The Brandeis GPS blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

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Meet your enrollment advisor

If you’ve ever reached out to learn more about a course or program at Brandeis GPS, you’ve most likely had a conversation with Christie Barone.

As GPS’s senior enrollment coordinator, Christie works diligently with prospective students to help them decide if online learning at GPS is the right fit for them. She also advises students who have taken GPS professional development courses.

From a relatively young age, Christie knew that she wanted to work with people in a way that would allow her to have a real impact on their lives. Christie grew up in the culturally and economically diverse Framingham, Mass. – formerly the country’s largest town and now a recently-minted “city.” When Christie was in high school and her mom went back to work, Christie received an unexpected opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be a strong professional woman in a so-called “man’s world.”

Later, while working in Spain as an English teacher with high school students, Christie tapped into and deepened her capacity for patience and empathy as she helped her students learn a new language. She recalls her time working and traveling with her students very fondly, and holds on to the important lessons she learned as their teacher.

Today, Christie relies on these experiences for her work with prospective and non-matriculated students, and has found that sometimes a student just needs to hear someone say: I understand – it’s not always easy…Let’s talk about some possible solutions. Christie finds great joy and satisfaction in seeing a student who was so uncertain about their ability to get their master’s go from enrolling in a single course (just to “test the waters”) to taking that leap and enrolling in a graduate program.

Those who work with Christie know that she is dedicated, compassionate and hardworking. She deeply values her relationships with the students and prospects she advises and seeks to empower others to pursue their dreams.

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Find more Faces of GPS stories here.

 

 

Five ways to close the gender gap in FinTech

By Ashley Nagle Eknaian

It’s no secret that women in both banking and technology tend to be in the minority. When you combine those two fields into the phenomenon that is FinTech, “super minority” becomes a more accurate label. In recent years, organizations like Girls Who Code and Girls Who Invest have made a tremendous effort to encourage young women to take an interest and pursue careers in STEM fields. Supporting and championing these types of programs are vital to create meaningful change for the gender gap in the coming decades. However, we also need solutions that can benefit women currently in the workforce. Here are five things that can help increase gender diversity in FinTech today:

1.  Show woMEn the money. Startups with at least one female founder received only 10 percent of all venture investment from 2010-2015 . Attracting more capital to startups with at least one female founder isn’t about equal opportunity. It’s about funding scalable, profitable businesses that research shows post greater returns for their investors over time. For investors out there looking for the next unicorn, women-powered startups are an underrepresented resource for potentially big ideas.

2.  Welcome aBoard! Currently, women make up only 8 percent of FinTech directors globally. However, studies indicate that diverse teams perform better and deliver stronger financial outcomes. Different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, etc., are what inform our own unique perspectives on the world. Collectively harnessing the power of “different” by forming diverse teams promotes an environment of professional challenge and diversity of thought. If you are a founder looking for advisors, or a board member with no female counterparts, consider the power of “different” and make a difference by adding female board members.

3.  Help wanted. Managers tend to hire people with similar backgrounds, which can lead to homogeneous teams. If you are hiring, make sure you have a diverse (including both male and female) pool of candidates for any open positions. There are some fabulous companies/technologies out there that can help hiring teams mask demographic data at all stages of the recruiting process to level the playing field for both gender and ethnicity. Fun fact: In 1952, the Boston Symphony Orchestra pioneered the idea of blind auditions (performing behind a screen) to mask the identity of performers. It took decades, however, these types of auditions were instrumental (pun intended) in increasing the number of female orchestra performers by 30 percent.

4.  Pay it forward. According to a recent study, only 54 percent of women have access to senior level mentors. If you have been successful in finance, technology and/or FinTech, mentorship is a great way to support others who are still climbing their way up.  Be the mentor that you needed early in your career, share your experiences, and encourage future women leaders to break down barriers standing in their way. This isn’t just a one-way street either; reverse mentoring is a great way for leaders to keep pace with a multi-generational workforce, changing consumer expectations and the latest tech trends.

5.  Mind the gap! Address the issue head on – there is a gender diversity gap in FinTech, and we cannot overcome this challenge unless we have real conversations with one another. Talk about it, talk with colleagues, peers, managers, investors, advisors, founders, mentors, and mentees. Share fears, concerns, goals, and aspirations. Ask questions and discuss things you can do to make a change (maybe starting with items 1-4 on this list). There isn’t a simple answer or a one-size-fits-all approach. The only guarantee we have, however, is that if we do nothing, we’ll make zero progress.

Ashley Nagle Eknaian is the program chair of the MS in Digital Innovation for FinTech at Brandeis GPS.

Brandeis GPS to partner with inaugural Boston FinTech Week

For the first time ever, the city of Boston will be hosting Boston FinTech Week, a four-day event featuring some of the world’s biggest and brightest financial services institutions and the people behind them.

Sponsored in part by Brandeis GPS, Boston FinTech Week (which runs from September 11-14) is a collection of conferences, networking opportunities, workshops, and more centered on innovation in Boston’s financial services ecosystem. Throughout the week, attendees can expect to be submerged in everything FinTech, from insights and trends in Massachusetts FinTech to the integration of artificial intelligence into financial services institutions. A closing party in the Seaport District hosted by MassChallenge will conclude the weeklong festivities on Thursday evening.

Given the recent launch of our MS in Digital Innovation for FinTech, GPS is thrilled to partner with Boston FinTech Week and have a presence at several events. We hope you’ll join us at the following events (all times are EDT):

All events are free at Boston FinTech Week, but pre-registration is required. If you’d like to learn more about the event and programs offered, check out the event website here. Make sure to RSVP to events featuring Brandeis GPS faces so that you can reach out and talk to us, and don’t forget share your experience using the hashtag #BostonFinTechWeek.

“Where everybody knows your name”

By Nicole Russo

I don’t think that I realized this at the time, but a major contributing factor in my pursuit of a career in higher education was community. In my own undergraduate experience, I felt support from my fellow peers, as well as mentorship and guidance from the faculty and staff. I had not experienced this same sense of belonging in a school community before and consequently, I really cherished it.

When it came time to graduate and decide upon a first job, I realized that I never wanted to leave the college setting. And I didn’t. I spent the next five years doing work in admissions and student affairs on various college campuses in the Boston area. I had the opportunity to work with different student age groups and within a variety of campus cultures.

Similar to my undergrad self, a value that I have seen within all student demographics is a desire to belong and to find our place in the grand scheme. In choosing to pursue higher education, we all put so much on the line. Our time, our financial resources, our hopes for the future. It’s a vulnerable time of life, whether you are 18 or 68, and it can feel like a gigantic leap into the unknown.

My aim as a student advisor at Brandeis GPS is for my students to feel supported and to never feel that they

are going at it alone. In being enrolled in an online, part-time graduate program, I recognize that being a student is only a singular aspect of a student’s identity. My goal is to approach student advising with this consideration at the forefront and to recognize how the dimensions of our lives intersect. For instance, the birth of a child or the death of a family member has the potential to impact academic performance in a course. I want to be able to know about these happenings, so that we can collaboratively seek out resources and create solutions. I hope to get to know my students as whole people.

Sometimes when I think of community, I think about the NBC sitcom Cheers that depicts a Boston neighborhood bar where “everyone knows your name.” Like the bar regulars in Cheers, I hope that my students similarly feel seen, heard and valued at Brandeis GPS. I am looking forward to accompanying you as you create your community here.

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Find more Faces of GPS stories here.

From Brandeis, to Brandeis

After starting his master’s as an undergraduate, a Brandeis University alumnus proves that full-time work and graduate school can co-exist.

Three days after graduating from Brandeis University with a BS in Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) and a minor in Economics, Allan Chuang (class of 2017) enrolled in the university’s Health and Medical Informatics (HMI) program — a master’s of science degree offered through the university’s division of Graduate Professional Studies. Brandeis GPS caught up with Allan to learn more about his new life as a part-time graduate student and what motivated him to continue his Brandeis education.

The first time Allan Chuang learned of Brandeis GPS was through an email sent by the university’s registrar during the first or second week of his senior year. After reading that graduating seniors could enroll in GPS’s online graduate courses, he began researching programs and discovered that the HMI program and Brandeis GPS offered courses that would expand his current access to health policy education.

“I found that HMI is very similar to HSSP and since GPS was offering the program’s intro course, I just decided to give it a shot,” said Chuang.

This past spring, Chuang enrolled in Perspectives on Health/Medical Information Systems. Despite taking four other courses during this last undergraduate semester, he found the workload manageable and enjoyed the flexibility of online learning. In addition to setting aside blocks of study time and finding new coffee shops to work from, he also stressed how discipline and self-motivation were critical to his academic success.

“Taking a GPS course is like going to the gym,” said Chuang. If you go to the gym every day with a routine schedule, you get in the habit of putting in your work.”

After graduating from Brandeis last May, Chuang accepted a position at a travel tech start-up in Taiwan. Despite working 50-60 hours each week, Chuang enrolled in a second GPS course and recently applied and was accepted into the Health and Medical Informatics program.

“People in my classes aren’t just students, they are also very experienced healthcare professionals — some have been in the industry for more than 15-20 years,” said Chuang. “We have very vibrant discussions. It’s a good opportunity to network and get to know people in the healthcare fields.”

Those vibrant discussions are at the heart of each GPS course. Chuang looks forward to the weekly feedback he receives from his instructor, which challenges him to engage even more deeply in peer-to-peer dialogue.

Chuang decided to continue his education at Brandeis GPS because of the university’s dedication to academic excellence and high reputation in the greater Boston area. The fact that students have up to five years to complete their degree, and that Brandeis GPS gives Brandeis alumni a 15% tuition discount on online classes, also motivated him to enroll.

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Find more Faces of GPS stories here.

Can mono-solution providers survive?

By Mike Storiale

When FinTech began its ascent, single-solution providers opened the door to expertise and simplicity rarely brought to the table by traditional banks. Solutions designed to meet unique needs created excitement from consumers and investors alike.

Throughout the industry, experts discussed the need for an open architecture from banks and FinTechs to empower customers to build a set of financial solutions that worked best for them. As the industry matured, however, it became apparent that a more rudimentary problem was holding FinTechs back – a balanced business model.

Over the past 25 years, we’ve witnessed the rise and fall of innovative companies that created a single solution with little diversification. The dot-com crash in the early 2000’s was full of well-intentioned problem-solvers who built great organizations, but lacked the contingency plan a balanced product offering affords. They were flying high without a net.

Customers Are Finicky

The mono-solution business model that most FinTechs chose excited customers who could relate to specific problems they felt their banks were not solving. When early entrants offered a better way to send money and alternative lending options, as well as simpler checking accounts, they seemed attractive in an industry that traditionally ignored outcries from its customers for better products.

Moreover, customers had often been plagued with the decision fatigue that came with traditional banks’ offerings of multiple variations of each product, few of which fit anyone perfectly.

But while consumers were willing to try new products that FinTechs brought to the table, they remained reluctant to leave the mainstream banking system for a new financial lifestyle. For banks, this gave them the opportunity to win customers back as they developed complementing products to compete with the innovators creeping in on their space.

Even though research showed that few consumers ever felt “warm” with their bank, often ranking them just slightly less hated than airlines and cable companies, it was difficult to leave the one-stop-shop that was completely intertwined with their everyday lives. Though cobbling your perfect financial offering together sounds utopian, for most consumers it was simply more work than they were willing to take on.

A Risky Model

While the boon of the early years may make some think otherwise, FinTech is not immune to typical business risks. One of the core rules of business is to diversify your product offering to protect yourself, though when we begin new technology ventures, we often believe that we will be able to succeed on a single solution. FinTech’s rise began during a time filled with historically low interest rates, massive changes in regulation, and a consumer base willing to try new things.

While this opened the door for success, it also meant that it mattered less if a start-up’s balance sheet was diversified enough to withstand market fluctuations, because fluctuations simply weren’t happening. Solutions that focused on lending to consumers outside of the traditional market didn’t have to experience the risks of a volatile rate environment. As the inevitable becomes reality, however, speculation circulates as to whether an unbalanced offering can withstand the storms the financial industry often faces.

In addition to market risks, the gap is narrowing in the “tortoise and the hare” race between FinTechs and Bank’s. Even the smallest banks have begun investing money into innovation, while the ones with significant capital have started entire technology hubs and enacted strategies to acquire their biggest tech challengers.

Although big banks continue to face regulatory scrutiny of their core business model, they have evolved and learned how to innovate, catching up in the race to grab customers with products that differentiate themselves. At the same time, FinTechs are finding it difficult to maintain the minimal regulatory oversight that enabled the rapid growth seen in the early years of innovation.

Last month, SoFi filed the paperwork to obtain an industrial bank charter, opening the door for the online lender to offer the same core banking services as its mega-bank counterparts. SoFi’s bold step is not the approach taken by all FinTechs, but many continue to look for partnerships with more full-service financial companies to ensure revenues continue to flow, even if their core business falls out of favor.

The Tipping Point

The outlook for the next five years in FinTech growth may closely trend with the growth in new bank charters. While de novo bank growth stalled after 2008, the up-tick in 2015 and 2016 highlights start-ups that believe they can become successful hybrid organizations; part bank, part FinTech.

Still, taking the hybrid path isn’t without its own challenges. Stringent capital requirements, intense regulatory oversight, and the difficulty of growing a balanced product mix can make it unattractive for entrepreneurs and investors alike.

Mono-solution providers should evaluate the future of their revenue stream to determine if diversification can help mitigate their risks in a changing market.  If they are able to take their innovation into new, multi-service arenas, we can expect to see unprecedented growth in the industry.

Mike Storiale is an Adjunct Professor in the Digital Innovation for FinTech program at Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies. He teaches a graduate course on the global economy and the emergence of FinTech. 

“What’s an instructional designer?”

By Lance Eaton

That’s always the first question I get when I tell people that I am an instructional designer (an ID for those of us “in the know”).

It all started when I was 6 years old, and my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I peered up into his face and said with an earnest seriousness that no child should muster, “I want to be an instructional designer.”

Ok, that’s a lie. In my career as an instructional designer, I’ve never met anyone who wanted to become one when they grew up. In fact, many of them, like me, stumbled onto this career and realized they’d come into their calling — and that people would pay them to do something they rather enjoy!

Probably a year before I became an ID, I couldn’t tell you what an ID was. “Ummm…they design instruction?” In 2011, I was teaching full-time as a part-time instructor (or as I called it, the adjunct shuffle), patching together 6-8 courses a semester at six different institutions. Technology was my saving grace in that it helped me implement different and interesting projects without completely losing my mind (or my students’ papers). As a result of some of that work, I was soon asked to present on how I was using blogs, social media and other technology to enhance learning. When an ID position opened up at North Shore Community College, I was encouraged to apply given my skill set both with teaching and learning with technology, but also for my ability to effectively explain this work to colleagues. The rest is, as they say, history (ok, there’s a few more pieces to it, but this is the abbreviated blog-version!).

Helping instructors think about technology and pedagogy is the essence of instructional design. Eventually, I developed a succinct answer to the question above: “I work with instructors to develop online and hybrid courses or utilize other technology in pedagogically sound ways that maximizes learning and minimizes frustration for learners and instructors as much as possible.”

But even that description often needs further explanation. In comparison to the physical classroom, online instructors and students are thousands of hours behind when it comes to experience. Instructors have vast quantities of implicit knowledge about what works and doesn’t work in the physical classroom as a result of their own education, their teaching experience, and disciplinary expertise. However, that implicit knowledge needs to be made explicit in the online environment so that both instructor and student can succeed. This is where IDs come in; helping instructors figure out exactly how they can be effective in this new learning environment. It’s a rewarding opportunity — I get to meet different instructors with unique approaches to teaching and learning that I am then able to share with other instructors for consideration as they make their journeys into the online learning experience.

So with that, I’d like to say that I’m really excited to land at Brandeis GPS with some amazing colleagues and fantastic instructors. I look forward to learning and growing, which, as quintessential life-long learners, is something ID folk love to do.

Lance Eaton is an instructional designer at Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies. His previous work includes working at North Community College and Regis College as instructional designer. He is currently working on his PhD in Higher Education from University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Congratulations to the Brandeis GPS class of 2017!

The Rabb School of Continuing Studies awarded diplomas to more than 100 GPS students at its 2017 commencement ceremony this Sunday, May 21. Approximately 45 members of the graduating class attended the event, which took place on campus from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at the Faculty Club.

“Not only have you mastered a rigorous curriculum, but most of you have done this while working full-time and while balancing family responsibilities,” said Rabb School of Continuing Studies Vice President Karen Muncaster. “You are bright and you are capable and you’re going to change the world.”

Given the online nature of GPS programs, many graduates arrived from out-of-state and visited the Brandeis campus for the first time. Some students are traveling as far as Australia, Canada and throughout the U.S., including California, Maryland, Florida, Illinois, Washington and North Carolina.

“Persevering through these programs is a truly relentless pursuit of long-term goals and requires incredible passion,” said student speaker and MS in Instructional Design and Technology recipient Kara Wasnewsky, whose cohort makes up the first group of graduates from that program.

The ceremony also featured remarks from Corey Thomas, CEO and president of Rapid7.

“My hope is that you achieve escape velocity, that you continually find the best in yourself, and that you resist the gravitational pull of apathy and mediocrity, said Thomas. “We need people who can go out and find common ground and mutual solutions. Be that catalyst who doesn’t just stay in your lane—be the one who seeks to unite.”

The full breakdown of diplomas handed out is as follows:

  • Master of Software Engineering (15 graduates)
  • MS in Bioinformatics (3 graduates)
  • MS in Health and Medical Informatics (11 graduates)
  • MS in Information Security Leadership (12)
  • MS in Instructional Design & Technology (4 graduates)
  • MS in Project and Program Management (33 graduates)
  • MS in Strategic Analytics (16 graduates)
  • MS in Technology Management (18 graduates)

Congratulations to our graduates!

FinTech is changing your life, and you don’t even know it

By Ashley Nagle Eknaian

Don’t believe me? Answer the following questions:

  1. Do you have any cash in your wallet right now?
  2. Have you ever bought something using your mobile phone?
  3. Have you been inside a bank branch in the last 6 months?

Now, let’s travel back in time to the year 2007; would your answers still be the same? Probably not. My point here is that 10 years ago, your experiences carrying, spending, saving, transferring, investing, and borrowing money were very different than they are today. In 2017, I am willing to bet that you use some sort of fintech app for your everyday financial needs. Using your mobile wallet to pay for coffee/tea in the morning? Repaying a friend for lunch using Venmo? Donating to a crowdfunding campaign? Checking your bank balance? Buying insurance? Refinancing your student loans? Considering a Robo-advisor to handle your investments? Leveraging an auto savings app to build a nest egg? All are examples of FinTech innovation that we now have access to with a tap and a swipe on our mobile devices.

FinTech is changing your life and you don't even know it

VC’s & banks take notice

As technology continues to permeate every aspect of our lives from social media to healthcare, why would our interactions with money be any different? Investment dollars have been pouring into FinTech the last few years ($17.4 Billion in venture backed funding in 2016 alone), which means that there are some very smart people trying to revolutionize every aspect of the financial services you use every day. While not all startups will be successful in this endeavor, the few that do will continue to transform the financial services ecosystem. And let’s not forget about big banks, top financial institutions have taken notice of the FinTech boom and taken action. These companies are building innovation labs, hiring top tech talent and investing / acquiring startups to ensure they stay relevant for customers in what has become a rapidly changing and competitive environment.

Technology rules

With all of the technology now available to create smarter, faster, and cheaper products and services, no corner of the financial industry will be left static. Take the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether – could there be a day in the not-so-distant future where physical currency becomes obsolete? You may think that sounds crazy, however, the next time you make a purchase, ask the company if it accepts bitcoin as a form of payment – the answer may surprise you. Technology will continue to change and be applied to financial services at a pace that we could never have imagined just a few short years ago. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, not to mention a little technology called “distributed ledger” will all play a role in fueling the next evolution of FinTech innovation for both institutions and consumers.

Global dominance

FinTech isn’t a regional, socio-economic or generational phenomenon. FinTech is global, and it will impact the entire financial ecosystem, from central banks to the unbanked. Get ready, because FinTech has only just begun changing your life.

Ashley Nagle Eknaian, program chair of the MS in Digital Innovation for FinTech at Brandeis University

Brandeis GPS analytics program ranked in U.S. top 30

Brandeis University’s MS in Strategic Analytics program ranked 28th on College Choice’s list of the 50 Best Big Data Degrees for 2017.

Best Online Big Data ProgramsThe College Choice rankings were based on a combination of academic reputation, student satisfaction, affordability, and average annual salary of graduates. Strategic Analytics at GPS was selected for the breadth and depth of its coursework, the strength of its online learning model, and the success of its alumni.

From the College Choice announcement:

Strategic Analytics listing in College Choice's 50 Best Online Big Data Programs

View College Choice’s full list of schools here, and click here to learn more about Strategic Analytics at Brandeis.

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