Tag: Why Heller?

Hello Heller!: Andrea Tyree’s Acceptance Story

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Fun fact: I accidentally ignored my Heller acceptance letter for an entire week. Ironically, this came after weeks of obsessively checking my email in hopes of seeing “The Heller School” in my inbox and months of gushing over the school to anyone who would listen. But you know what they say: a watched pot never boils. Needless to say, when I finally saw that name in my inbox with the subject “Application Update,” my stomach leaped into my chest.

So many thoughts raced through my head before I opened the email. My journey to Heller had been a long one. After obtaining a B.A. in Political Science from Howard University, I went directly into the Peace Corps, serving as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in East Timor. I entered the Peace Corps with hopes of finding direction in the human rights field. Yet my time in the tiny Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste showed me the immense impact of community development when led by the community itself. Though I cared about a number of human rights crises around the world, nothing struck my heart quite like my own community’s crisis: racial discrimination and police brutality against Black Americans.

After my time in the Peace Corps, I was determined to follow my passion and make a difference for my community. I came back to my home, West Virginia, and worked for an anti-poverty nonprofit, learning the powers of organizing and policymaking. I knew I wanted to continue my education in order to make a more substantial impact for racial justice and, luckily, I had a mentor who guided me toward a Master’s in Public Policy. When searching for the right school, my priority was to find a school that emphasized the impact of policy on communities. The Heller School quickly rose to the top of my list.

Yet it wasn’t until I visited the Heller School that I fell completely in love. A normal campus visit usually involves one (short) meeting and maybe a class visit. However, my morning at Heller involved a campus tour, three separate meetings with assistant and associate deans, coffee with a current MPP student, sitting in on a COEX class and viewing second-year MPP student summer internship presentations. On top of all of that, I was encouraged to organize calls with professors skilled in my area of research. Prestigious professors, like Anita Hill, took time out of their day to speak with a prospective student to brainstorm research ideas! By the time the application deadline came around, I had already begun praying for an acceptance letter.

Back to the infamous email: I took a deep breath, attempted to embrace the mantra of “everything happens for a reason,” convinced myself that I would be O.K. with any decision, closed my eyes and clicked.

“There has been an update to your application.”

…that’s it?

“Well, that’s anti-climactic,” I thought.

The suspense was definitely lost but my patience was rewarded as I went through the admissions portal to find my prayers had been answered. I was accepted… with a scholarship!! I’ll spare you the cheesy details of my reaction (spoiler: it involved jumping on my bed and blasting “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen) because it’s the reactions of my father and mentor that I remember most. The joy pouring from my dad as he gave me a bear hug and the tears from my mentor on the phone solidified the feeling that this was it. I had applied to other prestigious schools in the Boston area, but I knew firsthand that no school would share my values, and value me as a student, like Heller. After only a month as an MPP student, I still believe this to be true.

Peace Corps + Heller: A Perfect Combination

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

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.

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.

Heller Bucket List: Elizabeth Nguyen’s “Must Do” Experiences around Waltham

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

There are a number of exciting things to do and see when you start your program at Heller. For those of you moving to the area for the first time (or even those of you who have been here your whole lives), the amount of “must-do” activities can sometimes seem overwhelming, but remember, you have your whole program to cross them off your list. After two years at Heller, here is my list of things to make sure you do at Brandeis, in Boston, and in the New England area!

  1. Go to Brandeis events – Sign up for the general Brandeis listservs and follow the Brandeis Facebook pages to find out more about Brandeis events going on outside of the Heller building. I follow the Campus Activities Board and have gotten information about great events the past two years that I have signed up for with my Heller friends. During Halloween, there was a fun zombie escape room (we escaped!), a zoom chat with John Finlay from Netflix’s show “Tiger King”, free tickets to a Red Sox game, and even free ice cream in the summer!

    A group of eight students smile in a dimly lit room

    My team after completing the Escape Room

  2. Check out the Mapparium in Boston – This three-story tall stained-glass globe is one of the coolest places I have seen in Boston, and every time I have someone visiting, we try to go see it. The map itself is from 1935 and has some countries with different names compared to today. As a traveler and history nerd, it always is so interesting to find new bits of information on the map and see how the world has changed! Since it’s a perfect sphere, it also has fun acoustics, so bring a friend to test it out.
  3. Explore Cambridge and Boston –  There is a great free campus shuttle during the school year that drops you in Cambridge or Boston for you to explore the city for the day. Cambridge has great options for food, including coffee from Tatte or Pokeworks for sushi. I sometimes also like to explore the Harvard campus with its beautiful buildings for some hidden places to study. Boston is a great city to explore as well, from its historic Freedom Trail sites to museums like the Museum of Science, the Aquarium, and the Museum of Fine Arts. Some of these places are free with a student ID!
  4. Take a day trip outside of the city – As someone from California, it still amazes me that driving an hour and a half can easily bring you to another state. Living in Massachusetts, you have the option to drop into Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and hike mountains, sunbathe at beaches, and explore cute little towns! I like going to Newport, Rhode Island for a quick getaway or up to Maine to shop at the different outlets. Sometimes, I will even drive with friends and family along the New England coast to look at the beautiful lighthouses!
  5. Go leaf-peeping in the fall – New England is famous for its fall/autumn leaves, and rightly so, because they are so beautiful. Make sure to follow along on the leaf peeping maps to tell you where you should drive to see in New England to best see the peak leaf season… but even just walking to campus, you will see the leaves change color dramatically. This fall season makes you fall in love with the Boston area and will make you want to stay forever.

As you can see, I’ve tried to include choices that are safe in our “new normal”, but these will be experiences to cross off your Heller Bucket List for years to come. No matter when you’re joining us, you’ll find that the area has a lot to offer, so make sure you get out and experience all that you can: you’ll be surprised at how fast your program flies by!

Last Chance to Submit Your Application!

Hi everyone! Tomorrow’s the big day: the last chance for domestic students to submit their application to a master’s program at Heller. If you haven’t, check out my earlier post with five tips for finishing your application, but sometimes, we need a little motivation! So today, rather than sharing the how of finishing your application, I’m going to share three reasons why you should submit your application to motivate you to cross the finish line.

  1. 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 2021, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and top 20 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.
  2. 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 66 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), making international students about a third of our incoming class. 39% 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.
  3. 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.

You’re almost there! Just push through and press that submit button, and then help yourself to your favorite treat to celebrate! Best of luck; I look forward to welcoming you to Heller!

Why Choose Heller? 60 Reasons for 60 Years! (Part 2)

We’re continuing to celebrate Heller’s sixtieth anniversary with our 60 Reasons for 60 Years series, where you can hear from current students, alumni, staff, and faculty about what makes Heller a unique experience.

21. “Everybody at Heller wants everyone else to succeed. My classmates would say, ‘I want you to be whatever you want to be in the world. I’m going to cheer you on.’ That spirit— it’s what the world needs. It touched me in a deep way. I am changed forever because I have these people in my life.” Megan Casey, MA COEX’18
22. “Literally in my first class at Heller, which was with Janet Boguslaw, I learned this language around asset building, the racial wealth gap and the hidden welfare state. It was an amazing experience.”  Alexandra Bastien, MPP’12
23. “I chose Heller because I was interested in an interdisciplinary approach. I wanted to think about the issues I was interested in in a broader context, and I’ve had that opportunity—to think about how education and discipline connect with health, mental health, housing, poverty and equity issues.” Joanna Taylor, PhD candidate
24. “At Heller, there’s the opportunity to be proactive and create your own path through the programs. I leveraged what professors had to offer with their experiences, had the experience of teaching and grading, and took advantage of being in Boston to work with NGOs there.” Rebecca Herrington, MA SID/COEX’14
25. “My dissertation experience was wonderful. As the first person in my family to graduate college, I appreciated the fact that my professor encouraged someone like me to write a book, even though it was hard. It meant a lot to me.” Carol Hardy-Fanta, PhD’91
26. “Heller’s a unique environment. I lit a match and it started a fire. I don’t think I could have found that anywhere else.” Isaac Cudjoe, MA COEX’19
27. “Through a combination of academic and real-world experiences during my time at Heller, I became more attuned to the role that government can play in addressing social determinants of health and other upstream factors that can improve population health and reduce inequities.” Fran Hodgins, MBA/MPP’18
28. “I chose to come to Heller because of the international focus and the diversity. The connections have been the best part of my experience so far. It’s given me new perspectives of different places in the world I’ll never go.” Tomesha Campbell, MA SID/COEX’19
29. “I got more than I expected at Heller. Everything from the classes and the professors, to the optional training in Excel, to the Career Development Center staff and website.” Farida Mushi, MS GHPM’16
30. “Heller students are among the most progressive crowds I’ve ever been with.” Alain Lempereur, Director of the COEX program
31. “I realized, to shift paradigms we were witnessing with respect to economic fragmentation, I needed to have the tools to champion all the outcomes I’d like to see and that’s what led me to Heller.” Ricky Ochilo, MPP/MBA’15
32. “With my interest in Heller specifically, I really appreciated the grounded focus on social inclusion and social justice. What drew me to the specific Assets and Inequality Concentration was Tom Shapiro and the work that he does on toxic inequality, and focusing not specifically on just wealth employment but also asset attainment.” Aaron Colemen, PhD Candidate
33. “I chose Brandeis because of the programs here at Heller. They were really attractive to me, as I want to work with people in my home country to bring a change in mindset.” Sita Leota, MA SID’20
34. “The writing quality that I got from the Heller program— writing memos and policy analyses— distinguished me from the other candidates for the job.” Todd Swisher, MPP’16
35. “I’ve seen the school’s commitment to social justice and also how diverse the classroom is. It’s the first time for me that I’m in a place where I see so many other Asian-American women too, so I feel like it’s a great place for my learning, and I also feel more at home.” Chibo Shinagawa, MS GHPM’19
36. “Heller’s curriculum, faculty, staff, and students prepared me well to work directly with senior-level financial and strategic decision makers.” Roger Perez, MBA/MA SID’16
37. “Our students are really, really good at going into a situation, understanding it in a sensitive way, using data-driven analysis to develop objective solutions and figuring out how an organization can implement it. That is a suite of very valuable skills.” Carole Carlson, MBA Program Director
38. “The practicum option was attractive because international development is something that’s so dependent on experience. The opportunity to spend the second year traveling and working and getting exposure was really valuable.” Noah Steinberg-Di Stefano, MA SID’17 
39. “I’ve made very good connections through both Heller and UPEACE. You meet such genuinely wonderful people who have a similar mindset of mutual support, from all over the world.” Kyla Graves, COEX/ILHR’19
40. “We’re trained at Heller to not just pursue business opportunities, but to take on the harder challenge, which is always to look at the social impact of business on our team, on our community, on our economy.” Brenna Schneider, MBA’12

Look out for our final post in this series coming soon!

Why Choose Heller? 60 Reasons for 60 Years! (Part 1)

Since our founding in 1959, Heller faculty, students, researchers, staff, and alumni have remained united by a vision of “knowledge advancing social justice” and a commitment to rigorous research and engagement with policymakers, practitioners and recipients of social policies, as well as academics. To celebrate our 60th anniversary, we’ll be sharing sixty messages from students, alumni, faculty, and staff over the next few weeks.

1. “I’ve never experienced the support that the staff gives the students at any other higher education institution, and for that, I will always be grateful.” Nicole Rodriguez, MPP’14
2. “We always treat the person as the number-one priority when we’re dealing with any issues, be they academic, personal or professional. And we make sure to link them to the resources they need.” Ravi Lakshmikanthan, Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Services
3. “Heller was where I first understood health policy, its links to global health, and the social justice issues around global health. Heller helped me choose a focus on research to provide rigorous evidence that health policymakers can use to make meaningful decisions.” Adeyemi Okunogbe, MS GHPM’12 
4. “My education at Heller, including a deeper understanding of economic, political and sociological theories, coupled with skills in statistics and research methods, has given me a distinct advantage.” Antoinette Hays, PhD’90
5. “Having classmates from all over the world helps you to get rid of some of the biases you have.” Shadi Sheikhsaraf, MA SID/COEX ’17
6. “I was drawn in by Heller’s social justice focus. I didn’t want to have to do a more traditional graduate program and translate that to the work I wanted to do. I wanted to be around people who cared about the same things I cared about.” Maryse Pearce, MBA/MPP’18
7. “My Heller cohort continues to be my extended family and professional network. I frequently reach out to individuals or groups to inquire about specific topics and I’m always amazed by the overwhelming support.” Rodrigo Moran, MA SID’16
8. “The students are enormously dedicated and engaged. I was thinking, during orientation, that it kind of feels like a family, and that’s wonderful, especially when you are dealing with such difficult issues and topics.” Pamina Firchow, Associate Professor
9. “At Heller, social justice is in the DNA.” Michael Levine, PhD’85
10. “Heller not only had the SID program, but also the environmental conservation concentration that I wanted. My coursework at Heller and summer internship are preparing me to address sustainable energy challenges in Africa from a global perspective.” Abdishakur Ahmed, MA SID’20
11. “Our community is passionate about local and global social justice, and we have a strong academic purpose.” Maria Madison, Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity
12. “Heller sends grads out with the tools to understand data and models, and also with the skills to understand whether a policy is going to help people or hurt people.” Brian Kennedy, MPP’16
13. “I just had a great experience at Heller. The faculty, the students — the community was fantastic.” Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD’77
14. “The most important thing I took away from Heller was the way I approach my work. As someone passionate about social change, I bring a much stronger equity lens to every aspect of my work as a result of my time at Heller. I also feel more confident, more organized, and generally more impactful in my work processes.” Analissa Iversen, MBA/MPP’16
15. “The professors are very approachable, they’re always telling us to come visit them, and they really make themselves available.” Dahiana Loaiza, MS GHPM ’14/MA SID ’21
16. “I’m really, really happy here, with how much I’m learning and seeing everything from other perspectives,” she says. “My professors are convinced there’s a resolution for everything. A lot of us came from war zones, where people just gave up. They show us different ways to do things and what’s possible.” Natalia Hermida-Cepeda, MA COEX’19
17. “Through a combination of academic and real-world experiences during my time at Heller, I became more attuned to the role that government can play in addressing social determinants of health and other upstream factors that can improve population health and reduce inequities.” Fran Hodgins, MBA/MPP’18
18. “I went into Heller to pursue what I was most passionate about and learned things I knew nothing about before, like organizational theory with Jody Hoffer Gittell.” Anne Douglass, PhD’09
19. “Heller helped me to understand the theories behind what I was doing in my work. At Heller, you meet a lot of inspiring people and you learn the way they have done things in their own countries. I now understand the problems in Nigeria, the challenges to young people in America, the struggles around gender identities in India.” Qaisar Roonjha, MA SID’19 
20. “I chose to attend Heller to be part of a community of policymakers intent on incorporating social justice into every aspect of their work.” Billierae Engelman, MPP’19

Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3, coming up over the next few weeks!

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