Tag: Student Life (page 1 of 5)

Meet My Cohort: Katherine Gagen

Ronunique Clark, MPP'23 headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

In this blog post, I decided to branch away from my own journey, thoughts, and advice. I’m calling this mini blog series “Meet My Cohort”, where I am inviting  some of my classmates from our Fall 2021 cohort into the admissions blog room to hear about their experience before joining Heller and during their time here at Heller.  To kick off this mini blog series I had the lovely opportunity to interview my classmate Katherine Gagen.

Katherine Gagen is 28 years old from Newton, Massachusetts. She joined Heller in Fall 2021, she is now a 2nd year MPP/MBA student concentrating in Economic and Racial Equity. She started with the MPP curriculum upon arrival. During the Fall 2022 semester, she is currently enrolled in two Social Impact MBA courses and two MPP courses. She will be finished with her degree in December 2023.  She has her bachelors degree in Urban Studies and Hispanics Studies from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

headshot of Katherine Gagen

Katherine Gagen, MPP/MBA’23

What did you do before coming to Heller?

After graduating from Trinity College, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship where I served as a English Teacher Assistant in Argentina, assisting individuals who wanted to become English teachers; I did that for a year. I then returned back to the States, where were I worked as an Executive Assistant with a surgeon, which was an entire 180, because I had zero math and science in my background. We traveled around the country, researching health care disparities between people in urban and rural areas, going to locations such as Montana, Puerto Rico, and Appalachia. I was interested in hearing about people’s stories, less on the medical side, but more so on how each community knew what they needed to do and how each community had solutions. I learned there wasn’t a one-size fits all solution. This piqued my interest in policy.  I wanted to be in a more policy focused role and interacting with individuals on a policy level. If I stayed to work with her, I would be doing communications or marketing, which led to my job at the American Academy of  Arts and Sciences, where I served as an associate on their American Institutions society and public goods team. We put out 31 recommendations on constitutional democracy . We worked on a big project “Commission on the practice of democratic citizenship” on its final report “Our common purpose reinventing American democracy for the 21st century”. We talked about civil society, people, community trust building, polarization  Another project I worked on was “Making Access to American Justice”. I worked with this organization for two years. Then it made me realize I needed more skills. Even though I did as much as I did, I felt like I could not move up in the organization. Everyone I worked with had a PhD, so I knew I need to get these skills to do what I wanted to do and to make the impact I wanted to make.

Why did you choose Heller? 

I had known about Heller for a really long time. I grew up in Newton, which is 10 minutes away, but always said I did not want to go to school so close to home. Yet as I was learning more about different master’s programs, there were two things that stood out the most to me about Heller.  The first was the dual degree: schools like NYU have a MPA/MBA program, and other schools had numerous options for dual degrees. But Heller’s MPP/MBA dual degree stuck out to me because I knew I wanted to get the skills of the business degree, because I am not self-motivated enough to find these skills on my own, but public policy and social policy is what I am primarily interested in. The option to get both of these degrees, which compliment each other very well, provides a holistic review on how public and private organizations work together and gives you the skills to move between the two. The second thing that drew me to Heller was their commitment to social justice being underlined throughout all of the courses and all of the degrees.

What is your favorite class  at Heller? 

My favorite class was Practicing Social Justice Philanthropy: Purpose, Practice, and Problems with Professor Celeste Lee. During this class, we talked about what social justice philanthropy is and the questions that come along with it.  I personally want to go into the philanthropic sector, so it was really beneficial for me to talk through this philosophical questions about the most pressing issues happening to people today. We also got the chance to give out grants to organizations: we had $15,000 to give away. We spilt the class into two groups, my group focused on civic engagement and we ran a whole grant cycle putting out request for proposals, reviewed applications, conducted interviews and at the end we invited our grantees to come and celebrate with us. The class provided a good insight on what the grant making process looks like in practice using real world dollars, which was really cool!

What is your most challenging class at Heller? 

Accounting. But I will say the although the course itself is hard, Professor Brenda Anderson is so good at teaching accounting. She makes the hard topic easier to digest.

What are your plans after Heller? 

I would love to work in the philanthropic sector or social impact investing sector. There are a few things I am actually interested in: my public policy interest is in democracy building and urban planning (which is my background and what I studied in undergrad). I am really interested in creating more equitable and democratic cities where people can actually come together across divides. Thinking about how cities are planned, for example: highways are blocked off to so many communities, so how can we reimagine that, and think of creative solutions to not marginalize or cities or segregate our cities. On the philanthropic side, I am interested in looking into the power dynamics that exist between donor and grantee, and how to make this process more equitable as well thinking about what can we do to make the grant application cycle more equitable? How can we redistribute wealth and resources that individuals can actually benefit from, instead of the top-down donor approach of “I want to fund this so I will only be giving money to this certain thing”?  Ideally, if there was a way to combine these two interests, that would be really great. I am burnt-out from the non-profit space so I would be very excited to enter this other world.

Any advice you would  like to give to prospective students?  

Know why you want to attend graduate school. Don’t go to graduate school just to go. Have a reason even if that reason isn’t very specific. I know that sounds contradictory, but don’t do it just to get another degree, go to school with a purpose. If you have a purpose for why you want to go to graduate school, it will make your journey much more manageable in the way you navigate the courses you want to take and help benefit your career. If your purpose of going to graduate school is to narrow down your options, then that is okay, but do not do it just because. Also, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your financial circumstances when applying to graduate school .

Thank you Katherine for stepping into the Heller Admissions Blog Room. Stay tuned for the next post of “Meet My Cohort”!

Best Study Spaces, Part 2

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

In my last post, I shared my recommendations for study spaces at Heller and on the wider Brandeis campus. However, these are not your only options. If you’re in the mood to venture off-campus, here are the top four places I recommend.

Common Good Co.

Common Good Co. (not to be confused with Café on the Common or Common Café) is situated on Moody Street, an easy stroll to the Indian Market, Global Thrift Store, or the Dollar General. Common Good Co. is a café that doubles as a coworking space. It has a very casual and open atmosphere and students are welcome to sit at one of the tables or study on the couch. A few Heller students work here, so it’s very easy to run into someone you know. In addition to a selection of coffees and teas, Common Good Co. has a few baked goods and Cuban sandwiches. This is not the right place to go if you need to work in silence, but if you’re working with a group or looking to chill with other students, Common Good Co. is the place to go. 

Panera Bread

If you’re anything like me, you’ll understand how hard it is to study on an empty stomach. Panera offers a range of soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as indoor (tables or booths) and outdoor seating. The Panera closes at 10pm so it’s a great place to study and fuel up after an evening class. This Panera is located in the Main Street Marketplace, a shopping plaza that includes a salon, an urgent care clinic, and a vitamins and supplements shop. From this plaza, you have easy access to the rest of main street, including the Walgreens and the gas station. 

Waltham Public Library

The Waltham Public Library is conveniently located on Main Street, within easy walking distance from the Hannaford grocery market, the UPS store, and many restaurants. 

Many people do not think of the library as a very tech-savvy place, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! Your library account gets you free access to an eBooks and audiobooks database, movie and music streaming, and online e-learning classes. The library is also a great place to print, copy and scan class documents. If you need a break from academic reading, you can sign up for the library’s newsletter, which will send you tailored recommendations for novels in your favorite genre. In terms of study space, you (and up to three other people) can freely pop into one of the library’s four study rooms for two hours at a time. If you’re studying with a group, you can reserve a larger meeting room. These larger rooms can fit up to 15 people and can be reserved for as little as 30 minutes and as long as 12 hours. International students can also access adult ESL classes and conversation groups at one of the library’s partner organizations or online via their YouTube channel. 

Your Apartment

Sometimes, the best (and most productive) study experience can happen right in your living space. Depending on the layout of your apartment, you may be able to do work in your living room, at your kitchen table, on your balcony, or in your bedroom. Your own apartment is a great option because you have control over the space and the noise-level and you can be intentional about removing distractions. Studying at home also means you don’t have to worry about opening and closing times, or spending money, or changing out of your pajamas! Taking time to arrange your room and apartment’s common areas can lead to better study habits and overall well-being. In my next post, I’ll share tips and tricks on how to liven up your space. 

Your First Semester

If you’re headed into your first semester at Heller, it can seem like there’s no end in sight when it comes to the amount of work that needs to get done. And while that’s true, it’s also important to remember that there are some ways you can prepare for this new chapter before you even start your classes. I’ve been there, too— I know how hard it can be to stay organized in graduate school, so I’ve compiled some tips to help you manage your work, stay on top of deadlines, and get through that first semester.

  1. Start strong. Yes, consistency is key, but the stronger you start off in your classwork, the better you’ll be prepared down the line, when assignments, exams, and group projects start to pile up. When I was in graduate school, I liked to start each semester by gathering all of my syllabi together and putting down important dates in my planner so I could see when things were coming up. That helped me to manage my time consistently.
  2. Reach out for help early. At this point in the semester, things haven’t gotten hectic for students or faculty yet, so take advantage of that. Spend the first couple of weeks getting to know your professors (see if they have walk-in office hours: it doesn’t have to be for a specific assignment, it can be to connect with them and to learn about what makes a student successful in their courses) and learning about the abundant amount of resources available to you on campus.
  3. Set a consistent schedule an stick to it. Do you work best first thing in the morning? Right after lunch? Late at night? Set aside a few times a week that you can commit to classwork and readings. Sometimes you’ll need more time, and sometimes less, but that’s okay: if you have less, it’s a good time to get ahead of schedule and prepare for the weeks ahead (i.e., start working on final projects or reviewing notes from classes). If you end up needing more time, it’s easier to find it when you at least have a few reliable times that you can dedicate to your work. You’ll find yourself working more efficiently if you know what your limits are and how long they last.

We hope that this will help you stay organized and set yourself up for success in graduate school. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about how to be more successful in graduate school, let us know!  Good luck; we hope that you enjoy your first semester of grad school!

Andy’s Best Study Spaces, Part 1

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

Across Brandeis campus, fall classes have officially begun! With a new semester (and for new students on an unfamiliar campus), an important question comes up – where are the best places to study? In today’s post, I will share my top three recommendations for study spaces on campus.

Best for Group Work

Around the corner from the Heller School building is the Goldfarb library. This library has an open area on the ground floor as well as multiple descending levels. If you’re looking to work with a group, however, the best place to go is the upstairs wing next to the Maker Lab. This space is much more casual and lounge friendly with couches and cushion-y chairs. There is a shelf full of board games if you need a mental break. There are also large group tables where you can hook up your laptop to a projector. The lower level of this space houses the Starbucks so you and your group mates can fuel up before or after your meeting. 

Best for Quietness 

If you’re willing to walk a bit, it’s a great idea to check out the Shapiro Campus Center. Most people go here for the Einstein’s or to buy school swag, but it also has a great study space. On the upper level, there is a small computer lab with MacBooks and desks that fit one-to-two people. This room has huge windows that let in a lot of natural light so you don’t feel like you’re studying in a cave. There tends not to be any talking in this computer lab and it’s high enough in the building that the noise downstairs doesn’t travel up, so it’s the perfect spot if you need a quiet space. It’s out of the way enough that you’re less likely to run into people you know – which can be useful if you’re a person who gets distracted easily.

Best for Spaciousness

If you don’t want to wander too far from the Heller School, the Schneider building has study spaces of its own. The areas my classmates and I have used the most are the breakout rooms next to the main classrooms. These rooms seat a ton of people and include both a whiteboard and a projector. This is great for practicing presentations or writing out accounting problems. These breakout rooms have large tables so if you are studying alone, you have the space to really spread out. In my next post, I’ll talk about the best study spaces off-campus.

How to Prepare for Your First Semester

(This is an update of Doug Nevins’ 2021 post). As I write this blog post, less than a month remains before classes start at Heller. For admitted students, I imagine the next month will be filled with excitement, anticipation, and impatience. If you are planning to begin classes at Heller this fall, I hope you have the chance to take a break from work and other obligations and relax, travel, and see family, as well as apartment hunt and begin preparing for classes. Here’s my advice for preparing for the academic and professional side of things, so that you can hit the ground running once classes begin.

At this point, you should be able to view the schedule of classes either on Workday or on the Registrar’s website. You can get a sense of what classes you are required to take this fall, as well as what electives are suggested, by looking at either the website of your academic program or the Individualized Learning Plan forms available for most programs on the “for students” section of the Heller website. These forms can help you to outline your schedule for the next couple semesters. While it’s not necessary to have everything planned out before you start, I found it helpful to peruse these materials before the semester began.

Some additional cheat codes regarding class registration: you can view previous semesters on the Registrar’s site to get a sense of what electives are available in the spring, and once you have access to Workday, our course administration site, you can “browse syllabi” from previous semesters to learn more about courses you might take in the future (with the caveat in both cases that it’s subject to change).

Now is also a great time to review the list of faculty in your program and see who shares your interests and chairs your concentration (if applicable for your program). You might consider reaching out during orientation to a professor with whom you aren’t taking a class this fall – that way you can meet them a bit sooner and hear their perspective in addition to that of your adviser and first-semester professors.

I’d also encourage you to view the career center website and get set up on Handshake as soon as it is possible to do so. Fall information sessions with employers will be available to register soon. I’d definitely recommend scheduling a career advising appointment early in the semester and introduce yourself to the staff.

Lastly, once you have access to Workday, you can view jobs for students and apply for an on-campus job. You can also join career-focused Heller groups on Facebook and LinkedIn (there is also a Brandeis graduate student housing group on Facebook).

While you’ll be provided with the info you need by email and once you arrive on campus, spending some time perusing the website and finding information specific to your own interests and goals doesn’t hurt. Good luck as you gear up for the fall semester!

Ariel’s Advice for Getting the Most out of Heller

Ariel Wexler, MBA/SID22

Ariel Wexler, MBA/SID22

The Heller School is community-oriented, an environment that leans towards collaboration over competition. Graduate school is understandably a huge decision for someone and one that any person would want to get the full value from.  Admittedly, I was uncertain I would attend Brandeis when I was deciding where to go to graduate school. I applied to 8 different schools and was weighing my options. There are so many factors that go into making such a crucial decision, especially one that will enhance one’s career.  I ultimately chose The Heller School because I was able to combine my interest in obtaining technical business skills with a social impact lens in addition to continuing to work within a global scope. The combined dual Social Impact MBA/MA in Sustainable International Development was the best program offering for my interests and career trajectory. Now that I have graduated I can reflect on what made my experience significant and how you can get the most from your studies.

Tips and insights from a recent graduate:

  1. Connect: Developing relationships with professors, administrators, TA’s, and staff is a great way to connect with the greater Heller community. Professors are very friendly and approachable, if you have specific research and or career interest in mind make sure to reach out to relevant individuals that may be able to connect you with networking opportunities and resources in the future. Although I was quite shy during my studies I realize the positive impact introducing yourself to professors and staff can have. It’s also a great way to engage more in the classroom and seek out help when needed.
  2. Get Involved: Getting involved with working groups, on-campus jobs, speaker series, and other extracurricular activities is a great opportunity to get to know your peers better. I took advantage of the following extracurricular activities at Heller: Heller Board Fellows, Heller Startup Challenge, Brandeis Innovation’s Spark Incubator Program, and The Social Impact Case Collection. Getting involved with a program outside of the classroom helped develop my leadership skills and most importantly created a great sense of community and purpose as a graduate student.
  3. Take initiative: If you have a specific passion or interest that you want to explore there is always room to apply them to your studies. For example, at Heller, a majority of course assignments and projects are completed as a team and with your topic of interest. The advantage to this format is that you can tailor the majority of your studies to your passion and something you want to transfer to your career. Secondly, working under a common interest for example; housing justice, financial literacy, agricultural livelihoods, etc. allows you to bond through collaboration with other students. Lastly, The Heller Student Enrichment Funds and the Graduate Student Affairs are two great resources for students to subsidize or fund conference or research projects.
  4. Network: Informational interviews with Heller alumni is a great way to learn more about the job market and what type of career pursuits you may want to take advantage of upon graduation. Boston is a city with cutting-edge industries and innovation, explore the city and attend city-wide events for young professionals and students!

Most importantly, have fun, and best of luck!

Get Involved! The Value of Student Working Groups

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

A university is not only defined by its ranking, degree programs, or faculty members. It is also defined by the quality and vibrancy of its campus community. When I was in undergrad, I worked 31 hours a week in the EdTech department. While I absolutely loved this experience, working this many hours as a full-time student meant that I did not have as much of a chance to become involved in the many student organizations on campus. Coming to Heller for graduate school gave me a second chance to get involved in the campus community. 

To understand the landscape of graduate student working groups, I attended a variety of info sessions, as well as the Fall Student Groups Fair held in the Zinner forum. At this fair, e-board (Executive Board) members from active student groups set up a table and talked with attendees about their working group’s mission, activities, and plans for the semester. All the groups had such good energy and were involved in really interesting initiatives. I left the fair wishing there were enough hours in the day to be a part of every group! 

During the lunchtime hour sometime later, I attended a follow-up info session with the Brandeis University Africa Forum (BUAF) which was led by two MBA/SID second year students, one of whom had been my TA for the summer Quantitative Fundamentals course. BUAF is a working group of African students and other members of Heller’s community who are interested in African history and the continent’s socio-economic development. Their mission is to coordinate cultural, professional, and social events to provide learning experiences, expand partnerships, and foster a sense of community on campus. I was immediately energized by the BUAF mission. A few weeks later, I was elected as Secretary and my tenure on BUAF’s e-board began! 

Although I’m a dual MBA/SID student, I have only been taking one SID class a semester. This means I have not had nearly as much interaction with members of my SID cohort as I have had with students in the MBA program, who I am in the majority of classes with. Being a part of BUAF has allowed me to connect and build relationships with not only other SID students, but with graduate students from other programs who I might otherwise not have had any interactions with. BUAF allowed me to learn from other professionals who’d worked and studied on the continent. By organizing a dialogue series in collaboration with my fellow e-board members Peter Masue, Shiko Rugene, Martin Alexis and Nush Laywhyee, BUAF was able to create space for dynamic, social impact-oriented conversations about current events and their impact on the continent. So far, our Africa Speaks sessions have covered such topics as the political and economic impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war on Africa and the military conflicts in Sudan and Burkina Faso. 

By far, the most rewarding aspect of my time with BUAF has been being able to experience the richness of multiple communities, including the larger graduate population at Brandeis, my fellow Heller students, and especially the black, African, and diasporic presence on campus. As a school with Jewish roots, the African community and student body may not be the first thing that comes to people’s minds when you think of Brandeis. However, the work of BUAF is helping people recognize and appreciate that this community is here. It’s active and warm and vibrant and deeply engaged in the work of creating a space outside of classes where students can connect, support each other, and have fun together!

Graduation Day with Ariel Wexler

It was 97 degrees in late May and a heat advisory warning was in effect for the greater Boston area. Having completing dual degrees in a MA in Sustainable International Development and Social Impact MBA, I was about to graduate from The Heller School. Professors, staff, friends, family, and colleagues were all seated together in a large tent on the great lawn where we withstood the heat to listen to inspiring words and cheer on the names of the graduating students. Although it may seem ironic that the one day of extreme temperatures coincided with graduation, considering our studies were achieved during already unprecedented times, it seemed quite fitting.

We had commenced our studies shortly before or during the pandemic and became accustomed to remote and hybrid learning.  While sitting and listening to my peers’ speeches, I was humbled and reminded of the different paths that we each took to lead to the present moment, the completion of our graduate studies at The Heller School. I felt the immense privilege to have been granted the opportunity to study higher education, a right that not everyone can access due to factors such as financial, political, and religious barriers.

When I reflect on the past two years, I have made many incredible friendships with students from all over the world that came to study at this esteemed university. Although it feels surreal that I am graduating, I feel gratitude and accomplishment. From a young age, I struggled with comparing myself to my peers and never having the self-confidence to think that I could achieve success in my career. It was not until completing my undergraduate degree in 2015 that I decided that achieving a Master’s degree would be a future goal. Growing up, my educational journey was difficult, and I had to work twice as hard or more than my peers. Despite being a hard worker and achieving many academic accomplishments, I was not immune to imposter syndrome.

During my 2-year Peace Corps service in Guatemala, I began to feel more confident in my skills and ability to engage deeply with stakeholders and design and manage projects to scale. I had successfully co-designed and formed 3 women’s beekeeping groups, and it was through this experience that I became interested in social enterprise.  I knew that pursuing a Master’s degree would provide me with the skills I desired as a leader. l became passionate about how entrepreneurship could be used as a tool to bring about economic development in rural global communities.  The Heller School aligned with my interests and provided me with the opportunity to complement and develop my skills in social impact management and international development.

Once the ceremony finished, I quickly walked to the shade under a beautiful tree nearby to take photographs.  Happy that my family made the journey to New England from Los Angeles to celebrate with me, I was overjoyed to be surrounded by the people that had supported me these past two years. Following graduation, my parents and I toured New England, traveling to Rhode Island and Maine. I am so grateful and lucky to have graduated from The Heller School, although my studies have come to an end I know the relationships that I have formed will remain. Now onto the next phase…

Hear from our Commencement Speakers!

For the first time in three years, Heller students, faculty, and staff came together for an in-person diploma ceremony. The graduates — 195 master’s degree recipients from 2022 and 41 doctoral degree recipients from 2020, 2021 and 2022 — represent seven programs and more than 40 countries, speaking over 35 languages.

Each year, each Heller program selects one student to speak on behalf of their program, and this year’s students were nothing short of extraordinary. I’ve included the speech of COEX’s Commencement Speaker, Jan Afza Sarwari, MA SID/COEX’22, below, but I encourage  you to read all of the commencement coverage, including the other commencement speeches, on our news page.

COEX Commencement Speaker, Jan Afza Sarwari, MA SID/COEX’22:  “Thank you, Dean David Weil, the members of the board of advisors, respected faculty, friends, family and the COEX class of 2022 for giving me the honor of speaking with you today.

When in the hot summer day of July 2019, my parents hugged me goodbye in the crowded Kabul airport, I did not know that it would be our last goodbye for so many years to come. As the airplane was gradually taking off, I could look down at the spectacular mountain views of Kabul from the small airplane window reflecting on my dreams, bigger than the heights of those mountains. I could reflect on the question posed by the Fulbright committee when I applied for the scholarship, asking, “What will you do for your country when you return back to Afghanistan?”

As I reached Brandeis and we came together under the same roof of the Schneider building at the Heller School, I realized that the world had been a terrible place for almost all of us. Through our journeys here, we also carried along with us the heavy weights of different struggles in our home countries; from genocide to racial inequity, from gender inequality to gross human rights abuses, from corruption to war, from poverty to economic disparity, from climate catastrophe to increased global warming and so much more. But one thing was certain. We came together to stand against all these sufferings and difficulties impacting our world and be the face of social justice as Brandeis and the Heller mission states.

For me, however, the burden of carrying my share of struggles was huge. I am a Hazara, an ethnic group in Afghanistan who have been persecuted for over a century making it as harsh for them as the Holocaust for Jewish people during the World War II. I was born during Afghanistan’s civil war and the Mujahedin period. I started going to a secret school during the earlier Taliban regime, walking two hours each way every day when girls were not even allowed to attend one. I fought patriarchal norms and ethno-religious discriminations to have the power and the opportunity to stand here in front of you at this very moment.

Unluckily, the burden is still huge, when in almost all our classes at Heller, we were taught that girls’ education is a “silver bullet” to sustainable growth, to eradicating poverty, and to eliminating conflict. However, today also marks the 247th day in which millions of girls across Afghanistan are banned from going to school. The burden is still huge when women’s and minorities’ voices calling for justice and respect for their basic human rights are being muted, detained, and killed. The burden is still huge when more than 90% of people in Afghanistan live below the poverty line, making it the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The burden is immensely huge when your answer to the question of “What will you do for your country when you return back to Afghanistan?” remains on a piece of paper, as for now.

While I struggled with all the hardships during the last year, the Heller School taught me one thing; no matter what you face or what you feel, there is the wonderful Heller and Brandeis community that lifts you up, cherishes you and your achievements and motivates you to move on with hope and resilience and be the face of social justice no matter where in the world you are.

Finally, as we celebrate our accomplishments and the end of a rewarding yet challenging chapter of our lives, I would like to wholeheartedly thank the Fulbright Program and the U.S. taxpayers for their generosity, Brandeis University for giving me a home away from home, my professors, and fellow classmates for providing me with knowledge and courage, my parents for their prayers, family and friends for their unconditional love and support throughout this learning journey.

May we achieve worldwide peace. May we not forget the women in Afghanistan.”

Reflecting on my Letter to my Future Self: Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

I sat by my window in my third floor apartment in Cambridge and looked out on to the street, at the rain ricocheting off the trees. I tried to verbalize Why Heller after a semester of online learning and the weight of a dreary day.  Now, as I sit inside the Heller building on a sun-filled spring morning, I am again lost for words, yet for a completely different reason. There are days when I am unsure of what I’ve learned or frustrated that I have to leave bed, but over the last week, amidst finals and presenting my capstone, I have felt nothing but nostalgia and pride. For better or worse, I have faced a multitude of roadblocks over the last two years. Some of which were felt by the collective community and others more personal. Yet, nothing has deterred me from my studies and my time at Heller. At first, I resented the pandemic for forcing me to choose a local school as opposed to leaving the Boston area. I now (job permitting), intend to stay in the Boston area for work, as Heller has provided me a community here that I’m not ready to say goodbye to yet (of course, unless you are a DC hiring manager, and then I am eager to leave this all behind!).

I am actually shocked to re-read what I wrote in early February 2021 and realize that I was so articulate about my field of study and what I hoped to accomplish. I did not know what I was doing a semester in, and while I am much more equipped now, I still do not have all the answers  (as I aptly surmised). But that is something I’ve come to understand over the last two years, there will always be a new theory, a proposed law, a unprecedented leaked SCOTUS decision that will alter the socio-political landscape. Well, hopefully not the last one… Regardless, Heller taught me to conceptualize the historical foundation in order to adapt to new contemporary issues that arise.

My commitment to gender policy has only intensified and I sometimes get dizzy thinking about the breadth and complexities of the issues. During my time at Heller, I have researched workplace policy, Paid Family and Medical Leave, pay transparency laws, gender-based violence policy, the Violence Against Women’s Act, queer anthropology, carceral feminism, and HIV-prevention policies. Within each of those categories, I have employed an intersectional approach— dissecting the impact of socio-economic standing, race, ethnicity, age, citizen status, gender,  and historical implications. I see myself as something of a gender generalist.

To answer some of the questions from my past self— Heller did in fact provide me a deeper and more theoretical/academic comprehension of contemporary issues to ground the work. I also feel more confident about my critical thinking skills.  While I did not engage too frequently with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office at Heller, I was a member of the Racial Equity Working Group (REWG) and helped to push diversity and inclusion on campus and hold the administration accountable, and I feel very proud of REWGs’s reach. Past self, I did take classes from renowned lecturers like Laurence Simon, Lisa Lynch, Jess Santos, Kaitie Chakoian, Brian Horton, Mary Brolin, Sarah Soroui, Maria Madison and so many more. And I was even able to fit in the Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing course with Larry Bailis.

My time at Heller has been invaluable and I feel so blessed to have spent the last two years learning at such a vibrant, passionate, socially-conscience, and diverse institution.

I am honored to be a Heller student and come May 22, 2022, I look forward to my next role as Heller Alumna.

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