Author: amendez

Andy’s Second Year Fall Schedule

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

On August 25th, I will officially be starting my second – and final – year of graduate school. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed so quickly! As a dual degree student, my schedule this fall looks a lot different from my single degree peers. 

In the Social Impact MBA, the courses follow a strict sequence. Through this format, the concepts build on each other as we progress through the course load. It also means that we go through the core courses together as a cohort, building a strong sense of camaraderie along the way. In contrast, the design of the MA in Sustainable International Development (SID) program has a bit more flexibility and freedom. While students are required to take courses in required subject matter (Gender, Economics, Ethics, and Environment), students have a selection of courses they can choose from to fulfill these requirements. SID students also have the freedom to choose in what order they take these courses. This greater ability to tailor your schedule also means that you are less likely to be in class with the same students course after course. I’ve found that I need to be a lot more intentional when it comes to building relationships with students in my SID cohort. Another distinction between the MBA and MA-SID course design is the length of courses. MBA courses are almost entirely full semester, meaning students are able to get very deep and granular with the material. In contrast, most SID courses are modules – essentially half-semester courses. This means SID students are able to get exposed to many more topics, but are unable to do the kind of deep-dive that is possible in a semester-length course. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other – it’s all about maximizing the advantages inherent in each program.

This semester, my classes primarily meet on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from 9:00-11:50am. Earlier in the week, I will be taking the final two classes of my MBA degree – Human Resources Management and Evaluation for Managers (a module course). When Evaluation for Managers comes to an end mid-way through the semester, I will start Applied Cost-Benefit Analysis for Development Practitioners. I’ll also have a Friday afternoon class and, in the second half of the semester, I’ll have a Wednesday evening course. My Friday courses are Gender and the Environment in the morning followed by Ethics, Rights, and Development in the afternoon from 2:20-5:10pm. My Wednesday evening course will be an Introduction to GIS and will take place from 6:30-9:20pm – I may need to become a coffee drinker to make it through! 

The biggest difference between this fall semester and my first fall semester is that I will also be interning with the Social Innovation Forum! Since MBA students complete their capstone projects in the summer between their first and second years, students have the option of completing a part-time internship in their second fall. Although it’s not required, an internship is a great experiential learning and networking opportunity. Students who complete a fall internship receive both academic credit AND a stipend. The time commitment for the internship is about 10 hours a week and many, at the moment, are done partly or entirely remotely. My internship with the Social Innovation Forum (SIF) will involve research support for the organization’s new national leadership initiative. I’m looking forward to learning more about SIF’s approach to social change and networking building among nonprofit practitioners. Overall, I’m really satisfied with my fall course schedule and am excited for this next leg of my graduate school journey to begin. 

The Graduate Housing Search

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

Moving to a new area can be daunting, but also very exciting! In two weeks, I’ll be moving to a new apartment for my second year of study. All the packing, cleaning, and decluttering has had me thinking back to my original experience moving to the Waltham area last year.

I began very casually looking for housing as early as late January 2021. In that month, I added myself to the Facebook Housing groups, signed up for the graduate housing email listserv, and began doing some very basic research on the neighborhoods in the area, such as Somerville, Cambridge, and Newton. I began responding to apartment listings in earnest in April. At the time, I was in a bit of an untraditional situation. I was technically based in Chicago, where I was doing access to justice work with a legal aid office as part of the AmeriCorps program. In early 2021, my office was still fully remote, so I moved back temporarily to Morocco, where I had completed Peace Corps two years earlier. This move allowed me to save up much more money toward grad school but, at the same time, it meant I could not visit any of the Waltham area listings in person and had to rely on photos and video tours. To give myself an advantage, I reasoned that I would aim to do a summer sublet in the area. This would give me time to get used to Waltham before school started and would allow me to be on the ground to scope out other places for the fall should I not end up liking my summer accommodation.

One of the most stressful things about the housing search is how limited the housing is in the Greater Boston area. Many people will be familiar with the housing crisis that had been affecting large coastal cities in the US even prior to the pandemic. Given Greater Boston’s 118 academic institutions, every year students flock to this area for degree programs and internships. Simply put, the demand is greater than the supply. Starting early allowed me to get a sense of the type of housing available and what areas made the most sense for my budget and commute. In particular, I made sure to note how far each apartment was from grocery stores, supermarkets, and public transportation. The Branda and MBTA apps were really helpful for learning the bus routes. By the time I was looking in earnest in April, I knew roughly what I was looking for. 

To stay organized, I created a very basic spreadsheet. On this sheet, I kept track of the contact person (usually one of the current tenants, but sometimes also the landlord or broker), the associated costs (including monthly rent, security deposit, broker fee, application fee), move-in dates, number of roommates, address, and distance from campus. 

It was really easy to find roommates who were also graduate students at either the Heller School, the International Business School, or the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences because they are also all looking for housing in the same area close to Brandeis. For me, this has been a great way to connect with people outside of my program. 

My biggest piece of advice is this – although housing is limited, you should not feel pressured to take the first thing you find. If you start early enough, you will end up having a few different options to choose between. This will make sure you find accommodation that is really right for you, rather than having to commit to something unsuitable out of desperation. With a little preparation, you can find a great new place to call home.

Get Involved! The Value of Student Working Groups

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

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

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

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

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

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

Andy’s Team Consulting Experience Part II

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

The first time I heard about The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Belize and their partnership with the Belize Women’s Seaweed Farmers Association (BWFSA) was during the presentations at the TCP Fair. I lingered a bit in their breakout room during the Q&A portion of the event. As the President of BWFSA addressed our questions, I was immediately drawn in by the focus on female entrepreneurship and alternative livelihoods within the regional context of Central America. The immediate surge of excitement I felt was followed by abrupt hesitation. As much as I recognized the value of having a TCP option that complimented my professional focus in international development, I did not have an agriculture or environmental science background. I wondered, was it wise to take on a project outside my area of expertise? How would this project be relevant to my future career path? Would I have the right skills to contribute? At the end of the event, I decided to pursue my interest in other organizations, but The Nature Conservancy was always in the back of my mind. 

That was back in mid-March. Fast forward a month or so later and, at this point, it’s deep into Spring semester. I’m fully aware that the weeks left to choose a TCP team and commit to a TCP project are rapidly dwindling. 

There wasn’t really one moment that made my decision clear – it was the accumulation of several moments, both big and small, that reinforced one another. As I sat in class one morning, I reflected on these moments and realized I already had all the information I needed. I decided I couldn’t go wrong leaning into the incredible relationships I’d built here at Heller, and I knew I would regret not taking advantage of the space to explore and stretch myself professionally. Right there, at the start of our 10 minute break, I opened the “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet and wrote “Andy (1)” in the fourth space next to “The Nature Conservancy.” With now the minimum number of students signed-up, TNC Belize project was officially a TCP team! 

Like the Chica Bean TCP Teams before us, our group was able to secure funding to conduct field research and begin building relationships with our stakeholders in person. On May 16th, our team traveled first to Caye Caulker, one of Belize’s offshore islands, where we spoke with local entrepreneurs and professionals in the ecotourism industry. These conversations gave us an important perspective on the current business environment in Belize as well as the challenges facing marine conservation efforts. Next, we headed to San Ignacio, a town near the border with Guatemala. There we interviewed entrepreneurs who helped us understand the extent of Belize’s reliance on foreign imports and the implications this has on the production and sale of seaweed products in markets outside the country. In Belize City, we met with Saleem Chan, a Mariculture Specialist with The Nature Conservancy who is also serving as our primary facilitator. We met Saleem at the headquarters of the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), whose staff are dedicated to the management of marine reserves. Saleem sat down with us and described the history of seaweed agriculture in Belize as well as the current landscape of stakeholders involved in the industry. After leaving Belize City, we headed to Placencia, where the BWFSA members live. We spent a week meeting with several of them and getting a better sense of the culture in Placencia. Our fieldwork culminated with a trip to Hatchet Caye, where we saw the seaweed farms firsthand and learned the basics of farm maintenance. 

Now, it’s summer semester and we are officially moving full-speed ahead with our project! I am so grateful to be working alongside my brilliant teammates Gabi Rufo, MBA/SID’22, Beck Hayes, MBA/SID’22, Douglass Guernsey, MBA’22, and Shiko Rugene, MBA/MPP’23. All of us bring a unique set of skills and a nuanced perspective to the project. Thanks to the generosity of the Heller Enrichment Funds and the Office of Graduate Student Affairs, we have already laid significant groundwork for this project. We’re confident that we will come out on the other side with useful and relevant recommendations for the BWFSA and an unparalleled experience for our professional growth.

My Team Consulting Project Experience

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

On May 16, 2022, with a mind full of questions, a heart full of hope, and a suitcase full of island clothing, I boarded a plane with four of my MBA classmates. Destination: Belize City. This wasn’t the start of a “hot girl summer” vacation trip (though we made sure to fit in some much-needed beach time!). Our purpose in Belize was to conduct field research with The Nature Conservancy and the Belize Women Seaweed Farmers Association – two organizations at the forefront of the growing sustainable seaweed mariculture industry in Central America – as part of our Team Consulting Project (TCP). 

Instead of a thesis or practicum, Heller’s Social Impact MBA program culminates in a summer-long capstone project where MBA students form groups and provide consulting services for a client organization looking for support addressing a real-world management issue. This process started months before our plane departed Boston Logan Airport. It actually began mid-way through spring semester when the MBA Administration, headed by Carole Carlson and Larry Bailis, reached out with a survey asking for us to indicate industries and organizations of interest. What started off as a 50+ long list has been whittled down to 5 TCP groups serving 5 dynamic organizations. The selection process officially began with the TCP Fair, a two-hour evening event where organizations pitched themselves and their specific management challenge. From there, our cohort talked amongst ourselves, set up small group meetings with clients of interest, and obsessively monitored our ever-shifting “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet (created by the lovely Laura Burroughs!). 

My experience in the Heller Start-Up Challenge and in the SPARK Business Incubator program inspired an interest in working with early-stage entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color. As a result, I originally gravitated toward the Boston Impact Initiative. At the same time, my prior experience working with Syrian refugees and job-seeking immigrants piqued my interest in the Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Then again, as an RPCV and current student in the dual Social Impact MBA & MA in Sustainable International Development programs, I was eager to use this capstone project to further my experience working with local organizations in emerging markets. I was pulled in so many directions!

Around that time, I learned about a group of (at the time) second year students who had met with their TCP client, a women-owned coffee-centered social enterprise called Chica Bean, on the ground in Guatemala the prior summer with the support of funding from the Heller Enrichment Funds and the Office of Graduate Student Affairs. I was excited to learn that this was a possibility, but was unsure of what international organizations might be a feasible option. 

As the weeks went by, potential teams formed, collapsed, or reshuffled. At times, I felt super excited and hopeful about the upcoming TCP experience. Other times, I felt lost and overwhelmed by all of the options. Sometimes I was anxious. Would I make the right decision? Would I choose poorly and have an awful experience? I knew I had to be strategic, but did that mean prioritizing a project in an industry I had experience in or branching out into something new? I wasn’t sure if it was possible to have it all- the best team and the most epic project – so I zeroed in on identifying solid teammates. 

As I mentioned earlier, that spring I was also participating in weekly workshops with SPARK, an on-campus business accelerator for students who successfully pitched prize-winning start-up concepts at the SPARKTank competition. I was really impressed with the creativity and thoughtfulness of the five MBA cohort members who had also earned a spot in this incubator program. It was easy to imagine conducting a successful TCP project with (some combination of!) these classmates. However, based on our sprawling “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet, each of these classmates was interested in a different organization. Would there be a way for us to come together and agree on a project that suited everyone?

Tune in to my next blog post to see how our team finally formed and how we chose an organization to work with!

Hello Heller! Andy Mendez’ Acceptance Story

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

When I read over my acceptance letter on a snowy day in January 2020 in an apartment on Chicago’s northwest side, I thought about what it had taken for that letter to land in my inbox. I thought about how I had borrowed books from the Peace Corps library in Morocco and studied for the exam every day of Ramadan. I thought about how I raced against a snowstorm and the clock to make it seven hours north to the capital to take the GRE at the AMIDEAST center in Rabat. While I was serving in the Peace Corps, I had 8 to 10 schools on my list at any given time. When the time came to actually commit, I thought about where I could really see myself and that was Heller. I withdrew the only other application I had submitted, put all my eggs in the Heller basket and it had worked out!

The problem was I had committed to a second term of service with AmeriCorps VISTA in Chicago that would run from February 2020 to February 2021. To attend Heller, I’d have to end my service 6 months early. I had just transferred from a position as a VISTA Member to a position as a VISTA Leader supporting a full 45+ member cohort of volunteers working on sustainable, anti-poverty solutions.

Maybe you can understand why it was hard for me to type out my deferral letter. If I had accepted, I knew I would be leaving a lot unfinished in my role at AmeriCorps and I would be forfeiting another $6K Education Award. With my pre-COVID-19 naiveté, I thought an extra year would allow me to gain more work experience, build my Chi-town network, and still leave a few months to volunteer abroad. A week after my deferral request was accepted, my office went remote, my campus tour was canceled, toilet paper was flying off the shelves, and the reality of our new normal started setting in. In that week, I realized my decision to defer had much bigger implications. It meant avoiding an uncertain year of virtual school. It meant committing to a year of national service that would look very different than what I had anticipated. It meant that the third-largest city in the country had been reduced to the four walls of my bedroom.

When I received my updated Admissions decision a year later, the COVID-19 situation was still unclear, but my resolve to attend graduate school was firm. The pandemic had clarified a lot of things for me, including my desire to be at a mission-driven institution and to be in an environment where I could build my quantitative skills and technical expertise. I knew that, despite the uncertainty, I was ready to become a part of the Heller community. I knew that I didn’t want to delay the start of this journey any longer.

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