Tag: Why Heller? (page 1 of 3)

Five Fast Facts about Interim Dean, Maria Madison

Last week, it was announced that on July 1st, Dean David Weil will step down as dean of the Heller School. Though I’m very sad to see Dean Weil step down, I was so excited to learn that Dr. Maria Madison will serve as our interim dean. Dr. Madison is currently the associate dean for equity, inclusion and diversity and director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity (IERE), and I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with her throughout the PhD admissions process. So, to celebrate this announcement, I thought I’d share five facts you probably don’t know about Dr. Madison.

  1. She’s a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Heller is known for attracting RPCVs (Heller is ranked the 3rd most popular graduate school for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), and Dr. Madison is no exception! Dr. Madison was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaire for two years, focusing on international development.
  2. She’s the co-Founder and President of a nonprofit. The Robbins House, Inc is a historic home and nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness of African-American history in Concord, Massachusetts that focuses on the long civil rights movement in America. The house commemorates the legacy of a previously enslaved Revolutionary War veteran and his descendants, including a “fugitive slave” from New Jersey and his daughter who legally challenged the nation’s first Civil Rights Act of 1866. The house is an interpretive center for thousands of annual global visitors.
  3. She was the first to hold her current position at Heller. The creation of the Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity position was largely advocated for by Heller students, many of whom participated in Ford Hall 2015, a 12-day student sit-in. In this role, she developed and implemented a targeted, evidence-based approach to improving DEI for all members of the Heller community.
  4. Her background is in global public health research. Dr. Madison has a B.S. in Mental Health, an M.S. Urban and Environmental Policy and Civil Engineering (both from Tufts University) and a Sc.D. Population and International Health from Harvard School of Public Health; after getting her Sc.D,  she spent 17 years managing clinical research studies in the private and public sectors.
  5. She has a legacy of social engagement towards social justice. Dr. Madison’s father was a particularly strong role model for her: in order to provide his children with the best possible public education, he sued through the ACLU to move their family to the all-white city of St. Joseph, Michigan. Her parents brought her to NAACP meetings where she was introduced to “community activism through meetings and projects promoting opportunities for social and fiscal capital—investing in resource-constrained communities.”

There you have it, five facts that you probably didn’t know about Heller’s (soon-to-be) Interim Dean, Dr. Madison!

Daniella’s Top Ten Reasons to Choose Heller

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

It was just announced that the Heller School for Social Policy and Management has once again been ranked as one The US and News Report’s Top Ten Social Policy Programs in the country. As such, it only seems fitting that I do my own calculations.  Here are my top ten rankings and how they play out in my day-to-day schedule as a graduate student at Heller (numbers in no hierarchical order)

  1. The Research Institutes: Heller has ten research institutes on campus that are each at the forefront of their fields. Many of the researchers teach at Heller, and many more present their work frequently on campus and in classes. I feel embedded in social change.
  2. The Professors: The staff and faculty are some of the most caring, intellectual, and encouraging educators I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside. They are so well-versed in their academic fields and promote  open debate, dialogue, and discussion in every class. Going to school in the midst of a global pandemic and publicized racial reckoning can be daunting, and not one class went by where a professor didn’t check in on our wellbeing, providing space for us to process collectively, as one community.
  3.  The Courses: The wide array of course subjects allows each student to find classes in their interest area. Every course  investigates each topic through an intersectional lens, employing a holistic educational system. Each student sets their research topics for each class, which allows students to study their concentration in every class and through an intersectional approach.
  4. The Atmosphere and Commitment to Social Justice: Heller’s commitment to social justice manifests in the students who attend. Staff and students alike constantly push for the university to improve and meet its mission.
  5. The Friends: I would be nowhere without my cohort– check out my earlier blog about my peers and the make up of people who attend Heller.
  6. The Only MPP Program That Requires a DEI Course: That title says it all. Based on student feedback, Heller decided to integrate a DEI course into the core curriculum for the MPP program. And starting in Fall 2022, every students enrolled at Heller will be required to take a DEI course.  I am proud of the students before me for advocating for this class and impressed with the administration for listening – but that’s on brand, have you read points #3-#5?!
  7. The Concentrations: Heller offers students many concentration to help inform and structure their academic journey. There is also the opportunity to create your own concentration if not one encompasses a student’s needs. Most of the concentrations are linked to a research institute, solidifying their institutional reach.
  8. The Leadership: The shared field experience of Dean Weil, our newly appointed interim dean, Dr. Maria Madison, and many of our distinguished lecturers enhances the caliber of our curriculum.
  9. The Aid: Heller’s commitment to support every student’s education can be felt in all of the numbers above. However, this is reinforced in its generous aid packages to students. Education needs to be more accessible and Heller is working towards making higher education a reality for everyone.
  10.  The Alumni Network: Being associated with Heller is like wearing a badge of honor. People are proud to be a member of the Heller network; alumni hire alumni, staff help current students, Heller advocates for justice. Being a Heller graduate student is one of the highest accomplishments of my life and I look forward to being an ambassador for Heller as I enter the professional world.

My Experience as a First Generation Student

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Nearly five years ago, I took a huge leap of faith and gathered all my belongings to move 3,000 miles away from everything I knew in hopes to purse higher education. Fast forward: I am now nearing the completion of my first year as a first generation Master of Public Policy student. WOO!

In retrospect, I attempted to begin my journey without any expectations because when I began undergrad I had so many expectations for what I thought my college experience would entail, but everything does not always go according to plan. I wanted to come into my graduate student journey with a clean slate and a open heart and mind. I did not want to assume that any of my classmates would be similar to me, or that my professors would either be helpful or not, or if I would even be able to utilize all the resources provided  to me.  I came into this program wanting to be a sponge, soaking up all information and knowledge in relation to my interest and my future career goals. This program however has exceed anything expectations that I could have possibly created.

One thing I’ve appreciated the most about my time here at Heller is that the classroom  is extremely collaborative, open, and vulnerable space for students to voice their interests, opinions, and concerns on important policy issues. In undergrad, I rarely felt comfortable working in groups or voicing my opinions because I felt others would not understand my views or value them. I appreciated the push from my fellow peers and my professors at Heller, who encouraged me to share my experiences and thoughts. To my surprise, in most cases, others would have similar experiences, shared interests and thoughts. My professors deemed my insight as important and provided extensive feedback on how to tailor my skills. Being a first generation graduate student, it meant the world to me to enter a space without feeling as if you do not belong there.  Reassurance is key for connecting with first generation students because we can easily feel imposter syndrome. The feeling of knowing that you earned your spot like every one else and that your insight matters is the best feeling when navigating higher education.

What I have learned on my journey thus far is that time management is everything. This is something most first generation students struggle with because we do not have the luxury of just being able to attend school; at times we have to cater to needs of family members or work jobs that will assist us in paying for our education and survival. This can be overwhelming for many individuals, but what I have learned from this is that it is okay to ask for help, it is okay to say that you do not understand, and it is okay to say that it is not feasible for you at the moment and to ask for an extension. No one in this program wants to see you fail because of things outside of your control. Being able to speak up about  your needs is important and you never know who might be able to support you or point you in the right direction.

School is far from easy and I never expected graduate school to be so. I knew I was in for a challenge, I just did not know what it was going to be exactly. I am proud of how far I have come and I am looking forward to what is to come next. To all my first generation graduate students: do not forget that you deserve to be where you are no matter where you come from.  Continue to always show up in spaces as your greater self and even though some days maybe harder then others, just remember where you started and where you will be when you are done. Take care of yourselves– we got this!

Ten Reasons to Love Heller

In light of the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings placing Heller tenth social policy (and eighth for health policy and management!), I thought I’d share ten reasons why I love Heller. Everyone has a different story of what attracted them to Heller, but these are what I’ve come to appreciate about Heller in my time here as a staff member.

  1. An interesting and passionate group of prospective students. I’m sure that at some schools, reviewing applications or talking to prospective students can sometimes be a snooze, but that is never the case at Heller. The students I talk to all have fascinating stories: they’ve worked in the Peace Corps, founded their own companies, worked as doctors in their home countries for twenty years… it really runs the gamut! Students who are interested in Heller are passionate, enthusiastic, and dedicated individuals, and speaking with them about their backgrounds and career aspirations is always a lot of fun.
  2. Our peers agree: we’re top-notch. Heller is consistently ranked a top-ten school in social policy by US News and World, which reflect peer assessments of deans, directors, and department chairs at 267 schools of public affairs. For 2023, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and for health policy and management. Heller has been ranked in the top ten for social policy for over a decade!
  3. Diversity is more than a buzzword at Heller, it’s a commitment. When you join Heller, you’ll become a part of an incredibly diverse community: last year, we welcomed students from 53 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), and 41% of our incoming domestic students were students of color. Moreover, Heller is home to many students with disabilities, students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and students from a variety of religious backgrounds. This diverse environment challenges every student to consider new points of view and offers the unique opportunity to learn not only from our experienced faculty but students who are nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, policy analysts, and more.
  4. The Boston area is a great place to be for graduate school. I may be biased because I moved from Atlanta to Boston for my graduate education, but I truly think the Boston area is a great place to be when you’re getting your master’s degree. The MBTA system (which connects to the commuter rail line that goes right to campus) makes the city easy to explore, and the city is filled with intelligent, passionate people in a similar place in their lives, whether they’re studying engineering at MIT, or music at Berklee. The Waltham area is great because if you choose to live in Waltham, you’ll be able to find more affordable living, but if you want to live in the city, it’s easy to commute to campus. Once you’re in Waltham, there’s plenty of restaurants and beautiful paths along the Charles to keep you busy.
  5. The history of Ford Hall. The term “Ford Hall” at Brandeis generally refers to two periods of direct action led by black students and other students of color with the goal to promote racial justice and build a more inclusive, equitable and diverse student experience at Brandeis. The first Ford Hall took place in January 1969 and was an 11-day student sit-in; the second Ford Hall (commonly written as #FordHall2015) took place in November 2015 and was a 13-day student sit-in. Heller students were involved in both events as well as sustained efforts during the interim years to promote policies and structures that advance diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. At the Heller School, the second Ford Hall resulted in hiring an Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the creation of Heller Forward, and the creation of Community Day, a biannual, day-long workshop event centered on Heller’s commitment to eradicating social injustice and ensuring a more inclusive culture. To me, this shows that Heller students are truly engaged within their communities and that Brandeis and the Heller community are responsive and willing to change and adapt to student needs.
  6. Our faculty. Not only are Heller faculty well-renowned in their field, they’re also incredibly interesting people. Diana Bowser, the PhD program director, is a marathon runner who has worked with the governments of Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Swaziland, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Chile, Belize, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Ukraine, Kosovo, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Haiti, Egypt, Oman and Kuwait. Maria Madison, a lecturer at Heller, Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, and Director Institute for Economic and Racial Equity, is co-founder and President of a nonprofit, The Robbins House, Inc. The nonprofit focuses on the long civil rights movement in America, through the lens of African descended inhabitants of the eponymous 19th century house, including a black woman activist who attempted to challenge the nation’s first civil rights act of 1866. Brenda Anderson currently serves as academic director of Our Generation Speaks, a start up accelerator focused on bringing together young Palestinian and Israeli leaders to work across ethnic and political lines in building high impact social ventures within the region. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Anita Hill, who needs no explanation!
  7. Living up to the motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice”. One of the things I love most about Heller is that even though I’m not a student, Heller consistently pushes me to learn. In January, faculty, staff and students participated in Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, and the 7-Day Neurodiversity (ND) Inclusion Challenge just wrapped up last week. Heller’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity also maintains a list of books, articles, documentaries, movies, and even music meant to help advance knowledge and understanding on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice as well as inspire positive and equitable social change. As someone who considers themselves a life-long student, I really value the emphasis that Heller places on educating yourself for the social good. Michael Doonan, the MPP program director, started his career as a legislative aide for Senator John Kerry where he worked on health and environmental issues.
  8. The Heller magazine. Maybe it’s because I’m perpetually nostalgic for my teenage years, but I love a good magazine, and the Heller magazine is no exception. I read every copy cover to cover, and it’s genuinely a pleasure to read! I walk away even more impressed with the work our faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni are doing. Some of my favorite articles from the past few issues include: Q & A with “The Farmer Foodie” , Creative community-building during a pandemic school year, and 2020 asks us: If not now, when? 
  9. The views from Zinner Forum. The Zinner Forum is a huge, multi-story open space that connects the two wings of Heller (and is where Rose’s coffee shop is housed). When we’re in-person at Heller, we use the Zinner Forum for pretty much everything: orientation, Coffee with the Dean, community events… but when it’s not being utilized for an event, it’s a great place for students to study, socialize, and grab a bite to eat. One of the walls of the Zinner forum is made entirely out of windows with beautiful views of the wooded area outside. In the fall, the views of the changing leaves are absolutely stunning, and in the winter, watching snow fall outside the windows is so soothing.
  10. Being a part of the Brandeis campus. At times, being at Heller can feel like being on your own little island: if you’re a student, you’ll probably have all your classes in the Heller building, and as a staff member, I don’t usually have much of a reason to venture outside of Heller. But when I do, I remember how much I love the campus. There are so many hidden walking and hiking trails that wind their way through campus. Some of them lead to a great view of the Boston skyline, while others will take you to a hidden piece of statuary. I love Brandeis’ campus art in general; the Rose Museum has an impressive collection, of course, but I also love Chris Burden’s “Light of Reason” and the student art projects you can sometimes find behind the arts’ building.

So there you have it: my top top reasons to love Heller. I hope that you join us in the fall and make a “Top Ten” list for yourself!

Closing out the First Semester of Grad School

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Finally! I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for my first fall semester of the MPP program. As I near the end of the semester, I have had time to reflect on the challenges, accomplishments, and personal goals I want to set for myself next semester.

When entering the program, I had no idea what to expect initially. Being one of the few in my cohort who began the program straight out of undergrad, I had to work around the preconceived notions and tactics I have built being a student. How would the professors be supportive? How will my cohort be supportive? What resources are offered on campus if I am having a hard time or struggling? At my previous school, grades mattered the most— if you did not receive anything over a C+, you were frowned upon by peers and professors. My professors at Heller were very supportive, responsive, and understanding. At the beginning of the semester, they all instituted that we should not focus just on our grades, but we should focus on how we connect with the material and find ourselves when writing and discussing these issues with our peers, teaching assistants, and professors. This made me more comfortable with meeting with professors outside of the classroom because I felt confident enough to ask questions and express my concerns. Additionally, although I see myself as a social butterfly, I entered Heller in a cocoon. I did not know how to really engage with my peers or start conversations that were not always school-related, but my cohort made it very easy. They all wanted to get to know each other, not just on a surface-based level, and being able to grab a seat in Zinner Forum and have a conversation with a few of my peers has made my days lighter.

After overcoming these small challenges, I can say I am very proud of myself for how far I have come in an academic space. Even though I still have a small fear of bringing my own opinions up in class discussions, I noticed I am not afraid to share more on issues that may directly or indirectly affect me. I also find myself really taking my time with the assignments I turn in, asking follow-up questions prompts, deadlines, or anything else that comes my way. During my time in undergrad, I became very self-conscious about my writing skills, but after this semester, I am more confident in working with my peers on peer reviews, making numerous drafts to get that final one, and really putting my best foot forward when writing on issues that I am passionate about.

Graduate school is still not easy, but this first semester has been very eye-opening and has allowed me substantial room to grow. My goal for next semester is to be able to lead more discussions in my classroom and also fight the urge to procrastinate when a project or assignment presents itself. I want to be able to really connect my personal experiences and passions to the research presented to me and flesh out more ways to combat the issues in a social justice manner. I am super excited to be kicking off my second semester and can not wait to see what it entails.

Things to think about when choosing a graduate program (that might not be immediately obvious)

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As I near the end of my time at Heller, I’ve reflected a bit on the criteria I had when I was applying to and choosing graduate programs, and on how my impressions of Heller have played out during my time here. I wanted to share a few criteria that I considered and discuss in a bit more detail how these factored into my search.

Faculty background

I was drawn to the fact that many Heller faculty serve as researchers in various centers and institutes here on campus, while many also have experience working in federal or state agencies related to health, labor, education, and other social policy areas. Knowing that core courses would be taught by faculty with backgrounds specific to social policy, and with policy-relevant work and research experience regardless of their formal academic training, was a big priority for me, and made Heller a compelling option. My primary interests are education and workforce development, and I’ve gotten to work with faculty who have served in the Department of Labor and managed national job training non-profit organizations. Heller has enabled me to delve deeply into topics of interest in both required classes and electives.

Geography and professional connections

My sense is that many policy schools excel at connecting students to jobs in Washington, DC, as well as in the area where they are located. This motivated me to consider Heller, since I am from the Boston area and interested in opportunities here, as well as DC, where there are of course more jobs in the federal government and in national-level policy organizations. That said, Heller places students around the country and abroad, which I viewed as an additional advantage to attending graduate school here – I’ve made connections with peers and with faculty who themselves have connections in many different locations.

Peer interests

In addition to faculty at Heller tending to have direct professional and research experience in social policy fields, the fact that my peers are passionate about social justice and social policy has been a big advantage of attending Heller as well. While Heller is not homogenous, there is definitely a sense of shared values and a commitment to social change. This was a powerful motivator in my decision to attend Heller, and the experience that students have in non-profit, government, and social impact settings has really enriched class discussions.

Flexibility and options

While I entered Heller in the MPP program, I was interested in adding a dual MBA, and knew that doing so would only add about 6 months to my time in graduate school due to the accelerated schedule of the MBA program. Knowing that there were options like this available also informed my decision to attend Heller. In general, the culture here is to help students figure out how to accomplish what it is they want to do. I am glad that my impressions of this culture when I decided on Heller have been proven correct by my 2.5 years here!

Why Study Gender Policy?

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

At a very young age, we learn to identify distinguishable characteristics both through innate and formal education. Differences in skin-tone, size, hair color and texture; there exists a long list of traits that individualize each person. However, gender is believed to be clear-cut and stagnant, at least according to mass opinion: “God made man, and from man’s rib came woman”. Seems simple enough – yet this archaic archetype is just that, old and outdated.

So it’s no surprise that gender-specific policy has followed this binary and misaligned trajectory. Gendernormativity dictated socially acceptable gender identification until the mid-20th century. Even in the 60s and 70s during the social awakening of the US, when gender expression started to be publicly challenged, people were confined to their assigned gender and expected to continue to behave accordingly.

Society and policy alike have a lot to say about what constitutes a woman and what is her expected role in the home and the workplace. Women are expected to be model mothers and devoted contributors to the market, but denied the tools to do both effectively. When she abides by the system, a woman is reprimanded – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are detrimental to her survival. When she tries to navigate outside of the system, she is chastised – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are, again, detrimental to her survival. Welfare and FMLA, two government-sanctioned programs created with the intent to benefit women, only further constrict them, especially BIPOC women.

As such, many of the core threats to our civil structure stem from gender-based inequity. One in four girls skip school when they are menstruating because they do not have access to feminine hygiene products; they then fall behind in school and are unable to break the cyclical trends of poverty. A white woman’s work is valued at seventy-two cents to the white man’s dollar, which still out-performs the Hispanic woman’s 52 cents. Paid parental leave is not federally mandated and for many women, especially in blue collar professions, pregnancy is grounds for extermination.

Women are not given the same tools as men to succeed. The XX Factor identifies five dimensions of women’s lives that, if achieved, can positively impact her: economic empowerment, education, health, personal safety and legal services. If just one of these five dimensions is enhanced, a woman’s well-being and livelihood are dramatically shifted. But health, education, personal safety: are these not basic necessities allotted to citizens? Why are women still struggling? Our system is broken, and its effect is women’s demise. We must restructure our foundation to eliminate the imbalance prevalent in our Western culture to dismantle the extortion of women’s freedom.

My Experience with Fulbright

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

I was fortunate enough to be granted a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) pre-Covid, and fulfilled my 9-month term in 2019, just months before everything began shutting down. So, in this brief blog post I want to look back on the application process, my Fulbright in-country experience, and how it prepared me for Heller.

This next sentence will make a lot more sense if you have already read my Scuba-Diving blog post – but if you have not had the chance, I encourage you to now! So, the very day I had completed my Scuba Diving licensure in Honduras, I was relaxing with friends on a remote beach with very limited wifi. I walked towards the small make-shift restaurant and haphazardly refreshed the inbox on my phone.  As my eyes adjusted from the sunlight I realized I had an email from the Fulbright Commission. I read, then reread the email just to make sure. Well, I’ll be darned! Looks like I’m movin’ to Brazil!

My surprise stemmed from three thought processes: 1. I had already applied for a “special” Fulbright round for Brazil that had opened the summer prior and was not accepted 2. The odds of being accepted were still not in my favor 3. I had truthfully forgotten, as I had submitted the application the September prior (and it was now April). I had almost completely written off any hope of getting a Fulbright.

So, let’s talk about the application process that even got me to that point. As I said, I applied twice (as I was rejected the first time). The application itself is not unlike a college application, but the hardest part is most certainly the personal statements and/or statement grant of purpose. Both of these short essays had to be less than one page, but I must have edited mine (for both applications) 10-15 times with about 5 sets of eyes reviewing my revisions. All of that to say, begin early on your application and find people who you trust to help you edit and revise.

Once it commenced, my scholarship sent me to Brazil. As there were a number of potential universities in which I could be placed, I had to wait until a few months prior to finding out where within Brazil I would be heading. Tres Lagoas, Mato Grosso do Sul was where they sent me and three other ETAs. Geographically speaking, I was extremely close to the border of Paraguay, and was next to the Pentanal. My job as an English Teaching Assistant meant I worked closely with my program manager, who was an English professor. Classes were mostly held in the evenings, so during the day I would involve myself with the community as much as possible by going to Crossfit and Muay Thai classes,  getting coffee with my students and friends, volunteering, and walking around downtown. Then, in the evenings I worked alongside my program manager to help him where needed in class. I ended up working around 10 hours each week as an ETA, then the rest of my time was mine to hold informal community English classes or fill as I would like.

I would be happy to expound more on my experience, both the pros and cons, to anyone who is interested. But, in the spirit of brevity, I will continue along. So, Fulbright prepared me for Heller in a number of ways. First, it helped me write strong applications because, as I said, I had revised my Fulbright apps many times. Fulbright has also added richly to my internal experience bank, so I am able to relate and speak up on specific subject matters within my classes my confidently. Overall my experience with Fulbright was one I deeply treasure, and be it Peace Corp, AmeriCorp, Fulbright, or any other organization, having the ability to invest in something bigger than yourself and enjoy life while doing it is always an investment worth pursuing.

Sami’s Top Five Moments at Heller

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As my time at Heller gradually comes to a close, I can’t help but to reflect on my best experiences over the last two years. Coming to grad school for the first time, you’ll have quite a lot to look forward to! And to give you a sneak peak, I’ve listed my top five Heller moments of success, learning, and friendship (in no particular order).

  1. Completing my Master’s Thesis. For nearly a year, I’ve been working on my thesis for my COEX capstone, our last project before we graduate. The final paper ended up being over forty pages long (!), but it took a great deal of re-working, tweaking, and editing to get there. I loved the experience of working with my advisor, Dr. Quintiliani, all of the academic support I received from professors and Brandeis’s research librarians, and of course the emotional support and cheerleading I was given from my friends in COEX.

2. Getting to know the area. I have enjoyed getting to know Waltham, Boston, and the surrounding area so much! After moving to Waltham, I had such a good time getting familiar with Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. As a big museum nerd, I was very happy to visit places like the MFA and the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum. Only twenty minutes from Waltham are places like the deCordova sculpture park and Walden Pond. The greater Boston area is such a wonderful place to be a student.

3. Getting out of my comfort zone. At Heller, I’ve been pushed far outside my comfort zone many times. I’ve found this to be an enormous opportunity to not only learn about a subject, but also to learn more about myself. I’ve engaged in sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that I quickly realized were helping me to grow as a student and as an individual. Having fellow students’ varied perspectives has brought so much value and meaning to my time here at Heller.

4. The cultural exchange. Students come to the Heller School from all around the world. I’ve learned so much from people whose languages, cultures, backgrounds, and religions were different than mine. Thanks to the COEX program, I now have a best friend from Egypt, and as a result I often find Arabic words sneaking into my vocabulary and my appreciation for Middle Eastern food expanding.

5. Specific projects. I feel very proud of the work I’ve completed as a Heller student. There are a few projects that particularly stand out. In Professor Tamaru’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding”, I enjoyed writing an op-ed on revolutionary Indian women that was later published on Professor Tamaru’s blog. I was also so excited to write a paper regarding various women’s influences on Malcolm X for Professor Sampath’s “Democracy and Development” course. In Professor Madison’s “Intersectionality and Bioethics” class, I had so much fun engaging in a group debate concerning the pharmaceutical industry.

My experience at the Heller School has been rewarding, challenging, and eye-opening. I’ve found my experiences here to be so valuable and have contributed so much to my growth as a student, a professional, and an individual!

Nine Reasons to Love Heller

In light of the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings placing Heller ninth for health policy and management and social policy, I thought I’d share nine reasons why I love Heller. Everyone has a different story of what attracted them to Heller, but these are what I’ve come to appreciate about Heller in my time here as a staff member.

  1. An interesting and passionate group of prospective students. I’m sure that at some schools, reviewing applications or talking to prospective students can sometimes be a snooze, but that is never the case at Heller. The students I talk to all have fascinating stories: they’ve worked in the Peace Corps, founded their own companies, worked as doctors in their home countries for twenty years… it really runs the gamut! Students who are interested in Heller are passionate, enthusiastic, and dedicated individuals, and speaking with them about their backgrounds and career aspirations is always a lot of fun.
  2. Our peers agree: we’re top-notch. Heller is consistently ranked a top-ten school in social policy by US News and World, which reflect peer assessments of deans, directors, and department chairs at 276 schools of public affairs. For 2023, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and for health policy and management. Heller is one of only two New England graduate schools of public affairs to be ranked in those specialty areas.
  3. Diversity is more than a buzzword at Heller, it’s a commitment. When you join Heller, you’ll become a part of an incredibly diverse community: last year, we welcomed students from 53 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), and 41% of our incoming domestic students were students of color. Moreover, Heller is home to many students with disabilities, students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and students from a variety of religious backgrounds. This diverse environment challenges every student to consider new points of view and offers the unique opportunity to learn not only from our experienced faculty but students who are nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, policy analysts, and more.
  4. The Boston area is a great place to be for graduate school. I may be biased because I moved from Atlanta to Boston for my graduate education, but I truly think the Boston area is a great place to be when you’re getting your master’s degree. The MBTA system (which connects to the commuter rail line that goes right to campus) makes the city easy to explore, and the city is filled with intelligent, passionate people in a similar place in their lives, whether they’re studying engineering at MIT, or music at Berklee. The Waltham area is great because if you choose to live in Waltham, you’ll be able to find more affordable living, but if you want to live in the city, it’s easy to commute to campus. Once you’re in Waltham, there’s plenty of restaurants and beautiful paths along the Charles to keep you busy.
  5. The history of Ford Hall. The term “Ford Hall” at Brandeis generally refers to two periods of direct action led by black students and other students of color with the goal to promote racial justice and build a more inclusive, equitable and diverse student experience at Brandeis. The first Ford Hall took place in January 1969 and was an 11-day student sit-in; the second Ford Hall (commonly written as #FordHall2015) took place in November 2015 and was a 13-day student sit-in. Heller students were involved in both events as well as sustained efforts during the interim years to promote policies and structures that advance diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. At the Heller School, the second Ford Hall resulted in hiring an Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the creation of Heller Forward, and the creation of Community Day, a biannual, day-long workshop event centered on Heller’s commitment to eradicating social injustice and ensuring a more inclusive culture. To me, this shows that Heller students are truly engaged within their communities and that Brandeis and the Heller community are responsive and willing to change and adapt to student needs.
  6. Rose! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Heller’s resident barista, Rose. Heller has a Starbucks located in the Zinner Forum (more on that later), and Rose is a constant presence and probably most people’s favorite person at Heller. She’s extremely friendly and somehow manages to remember everyone; I still remember how excited I was when I realized she had memorized my daily order because it made me feel like I truly belonged at Heller. In the past year of working from home, I’ve missed starting my morning with a cup of tea and a conversation with Rose.
  7. Living up to the motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice”. One of the things I love most about Heller is that even though I’m not a student, Heller consistently pushes me to learn. In January, faculty, staff and students participated in Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, and the 7-Day Neurodiversity (ND) Inclusion Challenge just wrapped up last week. Heller’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity also maintains a list of books, articles, documentaries, movies, and even music meant to help advance knowledge and understanding on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice as well as inspire positive and equitable social change. As someone who considers themselves a life-long student, I really value the emphasis that Heller places on educating yourself for the social good.
  8. The Heller magazine. Maybe it’s because I’m perpetually nostalgic for my teenage years, but I love a good magazine, and the Heller magazine is no exception. I read every copy cover to cover, and it’s genuinely a pleasure to read! I walk away even more impressed with the work our faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni are doing. Some of my favorite articles from the past few issues include: Peak InspirationWho Is Your Social Justice Hero?From Social Policy to Sesame Street, and 2020 asks us: If not now, when? 
  9. The views from Zinner Forum. The Zinner Forum is a huge, multi-story open space that connects the two wings of Heller (and is where Rose’s coffee shop is housed). When we’re in-person at Heller, we use the Zinner Forum for pretty much everything: orientation, Coffee with the Dean, community events… but when it’s not being utilized for an event, it’s a great place for students to study, socialize, and grab a bite to eat. One of the walls of the Zinner forum is made entirely out of windows with beautiful views of the wooded area outside. In the fall, the views of the changing leaves are absolutely stunning, and in the winter, watching snow fall outside the windows is so soothing.

So there you have it: my top nine reasons to love Heller. I hope that you join us in the fall and make a “Top Nine” list for yourself!

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