Author: rclark (page 1 of 2)

Event Recap: Punishment Culture and the Persistence of Mass Incarceration in Massachusetts

Ronunique Clark, MPP'23 headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

In my concentration course this semester, our professor asked if we could attend a bonus lecture as part of our regularly scheduled class. I decided to attend the Joshua A. Guberman Lecture: Punishment, Culture, and the Persistence of Mass Incarceration in Massachusetts, presented by Elizabeth Matos.  Brandeis University created the Joshua A. Guberman lecture to honor Guberman, who had passionate concern for individual well being and social justice. I chose to attend this lecture because I have had an interest all my life in criminal justice, mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, anything that involved the justice system in America. I felt that the lecture would be a good place for me to start getting my brain going about my presentation in my class and to learn more about what mass incarceration looks like in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Matos was a an amazing speaker and lecturer, linking her life story to her current work in a phenomenal way. She walked us through the origins of mass incarceration: what triggered this mass wave of incarceration of Black and Brown people in America and connecting the historical origins to what we are seeing in mass incarceration trends today, especially in Massachusetts. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Black and Brown individuals  are 4 times more likely to be incarcerated versus their white peers. Even though Massachusetts is on the lower end of incarceration rate, it does not mitigate the fact that they still dedicate most of the budget to spending on prisons.  According to the Department of Corrections 2020 annual report, the state spends, on average, $61,241 per prisoner at its largest prison,  MCI-Norfolk, and $111,674 per prisoner at its only exclusively maximum-security prison, Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. . Now imagine if we dedicated this money to community resources and schools in low and middle income communities. What would Massachusetts look like?

I had two major takeaways from sitting in on this lecture. The first takeaway is that Massachusetts is the only state in the country that will utilize correctional centers as places to treat people who have mental health and substance abuse issues. Individuals who struggle with mental health crises or substance abuse issues are not offered residential treatment, instead, they are sent to solitary confinement.  Elizabeth highlighted the story of Ayesha Johnson, a 35 year Black women who died in the custody of Boston Suffolk Prison, after only being there for a few hours. Even though the state ended the practice of incarcerating women for civil commitments in 2016, Johnson was civilly committed under ‘Section 35’ in Massachusetts, which is meant for people who need mental support. She did not need to be locked up because she did not commit a crime, she needed extensive treatment and support. But instead she ended up becoming another statistic of our harsh criminal justice system. Prisons are not places of treatment, they are a place of discipline and often torture. It made me question where did we go wrong if we deem that having a mental health issue or substance abuse problem is a crime? Individuals who struggle with these issues are often criminalized more often, especially if they are Black and Brown: just another tactic in this new system we know as the New Jim Crow.

My second takeaway from this lecture is what we dedicate to the spending budget for prisons. I mentioned that the state of Massachusetts spends $61,241  per prisoner at is largest prison. Even though efforts for rehabilitation and treatment have definitely grown over the last decade or so, we are still far removed from what biggest goal of prisons should be: rehabilitation.  When an individual is incarcerated, they give up everything they have and now they no longer own a car, or have a job, they do not see their families, they are now property of the state. Yet when the state no longer has them as property, they are released from prison with nothing to fall back on at all. How is someone supposed to become a law abiding citizen when they have to start from the bottom. I wondered,  ‘How could we better support the assimilation in society after an individual is released from prison? How could we prepare an individual for this while they are awaiting release? How could we make sure they are rehabilitated and they do not reoffend?’ I asked these questions to Elizabeth at the end of her lecture, and she reassured me that this element of mass incarceration has grown better over time. The re-entry space has more resources then they ever had, because what people experience in prisons affect their reentry. Now, we have peer coaches and peer actor individuals who were also formerly incarcerated, supporting the release of individuals back into society. Yet in order to keep pushing for a more effective re-entry space, we must have all hands on deck from all aspect of our government.

I am really happy that I decided to attend this lecture. I did leave the lecture with more questions and more worries, however, I did feel I learned something new about a state I have lived in for the last five years of my life. I got to understand how this state handles mass incarceration and what efforts are being pushed, discussed, and implemented in hopes of ending the spread of mass incarceration and to really encourage a more robust restorative justice practicing society.  Thank you Heller for hosting this lecture, and thank you Elizabeth for providing the knowledge on this topic and helping us as students, faculty, and peers in continuing our fight for justice in the area of mass incarceration!

Meet My Cohort: Brian Stanley

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Are you guys still with me in this mini blog series of Meet My Cohort? I hope you are! Huge thank you to Hannah Wilcove for stepping into the admissions blog room. Next up in this series is truly one of my favorite cohort mates in this program. Super honored to be able to sit down and chat with Brian Stanley. Brian is 25 years old, from Clifton Park, New York, and in 2019 he graduated from Boston University (hey fellow Terrier) with a bachelors in Political Science and minor in Sociology. He is currently a 2nd year Master of Public Policy candidate concentrating in Environmental Justice.

 What did you do before coming to Heller?

Brian Stanley, MPP’23

Before Heller I was working at the AIDS Action Committee, which was a branch of Fenway Health. I was working as a high-need, low-income HIV case manager for Essex County, basically everything above Boston. I had a case load of about 50 people and I was the only arm of Fenway there, so I was living in Salem for two years: I started this job in 2019 and left in 2021 before starting this program. In addition to this, I was also working in food service at the time, largely because being a case manager doing social service work with a bachelors degree isn’t the greatest pay, and living in Salem, you wouldn’t be able to live off just that. Aside from the difficulty in having to work two jobs, they were both fulfilling opportunities  and both of these experiences informed my route today. It was different crowds of people administratively, professionally, and socially.

Why did you choose Heller?

I applied to a lot of programs and this was one of the few policy programs I applied to.  I felt between the faculty and Heller’s messaging that even if the experience was not going to be what I expected it to be, that there  would be people here with the same interests in environmental, social justice and equity.  Prioritizing these interests in different ways, so even if the program wasn’t what I expected it to be I knew the connections and network I would build will still be a solid motivation to continue on in the program. Like the other programs I was applying for I did not think their messaging was on point enough, their diversity statements and program directors did not have that same inclusive language, and I mean it could all be a front, but I think people who would be attractive to these certain elements in a program are the people I would vibe with. I also looked at Heller’s institutes which demonstrated their values and that someone here wasn’t just doing the talk but also walking the walk.  I felt like that was another green flag, once again even if the program wasn’t what I expected, I knew there were faculty, staff, and students doing the work is what I can vibe with.

What is your favorite class at Heller? 

I hate to be a repeat to Hannah, but my favorite class was Policy Approaches to Gender Based Violence taught by Kaitie Chakoian. The course was really phenomenal: it broke down real complex human concepts around violence,  recovery, and healing in ways that were both accessible and still human. I feel some of the other courses here have difficulty translating what it means to be worthy of justice, integrity, and human value to something we can understand. Then we end up in language of federalism when we could be in the language of human terms, but Kaitie really broke down concepts well, she was engaging, and she provide extensive feedback on assignments, which I think highlighted her excellence and commitment to excellence. Super phenomenal and probably my favorite.

What was your most challenging class at Heller?

Thinking about this I break into two categories. I think for me, first, it would be Practicing Social Justice Philanthropy: Purpose, Practice, and Problems taught by Celeste Reid Lee and Sheryl Seller class directly out of the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy. It was intellectually challenging because I did not know anything from this field: I did not understand how philanthropy can relate to social justice, or even if philanthropy could relate to social justice. I thought the speakers were phenomenal but I did find the course to be challenging because of the materials. However, the instructors from the Sillerman Center were amazing in the way they coordinated the course, feedback on material, and really broke down a lot of the concepts. For me, another layer of challenging is a course I am taking right now, which is Environmental and Climate Justice taught by Prakash Kashwan. It is actually a undergraduate class I am taking. The reason why this class is challenging is because its a undergraduate course, and the instructor is working to engage meaningfully with everyone, who are all from different academic levels, and the assignment structures are very different. It’s a lot of reading response, with week to week assignments, which in some ways it becomes  regurgitating information instead of synthesizing it so its a completely different flow. He is integrating some elements of graduate courses such as take home exam options to synthesize material and the way he teaches information is wonderful and his linkages of decolonization, capitalism, and climate change is astounding. He himself is great but the structure of the course is what I find challenging.

What are your plans after Heller? 

I think I’m going to work on deciding between a career in research versus a career in something on the ground. I do not have anything concrete yet I have been applying though! These are all opportunities to say the least, eventually I may want to pursue a PhD,  but I have to really nail down what is worth doing with the limit time that I do have. So for me that is trying to figure out where do my moral and ethics align, because I know ultimately they align with community, justice, and equity, but I have to figure out my role in that conversation. It reminds me of the quote  from Audre Lorde, “the masters tools will never dismantles the master’s house” and so like how do you embody that with a masters degree in public policy, right? I have no idea, but I am really excited to find out what that looks like and surrounding myself with people who are dealing with these questions.

Any advice you would like to give prospective students? 

It is very critical to give yourself to give yourself as many options as you can because things that you decide are worth doing are worth doing and no matter what decision you’re making, you will think something else may be worth it differently. I think committing yourself to principle of what you want  to do and what you want to be are fundamental to succeeding anywhere. So giving yourself the most options, applying to every program, speaking to faculty, and dealing with research is what I would say is the best choice. The worst thing you could do is do one thing and feel trapped. That’s how you lose drive in a program or drive in future decision. Give yourself space to fail, there is literally no one at this school or in this program that has been committed to something 100% percent and all the time. When it comes down to it, you need to be more committed to what those principles are, even if its just making more money in the future, you need to decide if its worth it. That’s my two cents.

Thank you Brian, for stepping into the admission blog room, it is always a pleasure to have a conversation with you! What a fulfilling way to now lead us into a brief intermission of my mini blog series “Meet My Cohort”, but don’t worry I will be back with some more of my classmates and their stories.

Meet My Cohort: Hannah Wilcove

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Who’s ready for the next blog in my “Meet My Cohort” mini blog series? I am, so I hope you all are too. Last week we kicked off the series with Katherine Gagen, our future philanthropist in policy, and this week I am introducing you all to Hannah Wilcove! Hannah is 25 years old from Rockville, Maryland, and she graduated from University of Maryland- Baltimore County, where she majored in Women’s and Gender studies with a minor in Sociology. She is currently a 2nd year MPP student concentrating in Women, Gender, and Sexuality.

What did you do before coming to Heller?

I graduated from undergrad in 2019, and later that year, I joined a state senate race in Virginia because their state senate races are always in the off year. I then stayed on political campaigns throughout the 2020 election cycle.

Hannah Wilcove, MPP’23

Why did you choose Heller? 

To speak about grad school more broadly, I realized that working on political campaigns and getting people elected was great and all, but I really wanted to focus more on what candidates did after we elected them. Once candidates get into office, what legislation and policies do they pass? I began looking at programs in public affairs and public administration and I quickly realized that the MPP had what I really wanted to focus in on was that aspect of public policy. Even though there are a lot of great public policy schools in the D.C. area, I chose Heller because first, I wanted to get out of the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area, since I have spent my entire life there.  Second, which is the bigger reason, is that I was very picky in the schools I was applying for, and I wanted schools that really focused on the human aspect and I loved Heller’s commitment to advancing social justice. I did not want to go to a school where all I did was learn economics and statistics and still teach a philosophy of policy that is still pretty white-male dominated, led, and influenced. I wanted a place where I be able to talk about gender, race, sexuality and talk about all kinds of different people that policy affects.

What is your favorite class at Heller?

Anyone who has spent more then two seconds with me knows the answer to this. My favorite class here at Heller is Policy Approaches to Gender Based Violence, taught by Kaitie Chakoian. She is able to create an environment where people feel safe and comfortable to discuss these extremely difficult topics. She is just incredible at moderating a classroom and facilitating a learning environment, which sounds like a bunch of buzzwords and academic jargon, but it really does matter when you are talking about difficult, personal, and traumatic topics like gender based violence. Having someone who knows how to teach and lead with empathy is really important.

What is your most challenging class at Heller?

I think for this, I want to say it was Policy Analysis, taught by Michael Doonan, because, one, the field of policy analysis is so broad that there were a lot of different elements to cover. In addition to that,  this class had the biggest variety of assignments.

What are your plans after Heller? 

I am still figuring this out! I am really open to a lot of different options. I know I want to go back into the work force and that I do not want to pursue a PhD because I really want to be out in the field. Something I been looking into is more lobbying and advocacy work, because that is an avenue that will allow me to lean into the areas I am incredible passionate about and voice my support for specific policies without having to tone it down, which you might have to in other roles or organizations. That is not to say I am not willing to do government work, but I think that being an advocate is something that really plays to my strengths and being able to do that professionally with the knowledge that I gained from this program would be a good fit for me.

Any advice you would like to give to prospective students? 

I will say this to any graduate student, yes, classes are important, but also remember that you are still human. It is not healthy to just focus on the schoolwork side of things, you also need to and deserve to live, make new friends and spend time with them, making sure that you are eating and sleeping, and really prioritizing your mental health.  You are going to hear a lot of people paying lip service to that, but figuring out what actions you can take to really preserve your mental health and find joy while navigating graduate school is going to make the process a lot better. Another thing I would like to mention is something that is great about Heller: this is not the kind of competitive environment that you might find in other schools or programs. I know when my sister was going through her law school process, she was warned how competitive it was but that is not the case here at Heller.  It’s not that we don’t encourage each other to do our best and to be our best, but the people you meet here are incredibly supportive and are your collaborators, not your competitors.

Can we get a little commotion for the last quote: “It’s not that we don’t encourage each other to do our best and to be our best, but the people you meet here are incredibly supportive and are your collaborators, not your competitors”? What a strong way to close out a student interview! Thank you so much Hannah for stepping into the admissions blog room! Stay tuned for the next student feature in “Meet My Cohort” .

Meet My Cohort: Katherine Gagen

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

In this blog post, I decided to branch away from my own journey, thoughts, and advice. I’m calling this mini blog series “Meet My Cohort”, where I am inviting  some of my classmates from our Fall 2021 cohort into the admissions blog room to hear about their experience before joining Heller and during their time here at Heller.  To kick off this mini blog series I had the lovely opportunity to interview my classmate Katherine Gagen.

Katherine Gagen is 28 years old from Newton, Massachusetts. She joined Heller in Fall 2021, she is now a 2nd year MPP/MBA student concentrating in Economic and Racial Equity. She started with the MPP curriculum upon arrival. During the Fall 2022 semester, she is currently enrolled in two Social Impact MBA courses and two MPP courses. She will be finished with her degree in December 2023.  She has her bachelors degree in Urban Studies and Hispanics Studies from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

headshot of Katherine Gagen

Katherine Gagen, MPP/MBA’23

What did you do before coming to Heller?

After graduating from Trinity College, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship where I served as a English Teacher Assistant in Argentina, assisting individuals who wanted to become English teachers; I did that for a year. I then returned back to the States, where were I worked as an Executive Assistant with a surgeon, which was an entire 180, because I had zero math and science in my background. We traveled around the country, researching health care disparities between people in urban and rural areas, going to locations such as Montana, Puerto Rico, and Appalachia. I was interested in hearing about people’s stories, less on the medical side, but more so on how each community knew what they needed to do and how each community had solutions. I learned there wasn’t a one-size fits all solution. This piqued my interest in policy.  I wanted to be in a more policy focused role and interacting with individuals on a policy level. If I stayed to work with her, I would be doing communications or marketing, which led to my job at the American Academy of  Arts and Sciences, where I served as an associate on their American Institutions society and public goods team. We put out 31 recommendations on constitutional democracy . We worked on a big project “Commission on the practice of democratic citizenship” on its final report “Our common purpose reinventing American democracy for the 21st century”. We talked about civil society, people, community trust building, polarization  Another project I worked on was “Making Access to American Justice”. I worked with this organization for two years. Then it made me realize I needed more skills. Even though I did as much as I did, I felt like I could not move up in the organization. Everyone I worked with had a PhD, so I knew I need to get these skills to do what I wanted to do and to make the impact I wanted to make.

Why did you choose Heller? 

I had known about Heller for a really long time. I grew up in Newton, which is 10 minutes away, but always said I did not want to go to school so close to home. Yet as I was learning more about different master’s programs, there were two things that stood out the most to me about Heller.  The first was the dual degree: schools like NYU have a MPA/MBA program, and other schools had numerous options for dual degrees. But Heller’s MPP/MBA dual degree stuck out to me because I knew I wanted to get the skills of the business degree, because I am not self-motivated enough to find these skills on my own, but public policy and social policy is what I am primarily interested in. The option to get both of these degrees, which compliment each other very well, provides a holistic review on how public and private organizations work together and gives you the skills to move between the two. The second thing that drew me to Heller was their commitment to social justice being underlined throughout all of the courses and all of the degrees.

What is your favorite class  at Heller? 

My favorite class was Practicing Social Justice Philanthropy: Purpose, Practice, and Problems with Professor Celeste Lee. During this class, we talked about what social justice philanthropy is and the questions that come along with it.  I personally want to go into the philanthropic sector, so it was really beneficial for me to talk through this philosophical questions about the most pressing issues happening to people today. We also got the chance to give out grants to organizations: we had $15,000 to give away. We spilt the class into two groups, my group focused on civic engagement and we ran a whole grant cycle putting out request for proposals, reviewed applications, conducted interviews and at the end we invited our grantees to come and celebrate with us. The class provided a good insight on what the grant making process looks like in practice using real world dollars, which was really cool!

What is your most challenging class at Heller? 

Accounting. But I will say the although the course itself is hard, Professor Brenda Anderson is so good at teaching accounting. She makes the hard topic easier to digest.

What are your plans after Heller? 

I would love to work in the philanthropic sector or social impact investing sector. There are a few things I am actually interested in: my public policy interest is in democracy building and urban planning (which is my background and what I studied in undergrad). I am really interested in creating more equitable and democratic cities where people can actually come together across divides. Thinking about how cities are planned, for example: highways are blocked off to so many communities, so how can we reimagine that, and think of creative solutions to not marginalize or cities or segregate our cities. On the philanthropic side, I am interested in looking into the power dynamics that exist between donor and grantee, and how to make this process more equitable as well thinking about what can we do to make the grant application cycle more equitable? How can we redistribute wealth and resources that individuals can actually benefit from, instead of the top-down donor approach of “I want to fund this so I will only be giving money to this certain thing”?  Ideally, if there was a way to combine these two interests, that would be really great. I am burnt-out from the non-profit space so I would be very excited to enter this other world.

Any advice you would  like to give to prospective students?  

Know why you want to attend graduate school. Don’t go to graduate school just to go. Have a reason even if that reason isn’t very specific. I know that sounds contradictory, but don’t do it just to get another degree, go to school with a purpose. If you have a purpose for why you want to go to graduate school, it will make your journey much more manageable in the way you navigate the courses you want to take and help benefit your career. If your purpose of going to graduate school is to narrow down your options, then that is okay, but do not do it just because. Also, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your financial circumstances when applying to graduate school .

Thank you Katherine for stepping into the Heller Admissions Blog Room. Stay tuned for the next post of “Meet My Cohort”!

My Summer Internship Story

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

“Work all winter so you can have fun all summer” or whatever the kids are saying nowadays… was not my experience this summer! Since my sophomore year of high-school, I’ve challenged myself to obtain an internship during my summer breaks. Internships grant students the opportunity to showcase their soft skills, but also gives the chance to learn new skills. It provides the opportunity to gain real life work experience that is transferable to your future career goals and even in the classroom.

For the Master of Public Policy program here at Heller, it is highly recommended to do an internship over the summer for the reasons stated above and many others. This summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Department of Revenue – Child Support Enforcement  Division at the Metro office in Downtown Boston Government Center area. The Department of Revenue (DOR)  in Massachusetts manages the states taxes and child support. In addition to this, DOR  helps cities and towns manage their finances and administer the Underground Storage Tank program. The main focus of this agency is rulings and regulations, tax policy analysis, communications and legislative affairs.

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE)  Division provides tools and services to parents who pay child support and parents and caretakers who receive child support. Child support is a way for parents to share financial responsibility for their child even though they do not live together.  Even though I have previous experience in social/human services, the child support office was just a place I knew no parent wanted to be summoned too. The stereotyping around child support is that the state just wants to take your money and give it to a person that you no longer want to have any connections with whatsoever. Yet the person you no longer want to have relations with is now either the mother or father of your child or children, sealing that connection for life. So who is really at fault? Certainly not the child, so the DOR steps in. In the past year the division has allocated $2 million in compensation for children in Massachusetts.

My work was very clear, transparent, and extremely eye-opening. I worked from home Mondays and Fridays and hopped the orange line train Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  As I have stated in previous blogs, I have learned to attend new experiences with minimal  preconceived notions and expectations, especially with the work I would be doing and the customers I would interact with. I was tasked with a two part summer project which required me to take a deep dive into our GMT testing process. GMT Testing in “normal people terms” is paternity testing in order to establish paternity between the child and alleged father.  All parties, alleged father, mother, and child have to participate in paternity testing.  The first part of the project, I spent time conducting data analysis using Excel about variations in our appointment attendance and testing result rates. I was able to provide Regional Directors with data that would help them meet their testing goals for the fiscal year. This part was daunting, to say the least, because I had minimal Excel experience beforehand but my supervisor never held that against me and trained me efficiently on how to navigate it. I wouldn’t say I am an Excel guru now but I certainly obtained good Excel skills.

For the second part of my project, I conducted a phone survey with mothers who were on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or formerly receiving TANF about their experiences with the GMT test process. I chose TANF mothers as my sample population because majority of child support case referrals are directly from our DTA offices. I called 90 mothers in hopes they would participate in my survey, and I received a response from 37 mothers, which, for me, was huge because I had never conducted a phone survey, and because I did not know if these women would even want to participate. I was able to gather information regarding trouble with scheduling of appointments, problems accessing the testing location, and concerns with our policies. Being able to hear these mothers stories and concerns made me feel extremely anxious, because I am a public policy student who is currently trying to break into this system. However, the system was already established in a way where all I could say to mothers who expressed concerns I was not trained for was, “I will take down your information and pass it along.” I sympathized with these mothers as a child whose mother applied to receive child support, yet rarely was given anything. I was able to present these findings in a final presentation followed by my personal recommendations to CSE regional directors who were very pleased with the results. However, I can not tell you if they will follow through with the feedback and recommendations. Maybe it will be a blog for another time? I hope!

To close out, I can say I was very proud of the work I was able to produce, the skills I was able to learn, and the people I connected with over the course of my summer.  I enjoyed my work so much that I switched my concentration from Economic and Racial Equity to Child, Youth, and Family Policy (CYF). I felt that the CYF concentration would be able to provide me with the tools to that would foster a healthy development of children, youth, and families a concentration that I honestly should of started with from the begin of my graduate school journey. Better late then never, right? Excited to see what this concentration entails as I approach my final year of grad school. Thank you, DOR, for an amazing summer and thank you, Heller, for providing me with the tools to succeed in that space!

 

5 Item Bucket List for Summer 2022

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Is that the light at the end of the tunnel?  My favorite season is finally approaching and yes, you guessed it, it’s summertime.  I love summer for many reasons: it’s a time for warm weather and clear skies, relaxation, and spending time with family and friends. What is most exciting about this summer is that after 5 years of attending school in Boston, this will be my first time staying over  the summer. I always hear how fun it is to be in Boston over the summer and I am hoping to reap all the lovely benefits. This summer I am challenging myself to complete a mini 5 item bucket list before school starts back in the Fall.

1.  Take a Trip To Salem

I know what you are thinking— there is no way I been in Massachusetts this long and have not visited Salem. I am busy girl with a lot of academic priorities, cut me some slack! Salem is famous for its Witch Trial of 1692 and its author Nathaniel  Hawthorne. The place is filled with architecture, world class museums, shopping, and restaurants you can easily spend the entire day exploring Salem. If you have any favorite museums and restaurants in Salem please feel free to share them in the comment section below.

2. Read 2-3 Books from my favorite genres

I love reading books for leisure, but I found it difficult to read for my own pleasure while also juggling academics.  One of my best friends from undergrad inspired this task on my bucket list as she has already read about 15 books since the start of this year alone.  I am so excited to walk into a library or bookstore to pick out books from some of favorite genres such as Young Adult Fiction or Thrillers. I would also like to read one book that promotes mental health and self care so that I can learn some tips and tricks to prepare for Fall semester.

3. Teach Myself How to Knit

This item is something that has been on my mind for a little over a year now. When I was younger I would enjoy making friendship bracelets with the really thin string, making my friends and family endless bracelets filled with different designs and colors. I thought to myself, if I can sit for hours flipping, tucking, stretching this thin thread, how hard would it be to knit a thing or two? I feel that knitting will bring me joy, relaxation, and it is also a hobby that I can do anytime or anywhere. If I do say so myself, this item is the one I’m excited for the most.

4. Road Trip

Who doesn’t love a good old fashioned road trip. Coming from California, I have always found it to be super interesting that I can drive one or two hours from Boston and possibly end up in an entirely different state! If you drive one to two hours in California, do you know where you would be? Yup, still in California. I am not sure yet if I want to make my way up North or South but the options are endless and hopefully I will have enough gas money to make it through!

5. Volunteer

I have found much pleasure in taking time to make sure I give back to the community. I have previous experience volunteering with the Petey Greene program assisting individuals who are incarcerated  with tutoring help completing their high school diplomas, GED, or college courses. I hope that this summer I can  either volunteer again with the program or sign up to assist at a local food bank or shelter also dragging my friends along with me to do the same!

This mini bucket list is not much but it is something to look forward to, and I hope that I am able to complete at least two (if not all of the tasks) I have listed this summer. I hope to create a bunch memories, a lot of knitted items, and to impact someone else’s life.

My Experience as a First Generation Student

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

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

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

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

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

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

Who runs the world? GIRLS! How to Celebrate Women’s History Month

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

We are now entering March, also known as  Women’s History Month! WOO!  Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate the evolution of women all around the globe. To celebrate, I wanted to make a quick list of fun things to do with your girlfriends during Women’s History Month:

  1. Girls Karaoke Night- Who doesn’t love a night of singing and dancing with your girlfriends. Find a good karaoke spot or host karaoke night in your home listening to your favorite women artist/groups  without any picks from the boys!
  2.  Brunch- Now what is a Women’s History Month without a good brunch! Me and my friends love trying out new brunch spots around the area.  Some of my favorite brunch spots currently in the Boston Area: Koy, a modern Asian cuisine restuarant with great music near Faneuil Hall; LuLu’s in Allston, the most perfect comfort food; and my ultimate favorite Earl’s inside the Prudential Center, they never failed a girls night!
  3. Host a Spa/Sleepover- There’s nothing better then a sleepover with your favorite friends! You can plan a personal spa day at a spa of your choice before the start of the sleepover. We are girl bosses on a budget and Groupon has amazing deals that I encourage everyone to check out. Or buy spa-like products from your favorite stores such as Target, Ulta, Sephora where you can relax with face and foot mask or enjoy doing each others makeup!

These are just a few fun ways to celebrate yourself as a women and the women you love in your life as well. Once again, Happy Women’s History Month!

What Black History Month Means to Me As a First-Gen Graduate Student

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Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

As we near the end of Black History Month, I wanted to take the time to reflect on what the month means to me as a Black first-generation graduate student.

Higher education was not accessible to Black Americans for years. I remember learning about the history of my ancestors who fought to learn how to read, write, and to attend classes with their other peers. They were belittled, hosed down, and even killed when trying to further their knowledge. Without their sacrifices and fearless hearts, I would not be able to attend this university today.

I reflect on the way my ancestors used the power of non-violent protest and their voices in order to advocate for the space and the opportunity to advance their educational skills in the real world, and so that their children, grand-children, and great-grand-children could do the same. Education Rights Activist, Malala Yousafzai, said, “Let us remember, one book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” I imagine what a world would be like without the input, creativity, and ideas offered by Black Americans. I believe that we would struggle intensively when climbing the ladder of economic and social advancement in this nation without it. What saddens me the most is that after years of blood, sweat, and tears, Black Americans still have to fight for a seat at a table.

My hope is that through my time at Heller, I will be able to not only enhance my skills and expertise but also utilize my experiences to connect to my peers and faculty. I want to be able to embody the strength my ancestors had when advocating for issues that I believe in. Even though this month is the shortest one of the year, celebrating the accomplishments and strides of Black Americans in this nation from the past to the current this does not mean our accomplishments are short-lived or do not exceed expectations. The world moves because we move and I will continue to make sure of this whenever I enter a room no matter what month it is. Black History Month makes me feel a wave of emotions that can be excruciating at times, but it is also extremely beautiful and eventful. This month makes me feel alive and proud; I hope that I can continue to celebrate and shine a light on my community for years to come.

Happy Black History Month!

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Happy Black History Month! One of my favorite months in the year. This Black History Month I want to take the time to highlight some of my favorite influential Black people that have made amazing strides in the community and who have inspired me on a journey of higher education, advocacy, and self-awareness.

Katherine Kennedy

Katherine Kennedy, also known as KK or Ms.Kennedy, is a Boston native and for the last 18 years served as Director for the Howard Thurman Center of Common Ground at Boston University. I met Ms.Kennedy in 2017 when I was in search of a community on the Boston University campus. I remember entering the HTC one random day and I introduced myself by my nickname, and she said to me “Young lady, now what is your actual name, because I know that is not the one your mother gave you.” From that day forward, Ms.Kennedy became one of my favorite faculty members at Boston University. Before her time at BU, she started her career as a journalist for the Boston Globe where she served on the team that received the 1975 Pulitzer prize for Meritorious  Public Service for reporting on the Boston busing crisis of 1974. She was then recruited to the University of California Berkeley, where she established the minority journalism program. After her time with Cal Berkeley, she worked for the NFL and the New England Patriots where she piloted a degree program for active players. Ms. Kennedy showed me the meaning of being an active community member.

Stacey Abrams

Stacy Abrams is a Black American politician, lawyer, and author who served on the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017. She is mostly known for her work in advocating for the best voting rights practices. She is the founder of Fair Fight Action, whose primary goal is to promote fair elections across the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights.  Abrams is one of the reasons I became interested in voting rights and how voting is not as accessible as we think it is. Abrams helped me understand the true meaning of my vote and why voting amongst the people of the global majority is important so that we are able to amplify our voices and make sure our needs are met. Thank you, Stacey Abrams, please keep fighting!

Shirley Chisholm 

Ms. Unbought and Unbossed herself! Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected into Congress in 1968, where she represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms. Before joining Congress, Chisholm worked for the New York’s State Assembley. Chisholm gave us the best piece of advice yet, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Chisholm was a trailblazer, she was a force to be reckoned with, and she would never back down from a fight, especially when it regarded basic human rights, healthcare, minimum wage, and education. She taught me to never give up, to always fight for what I believed in, and that my knowledge is a tool that could always be utilized for the greater good. Without Chisholm, women like Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, and many more would not be in the positions of power they are in today. Thank you, Shirley Chisholm for leading the pack; we are truly grateful for the doors you have opened for Black women in politics.

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