplinary skills it focused on, and the practicality of the program. It was different than most of the other programs I’d looked at, and best of all, it had an incredible financial aid package too. That made it so much more affordable!

After talking to another Peace Corps volunteer who had gone to Heller, my decision was set. If they accepted me, that’s where I would be going. And lucky for me, they did, so here I am at Heller now 🙂

How to Choose the Right Program: Attending a Virtual Prospective Student Event

About a year ago, I wrote a few posts about how to find the right graduate program for you in How to Choose the Right Graduate Program: Narrowing Your Search and How to Choose the Right Program: Doing Your Research. In the Doing Your Research post, I referenced that one of the best ways to do your research is to attend prospective student events for the programs you’re interested in. At Heller, we’re currently adding Virtual Events for Prospective Students, so I want to share some quick do’s and don’ts for attending a virtual event for prospective students that will ensure that you get the most out of the session and make the best first impression possible.

✓ DO be camera ready. I get it, it’s tempting to keep your camera off and take the meeting from bed, in your pajamas. But this is your chance to make a first impression, and it’s hard to connect with a blackened Zoom box. There’s no need for a suit and tie, but aim for business casual. If the room behind you is visible, make sure it’s in a reasonably presentable state, or better yet, use a Zoom background if your camera has the capability. A good rule of thumb is to prepare the way you would if this were a virtual meeting with your supervisor.

X DON’T use Zoom as a chance to zone out. Treat this event the way you would an in-person event: that means keeping your phone in your pocket (or across the room, if you’re like me and have a difficult time resisting the siren call of Instagram). It can be really tempting to use a Zoom meeting as an opportunity to multi-task; after all, what’s the harm of checking your email when you’re already on the computer, right? But it means you’ll be less focused and engaged, which is detrimental to you and can come across as rude to the person speaking.

✓ DO research who will be presenting. No, you don’t have to know the high school that the program director went to, or Insta-stalk the current students on the panel, but as much as possible, you should try to familiarize yourself with who is presenting and prepare appropriate questions. For faculty or program directors: “Do any of your current research projects employ students?” “What type of student is successful in this program?” “Do your classes rely more on independent work or collaboration?” For current students: “What surprised you about this program?” “How available are faculty members?” “What’s been your favorite class and why?” For alumni: “What skills did you gain in the program that have proved most useful?” “How helpful was the Career Development Center in finding employment?” You can even write these on post-it notes to stick to your computer so you won’t forget!

X DON’T be afraid to engage. That goes beyond asking questions, although that’s certainly one way to show that you’re engaged and interested. Leaving your camera on, nodding and smiling when someone makes a point you agree with, and using Zoom’s reactions and chat function to respond to others’ questions and points are all other good ways to interact with the presenters and show that you’re interested. Another good tip is to look into your camera instead of the screen; it may seem counter-intuitive, but to others, that will make it appear that you’re establishing eye contact.

✓ DO follow up. Writing a note to the host of the event afterward is a great way to set yourself apart and an opportunity to ask any further follow-up questions. Even if you don’t have any more questions, even thanking them for hosting the event and telling them something you appreciated establishes that you’re paying attention and have a legitimate interest in the program.

Exposing the Umbrageous Underbelly of Ultimate Frisbee

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

176 terms.

From “anhyzer” to “zipper”, The Ultimate Frisbee Glossary contains 176 terms understood to most well-versed Ultimate Frisbee vernaculars. My vernacular, however, is neither well-versed in ultimate nor spacious enough to understand and memorize all 176 terms in a brief span of time. The moment you walk onto the field, the socially agreed-upon medium of communication (ultimate slang) was quite literally a foreign language to my ears. So, you may be shocked to learn that I was a bit underprepared for my first ultimate frisbee experience earlier this week.

As I strutted with my head held high onto the rugby field, now outfitted to accommodate ultimate players, I quickly realized that the Summer league I had joined to stay active and build community was not quite the casual-community-watering-hole vibe I had anticipated. No problem, I half-heartedly reassured myself, when an opportunity presents itself I can adapt. I am in decent shape and played group sports for years, how hard can this new sport be to understand?

So this is where I need to elaborate on the circumstances that eventuated my tarnished first interaction with this sport of a thousand terms. As a member of the green team, or “Green Baes” to be exact, I was tasked with donning a green shirt. Well, with no green shirt to be found in my closet hours before the duel, I figured green leggings would suffice; they, in fact, did not. So, my captain generously borrowed me a spare green shirt. Problem solved!

Problem NOT solved! The game commences, all while my knowledge of this sport is limited to my very mediocre ability to toss the disc in the correct general direction. At this point, I am just running and hoping the frisbee stays far from me. Shoot! I get passed the disc – immediate panic ensues. The other team’s best defender is in my face yelling, “stalling one, stalling two…” as I scan the field for teammates. Now, I played man-to-man defense in basketball and understand that typically you match with your equal, be it in height, size or skill level. So, in this 5-second time span (I know it was 5 seconds because there was a human yelling with each passing second into my face) I am questioning why this defender is paired with me.

I come off the field uncomfortable with the intensity with which they are treating me, a newbie. Just then, an ultimate frisbee enthusiast fan rises from their well-worn red camping chair and congratulates me on being part of the basically professional level ultimate frisbee team in the area. Uhhh… what?

You guys, I was set up. Take out your sleuth tools and solve this mystery *if this were a Dora the Explorer episode, this is the point where she would dead-eye stare at you into the screen until you respond*.  GOOD JOB! YOU GOT IT! The green shirt I casually threw on, which my captain lent me, was actually a tee-shirt jersey from the hyper-competitive ultimate frisbee league nearby. People who saw me in this shirt assumed I was a really great player, when in reality, I was still working to decode the most basic pieces of their language. Fortunately, after seeing me play for more than 5 seconds, everyone caught on that the shirt was not a testament to my abilities but rather simply a green thing to identify me as a team member. What a day. I have since purchased my own green shirt.

Life lesson: never take tee-shirts from strangers before an ultimate frisbee game as a newbie.

Fin.

The Fall 2022 Application is OPEN!

We’re excited to announce that the Heller application for Fall 2022 entry is now open! Today, I’ve compiled some frequently asked questions from students and included a list of resources

FAQS

What is required for the application?

The application is designed to be accessible and is comprised of the following elements:

  • The Heller online application, including biographic information, education history, and work history
  • Statement of purpose
  • Resume or CV
  • Three Letters of Recommendation (two for Social Impact MBA applicants)
  • PhD and SID/WGS joint program only: Writing Sample
  • International students only: TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo English Test results, unless you qualify for an English Proficiency Waiver
  • The MPP, MBA, and PhD programs have extended their test-optional policy through the Fall 2022 admission cycle due to the COVID-19 pandemic

You can view a full list of requirements for each program on our “How to Apply” page. 

What are the deadlines for the application?

You can find deadlines for each program on our “Application Deadlines” page.

How can I start an application?

I would recommend starting by reviewing the “How to Apply” page for your program of interest before beginning an application.

What are you looking for in an application?

The best way to find out what each program is looking for is by connecting with one of our admissions representatives, but you can also read our blog series, “Which Program is Right for Me?”

Resource List

 

My Newest Skill (Perfected During the Pandemic Lockdown)

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

One of my favorite feelings is sitting in a coffee shop mid-afternoon with a caramel latte and a french macaron or two. As someone who is easily distracted* I like that the coffee shop brings with it social pressure to sit still and be quiet, which forces me to get my work completed. The smell alone motivates me to work a bit harder. I had always tried to save my overpriced coffeehouse pastries to use as a tool for motivation and oft had to establish beforehand that I did not get the pastry/macaron until I completed at least a certain portion of my assignment; sometimes that method worked, other times my treats were gone moments after opening my computer…

Upon hearing that Brandeis would be moved fully online for 2020, I realized my infrequent coffee shop visits would likely be halted. As a result, I decided to treat myself with some of the money I would be saving by not renting an apartment that year and bought a Nespresso machine and milk frother so I could create my own lattes. The only thing missing from my coffee shop routine were the macarons. So, I ordered the supplies and set out to perfect the art of the macaron.

Each week I averaged at least 2 full batches of french macarons ranging in flavors from raspberry, lemon, and maple, to lavender and honey. After about 4 weeks I had tweaked the recipe to work just right for my oven. Dozens of batches and many months later, I can confidently say I have come close to perfecting the french macaron. So, today I am happy to share with you my tried and true french macaron shell recipe. The fillings are so varied, so I will let you google search a filling that fits your fancy.

100 grams: Almond Flour (I prefer the Blue Diamond brand and double sift it before use)

100 grams: White Sugar (sifted once before use)

100 grams: Egg Whites (I get these prepared the day before and let them sit out on the counter overnight to get “stale”)

130 grams: Powdered Sugar

Now, the actual combination of these ingredients is a bit difficult, so I will direct you to a blog I have enjoyed for detailed instructions on how to do so: Pies and Tacos

If you decide to try french macarons please let me know how they turn out! Also, if you have any tips or tricks to share with me please also let me know! It was such a fun new skill to learn.

*In middle school, my 8th-grade science teacher, Mr. Anthony, referred to me as “goldfish” because I was so easily distracted.  He relocated my desk to the front of the classroom so that the edge of my desk touched the chalkboard so I could not distract nor be distracted during his lectures. Luckily he was one of my favorite teachers and his teasing was all in good fun.

Looking ahead to your Capstone with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Let’s be honest, the process of planning, completing, and presenting your Capstone and Master’s Thesis can be completely overwhelming! To make things a little easier for you, I’ll outline the steps I took to complete my Thesis and present it to the school.

  1. The first step is the planning process. Ask yourself: what do you want to research? What type of work would you like to do? Which organizations could you see yourself working with? If you’re going with the Summer internship option, be sure to ask your Practicum Program Manager for a list of organizations where Heller students have interned in the past. This will help you narrow your search and will also help you make connections. Your internship experience will likely determine the course of your Capstone paper. In my case, working on educational programs for girls in India revealed a gap in teaching sex education to young people. This led me to my final Thesis topic, the need for Comprehensive Sex Education for Indian youth.
  2. Writing a 40-70 page paper may feel totally impossible at first glance. I found it helpful to break my paper into chunks, and only think about one section or subject at a time. Breaking a large paper down into smaller parts is a simple tool that can make a big difference in the writing process. Be sure to conduct thorough research and take thoughtful notes while you do. Staying organized is half the battle!
  3. As someone who often feels uncomfortable with public speaking, the notion of presenting my research and findings to the entire COEX cohort was definitely intimidating. As a result, I tend to over-prepare, but this amplifies my confidence leading up to a presentation. Be sure to practice your presentation and run it by a friend or family member for a fresh pair of ears and eyes. I found it so helpful to practice my presentation in front of both Heller and non-Heller friends. Their varying perspectives gave me insight into ways I could improve my Capstone presentation.

Completing my Master’s Thesis and presenting my work during the Capstone presentations was a fulfilling and meaningful way to finish up my time at Heller. Beginning the process can be so overwhelming! But in the end, you’ll feel so proud of your accomplishments and all the hard work you’ve put in here at Heller.

Is the MA in Sustainable International Development Program Right for Me?

Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2021 is closed, 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. For the past few months, I’ve been doing a spotlight on our six programs to help you figure out if one of Heller’s programs is right for you. Today, we wrap up this series with…

MA in Sustainable International Development

What is it? Heller’s Sustainable International Development (SID) program offers a practical, skills-based curriculum that prepares students to promote responsible development in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable regions. The SID program has a unique and flexible program structure, with four different tracks including an Accelerated Track (where students can complete the degree in as little as 9 months), a Two-Year Practicum Track, Two-Year Advanced Study Track, and a Two-Year Concentration Track, so you can customize your program to meet your needs. Whichever track you choose, the program is designed to help students address inequities and injustice, reduce environmental destruction, and promote income generation through entrepreneurship and access to credit. Students will develop their knowledge of the root causes of poverty, gain scientific literacy on climate change, build skills for collecting and analyzing data, and improve their organizational, program, and project management skills.

Who’s it for? Our typical SID student has at least two to three years of work experience – that can be translated into real work, Peace Corps experience, volunteering and internship experience while an undergrad, etc. Our SID students all have different goals: some come into the program with a clear focus and reason who  want to excel in their passion or a field they already have experience in, while others come to explore what path of development they want to work in. There are so many branches of development work and our program really showcases that and allows students to find their niche. Our students are passionate, justice-seekers, hands-on, dedicated, not afraid to get dirty and highly motivated to change the world around them.

What kinds of classes will I take? In your first two semesters, you’ll take core courses like Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Development; Ethics, Rights and Development;  and Political Ecology and Development, while also choosing electives that match your area of interest, like Gender and the Environment. If you opt for the Advanced Study or Concentration Tracks, you’ll then get to choose from electives like Social Movements for Emancipatory DevelopmentEconomics of Education or Religion and Development. In the Practicum Track (which includes a six month practicum) or Concentration Track (which includes a three month practicum), students receive academic credit for their practicum assignment with organizations such as a UN agency, an international NGO, or a research think tank. Past practicum organizations have included Save the Children, Oxfam, World Bank, or UN agencies.

Where will it take me? SID students gain the knowledge, skills and tools at Heller to get great jobs where they bring innovative ideas and creative practice to the development sector. Furthermore, they learn about human rights, gender equity, inclusive societies and environmental sustainability—the values that we believe should guide development work, whether it’s in a large multilateral organization or a small local nonprofit organization. Examples of positions held by recent graduates (those who have graduated within five years) include Co-founder and CEO for WorkAround, Associate Reporting Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Communications and Engagement Director for Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike.  Alumni who have graduated more than five years ago hold positions like Venezuela’s Ambassador to Argentina under President Guaidó, a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, and an International Trade Advisor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

How is Heller’s program different? Mainly, our vast array of faculty members with many different specializations and experience within development. It’s a high-touch program and students have very close proximity and access to our faculty, administrators, and researchers. Much of what they learn is actually outside of the classroom, working on group projects, competitions, research with faculty, field trips, etc. Not to mention the six-month practicum that the SID program requires for the Two-Year Practicum Track program. The Heller SID student community is uniquely diverse both in individual backgrounds as well as in academic interests; in a typical year, about 60% of our students come from outside the U.S., representing between 20 and 30 different countries (mostly from the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia). Many of our U.S. students have worked internationally or served in the Peace Corps or military, while others have built careers focused on issues of domestic conflict.

Transitioning Back to Life as a Student with Sami

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Making the decision to attend grad school is a huge, life-altering choice. How do you know if you’re ready? And how can you get prepared to do your very best, especially if you’ve been out of academia for a while? To help you think further about and ultimately answer these questions, I’ll tell you about my decision to apply to the Heller School and my experience taking a break from my career in order to jump back into student life.

After working in the non-profit fundraising field for 5 years, I began to realize that I wanted to expand my career options by evolving my knowledge of conflict resolution, international development, and global health. I also wanted to focus my work specifically on sexual and reproductive health, as well as women’s empowerment in South Asia. After speaking with representatives from Heller Admissions and hearing about the different degree programs offered, I decided to apply because it was clear that I could tailor my degree to fit my specific interests and career goals. Because of its nature of flexibility and individualization, I knew Heller would be the right fit for me.

Jumping back into the life of a student after years in the professional world was a big adjustment for me. Working 9-5 each week day can feel quite different from student life. As a student, the lines between “clocking in” and “clocking out” are often blurred. As an NGO employee, I was able to leave the office at 5pm and, for the most part, leave my work at my desk until returning the next morning. For a student (especially as a student attending school entirely from home), finding the time to “clock out” was more difficult. While this was an adjustment for me at first, I eventually eased into the role of a grad student, meanwhile finding ways of structuring my days so that I could dedicate most of my time to school while simultaneously reserving time for myself, having fun with friends, and self-care.

It can be difficult to know when the right time is for you to apply to grad school. In my case, I felt that my career trajectory had hit a wall, and I was ready to gain the skills and knowledge I would need to expand and grow my career options. You may also feel ready to learn new skills and find innovative ways of thinking about conflict, international development, public policy, or global health, and Heller is a meaningful environment to do exactly that!

Is the MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence Program Right for Me?

Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2021 is closed, 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?

MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence

What is it? Heller’s Conflict Resolution and Coexistence (COEX) program offers a practical, skills-based curriculum that prepares students to become responsible peace-building practitioners throughout the world. The COEX program has a unique structure, including a half-year field practicum, numerous dual degree opportunities, and the ability to concentrate in humanitarian aid or development. The 56-credit curriculum includes one academic year in residence (32 credits) followed by six months of combined fieldwork (12 credits) and a final paper, leading either to an internship report, a master’s paper, or master’s thesis (12 credits). If students wish, they can then go on to complete a concentration in Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Management. Whether you add the optional concentration semester or not, the program is designed to help students learn to foster inter-communal and international cooperation in the face of tension and conflict. The approach is interdisciplinary, drawing a range of fields, including social psychology, international politics, sociology, law, anthropology, and cultural studies.

Who’s it for? Our typical COEX student has at least two to three years of work experience who want to gain the tools and skills to solve problems and facilitate discussions. They want to engage in difficult conversations and synthesize different perspectives so they can manage conflict, resolve it and seek productive pathways forward.  Our program attracts people who are driven by peacebuilding and want to do that while incorporating cultural contexts and empowering local communities. Our students come to Heller with an array of skills and experiences, from military veterans and humanitarian aid professionals to Peace Corps members and grassroots organizers.

What kinds of classes will I take? In your first two semesters, you’ll take core courses like Responsible Negotiation, Responsible Mediation, and Strategies for Coexistence Interventions, while also choosing electives that match your area of interest, like Disaster Management and Risk ReductionWomen, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding, and Kingian Nonviolence and Reconciliation.  The following summer, you’ll have the opportunity to engage in a  3-month, full-time practicum that can be a traditional internship, the implementation of a conflict resolution project in the field, or research leading to a thesis. In the case of a traditional internship, students receive academic credit for their three-month practicum assignment with organizations such as a UN agency, an international NGO, or a research think tank. Past practicum organizations have included Search For Common Ground, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Carter Center, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections and the International Organization on Migration. In their final semester, students write their final reports and have the opportunity to present their findings at a capstone event.

Where will it take me? COEX students learn how to analyze conflict, structure and evaluate interventions, engage people and partners, and develop regional or national specializes that prepare them to find amazing jobs in the conflict resolution field. Our alumni find work in governments, intergovernmental organizations, and international and local non-governmental organizations dealing with coexistence issues. Examples of positions held by recent graduates (those who have graduated within five years) include Co-founder and CEO for WorkAround, Public Health Advisor for the CDC, and Policy Analyst for the New York City Department of Corrections.  Alumni who have graduated more than five years ago hold positions like First Secretary for the Embassy of Afghanistan in London, Developmental Evaluator for Social Impact, and the Regional Program Manager for Africa and the Middle East for KARAMA.

How is Heller’s program different? The COEX program at Heller is unique because it is rare for a conflict resolution program to have courses in both mediation and negotiation, but we offer both to provide a holistic approach to engage in a meaningful and productive dialogue. The teaching model is heavily discussion-based, incorporating structured debates and simulation exercises as well as facilitated discussions that occur organically in class. The Heller COEX student community is uniquely diverse both in individual backgrounds as well as in academic interests; in a typical year, about 60% of our students come from outside the U.S., representing between 20 and 30 different countries (mostly from the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia). Many of our U.S. students have worked internationally or served in the Peace Corps or military, while others have built careers focused on issues of domestic conflict.

Back to School Nerves (like never before!) with Daniella

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Growing up, I used to get very nervous the days leading up to the first day of school. I would of course put off my back-to-school reading and subsequent project, letting my anxiety manifest in frustration over my procrastination. But once the poster or diorama was finished and packed away neatly and the distractions dispelled, the jitters fluttered back in. I liked school and I was always excited about the promise of a new school year, but something always made the transition from summer to school difficult. I’d later come to recognize that discomfort as a fear of change and the unknown, but as I grew older and became comfortable with the back-to-school routine, my nerves subsided.

This summer, I find myself hyper-focused on my physical return to school. And not just about the first day back, but about being in a classroom in general. When I started to apply to graduate programs, I was four years out of college, settled in a 9-5 routine. When the pandemic hit and I began school again in fall of 2020, I experienced, along with millions of other students, the unprecedented shift to online learning. Not only did I have to alter my perceptions of learning, but I had to find stability in an unpredictable time.

Now after a year of adjusting to online learning, I again must shift my conception of schooling,  and I’m realizing that I’m feeling nervous. Online learning was tough, but it granted me a certain level of physical comfort and protection. I settled into a schedule and workstyle that fit my needs: I mastered the time it took to make a snack and walk my dog in the ten-minute breaks, or the “I didn’t just wake up five minutes before class” look. I found ease in zoom life. Now, after a year and a half of being conditioned to fear the outside world, we are preparing to re-enter the classroom.

There are many components to in-person learning I yearn for, like the rush of being able to raise my hand or the potential of real dialogue uninterrupted by buffering or social constrictions of internet connections. However, I am wary of the mental and physical toll this adjustment will take. I do not know what it will be like to not only be back in a classroom but enter into an institutional atmosphere with rigid social and academic expectations.

I write this post because there is so much excitement around re-entry and I want to validate for myself and others that it’s okay to be afraid of the change. This is not a return to normalcy; this is a construction of a new normal and nerves can accompany that. So, on August 26th and the days that follow, I will be glad to be on campus, but I will also be prepared for any first-day jitters that may arise.

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