Tag: Classes at Heller (page 2 of 2)

New Semester, New Challenges

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

With the semester in full swing, I’ve had some time to get used to some new types of classes that I am taking this fall. In the first year of the MPP program, most of my coursework involved extensive reading, writing, and qualitative data analysis, but not as much quantitative content (with the exception of a full year of statistics, which I really enjoyed!). Now that I have enrolled in the MBA program as well, I have embarked on a sequence of accounting and finance classes, beginning with Financial Reporting and Analysis this semester, as well as taking Economics of Social Policy. It is strange to suddenly have problem sets on a weekly basis for two classes, and to have quizzes and midterm exams. I believe the last time I took a formal, closed-note exam was about a decade ago! Intimidating as it may be to memorize the formatting and rules of various kinds of financial statements, learn how to complete adjusted journal entries, and reacquaint myself to the discipline of studying for quizzes and midterms, I am really pleased to be delving into this subject matter. As I hope to work on policy related to labor and workforce development, I hope that developing a stronger foundation in finance and economics will prepare me to better understand corporate behavior, the job market, and macroeconomic policies that impact wages and employment.

It’s also great to balance writing- and reading-intensive classes with quantitative ones – it adds variety to assignments and helps with exercising different intellectual muscles. That said, at Heller the coursework is interdisciplinary, and many classes involve multiple types of thinking, both qualitative and quantitative. One example is a program evaluation course that I am taking this fall. The assignments require us to simulate the work of a consultant or program evaluator working with a non-profit organization. I found myself getting really excited about a data visualization assignment for this class (I think my Excel skills developed more in one Sunday afternoon than in several years working in an office!). While I chose Heller in part due to the MPP program’s emphasis on writing, research, and organizational skills (rather than being primarily focused on quantitative analysis and economics, as some policy programs are), I now find myself craving further opportunities to hone my data analysis skills. I am taking an introductory Geographic Information Systems course during the second half of this semester, and am considering enrolling in a big data course at Brandeis’ International Business School this spring. It’s great to know that opportunities are available at Heller, and at Brandeis, to challenge yourself and try new things. While I’m not necessarily thrilled about having midterm and final exams rather than papers, I’m glad to have dusted off my calculator and delved into the world of accounting, economics, and data analysis this semester.

Changing the World 101: Sami Rovins’ Favorite Classes

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Professor Lempereur’s course in Responsible Negotiation is a core component of the COEX curriculum.  Throughout my first semester at Heller, we learned to negotiate in different scenarios with a variety of (often challenging) people. Some negotiations were in-person, others could only take place by video chat, demonstrating how difficult negotiations could be based on the type of communication being used. In some negotiations, Professor Lempereur would even encourage one side to be particularly tough on the other. The goal was for our negotiations to mirror real-life scenarios that we might face as negotiators working in the world.

There wasn’t one typical or expected type of negotiation in this course. We sometimes negotiated in groups or teams, and sometimes one-on-one. At times these negotiations took place in person, sometimes by email. The negotiations covered a huge range of topics – from a legal dispute over car repairs, to political negotiations over a fictional autonomous region, to the personal and professional issues between two owners of a tech company. Our cohort didn’t simply learn how to responsibly negotiate, but we were also taught how to effectively prepare, how to debrief following a negotiation, how to properly manage our time, and how to work with (rather than against) the people with whom we negotiated.

As the final day of our Responsible Negotiation course, we played a complicated “game” called SIMSOC in which we had to simulate a society in every aspect. The COEX cohort was broken up into groups, each of which represented a different community. I was a member of the poorest community. While each group was given certain resources to begin the SIMSOC game with, our group began with no jobs, money, or food, and we had no ability to travel to the other regions. We quickly realized we would have to wait until another group visited us, and so we began to prepare for the negotiations that would take place once they did.

When we finally interacted with members from the other groups, we managed to pledge votes to a political party in exchange for jobs. Soon, however, our group began to split on the topic of money. Some wanted the money we were now earning to be collective, others wanted to keep their money for themselves. This led to a heated debate and ultimately two members of our community defected to another. SIMSOC took place over the course of the morning and afternoon, and by the end, the COEX cohort was exhausted. We finished the day at the Stein, a restaurant and bar on Brandeis’ campus. It was a great way for me, my fellow COEX students, and Professor Lempereur to unwind after a long and challenging final day of class.

Back to School with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As a second-year student at Heller, I spent my summer wondering what beginning a brand new program would be like in an online context. Would it even be possible to meet new people and make friends over Zoom? I had no idea what to expect. I was worried that I would start the MS GHPM program, but I wouldn’t have the opportunity to fully get to know my classmates or professors. It was difficult not to compare my speculations about my upcoming experience at Heller to my time last year as a COEX student attending in-person classes.

Although the new semester is only a few weeks in, many of my fears surrounding making personal connections have already dissipated. In the first few days of MS GHPM classes, I felt relieved to see that as a cohort, we were managing to gradually get to know each other over Zoom. The “breakout room” function on Zoom makes a big difference in this regard. Breaking off into smaller groups of 4 or 5 students a few times during each class provides an opportunity to actually meet one another, and to get a better sense of who the people are behind each of the little boxes on the Zoom screen. In the breakout rooms, we’re able to ask each other how we’re adjusting to the new school year and how we’re handling our assignments. Ultimately, we all get a better sense of each other as individuals in this way.

A few students in the MS GHPM cohort had an excellent idea to create a WhatsApp group that everyone could join. This has served a few functions for us. In the WhatsApp group, we’re able to collaborate on ideas, share tips on assignments, and get to know each other a little better overall. We even have the chance to blow off steam by commiserating about all the work we have to complete. The WhatsApp group helps to individualize each of us, and helps to put faces and names together.

Now, a little over two weeks into the semester, I feel more confident that I’ll be able to foster and maintain personal connections with members of my cohort. Professors are also extremely accessible and often have extended office hours for students to get to know their teachers even better. It’s a relief to know that even behind a computer screen, making personal connections is not only possible, but also fun and exciting. I feel hopeful about my upcoming year at Heller, and hopeful that I’ll continue to make meaningful connections with my MS GHPM cohort, even in a digital world.

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!

Heller Reading List: Sami Rovins Shares Her Favorite Readings

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

The readings I encountered in Professor Firchow’s course, “Theory and Analysis of Conflict Resolution and Coexistence” were especially compelling. In this debate-centered class, we read a lot of material that made me think critically about a range of topics related to conflict resolution and peacebuilding. While discussing the topic of civil resistance, Professor Firchow assigned us to read Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s 2011 study. Their study focused on the effectiveness of 323 different nonviolent campaigns that took place between the years 1900 and 2006. Their findings indicated that civil resistance campaigns are significantly more successful than campaigns that are violent. Chenoweth and Stephan contended that nonviolent campaigns are successful because they include participation from a wide array of citizens, because they encourage regime defections, and because they employ a diversity of strategies and tactics.

I was struck by this study because it clearly contributed significant and concrete data to the field of civil resistance. The authors did so by surveying a wide array of nonviolent campaigns taking place over 106 years. The 323 campaigns Chenoweth and Stephan analyzed demonstrated that nonviolent resistance campaigns against authoritarian regimes were twice as likely to succeed as violent movements. Nonviolent civil resistance also increased the chances that the overthrow of a dictatorship would ultimately lead to peace and democracy. They also found that during those 106 years, countries in which nonviolent campaigns failed were about four times as likely to later transition to democracy as countries where violent resistance movements took place. Essentially, Chenoweth and Stephan argue that nonviolent resistance is not simply the “moral” thing to do, but it is also the most effective means of creating change.

I found the authors’ arguments convincing and appreciated their use of data collected over a vast number of years. Their findings were a huge contribution to the fields of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. I also think the authors’ arguments are so valuable now more than ever, considering the protests we’ve witnessed across the US. These protests have predominantly been nonviolent, yet there have been incidents of violence and looting as well. For those of us who are fighting and hoping for change, Chenoweth and Stephan’s study could not be more relevant today. I also appreciate this aspect of the readings we were assigned in Professor Firchow’s class. These readings provide for intellectually stimulating debate in the classroom, but they also serve a very practical purpose as we move forward in our careers as peacebuilders in this world.

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

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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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