Month: April 2021

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!

The Heller Blog: A Year in Review

When we launched the Heller blog a year ago, we were seven weeks into working remotely. I had no idea then that the seven weeks would turn into seven months, then fourteen months and counting; in fact, I was confident that we’d all be back in the office by the summer (of 2020!).  In launching this blog, I hoped to create a space where we at Heller Admissions could connect authentically with prospective and admitted students and where current students could openly share their experiences. It also gave me an opportunity to share advice and tips that I’ve gathered (not only from my time in admissions but from my years of working as an SAT and ACT prep tutor) with students who might not be as familiar with the process of applying to graduate school. Over the past year, it’s grown to be all that I’ve envisioned and so much more. Here’s what we’ve accomplished:

I’d like to thank the graduate students who have served as writers for this blog: Elizabeth Nguyen,  Sami Rovins, Doug Nevins, Andrea Tyree, Hannah Lougheed, Daniella Levine, and Sazia Nowshin. Here are some of my favorite pieces from our students (in no particular order):

I’d also like to thank each and every one of you for reading this blog, and for your interest in Heller. I’m excited for this blog to continue to grow: if you’d like, comment below some articles you hope to see from us in the next year!

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Dear Future Daniella,

This is not where you assumed you would be six years ago when you first thought about obtaining an MPP. Graduate school was your ticket out of Boston. You wanted a new city, a new community, a new start. And due to consequences, both in and out of your control, that did not happen. You initially applied to Heller, because it would be silly not to – a top-ranked program, small cohort size, a concentration in gender policy – Heller checked all the boxes but one. After working in Boston for four years, attending college in Worcester and growing up in Providence, I yearned for the chance to expand and grow and for whatever reason, I was determined that wasn’t possible to do in New England.

Oh, how wrong I was. I am waiting on your confirmation, but I am pretty certain I would not be as content or satisfied anywhere else. Heller’s commitment to social justice is one I have never experienced in any other institutional setting. My peers are not focused on being the best alone, we work collaboratively and with care. My professors want their students to succeed outside of the traditional classroom expectations and provides the support and tools necessary to thrive in the world of policy. The structure of Heller’s curriculum allows me to explore the nuance of women, gender and sexuality policy within a social policy framework. Intersectionality is aptly examined in every class because we cannot study policy without the acknowledgement of interconnectivity.

I came to Heller to explore the intersection of assimilation, gender and the cultural socialization on gender normativity.  Especially in the way race, workplace ecosystems and gender coalesce. I am hopeful that my work at Heller will qualify me for a position at a national think tank or research institution focused on gender disparities. Through my previous experiences, I gained a baseline understanding of the work being done to combat sexism, along with a grasp on the development side of non-profit work. I hope that Heller equipped me with a deeper and more theoretical/academic comprehension of contemporary issues to ground the work. I have no doubt that Heller helped me hone in on my critical thinking skills in my personal and professional lives. How much did you utilize the resources of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office at Heller? Were you able to learn from  faculty and practitioners like Laurence Simon and Sarah Soroui? Could you fit the Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing course in your last semester?

Heller, situated in Massachusetts, seems to be the right place for me. So where will I go next? Has my time at Heller grounded me in the Boston area? Will I move to DC? Do I find a niche within the gender and sexuality field? Do I veer in another direction? I started my time at Heller hesitant, and while I may leave with more questions than answers, I will never be questioning if Heller was the right choice. I am eager to see how I’ve grown.

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 2022, 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!

Library Appreciation Day with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

After attending a really interesting library workshop this afternoon, I realized that for this week’s blog I’d like to give a shout out to the Brandeis library, especially since tomorrow (April 16th) is National Librarian Day. The library is an incredible resource for Brandeis students, and despite having not set foot in the building itself in over a year I still take advantage of their services on a weekly basis. And, after a year of studying at home without a change in scenery, I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of library study spaces next semester!

Here are some of my favorite features of the Brandeis library:

Research resources (virtual and physical)

The library has amazing resources for conducting research using primary and secondary sources. Innumerable databases and archival resources are available, as are physical primary source documents such as those held as part of Brandeis’ US government publication depository. These really come in handy if you need to find specific legislation or review the Congressional Record, as may be needed to write papers for MPP and other courses at Heller. In my experience, Brandeis has an excellent selection of books regarding 20th century US social and political history – while writing several papers in my first year, such as one on the role of left-wing organizers in the early US labor movement, I found lots of additional sources just by wandering the stacks near a book whose call number I’d found online.

…not to mention research librarians!

Two research librarians are available to assist Heller students with research, while data science librarians and other professional staff can assist with specific research needs and technology tools. An hour meeting with a research librarian will be more productive in terms of finding resources and refining a thesis than many hours spent spinning your wheels alone (speaking from experience). Heller-specific resources are available here.

Periodicals and software

In addition to academic research databases, Brandeis students have access to lots of archival newspaper records as well as free access to some current newspapers and periodicals like the New York Times. Additionally, lots of free or discounted software is available – for example, STATA, which is used in statistics courses at Heller, and ArcMap, used in Heller’s GIS mapping electives. It’s great to have a chance to learn these tools, for free, during grad school. Plus, we get a free LinkedIn Learning subscription, which is a great resource for learning how to use data science software or strengthen other technical and professional skills.

Workshops

In addition to LinkedIn Learning, the library itself offers countless workshops on a wide variety of topics. I’ve set a personal goal of doing as many qualitative and quantitative data–focused workshops as I can this semester. In just the past few weeks there have been workshops about qualitative data coding in Atlas.TI (great if you are doing interview-based research), basic and advanced Excel skills, and text mining using R.

Study spaces

As I mentioned earlier, I’m really looking forward to studying on campus again. The library has some beautiful spaces, some featuring tall windows and natural light, some nestled underground by the stacks for when you really need to hunker down. There are standing and treadmill desks, large tables for group work, comfy chairs, and computer clusters. There’s also a Starbucks location – critical!

This barely scratches the surface of what is available through the library – there’s also the Writing Center, Sound and Image Media Studios, the MakerLab, and University Archives. Brandeis is a major research university that manages to feel like a small college, and the library, with its vast yet approachable resources, really reflects that. The library should be one of your first stops if you visit Brandeis – having fun is guaranteed.

Scuba Diving and Grad School: What’s the Difference? Hannah Lougheed

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As you’ve gone about your daily life, I’m sure at least once or twice you have thought, “man, scuba diving and graduate school sure do have lots in common!”. No? You haven’t thought that? Weird. Well, as someone who has spent significant time underwater, I would love to draw some parallels for you between jumping into an unknown darkness with mysteries lurking about  (ie. grad school), and scuba diving.

First, a brief backstory: Most individuals who grow up in a cold, suburban, landlocked environment do not have significant exposure to large bodies of water. I was one of those individuals. My exposure to the world of diving was limited to what I had seen on National Geographic and Bubble Guppies. But, I knew I was curious, and I knew I wanted a skill set that would allow me to travel and to see parts of the globe. I took an Open Water (aka: scuba babies) class through my local YMCA. Let me tell you, nothing beats the rush of diving literally a few feet below the surface in a chlorine bath while the silver sneakers water aerobics class is ongoing at one end, and children are actively multitasking (learning to float while at the same time, urinating) at the other.  But, for the sake of word count, let me fast forward to the part where I am living on a tropical island and swimming with whale sharks.

At the ripe age of 23, I moved by myself to Utila, Honduras with a snorkel and a dream and enrolled in a program to become a certified scuba instructor. After four months, and hundreds of hours working on both underwater techniques, and knowledge in the classroom – learning everything from theories to gas mixtures – I had done it.  At this point in my story you may be thinking, how does this relate back to the graduate school process?

Here it is: investing in yourself is a scary thing; financially, the time commitment, the “is this even going to pay off?” thoughts – those are all natural and important to the process. You know the saying, “big risks lead to big rewards”? Well, I would argue – not always. I took a big risk to quit my job and move to an island to pursue scuba diving. Was that in my 10-year plan? No. Did it pay off exponentially with a huge reward? Also, no. But, scuba diving, like graduate school, is an investment with payoffs that reach far beyond what can be measured in a traditional sense. The months I spent living on a tropical island and diving every day were incredible. I swam with whale sharks and dolphins. I learned how to hunt lionfish (an invasive species) with an underwater Hawaiin harpoon and prepare them the traditional way to eat. I gained confidence, met incredible people, and grew closer to nature.

If you come into graduate school with a rigid checklist of things you must accomplish, you may miss other opportunities along the way. Hard skills are so important – and I am in no way minimizing that, but be open for that whale shark encounter: that unexpected moment when you learn something new, or how to make your voice heard, or deepen the understanding of your innate worth as a human on this planet.

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Sazia Nowshin

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Dear Future Saz,

Congratulations on graduating with a Social Impact MBA and a Master’s in Sustainable International Development from The Heller School! Looks like you’ve done it again. You’ve graduated with a mouthful of interdisciplinary degrees! All jokes aside, all I can ask you is how?

How did you do it, Sazia? How did you overcome the trials and tribulations of life while juggling two years of intense coursework? Finish the Strategic Management Midterm paper? Figure out which organization to do your team consulting project on? There’s so many courses and assignments we can ask you about but what matters the most is that you did it. You, a first-generation Bangladeshi-American, did it. You, a Muslim immigrant, did it. 

These past two years must have “Zoom-ed” by. With your entire first year being online and in a format you struggled to grasp at times to being in person for your second Master’s, your experience at Heller was truly one-of-a-kind. At times, it felt like weeks of classes go by in a blink, in others, you can’t wait for the weekend. I hope you were able to take time for yourself during these weeks and got a chance to breathe. I know old Saz would not shy away from retail therapy at the Natick Mall, but I do hope her future version engages in more frugal forms of self-care. 

Now comes the next big step in your life – choosing a career. Before your parents ask, ask yourself. What are you going to do now? Your interdisciplinary degrees open you up to a multitude of professional opportunities. I remember old Saz coming into Heller with the hopes of refining her skillset to become an international humanitarian aid worker. Now, I assume your interests and skills have equipped you for other routes. After two semesters, I learned so much about making an impact on a smaller scale, which stemmed from experiences like serving on the board of a local non-profit organization. At the end of the day, I know Sazia’s goals and aspirations will transcend time. They will transcend old Saz and future Saz. I want to serve underserved communities, and give a voice to those who aren’t equipped with the faculties to do so. I know future Saz will want to uphold these values. 

The possibilities are endless, and it’s scary. But it’s also so exciting. I cannot wait to see how you implement the valuable knowledge and wisdom you gained these past two years into your career. But never forget, the journey is sometimes more beautiful than the destination! Never forget the professors who left an impact on you, the specialized courses you never thought of taking but ended up loving, and the friendships that blossomed in your cohort over the past two years but will remain a lifetime. Congratulations again, Saz. Be proud of yourself.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students (Part II)

Now that we’ve gotten all of the logistical stuff out of the way in I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students, let’s talk about the experience of coming to the United States for graduate school. I’m not an international student myself, but I previously worked in an International Students and Scholar’s Office, so I’ve heard first hand some of the problems that international students run into and have some tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

Plan for homesickness. This isn’t limited to international students, of course (a lot of your classmates will be moving to the area from other states or cities), but it can be especially difficult when you’re moving from another country. It’s totally normal and natural to occasionally feel lonely or uncomfortable while you make this transition, but there are definitely things that you can do to combat it. You’ll want to strike a balance between old and new; maintaining your connections to your friends and family back home, while also establishing new bonds with your classmates and faculty. To maintain those connections, I would suggest: bringing a lot of photos of friends and family to decorate your new home, find a local restaurant that serves your favorite food or drink from back home, set a recurring skype or zoom date with someone back home once a week, maintain some of your old habits (if you always went for a jog before work, or had a cup of tea once you came home, keep doing that!). To establish new bonds, participate in a mentorship program, join a club or study group, participate in cultural events in your new city, and open yourself up to new experiences.

Prepare for academic culture shock. Many students make the mistake of thinking that because they’re familiar with American popular culture, they won’t experience culture shock. But even if you’ve grown up watching Friends, there will probably likely be many moments during your new life where American culture will seem strange, and particularly norms surrounding American educational systems. Especially in graduate school classes, professors expect students to participate by asking questions and offering their own thoughts, and many of your classes may even be discussion-based, rather than lecture style. Another difficulty that many international students run into is unintentional plagiarism; it’s essential that students learn to quote and cite other sources honestly and accurately, in the way that their professors expect.  Academic work in the United States depends on making absolutely clear which ideas and language are your own, and which come from someone else; if the lines get blurred, the credibility of your work is undermined. Luckily, the library at your school most likely offers a workshop or resources for avoiding plagiarism; I would recommend looking into those as soon as possible.

Identify support systems. Speaking from someone in the admissions office, I can attest that the goal of everyone at your university is making sure that students succeed. That starts with admissions, making sure that incoming students have all the advice to make the right decision for them and have all the information they need to ensure their transition to campus is smooth. As a student, you’ll find that in addition to your professors, the Office of International Students, the library, the Health Center, and your program’s administrators are all eager to help you succeed. Don’t wait until you’re in over your head to reach out to ask for help: that’s what we’re here for! I can’t tell you how many times, as an international student advisor, I wished that a student had reached out for help even a week or two before. And remember, life happens and it can be messy. Though I certainly hope your journey is a smooth one, if a major life event happens to you while in school, please please please let the people around you know as soon as possible.

Remember that deciding to attend graduate school abroad is a big step, and will likely not be without its challenges. However, adopting the mindset that challenges are an opportunity for growth (rather than proof of inadequacy) will take you a long way. You likely have a clear reason for why you’ve chosen to make this major change, whether it’s to experience a new culture, broaden your career opportunities, achieve a new level of academic excellence: whatever your reason is, keep that in the front of your mind as you navigate through your new adventure.

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Hannah Lougheed

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Dear Future Hannah,

Here we are – May 2022, I have just submitted my last assignment and am ready to receive my diplomas! What a crazy two years this has been. To think it all began in the midst of a global pandemic. An entire year [at least] completed online while completing my Masters of Arts in Sustainable International Development. The second year [hopefully] completed mostly in person while completing my Masters of Science in Global Health Policy and Management. I did it. I now have two masters and a well-packed tool kit of new skills and knowledge to take with me as I enter the field.  All in all a good year!

My resume looks great, I am feeling confident, and now I can take some time to reflect on my experience at Heller. First of all, the connections I have made – even virtually, have been wonderful. I have met some of the most incredibly talented individuals during my time who have inspired me in every way; fellow students, professors and staff alike have deeply enriched my time at Heller and my life at large. I have also gained valuable quantitative skills to take into the field; from cost-benefit analysis to international health financing, I am feeling much more confident dealing with data. I also have a number of completed projects that will serve as competency checks for future jobs. This includes a full survey designed, a monitoring and evaluation project, even a corporate sponsorship plan for an NGO (just to name a few). Wow – I am ready!

So, what’s next? Well, I hope I have a job pinned down upon graduating, but I know how tough it can be to land the right job at the right time so I am not averse to a little patience. Will I be working with a faith-based NGO? For the government? Within the United States, Canada, or maybe even Brazil? The possibilities are exciting, but scary. I know that at this point I have more direction, but I wish I could tell my past self that it will all work out because she is freaking out a little. I wish I knew exactly which career path I was headed down. Not only for peace of mind but also to ensure I am taking classes that tailor well to that. However, the beauty of my degrees from Heller is that I am gaining information across a wide landscape of topics. This will make me versatile in the job market and flexible within my career.

Okay, now that we are here at graduation, here are some things I hope I can say as I finish this two year journey:

  • I made it through while making the best of my situation (Covid really changed everyone’s plans, but I hope I didn’t just “get through it” but that I made the most of it).
  • I created some long-lasting relationships with those at Heller who I can always lean on in the future, and who can lean on me.
  • I took advantage of opportunities for various forms of growth while at Heller.
  • I applied myself and did the best work I possibly could throughout my courses.
  • I left an impact on Heller, and it left an impact on me.
  • This investment was totally worth it, and I would not have changed a thing… okay maybe the whole global pandemic thing! But besides that, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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