Tag: Classes at Heller (page 1 of 3)

Matching Heller Classes to Skills

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As my own job search begins to get underway in earnest, I have been thinking more about my own skills and those that I have developed at Heller specifically. I’m also thinking about the skills demanded by employers, and the degree to which Heller coursework aligns with these. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the way in which skills I’ve gained or strengthened at Heller translate to the requirements included in job listings, and I thought I would share a few examples to help make the utility of specific Heller courses seem a bit more concrete.

Skill/experience: experience with statistics and statistical packages such as STATA, SPSS, R, etc.

Countless job listings include some version of the above preferred qualification. In Heller’s statistics courses like “Data, Models and Decisions,” students learn how to construct regression models and run various statistical tests using STATA, one of the more commonly used stats software packages. Additional courses such as “Working with National Datasets” and “Evaluating Survey Data Using Stata” expand upon fundamental skills and introduce students to other software platforms such as SPSS.

Skill/experience: experience conducting qualitative research including surveys, focus groups, interviews

Many research-oriented jobs, as well as jobs in consulting, program management, or international development, will require some amount of qualitative data collection and analysis. Core courses in Heller degree programs, such as “Research Methods and Evaluation” in the MPP program, introduce best practices in qualitative research and enable students to practice designing study proposals. Many classes include experiential components in which students have the option to interview external stakeholders. One example is the Team Consulting Project, the MBA capstone project in which students typically conduct research to inform recommendations to a real world client organization.

Skill/experience: experience managing a budget and performing financial analysis

One of my primary motivations to add a dual MBA to my MPP course of study was wanting to take accounting and corporate finance courses. Even non-MBAs, however, will have the chance to take coursework in economics, cost-benefit analysis, and program management. In addition, students who choose to participate in the Heller Student Association or a Heller working group can gain experience managing an organizational budget. Many students will develop these skills in internships, as well. Not to mention having a crash course in personal finance during grad school!

Skill/experience: teamwork, leadership, project management

While these are skills that can be learned in many types of settings, even as someone who worked for years in very collaborative office environments, I found that my efficacy and communication abilities working in groups improved during graduate school. All degree programs will include at least some group projects, and these are a great way to strengthen teamwork, listening, and interpersonal skills. While these may be difficult to capture on a resume, the Heller degree itself conveys that you have experience working in a close-knit, collaborative environment.

As I prepare to re-enter the working world, I feel grateful for the varied practical skills I have learned at Heller. Visiting the Career Center here is a great way to figure out how to effectively communicate my strengths in resumes and cover letters. While learning for its own sake is important, and highly valued here, it’s great to know that Heller is preparing students to work in settings where we can take on challenging, real world issues.

When It All Starts to Make Sense

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

*This may be true of other graduate school programs, but as I am enrolled at Heller, I write under the assumption that this is special to the Heller curriculum.*

People who go back to school must have an affinity for learning. Or at least those who choose to go back to school for a higher degree in social sciences. To take time off from income-earning to invest in education is not a lightly made decision.  And yes, in many cases the degree is beneficial and necessary to excel in the workforce. Yet, it is not guaranteed that higher education equates to higher pay. So that loops us back to – people who go back to school must have an affinity for learning.

For me, the return to school full-time brought some fear and anxiety, but overall I felt comfort and joy. Previously, when I would engage in study groups or one-off lectures, I always left feeling inspired with a yearning for more. I missed being intellectually challenged. I missed the debate and dialogue that sometimes only an academic event evokes. So my return almost felt imminent.

In undergrad, my academic path felt scattered. I enrolled in a slew of courses that seemed interesting that also fulfilled my core curriculum. However, there did not seem to be a congruent theme each year, let alone every semester that linked all of my areas of study.  So when I started to experience deja vu in my Heller courses, I was at first shocked. My course readings seemed to blend together. The lectures started to feel familiar.  I began to recognize components of my studies in my everyday life.  The work I was doing in my applied regression class helped clarify my readings in research methods. The theories discussed in my policy analysis class underpinned the teachings in my contemporary issues in gender policy course. Instead of accepting this fluidity at face value, I questioned and doubted it. It did not seem possible that I could actually identify core concepts in different classes let alone find ways to coherently employ them through interdisciplinary action. And then when I realized this was not a fluke or some construed imposter syndrome, it all started to click.

The Heller MPP program‘s curriculum design fosters accessible education, which promotes applicable learning. Each course structure enables the student to build upon the course material not just within the designated class, but throughout their time at Heller. No class, concept, or curriculum exists in a chasm. This cohesion reinforces each new idea and on a personal note, helps me to feel more confident in my skills, aptitude, and intellect. I am proud of my academic growth and I am indebted to Heller for pushing me to see beyond the class schedule binary.

Looking ahead to your Capstone with Sami Rovins

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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.

Yes to Summer Reading

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

A defining assignment in my Heller career came before I even stepped foot in the classroom. The summer before the program begins, in addition to some of the virtual on-boarding and orientation programs, Heller asks all MPP students to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Typically, when we think of summer reads, they are romance novels and light reads to match the airiness and warmth of the summer.

I would not say that The New Jim Crow fits the description. According to a New Yorker piece published in 2020, The New Jim Crow “[…] considers not only the enormity and cruelty of the American prison system but also […] the way the war on drugs and the justice system have been used as a ‘system of control’ that shatters the lives of millions of Americans—particularly young black and Hispanic men.” All the same, it had sat on my book list for months and I was excited for the push from Heller to finally read it. 

Not only did The New Jim Crow set the foundation for my studies at Heller, but it was also the perfect summer book. I was enthralled, as so many pieces of a broken system were weaved together by one coherent report. It sought to educate the reader without incendiary or alienating language. It brought clarity; in a time of publicized racial reckoning, The New Jim Crow meticulously outlined the past, present, and future of racial prejudice. It fostered a sense of renewal through its emphasis on the magnitude of work that needs to be done and the political vacuum that must be filled to attain retribution. It underscored shared accountability. Most of all, it provided a refreshed account of our systemic perpetuation of slavery through its digestible, direct, and transparent telling. 

Since consuming Alexander’s words a year ago, my work and studies have been grounded by the narratives of the millions who suffer under American persecution. The confines of American society conscript too many to an unjust life: they force individuals to live a life of constant fear devoid of any respect or decency. The emotional and sociological brutality of the institutional and social imbalance in the United States can entrap and torture a person, without having to place them in a physical prison cell. And Michelle Alexander uses her platform to demonstrate that too many are still waiting for physical and emotional salvation.  

Heller’s commitment to the eradication of discrimination can be seen in the requirement of each public policy student to engage with such material as The New Jim Crow. We as a nation can only be as good as our worst policy. As a school, we can only be as impactful as the effort we put in – and after I closed a heavily marked-up copy of The New Jim Crow, I knew Heller was the place I was going to learn to make a difference.

Wondering What Courses to Take? Sami Has Suggestions!

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

When I first took a look at Heller’s course list, I felt overwhelmed by so many fascinating options. Choosing which classes to take is definitely no easy task at Heller, but to make it *slightly* easier for you, I’ve created a list of some of my favorite courses. I definitely recommend taking a look at these classes (or other classes taught by these professors) when it’s time to create your own course schedules.

  1. “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” with Professor Nanako Tamaru was a truly enlightening course about the role of women in peacemaking processes. I especially enjoyed the structure of this class and appreciated Professor Tamaru’s ability to spark a fascinating discussion among classmates. I also loved our final project: An opportunity to write an op-ed that will ultimately be published on Professor Tamaru’s “Women, Peace, and Security” blog. You can find the blog and other examples of final projects for the course here.
  2. Professor Lawrence Bailis’s course on “Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing” is another favorite of mine. Each week, Professor Bailis would invite a guest speaker to tell the class about their experience and answer questions. Hearing from actual activists about their real world experiences in advocacy and organizing presenting such an insightful perspective. The variety of issues our guest speakers represented was enormous. We heard from participants in the Egyptian revolution, gun rights activists, American politicians, and leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  3. During my two years at Heller, I’ve taken three different classes with Professor Raj Sampath, and I really recommend checking out some of his courses. Each class has only one assignment: A 10-ish page paper on a subject of your choosing related to sustainable international development. I love the freedom of being able to choose my own research topic! Professor Sampath’s classes are very discussion-based, and we would often break out into smaller groups to talk about that week’s topic. The course introduced me to many social theorists and philosophers who helped inform my work as a peace-builder and conflict resolver.
  4. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I began Professor Lee Panas’s course on STATA software. I initially felt intimidated by data management and statistics, but Professor Panas has an amazing way of making his students feel comfortable and supported. STATA is a complicated and nuanced software and I wanted to add it as another tool in my tool belt. I also recommend this course because knowledge of STATA can be hugely helpful as you enter the job market. I now feel much more comfortable managing and analyzing data because of Professor Panas’s course.

There are many, many fantastic courses to choose from at Heller, and these are just four of them. I highly recommend considering these classes, but if that’s not a possibility, I certainly recommend connecting with these professors during your time here at Heller. Happy class registration!

Time Management Challenge: Summer MBA Courses

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

After enjoying a few weeks off since the conclusion of the spring semester, I’m about to begin my summer MBA semester. To somewhat repurpose the saying, I expect this experience to be both a marathon and a sprint. Heller MBAs take 16 credits over the summer, the same as we would during a typical fall or spring semester, with some credits covered by a Team Consulting Project and some earned through 3 accelerated courses. While it feels a bit strange to be gearing up for MORE work, rather than less, as the weather gets warmer and things begin to gradually reopen, I am optimistic about learning a lot and having the opportunity to focus intensely on my coursework and consulting project. This has got me thinking a bit about time management, a skill that I imagine will be tested quite a bit this summer. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in this area, per se, but I think I’ve developed a bit more expertise in how to plan ahead in classes throughout my time at Heller. Here are a few things I recommend to anyone wondering how time management and planning work in grad school:

  • Plan ahead (review the syllabus!)

Folks who have taken the MBA summer courses in the past have recommended reading the whole syllabus for each course and planning ahead. Before classes actually begin, it could be worth getting a head start on readings, talking to peers about forming group project teams, and being aware of deadlines. I’ve found this approach to be useful during the fall and spring semesters as well.

  • Use your calendar

Google Calendar is an invaluable tool. I block off time that I’m in class in addition to meetings and other activities that are formally scheduled with other people. This can be helpful to make sure days off from class are reflected on your calendar and to anticipate conflicts. Perhaps slightly less obvious advice is to put assignment deadlines on your calendar. I’ve noticed that I don’t anticipate as well when I will be particularly busy unless I do this – having two or three things due within a few days isn’t something you want to realize at the last minute!

  • Anticipate challenges and points of interest

Another advantage of reviewing course syllabi is to identify areas that will either be particularly interesting or particularly challenging for you. For instance, in anticipation of taking corporate finance this summer, I’ve spent some time on Investopedia reading up on general concepts. It helps that, hopefully, you’ll actually be interested in the material you encounter at Heller!

I’ve found that managing my time in grad school is a different process than when I was working full time. The commonality, I think, is that planning ahead and being honest with others and with yourself about what you can reasonably take on, pay dividends. Perhaps comparing this summer to either a marathon or a sprint is inaccurate – it’s more like a relay race, in which your teammates are there to help you out, and despite the rigor and intensity of the process there are still chances to catch your breath.

 

Facing Your Fears at Heller

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Over the last two years at the Heller School, I found myself face to face with one of my biggest fears: public speaking. I’ve given many presentations during my time at Heller, but I’ve always been a ball of nerves in the days leading up to each one. Yet I’ve challenged myself to tackle my fear of public speaking, and I have also found useful ways to cope with the anxiety. As I approach my final presentation, the presentation when I present my thesis, I can’t help but think of how proud I feel to engage in public speaking despite my discomfort with it.

Whenever I give a presentation, I always make sure to do my “power pose” right beforehand. This helps me to feel more assertive and strong. It might even seem silly, but from my experience, striking a “power pose” can help improve confidence. It’s a small act, but it makes a difference for me when I am delivering a presentation. In fact, many social psychologists describe the benefits of striking a powerful stance, and emphasize that it can be a helpful “life hack”.

I’m also preparing to present my thesis with lots (and lots and lots) of practice. It may also sound simple, but it is very true that “practice makes perfect”. It is important to feel comfortable with the material I’m presenting and feel comfortable and confident in the way I want to convey my findings and analysis. This, of course, helps cut down on my anxiety, as I grow more and more comfortable telling my story. Practicing my presentation with a friend also provides me with useful and helpful feedback. It is so helpful to do a test run (or two) before the big day! That way, you have some time to iron out any wrinkles that might pop up in your practice presentations.

It is also so important to remember that Heller is an environment in which your thoughts, ideas, and experiences are welcome. Your professors and classmates you are presenting to are eager to hear from you. They are listening with interest, openness, and curiosity. You will simply not find a hostile audience at the Heller School. Instead, you’ll be met with an audience who want you to succeed.

These are the practices I am keeping in mind as I approach my final presentation at Heller. Relatively simple acts, like striking a “power pose”, can make a world of difference. A healthy amount of practice is always my best route. And lastly, I am keeping in mind how receptive, curious, and interested my Heller audience will be to hear about my thesis.

(Half of) A Week in the Life of a Heller Student

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Working as a Graduate Assistant in Heller Admissions, prospective students often ask: “what is it like to be a Heller student?”. My response is always, “in what way?”.  Are you curious to discover the number of hours you should set aside weekly for assignments and readings? How to get involved in clubs and other social groups? Student job hours? Or, perhaps you are seeking to uncover what the course content is like? Well, I am hoping this blog post serves as an example to help answer all of the above. **As a disclaimer, this is my own personal experience, and I in no way claim to speak on behalf of others at Heller.

Monday: I am naturally an early morning person, and spend around two hours each morning reading and working on assignments before class. So, I am up around 6am and prepare the readings for the classes to come. I log onto Zoom around 8:55am to be ready for class to start at 9am. This class, entitled, Immigrant Integration in the United States: Policy, Practice and People is technically part of the Public Policy Masters. However, as a student at Heller, I am able to take courses across disciplines to fulfill elective requirements. This class, with around 25 students, lasts just under 3 hours and concludes at 11:50am. I try to intentionally keep Monday afternoons as open as possible, as it is my set aside family time. But, I usually end up working on assignments or readings for around 2 hours at some point in the afternoon or evening.

Tuesday: One of my student jobs includes working as an English Language Programs Tutor (ELP), so I meet with two tutees this morning, one at 7am-8am, and the other from 9am-10am. I also spend time working my GA job this morning, working from 8am-2pm (with an hour break for the tutee). Each week I spend 3 hours as an ELP, and 7-8 hours as a GA. At 2pm my role switches back to a student, as I jump into my Women, Peacemaking and Peace-building class. This course is part of the Masters in Coexistence program, and while it fulfills a gender requirement for my SID degree, I am always impressed by the quality of the content and walk away having learned so much. This class goes from 2-4:50pm and has around 35 students.

Wednesday: This is my “Zoomiest” day. 9-11:50am I virtually attend Bioethics and Intersectionality. This class is a requirement for the MS GHPM program, my second degree. Last week, from 12:30-1pm I attended a small “Coffee with the Dean” event, as I deeply value networking and love to socialize. Then, from 1pm-2pm I have a meeting with the Heller Student Association (HSA). This year I was elected to be the co-coordinator for events, but will take on the role as co-chair of HSA for next year – this is a great way to get connected and to invest in your graduate school experience. Then, from 2-4:50pm my class, Strategic Management takes place. This is an MBA course. As someone who is interested in leadership, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to take this course, which also counts as an elective. My day is not done yet! From 5:30-7pm I meet with my Brandeis Graduate Christian Fellowship pals. This is the highlight to a long day, and another way to get connected.

Thursday: After working on assignments for a few hours, I log into my 9am class, Randomized Controlled Trials (aka Advanced M&E). This is a SID class with about 10 students. This class is much more technical than theoretical, and I have been intentional to include a good mix within my electives to sharpen my hard and soft skills.

How Can Map-Making Impact Social Policy?

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I wouldn’t call myself a gifted geographer. I can’t name every state or national capital, identify every country on a map, or give directions from the Brandeis campus with any consistent accuracy. Nonetheless, for whatever reason (perhaps stir-craziness and fantasizing about travel while stuck at home during the pandemic?) I have been on a bit of a cartography binge. Exploring potential travel or post-graduation relocation destinations on Google maps has been a favorite pastime (or procrastination technique); and, like many people, I’ve also relied on interactive maps to keep up with new developments related to Covid-19. This interest spurred my decision to take Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) last semester, and Applied GIS this semester. Through these courses, I’ve gotten a better sense of the landscape of GIS as a tool and professional area. I thought I’d use this blog post to share some map-related items of interest, and to encourage prospective students to consider pursuing GIS courses at Heller.

So, in no particular order, here a few interesting mapping examples:

StoryMaps

ESRI, the software company which makes the GIS software used in Heller classes, offers the online StoryMap platform as a way for researchers to create visual narrative blogs. Many feature relatively simple maps, but are still dynamic and engaging as an approach to visual storytelling. While my own academic interests are more aligned with social and political geography, I’ve really enjoyed StoryMaps focused on nature and wildlife, like this one about grizzly bear habitats in the American West.

Mapping Inequality

This incredible, and disturbing, resource illustrates patterns of residential segregation (red-lining) created by federal home loan programs in the post-war United States. This map also serves as an example of the GIS technique of georeferencing, in which images (in this case historical maps depicting the infamous color-coding of neighborhoods which reinforced segregation) are joined to maps containing geographic coordinate information.

MapScaping Podcast

I was introduced to this podcast in the GIS courses at Heller. It’s a great resource to learn about the geospatial community, including new techniques and professional development opportunities.

“On Exactitude in Science” (easy to find a translation online, or in a library)

One of my favorite writers is Jorge Luis Borges. His (extremely) short story “On Exactitude in Science” is a wonderful commentary on the tension between precision and practicality in gathering and presenting data, and reflects the fact that the presentation and use of social information is culturally coded (in this case the culture is that of a fictional civilization) and contentious. It’s always fun when things I encountered as an English major are relevant to my Heller coursework!

I’ll close by emphasizing again how useful some basic mapping skills (and my GIS skills are certainly still those of an amateur) can be for students of policy, conflict studies, and international development. GIS, and data visualization in general, are becoming increasingly important to practitioners in the fields for which Heller prepares its students. I definitely encourage everyone to consider taking a GIS course.

 

Changing the World 101: Policy Analysis

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

I applied to graduate school because I believed I had the right temperament, measurable drive, and agile flexibility to challenge policy. But I felt like I was lacking the tactical skills and knowledge one gets most often from education to excel in the field. So, I was excited to start school in the fall. The prospect of online classes felt like another hurdle, but not one that couldn’t be conquered. My fears did not surround the platform itself, rather my own ability to remain focused and engaged when not in the rigorous academic setting of a classroom and instead mostly confined to my bedroom. As the days got colder, the temptations to forego schoolwork and answer the bed’s beckoning call became harder to ignore. Course topics got more convoluted and difficult.

Yet Policy Analysis continued to make sense. The integration of quizzes and activities allowed me to stay on top of the concepts in class. I’ll admit, if you ask me to define “triangulation,” I may falter – but I can clearly describe the processes by which we conduct a cost-effective analysis. I can identify the work happening at an NGO and explain how it differs from work at the municipal level and the people employed in each sector. I can distinguish between different modes of analysis and when best to use a case study and meta-analysis.

While all of this is so helpful, the most important thing I walk away from Mike’s Policy Analysis class with does not center around one theory or research process. It has taught me to be confident in the unknown. The policy realm is ever-expanding and changing, and that means that nothing is ever completely solidified. Before Heller, I assumed that policy work meant that I needed to fully grasp every component before I could commit to a task. This sample course has provided a secure and nimble foundation for policy work. That is not to say that there aren’t many necessary and vital models and concepts that need to be addressed, as there are quite a few, but this class helped to illuminate who and how one becomes active in policy. Now that this is done, I am ready to really delve into the meat of the work. I have learned that because some of this work is dense, it requires more attention (and maybe a second or third read). But I came to graduate school because I believed I had the right temperament, measurable drive, and agile flexibility to challenge policy. And now I can add confidence to that list.

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