Tag: Campus Connections

Back to school (Unlike ever Before) with Doug Nevins

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Ever since Heller moved to remote classes in spring 2020, I’ve been looking forward to the semester when we return to in-person classes. At first, we hoped to return in the fall, then spring, but as the gravity of the pandemic situation became clearer Heller students settled into the rhythms of online learning, growing used to unexpected benefits like being able to engage in class discussions (or digressions) using Zoom chats, and sleeping until 8:45 for a 9 AM class.

Still, many Heller students, myself included, continued to hope for a return to in-person classes prior to our own graduations. In my case, I’m happy to be able to spend my final semester at Heller back on campus. I type this blog post sitting at the admissions front desk, a spot where I spent many hours during my first months at Heller, but had not revisited for over a year until just a few weeks ago. As today is a holiday, the building is largely empty, but on class days I enjoy striking up impromptu conversations with students and staff passing by the desk, and stepping outside to say hello to friends and take a welcome break from mask-wearing. Lunch time events, such as activity fairs and community-building sessions, have begun to take place again, and though we have not yet returned to the days when event organizers enticed students to attend events by providing free pizza and other snacks, Heller has hosted a couple “coffee with the Dean” hours complete with free Dunkin Donuts.

Being back in a classroom feels very different. There are aspects of the Zoom experience that I miss, but overall I find that conversations flow more easily, time passes more quickly, and it is easier to meet classmates in person, even with our faces obscured by masks, than as tiles on a screen. As a course assistant for an MBA class, I assist the professor in managing dual-mode instruction (in which some students join an in-person class over Zoom). It has been an interesting and fun challenge to troubleshoot classroom technology, and I’ve felt privileged to be included in meetings about dual instruction and to contribute feedback on successes and challenges. I have found that graduate school includes many unexpected learning experiences in addition to those indicated on course syllabi – experiencing the ins and outs of hybrid pedagogy firsthand is one such lesson.

Is being back on campus perfect? Does Heller feel the same? I don’t think it possibly could. The world, and all of us, have changed as well. But I feel grateful to be at Heller, a community that has stuck together and made the best of things throughout the pandemic period. Although some days I grumble to myself a bit that I have to get up around 7 AM and navigate traffic before 9 AM classes, as soon as I see a familiar, half-covered face on campus, or have an impromptu chat with a new acquaintance, I’m reminded how great it is to be back!

Back to School Post-Covid

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Well friends, the summer is slowly wrapping up and I am soaking in every last minute of quality pool time with my family and friends. I am currently in an odd in-between space as I finished my internship in Missouri, am planning to visit family I have not seen for over 2 years in Canada in about a week’s time, and am now regrouping in Pennsylvania before moving to Waltham in a few weeks. As someone who trends very type-A when it comes to organization, I have to fight the urge daily to fully unpack – as I know I will then have to repack in a very short time. I thrive in constant change, but for whatever reason, packing gives me an odd sense of anxiety… I like to think that’s normal?

Anyway, as I consider what is ahead for my second year at Heller, I amSmiling young girl on a scooter filled with that same eagerness and anticipation that one feels on their first day of third grade *see attached photo*. Why third grade? Well for starters, my teacher’s name was Mrs. Wine and she was wonderful. To this day, I still love wine and I attribute that back to the love she instilled in me at a ripe young age (no one tell my mom I said that). Although I will not be back-to-school-shopping for cool new overalls or fancy new white sneaks due to budgetary concerns, I will still be rolling up to campus on some pretty hot wheels just like 3rd grade Hannah did. And by that I mean my 2004 Mercury Sable.

Prestige establishment aside, an underlying feeling this year that is new to me is that I feel as though I know many of my colleagues and professors quite well already, yet I have never met them in person. Am I excited to meet them in person? Of course! But it feels almost like online dating, where I have an idea of what the rest of their person should look like, but up until this point it is almost all imagined. Funny enough, one thing that often strikes people off guard when they meet me after only conversing via Zoom is my height (I am just a tad shy of 6 feet tall for those who are wondering).

So, the aspect I am most looking forward to with being back on campus for my second year of Heller are the informal chats before and after classes. No need to schedule a Zoom meeting or ensure your laptop is charged, I can simply run into folks and converse without the plethora of externalities restricting our interactions. Also, I am a big body language person, so to be able to read your body language to understand how you are feeling and/or how I am making you feel is important to me.

My excitement for being back in person on campus is one that 3rd grade Hannah can relate to. However, no 3rd grade Hannah could have guessed that the second-year grad student Hannah would have had the experiences she has had over the last year alone thanks to COVID. Regardless, I would like to think that I have made her proud and my goal this year is to enjoy the friendships and connections that evolve as we all enjoy being back in person on campus.

 

Joining the Heller Community: Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

The decision to go back to school was one that I did not make lightly. I had a steady job that supported my lifestyle and even allowed me to pay off some of my undergraduate debt. I had to make the choice to leave my full-time employment while friends, family and neighbors across the country were forced to question their financial stability and there was no certainty about the future.

“Community” drives my work. It is what motivated me to participate in student community engagement and social advocacy in college, what attracted me to the work I did post-graduation at Boston’s Jewish women’s fund, and what supported me during the last thirteen months.

One of the reasons I initially chose Heller was the notion of community. The opportunity to continue to grow in Boston was appealing, but it was the promise and allure of the Heller community that really won me over. So, when it became evident that we would be virtual for at the very least the first semester, I was wary about committing to Heller. How would I be able to connect and benefit from the community when there would be a slew of physical and emotional barriers?

I am in awe of the collective network my cohort has been able to cultivate. This has not been an easy year. With an onslaught of racial killings, a corrosive election cycle, and a pandemic plaguing the world there have been many things that could have further alienated us, on top of the virtual restrictions. Yet I have felt seen, supported, loved, and valued by my classmates. They have been a shoulder to lean on, a supporting hand, an ear to complain to, and a voice to follow. There is a common respect and an unspoken bond that link us to the greater cause, with the understanding that we are living through an unprecedented time in regard to policy and beyond. If anything, this year has sparked absolute transparency that may not have come about as organically without the current circumstances – rife with conversations of privilege, trauma, and injustice. I am empowered by my peers and am so grateful for their generosity, honesty, and vulnerability over the last year.

We joke frequently about what it will be like to actually sit next to each other during class, or what grabbing a drink will be like in person when we don’t have to act as our own bartender. If this year has been an indication of the year to come, I look forward to seeing what’s next.

Building Meaningful Connections Through Zoom With Hannah Lougheed

 

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

“let’s grab coffee and hang out!” has become,”I’ll send you the link to my Zoom room.”

It feels awkward and burdensome to try and casually virtually hang out with folks these days, because there is nothing casual about it. You have to set up the link, log on, wait for them to jump on, admit them, wait for their mic to connect, then invest more screen-time into something that once felt so effortless (for an extrovert anyway). You talk over each other, forget to un-mute and inevitably have wifi issues.  I used to recharge by being with people – not anymore. Body language helped me to understand someone’s feelings on a subject – impossible now. Bumping into a friend on a walk sparked such joy in my day – now I’m lucky if I even encounter an individual in a week.  Woe is me.

BUT!

Without this cumbersome technology, this would have been a much more difficult year. The isolation is difficult – as I’m sure you can attest to as well – but technology has provided a way to stay engaged with others. How, then, have I and others managed to build meaningful connections through Zoom-only friendships while at Heller? I think to start, we need to understand that everyone’s definition of “meaningful” is different. Breadth and depth are varied in each interaction we have. For some, a 10-minute breakout room during class provides enough of a meaningful connection to last a month. While to others **cough cough: me**  we require more people time to charge our social-meter.

So, what have I done personally to adapt to this new platform? I immediately sought out interest groups outside of my classes to join. The Heller Student Association (HSA) and  Brandeis Graduate Christian Fellowship groups are where my search began. Meaningful connection – both online and off, usually begin with a shared interest. In this case, the guesswork was removed, as I knew we all shared interests through these groups. Upon attending the first meeting for each, I worked hard to stay extremely present in the moment. I silenced my phone and set it aside, closed out my email application on my laptop, and shut my room door. I have found that one of the worst inhibitors to meaningful connections through Zoom is a whole different scope of virtual distractions. I reminded myself, “if I wouldn’t text or check my emails while face-to-face with someone, why should I not afford them that same respect through Zoom?”.

I am also a big proponent of keeping your video on while on Zoom, especially if there are only a few of you. I thrive on eye contact. Not the kind of eye contact that’s too intense and makes you feel uncomfortable (we all know those people), but the kind of eye contact that expresses your smile all the way through your face, or your intensity when talking about a passionate subject. I can talk to my wall any day with no response, but I want to see if what I said made you laugh, or think, or express concern.

This all boils down to the idea that meaningful connections can still happen through Zoom, but by seeking out opportunities to connect outside of obligations, removing distractions, and keeping your camera on, you can help facilitate an environment where these connections may grow more easily. If you have any additional tips that have worked please pass them my way!

Sami’s Top Five Moments at Heller

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As my time at Heller gradually comes to a close, I can’t help but to reflect on my best experiences over the last two years. Coming to grad school for the first time, you’ll have quite a lot to look forward to! And to give you a sneak peak, I’ve listed my top five Heller moments of success, learning, and friendship (in no particular order).

  1. Completing my Master’s Thesis. For nearly a year, I’ve been working on my thesis for my COEX capstone, our last project before we graduate. The final paper ended up being over forty pages long (!), but it took a great deal of re-working, tweaking, and editing to get there. I loved the experience of working with my advisor, Dr. Quintiliani, all of the academic support I received from professors and Brandeis’s research librarians, and of course the emotional support and cheerleading I was given from my friends in COEX.

2. Getting to know the area. I have enjoyed getting to know Waltham, Boston, and the surrounding area so much! After moving to Waltham, I had such a good time getting familiar with Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. As a big museum nerd, I was very happy to visit places like the MFA and the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum. Only twenty minutes from Waltham are places like the deCordova sculpture park and Walden Pond. The greater Boston area is such a wonderful place to be a student.

3. Getting out of my comfort zone. At Heller, I’ve been pushed far outside my comfort zone many times. I’ve found this to be an enormous opportunity to not only learn about a subject, but also to learn more about myself. I’ve engaged in sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that I quickly realized were helping me to grow as a student and as an individual. Having fellow students’ varied perspectives has brought so much value and meaning to my time here at Heller.

4. The cultural exchange. Students come to the Heller School from all around the world. I’ve learned so much from people whose languages, cultures, backgrounds, and religions were different than mine. Thanks to the COEX program, I now have a best friend from Egypt, and as a result I often find Arabic words sneaking into my vocabulary and my appreciation for Middle Eastern food expanding.

5. Specific projects. I feel very proud of the work I’ve completed as a Heller student. There are a few projects that particularly stand out. In Professor Tamaru’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding”, I enjoyed writing an op-ed on revolutionary Indian women that was later published on Professor Tamaru’s blog. I was also so excited to write a paper regarding various women’s influences on Malcolm X for Professor Sampath’s “Democracy and Development” course. In Professor Madison’s “Intersectionality and Bioethics” class, I had so much fun engaging in a group debate concerning the pharmaceutical industry.

My experience at the Heller School has been rewarding, challenging, and eye-opening. I’ve found my experiences here to be so valuable and have contributed so much to my growth as a student, a professional, and an individual!

Library Appreciation Day with Doug Nevins

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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.

Learning from your Heller Classmates

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’ve learned so much during my time at Heller so far— but the education I’ve gained outside of the classroom has been just as valuable to me as the lessons I learned from my professors. Heller students come to Brandeis from so many different countries and backgrounds, and bring their own personal experiences and knowledge with them to Heller, and I’ve really, really enjoyed the new perspectives they’ve helped me to gain!

As a self-described “linguistics nerd”, I can’t get enough of learning new words to add to my vocabulary. Surrounded by my COEX cohort, I couldn’t help but pick up phrases from my classmates who speak French, Swahili, and Mandarin (just to name a few.) I can even properly insult someone in Arabic, if the need ever arises. I’ve studied Hindi over the last few years, and I’ve made friends who were able, as native Hindi speakers, to offer to practice conversation with me. I’ve also had fun finding similar words that exist in languages that may seem unrelated at first.

The cultural exchange I’ve had with my COEX classmates also extends to food. Every culture celebrates food in its own special way. Last fall, we held a potluck where I got to try an Iraqi stew, Egyptian shakshuka, Amish friendship bread, and baba ganoush. If I hadn’t met my friends here at Heller, I may never have had the opportunity to try and learn about new food and the cultural significance that surrounds them.

My COEX classmates have also come to Heller with very different professional experiences, which informs the way I’ve learned outside of Heller’s classrooms. My friends have told me about working as educators and tour guides, as businesspeople, as Peace Corps Volunteers, and as workers in complex conflict zones such as Syria. Personally, I worked for a variety of non-profit organizations before coming to Heller, and my classmates were just as interested in hearing about my professional experience as I was about theirs. Hearing about my classmates’ professional experiences helped me to better contemplate and understand my own career aspirations. Exchanging these ideas and information with each other was an incredible, and very exciting, learning experience for all of us in the cohort.

When evaluating grad schools, it is equally important to consider the lessons you can learn outside of the classroom as the knowledge you’ll gain from your professors. I have gleaned so much from my COEX friends, and this information has been both professionally valuable as well as culturally enriching to me personally. The cultural exchange that takes place between Heller students is endlessly informative, exciting, and fulfilling. My friends at Heller have been some of my favorite teachers.

Campus Connections: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Perspective

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

My first experience visiting the Heller School as a prospective student was memorable. I had decided to fly up from Washington, DC to visit the Brandeis campus, where I was slated to attend a class on Social Entrepreneurship and meet the professor and MBA Director, Professor Carole Carlson. When I walked in, teams of students were practicing their business pitch presentations for their final project. I very excited about this class in particular because of my previous work supported social entrepreneurs. Through the entire class, there was palpable energy and passion for starting these businesses. Carole was leading the class and it was clear that her questions were motivating and guiding the classroom as well. I always joke that this class was what sold me on the Heller School, mainly because I instantly knew that I wanted to learn more from this incredible professor.

Reflecting on my many interactions with Carole, I am grateful that Heller is a tight-knit community where professors know the students. Since I went to a large school in California where professors didn’t know the students as well for my undergrad, I chose Heller for my graduate school knowing there were smaller, intimate classrooms. As a student, I would often interact with Carole through MBA town calls and other events like many of MBA students, but I was able to work with her more often when I planned a series of MBA events at the Heller School including the Social Impact Start Up Challenge, the Hult Prize, and the Case Competition. It was exciting to be responsible for important events at Heller, with the support of Carole to make sure that the event went smoothly. I was always impressed with how responsive Carole was to all of our emails and occasional panic and how she was able to support us when plans changed.

I was able to take Carole’s Social Entrepreneurship class in Fall 2019, where I was able to learn everything I had been excitedly waiting for and hoping for. Armed with my new MBA knowledge of Strategic Management, Financial Management, and other classes, I felt that this experience was different than when I shadowed the class because by this time, I had could to reference the lessons I had learned in other classes aside from my work experience before Heller. A few months later, Carole contacted me to help her write a few chapters on a textbook that she was creating on social entrepreneurship. Knowing that this is what I am passionate about, of course I said yes! I felt like this was a “full circle” moment – seeing that I admired this professor from before starting the MBA program and then getting to work alongside her for this exciting project.

Carole is a great mentor and connection to have as I move forward in my career. I have learned a great deal from her over the years, and I am so grateful I sat in on her class years ago before I even applied!

Campus Connections: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’ve made many connections during my past year at Heller who have changed and enhanced my life personally, academically, and professionally. One of the connections I’m most thankful for is my friend Hadeer. She and I come from different backgrounds and grew up in quite different places, but our friendship was nearly immediate, and over the course of our first semester at Heller we grew a strong bond. I have learned so much since connecting with Hadeer last Fall, and I continue to value her friendship tremendously!

On the surface, Hadeer and I might seem like two very different people. She grew up in Egypt, and I am from Philadelphia. My family is Jewish, and Hadeer was raised Muslim. Yet we quickly bonded over our shared interests and goals. From our mutual love of cheese, to our shared taste in music, to our career aspirations, we learned about each other and so many similarities popped right out. I think this is the true beauty of many Heller friendships. Seemingly different people are brought together into a context where their similarities matter more than their differences.

Hadeer and I first met during Heller’s orientation. Then, as classes started, I quickly witnessed how eloquent, passionate, and informed she is. Many times, Hadeer has demonstrated her natural way of making me feel that my interests and opinions are especially valuable. She is always a “safe space” and I know I can express to her any problems I might have without feeling judged.

The range of what I’ve learned from Hadeer is wide, and I’m very thankful for that: from adding Arabic words to my vocabulary, to enjoying all the musical artists she’s introduced me to (like the duo Amadou + Mariam from Mali). Hearing Hadeer’s thoughts on international development, peacebuilding, and feminism has been endlessly enlightening for me. My friendship with Hadeer is a perfect example of what it’s like to make friends at Heller. You will share and trade ideas, passions, and interests. You’ll learn bits of new languages and gain new perspectives. You will meet wonderful people who you ordinarily might never come across.

I appreciate my connection with Hadeer in particular because it’s a multi-level friendship. We connect with each other on school, philosophy, food, and our mutual love of dogs, just to name a few. We offer each other emotional support and always lend an ear when it’s needed. Our differences are not irrelevant to our friendship; Instead, we use our differences to learn from one another and gain insight into each other’s experiences. I feel lucky to have forged a friendship with Hadeer early on in my time at Heller. She has been such an excellent resource for me in so many ways – not only personally, but academically and professionally as well.

Campus Connections: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

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

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

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

 

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