Tag: Career Development

Facing Challenges with Doug Nevins

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I would not describe myself, traditionally, as someone who has sought out coursework about finance or accounting. As I’ve referenced in prior blog posts, my undergraduate career as an English major did not prepare me directly for certain types of courses I’ve taken at Heller, and in fact, was guided in part by an effort to avoid quantitative coursework. Since beginning grad school, I’ve rediscovered the potential for mathematical thinking and data analysis to actually be fun, and I’ve really enjoyed courses involving data visualization, like Evaluation for Managers and Intro to GIS. 

This semester entails a new kind of challenge, as I am enrolled in not one or two but three courses involving finance and economics – Managerial Accounting, Financial Management, and Public Finance and Budgeting. This schedule, which I would have undertaken as an undergraduate only in an anxiety dream, is one that I have actually been excited about since enrolling in the Social Impact MBA. Working in non-profit settings after college demonstrated to me the importance of financial decision-making and budgeting and the degree to which these considerations are almost more central for managers and analysts in non-profit, mission-driven organizations than in traditional corporate settings. Following politics and policy debates has motivated me to learn more about economics and the role of government economic intervention – for example, I’d like to better understand the details and competing priorities contained within President Biden’s stimulus proposal. I also wouldn’t mind having a better than half-baked take on Gamestop! 

One of the best things about Heller has been the variety of coursework and many skills which they engage. In the MPP and MBA programs, and I imagine in all Heller master’s degrees, writing- and research-intensive classes are balanced with courses in statistics, economics, and finance. Many classes integrate a combination of these skills, since analyzing data AND being able to communicate your analysis effectively is necessary for many management, research, and analyst roles. I’ve found it helpful, as a graduate student in a professional degree program, to redefine my understanding of a liberal arts approach to education – while as an undergraduate I took advantage of academic flexibility to focus largely on humanities courses, in graduate school I’m enjoying the holistic approach taken in my core coursework. While I won’t be offering any stock tips in the near future, I’m excited about this semester and about future coursework in Corporate Finance and other related areas. 

 

Virtual Internships During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

A key feature of the MPP program at Heller is a summer internship between the first and second year. This was one of the selling points for me – the chance to take on a totally new professional challenge and learn in a hands-on way as a complement to my coursework. As Heller has strong connections with non-profit organizations, think tanks, government agencies, and research centers, I was excited by the prospect of finding an engaging summer opportunity.

The career center at Heller plans lots of great events to help students connect with alumni, organizations offering jobs or internships, and fellowship programs. I attended many such info sessions last fall, and in the spring I visited Washington, DC and New York City for Heller career treks. I was hoping to spend the summer in one of these cities, and I applied mostly to non-profit advocacy and research organizations.

As fate would have it, my summer looked very different than that. I had not pinned down an internship plan when the semester ended, and many internship programs had been canceled or moved online. It was challenging for many Heller students to transition to remote classes in the spring and to feel like we might miss out on opportunities we expected to have over the summer.

That said, remote internships were still an option, and I was lucky enough to be connected with a Heller alum in a city workforce development office through the help of one of my professors. I’ve been working part-time since July on a project looking at the transition of adult workforce training programs to remote service, a project which involves interviewing program staff, researching the sector overall, and assisting with presentations and reports to stakeholders. This has been an excellent opportunity to practice skills that I learned in Heller classes, such as conducting a literature review, editing an interview guide, and coding interview transcripts. I’ve become more knowledgeable and passionate, about workforce education, particularly around issues of inclusion and access. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated underlying inequities in resources and access to services, and it feels meaningful to work on immediate policy challenges at the local level. I’ve definitely developed a greater interest in city-level government and policy, and have a much better feel for the policy and non-profit spaces in the Boston area than I did previously.

As challenging as graduate school during COVID can be, working on policy issues where they directly impact people and communities was exactly what I hoped to do when I applied to Heller. I am grateful to the MPP program and to my internship host agency for supporting me, and I hope that my work will make a real difference!

 

 

 

 

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary Part 2

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’m working with Shadhika this summer as a Project Intern. Shadhika is a women’s empowerment organization based partly in Denver, and in various sites throughout India. Our goal is to increase the agency and autonomy of women and girls through comprehensive education projects. Now that I’m about a month and a half into my internship, I’m noticing the pace of my work speeding up as my responsibilities expand and evolve. I am currently working on a project to monitor and evaluate Shadhika’s programs from a human rights-based perspective. A regular day for me looks like this:

7:30 am – I meet with my supervisor via Zoom. She is located in Pune, India, and since there is a nine and half hour time difference, we generally speak early in the morning.

8:45 am – I grab another cup of coffee and a slice of toast, and dig into Shadhika’s records to analyze grant reports from 5 years ago. Since I can’t be at our project sites in person, these reports help me get a better sense of our programs.

10:00 am – I hop onto Zoom again for a staff meeting. We’re a small staff of seven people, so we have the opportunity to chat and catch up before getting into work-related discussions. I also give a short presentation on what I think are key takeaways from analyzing the reports I read earlier, and I’m excited to receive feedback from the rest of Shadhika’s staff.

11:50 am – Unexpectedly, I see an email from the Executive Director of Shadhika. She’s read the document I wrote and offered encouraging feedback and thoughtful questions. I feel great that she takes the time to dive deep into the work I’m doing!

12:35 pm – The “what am I going to have for lunch?!” debate begins…

2:00 pm – After grabbing one more cup of coffee, I respond to my ED’s comments and questions on the document I produced. I feel confident about the work I’ve completed and grateful for the constructive feedback I’ve received so far.

3:15 pm – I take a much-needed break and take my dog for a walk in the woods. It’s a beautiful Summer day!

3:45 pm – I begin the next step in my long-term project and start gathering research on other programs using similar human rights-based frameworks.

5:10 pm – It’s been a long day, but a fulfilling one. I call it quits and move on to some Netflix-ing while my dog snoozes next to me on the couch.

At this point in my internship, I feel more focused in my goals and more engaged in the work Shadhika is doing. Although this internship has often been challenging, I find myself learning and growing more with each challenge I tackle. I appreciate that despite being many miles away from all of the other staff members, I feel connected to and supported by my supervisor, my Executive Director, and everyone else working at Shadhika.

Changing the World 101: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Favorite Classes

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

Managing the Triple Bottom Line, which is an MBA elective that is taught by Senior Lecturer Michael Appell, was one of my favorite classes during my time at Heller because it made me think differently to understand the business world in a new light. Highlighting that the MBA at Heller has a focus on social impact and social justice, this unique seminar-style course emphasizes why traditional businesses also need to have a social impact and what strides are being made currently in companies and corporations around the world. 

As the only class related to corporate social responsibility at Heller, it had students from all different degree programs who brought their diverse international and domestic perspectives to the classroom. The classroom dynamic was always conversational and exciting, with Professor Appell constantly asking everyone their opinions and creating spaces to have deep conversations challenging the status quo. The class also had many incredible guest speakers, who brought in their personal perspectives in the field, covering topics including impact investing, B-corps, corporate foundations, and even ESG (environmental, social, and governance) reporting. 

I was interested in this class because my work pre-Heller had introduced me to the phrase “triple bottom line” or “people, planet, and profit”, which is increasingly becoming an urgent focus of corporations. During the previous summer, I had a further introduction into this area of work when I completed my MBA Team Consulting Project with Oxfam. During this capstone project, I was working to create toolkits to pressure international agribusinesses to improve their environmental sustainability and human rights practices. Entering this class, I was excited to learn how corporations are focusing on a “new” bottom line that prioritizes not just traditional financial returns but also environmental and social returns.   

Throughout the class, I was introduced to areas of corporate social responsibility that was new to me, including the emergence of public-private partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations, ones like Starbucks with Conservation International, which are mutually beneficial – Starbucks increasingly has a positive image in conservation while Conservation International receives funding and international support for their programming with coffee farmers.

One area of the class that was memorable, was when we had deeper dive into understanding the role of industry leaders such as Nike in CSR to see if they have been able to uphold change and progress. Many times, these corporations have gone through a “public relations crisis” which has informed their pivot towards corporate social responsibility. For my midterm paper, I researched SeaWorld, and their ongoing public relations crisis after the documentary “Blackfish” was released exposing their treatment of killer whales and the death of a trainer at SeaWorld. I was able to create an analysis of their response to the film over the years, their operational and strategic pivot, and how they were able to respond to the controversy to improve their image and overall business.

Walking away from that class allowed me to rethink and reassess businesses and their role in the larger world. While I would often hear at Heller that for profits and corporations are the “bad guys” who are only profit focused, it was important to see and understand that their role is critical to creating impact and enacting social change. Yes, companies have the money, but they are increasingly realizing that their money can be used to help nonprofits – ultimately supporting the people who need it the most.

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Advice

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

The “Heller experience” varies from student to student. There is so much to do, and for me, not having been in school since I graduated from undergrad in 2011, I wanted to do it all! Your time at Heller allows you to try new things, meet new people, and sign up to be a part of many exciting Heller and Brandeis wide events. As we approach the new school year, I want to pass along three pieces of advice I would give any incoming or prospective student:

1.  Prioritize career development, such as having an internship or Career Development Services workshops. While I chose to be very involved on the Heller campus through my on-campus work  and extracurriculars activities, I wish I had made it a priority to do more career development along the way, such as internships with organizations, especially because for the MBA, it can count as credit. There are a number of incredible organizations, including health, public policy, international development all within the Boston area. Having graduated, I think that if I had put an effort into connecting with local organizations while in school, I would have at an advantage in the job market. If internships can’t fit into your schedule, Career Development Services has a number of great workshops and informational packets as well. I would advise that students reach out sooner than later for help with interview prep or resume reviews, because graduation creeps up on you quickly!

2. Take a look outside of Heller.  It’s already overwhelming to see the options of exciting classes to take at Heller. But don’t forget, there are options to take classes or attend conferences and events at universities in the Boston area! Students often take courses for credit or for audit at the Brandeis International Business School or through the Consortium (which includes local universities such as Babson, MIT, or Harvard). During my time at Heller, I attended events and conferences that were hosted at Harvard or Boston University and appreciated the networking opportunities. I also had the chance to attend a conference in Detroit with Net Impact. Even better, you can apply for a Heller conference grant which will help offset your conference fees.

3. Challenge yourself with the social entrepreneurship events at Heller. I may be biased as someone who was known at Heller for loving everything related to social entrepreneurship, but I highly recommend that students, regardless of their degree program, sign up to take part in Heller Social Impact Startup Challenge and Hult Prize Challenge, which are two social entrepreneurship events at Heller. During my two years at Heller, I was actively involved in this event, first as a participant and then as a Director. It allowed me to plan, lead, and organize events with layers of complexity, which I have been able to reference in many of my interviews! Participants I have worked with have enjoyed this event and have found that it helps hone their leadership, presentation, and teamwork skills.

There are many opportunities for you at Heller, Brandeis, and in the Boston area. Remember that although you may be going to graduate school to further your professional goals, it’s not just the degree that matters: the connections you build and the skills you acquire can be a major asset in your future. Keep an eye out for the different events and enjoy being in school!

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

This summer I’m interning with Shadhika, an NGO that strives to empower women and girls through holistic education initiatives in various parts of India. As Shadhika’s Project Intern, I’m using a human rights framework in order to re-visit and re-tool the organization’s theory of change. My role involves primary and secondary research, and ongoing communication with Shadhika’s partner NGO’s in India. Today, I’ll be walking you through a typical day at my internship.

8:00am – I get my coffee ready and hop on an early Zoom call with my internship supervisor at Shadhika. She is in Pune, India, so our calls tend to be during my morning, and her evening. We catch up with each other before discussing my work from last week and my action plan for the coming week. She and I will chat again during tomorrow’s meeting with the rest of Shadhika’s staff. There are 7 of us total, and I love that the organization feels like a tight-knit group.

9:00am – After taking my dog for a long walk, I grab a slice of toast and another cup of coffee before getting back to work.

9:51am – I’ve been reading grant reports from Shadhika’s partner NGOs in India to get a better sense of the organization’s programs since I can’t be there in person. There’s a lot of material to get through, and I’m beginning to feel the stress of getting everything done in time. I remind myself to breathe deeply; I’ll get it all done.

11:35 am – I’m already starting to daydream about lunch.

1:15 pm – Finishing up my notes on the different grant reports, I start to compile and analyze the common indicators of success across the partner programs. This task is challenging for me, but I’m enjoying gaining a better understanding of Shadhika’s goals and activities.

2:30 pm – I want to reach out to my supervisor to ask a few questions, but instead, I’ve got to be patient and wait until tomorrow. It’s late in the evening in India now, and I definitely don’t want to wake her up! Yet another challenge of interning virtually, and across time zones.

4:20 pm – At last, I finish up my work for the day. I feel relaxed and confident after completing the task of mapping different indicators of success across Shadhika’s partner organizations. Time for another long walk with my dog and my favorite podcast. Now, I’m starting to daydream about dinner…

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

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

The MBA Team Consulting Project (TCP), or the MBA program’s capstone project was one of my favorite parts of Heller experience. Over the summer, teams of 3-6 MBA students work with an organization to help with a proposed management challenge. What’s unique however, is that organizations pitch proposals to the students, who are then asked to form teams around their preferred choice. I wanted a project that combined both my MBA and MA in Sustainable International Development degrees, and was excited when Oxfam, a well-known international organization, was one of our choices. The Oxfam team that was formed included three other classmates with international development, corporate social responsibility, and supply chain experiences and expertise that made the group ideal for this project.

We worked with Oxfam’s Private Sector Engagement division on their “Behind the Brands” initiative to pressure the supply chains of the ten largest food and beverage companies in the world. While consumers recognize names such as Unilever, Nestle, or Coca Cola, the agribusinesses who supply to these companies are less visible and less pressured to improve their environmental sustainability and human rights practices. Our goal was to provide our client with a toolkit of resources for future conversations with these agribusinesses in four key areas – land, climate, gender, and transparency and accountability.Three students stand in front of a board with sticky notes

We examined the agribusinesses’ current Oxfam scorecard results, analyzed where they fell short, and researched policies, commitments, and best practices that could be referenced for improvements. The project allowed us to pull from MBA classes such as “Managing the Triple Bottom Line” and “Strategic Management” through analyzing how to make the business case for corporate social responsibility and developing a sweet spot analysis and a theory of change.

Teamwork for this project was a challenging learning curve. Early on, we identified our individual leadership styles and communicated how we work in groups. We also established ways to destress, such as having lunch together or walking around campus. This helped us step away from our work and remember that despite our disagreements, that we were all still friends.

Chart with various projects outlinedThis project was high stakes, with months of team meetings, stakeholder interviews, and research culminating in final presentations in front of the Heller community and Oxfam stakeholders. In preparation for the presentation, I memorized and recited my lines over and over again. At one point, I apparently was even reciting my part of the presentation in my sleep! Our presentation was visually appealing and well executed, showing all of our expertise, research, and analysis. When my cohort finished presenting our TCPs, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief – we were doneFour students smile in front of an Oxfam America sign! Our client, who flew in from DC for our two presentations, was happy with our deliverables and hard work over the summer.

The overall experience of completing the MBA Team Consulting Project was incredible and when I think of all of our final presentations, I am still amazed at how much the teams have been able to accomplish in just a few months!

 

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