Tag: Community (page 1 of 2)

Navigating Challenges in Graduate School with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Life can be interrupted when you least expect it. So what happens when grad school gets interrupted? Life events don’t pause, and life doesn’t seem to care that you’re a busy grad student. Whether you’re dealing with an illness or injury, the loss of a family member, or even a bad breakup, how can you make grad school manageable while dealing with other difficult life events?

I have recent personal experience with this. I had an accident which resulted in my tailbone breaking (ouch!). Winter in Waltham can be tough sometimes, and I fell after slipping on a patch of ice on one particularly chilly evening. In a split second, I was in a great deal of pain and discomfort. Shortly after, my graduate student fears began to creep in when I realized school would now be even more difficult.

I had to spend most of my time laying down, making it almost impossible to get any of my work finished. I could hardly sit through a 3-hour class or even a 1-hour meeting for a group project. I felt worried that maybe this injury would delay my upcoming graduation from Heller.

So, what would I recommend doing when life rudely interrupts your plans? In my case, I felt it was important to be as proactive as possible. I quickly contacted Sandy Jones, the Executive Director of Heller’s Global Programs. She is an incredible resource here at Heller, and she is eager to offer support to students. She was able to contact all of my professors to let them know I may need extra time completing assignments over the coming weeks. It is so important to have someone to advocate for you when you truly need it!

At Heller, I feel very lucky to have professors, staff, and fellow students who are understanding and patient when something inconvenient arises. Of course, I do still have that typical “grad student guilt” when I put myself and my health above my responsibilities as a student. Luckily, my friends and classmates remind me that self-care is a priority, and my professors have been so understanding when I can’t attend class or submit an assignment on time.

Life happens! And you never really know when an illness, injury, or personal tragedy might strike. It’s been comforting to know that at Heller, you’ll find a community of helpful and understanding people to help you through. Don’t feel shy to share with your classmates either! No one at Heller is here to make negative judgments about you, your choices, or your needs. It’s great to know that Heller is a tight-knit community of people who will be there for you when you need it most.

How Social Justice Oriented is Heller? Andrea Shares Her Thoughts

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Disclaimer: This blog post reflects my personal views and experience in Heller’s MPP program. I cannot guarantee that it reflects the experience of all students of color throughout all Heller programs.

As a Graduate Assistant in the Admissions Office and a current student in the Masters of Public Policy program, I have the pleasure of interviewing many prospective MPP students. What’s interesting is that you all want to know one thing: Is Heller really the social justice school it claims to be? As a Black student and active rabble-rouser in the MPP program, I know the answer to this question very well: Yes.

First, let me be real with you, Heller is not perfect. There is a serious lack of diversity among staff and faculty that has been acknowledged by Heller leadership and is being addressed. The diversity within the MPP program is also lacking. However, this has increased every year during the past 3-5 years, which gives me hope. Both of these issues can easily lead to students only learning from a white, liberal perspective. To counteract this in the short-term, professors are transforming their syllabi to reflect a greater diversity of perspectives. It’s apparent by the way Heller addresses its shortcomings that, through all of its faults, this school still holds true to its motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice.”

I’ve been blown away by the awareness of those whom I have encountered on staff and faculty regarding racial and economic disparities within America. (Note: The MPP program mainly uses a national lens. I cannot speak for the SID, COEX, or GHPM programs, but I would hope that they are just as aware.) Yet as good-intentioned and—for lack of a better term—woke as Heller staff and faculty are, intentions do not always reflect impact. For all of their awareness, they can still be blind to how these disparities affect their students.

The Fall 2020 semester was mentally and emotionally exhausting for many of us at Heller. I saw that this was particularly apparent among the students of color within my first-year cohort. Not only were our families and communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also had to continually watch people who looked like us be killed by the police with little to no retribution. Moreover, we had to discuss these topics and other forms of oppression during class as if we weren’t personally affected by them. It was exhausting.

Our professors’ intent was to shed light on the drastic disparities experienced by people of color in America. Yet their impact was an endless stream of emotionally draining conversations, that, while important to have, are not easy for those with lived experiences to walk away from. It’s not easy for us to turn off these topics in our head and focus on normal coursework. Heller needed to understand this.

The students of color throughout Heller’s MPP program came together that semester to write a letter to Heller leadership requesting more support from faculty and staff, such as: providing more spaces for us to heal together, in-class acknowledgment of our lived experiences, safe pathways for students to vocalize their needs, and more. To our surprise, Heller leadership responded immediately and worked with us to implement the changes we requested. We felt seen and heard by those in positions of power. There is still much work to be done, but that experience was confirmation that we had chosen the right school, a school whose commitment to advancing social justice stands firm, even if it has to reevaluate its own system to do so.

FINALS!: It’s Crunch Time for Doug Nevins

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As another semester draws to a close, Heller students find ourselves in the midst of another finals period. Returning from Thanksgiving break to a marathon session of exams and other assignments is a bit of a rude awakening, but luckily the end is in sight!

In my first year as an MPP student, my midterms and finals mostly consisted of research-based papers and policy briefs. Getting back into the swing of academic research and writing was a challenge after years of being out of school, but ultimately I felt like I was reviving skills I had used frequently in college. Having been an English major, I wrote a lot of essays in college! Exams, not so much. Now, as a first-year MBA dual degree student, I have found myself confronting both papers and exams, both take home and “in-person” (over Zoom). This is a new challenge entirely and has required me to rediscover study skills long neglected since high school. Flashcards? Check. Moments of frustration about a persistently confusing concept? Check.

The best thing about studying for exams at Heller is that everyone is in the same boat and that studying need not be a solitary activity. As much as I have sometimes found that the most productive use of time is to rewatch lecture videos, review textbooks, and drill accounting and econ problems on my own, in general, I have found it even more beneficial to hop on Zoom with a friend or two and go over course content together. This would be my number one recommendation for future Heller students. No matter how well you think you understand a concept, you’ll feel more confident once you’re able to explain it to someone else. I often find that when I study with friends, our collective intelligence (I recommend the Leadership and Organizational Behavior course if you’re interested in this concept!) far exceeds our individual knowledge of the material.

This same principle holds true for writing papers. Part of the appeal of studying public policy for me was the prospect of discussing topics with curious, knowledgeable, and critical peers. This has definitely been the case at Heller, where I know that my MPP classmates will offer insightful comments and feedback on my ideas for research papers and projects. I’m actually looking forward to the last few assignments I have, once I’ve completed my more quantitative finals because I’ll have the opportunity to dig into a policy area of interest.

The finals period is no picnic, but the supportive culture at Heller makes it manageable. Faculty care about our learning and growth, and assignments are intended not to trip us up but to help us confirm that we understand course concepts and can apply them. As weird as it is to be taking exams again, I know this process will help me feel more confident upon leaving Heller that I’ve gained new knowledge and skills. Plus, we have a long, well-earned winter break at the end of the finals period! Good luck to my fellow students – we’re in the home stretch!

Time to Give Thanks

I have a confession to make: Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that, in all honesty, I hate it. I’ve been a vegetarian for eighteen years, so the turkeys, hams, gravy, green beans (with bacon), collard greens (with bacon), and other traditional Thanksgiving foods hold very little appeal to me. I live about a thousand miles away from the majority of my family, and going home so close to winter holidays is usually not an option for me. Throw in its decidedly problematic history, and it all adds up to a holiday I’m not particularly interested in celebrating.

With that being said, I think there is something lovely about the idea of a day set aside for giving thanks, especially in these times, where there is so much to be unhappy, or disappointed, or discouraged about. With all the problems in the world, it’s nice to have a day where I take the time to recognize all that there is to be thankful for. So, without further ado (or futher maudlin reflections), here are some things that I find myself truly thankful for this year.

My co-workers. Oh no, is that cheesy? Even if it is, it’s true and I have to give credit where credit is due. I had only been at Heller for seven months when the pandemic forced us to move to working from home, and it would have been so easy for me to feel isolated and disconnected if not for my amazing co-workers. I speak to the other staff members on the admissions team at least once a day, and we have a weekly staff meeting where we share our accomplishments and what we’re working on this week, as well as catch up on what we’re watching on Netflix (I recommend The Queen’s Gambit!). The larger Heller community also frequently meets up for Coffee with the Dean, and I’ll admit that the Election Week Conversations with the Dean is one of the only things that kept me calm that week. Since this is, after all, a blog post, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the amazing graduate assistants that write for this blog and share their experiences with all of you. Which leads me to…

The fourth season of Netflix’s The Crown. I’m a huge British history buff, but to be honest; I know way more about the Tudor, Jacobean, or Elizabethan era than I know about contemporary British history. The Crown has been a fun introduction to a time in British history I hadn’t known about for the last few years (for example, I had heard of the Profumo Affair, but didn’t know any of the details), but the fourth season was absolutely incredible. For those not watching, this season focuses on Princess Diana’s introduction and marriage to Prince Charles; it may seem silly to say that I don’t want to spoil anything since the events themselves happened forty years ago, but even if you know the outlines of the story, the storytelling still manages to take you by surprise.

This blog. I’d wanted to start an Admissions’ Blog since almost my first month at Heller, but it never quite felt like the right time. Then, when the world as we know it came crashing down in March, it seemed like the perfect time to launch. My goals at the offset were two-fold: first, that it would be a place to share authentic experiences about Heller, and second, that it would help students with the application process, especially students who may not be familiar with the graduate application process. I would like to think that we’ve met those goals, and more. I’m thankful, again, for our student bloggers for sharing their stories and experiences, and allowing me to see a side of Heller that I don’t always get to see.

The rise of TikTok. Yes, TikTok is a massive time thief, but I have to admit that I am thankfulfor it. In these times of isolation, I find myself incredibly grateful for people all over the world who are trying to make others laugh or trying to teach strangers how to bake bread. TikTok truly has something for everyone, and I’ve found myself reconnecting to old friends by sending them videos that remind me of them. I also learned how to make an absolutely incredible butternut squash curry, and it’s now my go-to weekday lunch.

All of you. Again, I know this is terribly cheesy, but it is true. As of today, this blog has had its best month yet in terms of visitors and views. There are so many people, from all over the world (this month we’ve had readers from Columbia, Switzerland, Ghana, India, Tanzania, Germany, and so many more), who are interested in learning more about Heller. And if you’re interested in Heller, I know that means that you are interested and passionate about making the world a better place and creating meaningful change. It’s been a dark year in many ways, but every time I see the statistics for the blog, I’m reminded of just how many people there are out there that want to make a difference.

For this post, I’m opening up the comments: I’d love to hear what you’re grateful for!

 

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.

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.

Peace Corps + Heller: A Perfect Combination

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

Editor’s Note: This is a bittersweet post, because it’s Elizabeth’s last one for the blog. She graduated from the SID/MBA dual program at the end of last year, but remained on staff for the summer while she was looking for a job… and she was offered a full time position as a Program Manager for Social Entrepreneurship for All starting last month! Congratulations again, Elizabeth, but you will be so missed!

Walking the halls of Heller, you will inevitably come across a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. These students and leaders are recognizable because they will inevitably have stories of living overseas, starting their conversations with the iconic “When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in….” It’s an identity that comes with leaving the US behind to spend 2+ memorable years as a grassroots international development worker in another country. 

As a member of this elusive group, I can proudly say that my Peace Corps experience in Swaziland (now called Eswatini), has been a life-changing experience that has defined my career path and time at Heller. As a recent Heller graduate who completed the Social Impact MBA and Master’s in Sustainable International Development (SID) concentrating in Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Management, I brought my experiences from my Peace Corps service into all of my conversations and projects, both inside and outside of the classroom. 

I officially started my service as a Youth Development Volunteer in Swaziland, a small landlocked country in southern Africa in 2013. But because of my family and upbringing, I knew in high school that I wanted to join the Peace Corps. As a first-generation American-born citizen, I was raised with a strong commitment to service, as exemplified through my family trips to Vietnam, where we worked in rural communities by building homes, supporting school children with school supplies, and advocating for health and hygiene.

The natural progression for my love of service grew into joining the Peace Corps. Throughout my three and a half years, I worked primarily on supporting students at a A group of students stands smiling together in formal clothingchildren’s home. I also ran a handcraft social enterprise supporting over 70 women and men in three rural communities. It was my first introduction to managing a business, and I was responsible for everything from creating a budget and international marketing strategy to planning trainings for the artisans. I was challenged but thrived, learning through this experience, that I loved the social impact part of enterprises. I decided to stay a third year in Swaziland to work with Enactus, an international organization working with youth social entrepreneurship, where I helped develop the communications and programs of the organization to increase impact with the students we worked with and the communities we served. 

I returned to the US and knew that I wanted to pursue a Social Impact MBA to further my education and to learn more about how to run a business so that I can best support other entrepreneurs around the world. At Heller, the MBA classes have helped me better understand business strategies, financial management, and even business pitches. My SID classes have helped me focus my work on Southern African countries like South Africa and Swaziland. 

I even was able to help plan the annual Social Impact Startup Challenge and Hult Prize competitions, encouraging other students across all programs with ideas to start businesses. Last year, I was also asked to present in front of an audience at Brandeis University’s Africa Culture Night, where I was able to highlight my experiences in Swaziland. It amazes me how much my service has changed my life and directed my time at Heller and as I move forward into my next job as a Program Manager for Entrepreneurship for All, I am excited to bring my Peace Corps and Heller experiences to create maximum impact for entrepreneurs and their communities.

Socializing while Socially Distancing: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

The thing I miss most about being in-person at Heller is the spontaneous interaction with fellow students, faculty, and staff that happens in the halls, Zinner forum, and at the front desk of Heller Admissions when people say hello to me during my shift. As much as I’ve missed having opportunities to grab coffee with friends at the Heller Starbucks, discuss assignments after class, or chat with my fellow Somerville residents on the commuter rail, it’s been great to keep in touch with people via virtual and socially distanced hangouts.

The MPP program faculty have been sure to plan opportunities to meet as a cohort and talk about how our summers are going. We periodically have “tea” with the director, Mike Doonan, over Zoom, and check-in with smaller groups by concentration. As MPP students, we’ve arranged a Zoom happy hour each week and have been able to meet many of the incoming students virtually, while I’ve also been able to take part in trivia and other virtual ice breakers with the incoming MBA cohort. I recently had a chance to discuss my summer internship, and hear about other students’, during a Zoom meeting with faculty and career services staff. It was great to hear what amazing projects people have been involved with despite the challenge of remote work.

I’ve also attended Zoom birthday parties with friends from Heller, watched humorously bad movies and Tiger King, and met up with classmates in Somerville and Waltham parks as the weather has gotten warmer (with six feet between us). I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much my MPP cohort has kept in touch, and I’m excited to begin a new academic year virtually knowing that the camaraderie and collaborative spirit of Heller endures.

The Start of a New Year

Growing up, the start of the new school year was always my favorite time of year. I loved buying new notebooks and highlighters, decorating binders, and adding in meetings and important dates to my agenda (can you tell I was a bit of a nerd?). To me, the new school year meant a fresh beginning, a clean slate. The struggles of the last year were wiped away, and I was now able to re-invent myself however I chose: maybe this year I would try out for a school play, or learn an instrument, or join a new club.

This year feels a little different (for starters, we are still dealing with the struggles of last year). As yesterday morning’s nationwide outage of Zoom effectively demonstrated, there will certainly be even more challenges ahead of us this school year. Heller is embarking on an ambitious project: not how to adapt our community and our academics to a virtual environment, but how to improve it. How to make something that is not an imitation of the past, but something that envisions a better and brighter future.

It’s difficult for me to not feel that there is some parallel between this project and the current state of the world. All across the nation, all across the world, people are asking themselves, “How could this be different? How could this be better?” Demanding change is often seen as complaining, or as nit-picking, but I see it another way: asking for change is a result of indefatigable optimism. To demand change, one must believe that things can be better, that there is always room for improvement, that each moment is an opportunity for a new start…

Which leads me back to the beginning of the new school year. Tomorrow, our incoming students will begin their first classes at Heller. These students come from all over the world, from every background imaginable: we have students who have worked in U.S. embassies, students who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, students who are refugees, students that have spent years working for top research institutes, students who grew up halfway around the world. The following week, our application for the next entry terms will open. Over the next months, my team and I will be reading applications from students from all over the world. We’ll get a chance to dive into your personal stories, read recommendations from those that know you best, have conversations with you at our virtual events. Our students come from such diverse backgrounds, and yet they are united by the idea that the world can be better, that we each have the power to change not only our own lives, but our community and our society.

There are challenges ahead, but I am confident in the Heller community’s ability to not only meet them, but exceed them. If you are reading this, I am confident in your ability to exceed them. In spite of it all, I think that the 2020-2021 academic year is going to be a very good year.

Campus Connections: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

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.

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