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Tag: Classes at Heller

Graduating During a Pandemic: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Experience

Class of 2020 – Graduating this past May, my cohort had it differently than most Heller graduates. I think the word that I would use to describe the majority of this year is “surreal”… When March hit, COVID-19 was escalating quickly and it was clear that all of our in-person classes would need to move online immediately. It felt like that the transitions of all of my classes (including ones I was a student in or a teaching assistant in) to online happened quickly and dramatically – one day, we were in class, and then the next, the Heller building was closed.

Twenty students pictured in a Zoom call

Maintaining community through Zoom

My Operations Management class was one of the first classes to transition online.  Fortunately, many of the MBA classes are also already taught through the Heller School’s Executive Physician’s MBA, which contributed to a seamless transition. Regardless of the graduate program, every professor had to adapt their classes, whether that included introducing an offline component, uploading additional documents onto LATTE, or utilizing Zoom functions such as breakout rooms for added smaller group discussions. All of the professors were also very flexible with the students, readjusting different classroom requirements and projects to accommodate the changes and challenges that the students were facing. There was also a request for constant feedback from the professors and the Heller Administration to provide insight to the professors and helped them adjust their classes as needed.

Dean Weil toasting the community during a Zoom Call

Dean Weil hosts Cocktails with the Dean

I think that one of Heller’s strengths through the pandemic is that there was a push to maintain the sense of the Heller community. There have been official and unofficial events to continue to connect with people the Heller community. For example, the Heller Student Association planned an exciting Heller Trivia Night event which included hundreds of students, staff, alumni, and prospective students. In planning for this event, I recruited my core group of friends from my MBA program – and we won first place!  In true Heller form, my team also decided to donate our winnings as gift cards to Healthy Waltham to help the Waltham community. The Dean also hosts consistently hosts Heller-wide “Cocktails with the Dean”, which is a great chance to see the faculty and staff of Heller in a casual environment.

Over the past few months, my friends and I have managed to stay connected across states and often countries through using Zoom. We will have Zoom calls to check up on everyone, weekly movie nights, and even recently had a fun “Powerpoint Presentation Party” where we presented powerpoints about obscure and interesting topics. While we cannot be in person to connect, I am grateful for technology connecting people I haven’t seen in a long time.

Elizabeth in a cap and gown smiling next to the Heller School Sign

Ready for graduation!

As a 2020 Heller Graduate, the entire graduation process also felt “surreal” at first. Because we were not going to receive the cap and gown until after graduation, I borrowed a cap and gown from a recent graduate to take photos at Brandeis. I think this was the beginning of everything feeling “real” to me. While I watched the online graduation ceremony, it was still disappointing not to be able to see my classmates and my family who were supposed to fly in for the graduation. To help make the graduation more personal, I had two Zoom calls, including one for family and for friends to celebrate. One added benefit of the online ceremony was that I was able to have my extended family, including my grandparents, watch the graduation. Even my Zoom calls were able to bring together from different aspects of my life – high school, college, Peace Corps, and graduate school. In this sense, regardless of the disappointing aspects of graduation, there was still a silver lining! I was able to see and celebrate with more people across the US because of technology. Brandeis has promised an in-person ceremony next year and I am hopeful it will help make the graduation feel more real!

Heller Reading List: Doug Nevins Shares His Favorite Readings

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the World 101: Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Choosing my favorite class at Heller so far is not an easy task, but one course, in particular, does come to mind. Professor Nanako Tamaru’s class, “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” was an excellent course for so many reasons. First, I appreciated the class size. Most classes at Heller are relatively small, but Nanako’s course had only 11 students enrolled. As a result, “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” felt particularly intimate and personal, and allowed for even more equal participation among the students. Although it was technically a COEX course, I was the only COEX student there, and my classmates came from a variety of programs at Heller; I really appreciated the differences in perspective that this fostered and encouraged.

The course began in module 2 of my second semester at Heller, the same time quarantine was beginning. Virtual learning hasn’t been easy for me, but Nanako’s class was engaging, challenging, and fun, despite the difficult circumstances. She was able to conduct the class with so much enthusiasm and an eye for detail. Nanako was conscious and considerate of the difficulties her students faced as we suddenly transitioned to online learning, and I always felt comfortable asking for the help or clarity I needed. Nanako managed to turn a potentially rough and tricky transition into an opportunity to engage deeply with her students. Nanako was always happy and eager to illuminate the course with her own professional experience and knowledge.

Most classes at Heller have many assignments intended to be worked on as a group of students, but “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” mainly focused on individual assignments. Although I do usually enjoy group work, I loved the variety in the individual assignments we were given. Our assignments included writing an op-ed, as well as giving a presentation on anything that interested us relating to women and security. I also loved the freedom Nanako gave us in choosing what we each wrote our op-ed on, which gave me the opportunity to explore in greater detail the topics that were most relevant to me, my interests, and career choices; I decided to write about how women from the lowest caste in Indian society are on the vanguard of creating radical change in South Asia. Nanako published everyone’s op-eds on the class’s website, which fostered an even greater sense of accomplishment. And now I have the experience of constructing and writing an op-ed under my belt!

In the end, Nanako’s course taught me how and why women need to be incorporated into all aspects of peacebuilding and development. Without women’s inclusion and participation, the programs we design and implement as practitioners will simply be ineffective. As someone who intends to focus on women’s health as my career moves forward, this lesson was especially important and impactful. Although there are many other classes at Heller that left a profound impression on me, Professor Nanako’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” was absolutely one of the most challenging, helpful, and enjoyable courses I’ve taken as a grad student.

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