Author: samirovins (page 2 of 3)

A Week in the Life with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

The new Spring semester started just a few weeks ago, and I’ve got a packed schedule! I’m taking five classes during Module 1, a mix of required MS-GHPM courses and electives from different programs across Heller. It’s my last semester here at Heller, so I wanted to take a big mix of classes before I go.

My Monday morning started with Professor Nandakumar’s class, “International Health Financing”. It was great to start the week with a class taught by a professor with so much experience in the field! Professor Nandakumar also offered us some great advice: He implored us not to focus too much on our grades, but to focus instead on simply learning.

On Tuesday afternoon, I had the first session of an elective course I’ve been very excited about! The class is called “Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing”. Professor Bailis made a great first impression — he was excited and friendly and eager to hear from his students about our backgrounds and interests. I’m looking forward to future class sessions because I want to learn how to be a more effective advocate for issues such as reproductive health and racial justice.

Wednesday mornings are for “Monitoring and Evaluation” with Professor Godoy. Having taken another M+E class last year as a COEX student, it’s interesting to see the ways in which this class is similar or different. I like the structure of the class: lots of breakout rooms and an ongoing group project. Group projects are great especially now, when everything is online, because they provide an opportunity to get to know classmates.

On Friday, I’ll have two more classes I’m looking forward to. In the morning I’ll take “Current Issues in Health Care Management” with Professor Gaumer. I’m excited to get more into the details of how to address and remedy problems that can take place in health care facilities. Later, in the afternoon on Friday, I’ll be taking Professor Sampath’s course, “Culture, Power, and Development”, another elective. Having taken Professor Sampath’s class in the Fall semester, I already know I can expect to get happily lost in readings about social theory.

Every student at Heller has their own schedule, and this is just a peek into mine. My days will also be filled up with meeting fellow students for group projects via Zoom, working remotely as a Graduate Assistant for Heller Admissions, and of course, I’ll be keeping busy with readings, assignments, and projects. Last but not least, I’ll also be working on finishing up my Capstone paper for my COEX degree. It’s so crazy to think that in just a few months, I’ll have finished all of it!

The Final Stretch: Sami’s Last Semester

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

After a year and a half at Heller, I’m finally approaching my last semester as a grad student. It can feel sometimes like I have one foot in Heller and one foot out the door. I’m still focused on my assignments and school projects, while also thinking about potential jobs and what my next moves might be. Do I want to move back home to Philadelphia, or try living someplace new? What kind of work environment do I see myself thriving in? What are the next steps I should take to reach my goals?

This is an exciting place to be in my life, but it is also challenging. It can be hard to stay focused and motivated when I’m so close to being finished with my degrees. I keep myself on track in a number of ways. First, I stay as organized as possible so nothing slips through the cracks. I do this with the help of my Google calendar, a journal, and many, many sticky notes. For me, it’s much harder to forget a task if it’s written down on a list!
To keep focused, I also make sure to find the time for self-care and socially distanced time with friends. In the COVID era, it’s so easy to feel isolated, which shifts my focus away from my school work. Seeing friends and engaging in self-care is just as important to maintaining motivation as keeping organized and on schedule. Spending time chatting in a friend’s backyard leaves me feeling refreshed and provides me with a much-needed breath of fresh air. This picks my spirits up, and allows me to renew my motivation so I can get back to work.
I also make time to think about potential future jobs, moving away from Waltham, and starting a new stage of my life. I find that it’s important to set aside this time, otherwise thinking about these topics seeps into the time I need to spend on writing my Capstone paper, for instance. Setting aside time to think about the future, rather than trying to suppress these thoughts, allows me more time to concentrate on the work that still needs to get done.
I know that my last semester at Heller will be difficult for many reasons. The classes will be challenging, I’ll be worrying about future plans, and I’m sure I’ll feel nostalgic looking back on my previous semesters. But I feel prepared knowing that I have the skills and resources to take care of myself and to stay on track.

Writing Your Best Statement of Purpose with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

One of the questions I get asked most as an Admissions Graduate Assistant is, “how can I write the best statement of purpose possible?” It’s a tricky question of course, because everyone’s statement of purpose will be different. But there are a few tricks and pieces of advice I can give to help you create your best statement of purpose possible.

Do your best to make sure that you are truly being reflected in what you write. This is your opportunity to showcase who you are! What do you, as an individual, bring to Heller? What can you add to our classrooms and to our community? What will your experiences, interests, and aspirations lead you to do and accomplish at Heller? Try to convey your passion and excitement for the degree you are pursuing. What specifically draws you to apply for this degree? How have your past experiences shaped you and led you to where you are now?

In my statement of purpose, as an example, I wrote about my experience working at Doctors Without Borders headquarters in NYC right after graduating college. This was an essential experience for me and to this day it contributes to my understanding of what I study here at Heller. My experience in this job was influential in both personal and professional ways. I think that writing about experiences that have shaped you in multiple ways is a great way to start your statement of purpose.

I also wrote about my professional and academic interests which I planned to pursue. I described my desire to learn more about women’s reproductive health, particularly in a South Asian context. Although I had not yet studied this topic, including it in my statement of purpose was a way of clearly outlining my goals and plans for my time at Heller. What interests you, even if you’re not already knowledgeable about it?

I also recommend writing about what drew you to apply to be a grad student at Heller specifically. You definitely don’t need to praise Heller, but I encourage you to tell us why you think you’d fit in well here, and what you can contribute to our community. Have you read about any particular courses at Heller that peaked your interest? Or any faculty whose interests mirror your own?

The greatest bit of advice I can give (at the risk of sounding corny) is to be yourself when writing your statement of purpose. This is your opportunity to show us who you are, not who you think we want you to be. We want to read about your interests and aspirations, your goals and plans. Tell us who you really are!

Reflecting on the Fall Semester with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As the Fall semester begins to wind down, I’m beginning to reflect on my greatest accomplishments over the past few months. Some of these accomplishments are big, others are much smaller. Sometimes I get caught up in how tough everything seems to be, on the assignments I didn’t do too well on, or how much work I have left to do in the next few weeks. That’s why I think it’s important, especially when things are stressful and difficult, to think about my successes at Heller so far.

I feel proud that even while I was up to my eyeballs in work for the Global Health Policy & Management program, I managed to begin work on my Capstone paper and presentation for the program I did last year, Conflict Resolution & Coexistence. I feel proud that I have been able to carefully balance both of these large responsibilities. I am writing my Capstone on the need for comprehensive, culturally-competent sex education for women and girls in India. I have been able to utilize some of the new skills and knowledge I’ve gained in the MS program and apply it to my COEX capstone. For instance, I can now better understand a large survey of teens’ knowledge of reproductive health. I now know what a regression is and how to interpret it within studies about sexual health. Being able to marry the skills of COEX and MS has been a big accomplishment for me this semester.

I also take pride in researching and writing a 16-page paper for one of my classes, Democracy & Development, over the course of one week. We were given a broad assignment of researching any topic that related to the class and I chose to write about the influence of various radical women on the politics and philosophy of Malcolm X. I also consider this a big accomplishment because I was juggling my other four final exams and projects at the very same time. In the end, I consider my paper to be a well-researched and well-written success!

My last accomplishment revolves around my ability to maintain important relationships while simultaneously managing finals. In all the madness of finals, it can be easy to forget friends, family, and loved ones. But I know I couldn’t possibly have completed this semester without the help of the people closest to me. I made an effort to make some time to meet friends for a socially distanced visit, to watch a film with my roommate, and to FaceTime with my parents. Reaching out to them for support makes such a difference and I consider it a huge accomplishment to maintain these connections despite the craziness of finals season.

Changing the World 101: Democracy and Development

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Professor Sampath’s class, “Democracy and Development”, has been a breath of fresh air for me this semester. As a new student in the MS-GHPM program, I was missing the readings on social theory that I was so often assigned as a COEX student. Luckily, I was able to take Professor Sampath’s class as an elective course from the Sustainable International Development program.

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman circa 1911
CREDIT: COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

On the very first day of class, we discussed Emma Goldman, an Anarchist writer and activist who lived in the early part of the twentieth century. I excitedly geeked out over the readings we were assigned— they were fascinating! To think that one hundred years ago, an immigrant to the United States was brave enough to vocally advocate for women’s rights, anarchism, and queer rights is so exciting, to say the least. I continue to be truly struck by the readings we were assigned of Goldman’s. I admire her clarity, her bravery, and her emphasis on maintaining joy within revolution.

In general, Professor Sampath’s class is a delight. Even though we often discuss the most difficult and heavy topics, such as racism, politics, intolerance, and histories of oppression, I enjoy hearing the opinions of my classmates especially when we’re split into small breakout rooms of four or five students. Despite being a fairly large class, Professor Sampath’s class can also feel like a smaller, more intimate discussion. “Democracy and Development” has proven itself to be a wonderful course, because of the way these difficult and traumatic topics are handled: carefully, and with great honesty and open-mindedness.

I strongly recommend taking a course with Professor Sampath, even if you are not a student in the SID program. He is a very kind teacher, and very thoughtful when it comes to his students. For example, a few weeks ago our class met amid the confusion and stress of waiting to hear who won the presidency in the US, Professor Sampath allowed us to take the class time to voice our opinions, fears, questions, and concerns. I felt grateful for this opportunity to share our thoughts with each other, and appreciative of his understanding that his students were exhausted and worried.

“Democracy and Development” is by no means an easy or simple class. But as a student, it’s also a class that I don’t approach with anxiety or fear. Instead, I appreciate the flexibility of Professor Sampath, the openness of my fellow students, and the ability to discuss in small groups within the larger class. I highly recommend taking a course with Professor Sampath once you’re here at Heller, even if you’re not a social theory nerd like me.

(Editor’s note: If you’re interested in learning more about Heller, check out this video by Professor Sampath!)

Exploring the Boston Area with Sami

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Waltham and the greater Boston area as a whole are such fun, vibrant, and exciting places to be a graduate student. There is always something to do, something new to experience, eat, or see! It’s not easy to narrow down a list of recommendations, but here, in no particular order, are my top five:

  1. Walden Pond is a historic, wooded area that’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon in the Spring or Summer. The lake has plenty of room to swim, get a tan, relax with friends, and enjoy the trails in the surrounding woods. For history nerds like me, there is lots of information about Henry David Thoreau, who famously lived and wrote there. You’ll even be able to visit a model of his house. Walden Pond is only about a 25-minute drive from Waltham, and it is the perfect escape from the business of grad school.
  2. If you’re a fan of Indian food, you’ll love Punjabi Dhaba. It’s a casual spot to eat in Cambridge that is usually overflowing with happy customers. It can be tough to choose what to order off of their long and varied menu! Personally, I’m a very big fan of their Paneer Chili Masala. Combine that with a samosa and a mango lassi, you won’t leave disappointed.
  3. The Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum is my favorite art museum in all of Boston. Having once been Ms. Gardener’s personal art collection, it’s a unique and unusual space filled with art from many different places and times. Be sure to keep your eyes out for a few large frames with no art inside of them: after a robbery (the paintings were never recovered), the museum chose not to replace the stolen work with anything else.
  4. Take a walk along the Charles River and enjoy one of the more scenic spaces in Waltham. There is a long and lovely trail along the water that provides a beautiful walk through Waltham. It’s another great way to escape the stress of a busy day, and a great opportunity to get to know the town of Waltham in more detail. You can also explore the Charles by renting a kayak and navigating through the water.
  5. Enjoy a dance party, see a show, or do karaoke at The Middle East. A funky club and bar in Cambridge, The Middle East is the perfect place to unwind after classes end on a Friday or over the weekend. Once you’re there, you’ll discover new music, make new friends, and enjoy delicious Middle Eastern food. My favorite is getting nostalgic at their 90’s throwback dance party.

There’s so much to see and do around Boston and Waltham, it’s hard to pick just five recommendations! Once you’re here, you’ll have ample opportunity to get to know the area and discover what’s most exciting to you.

Learning from your Heller Classmates

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’ve learned so much during my time at Heller so far— but the education I’ve gained outside of the classroom has been just as valuable to me as the lessons I learned from my professors. Heller students come to Brandeis from so many different countries and backgrounds, and bring their own personal experiences and knowledge with them to Heller, and I’ve really, really enjoyed the new perspectives they’ve helped me to gain!

As a self-described “linguistics nerd”, I can’t get enough of learning new words to add to my vocabulary. Surrounded by my COEX cohort, I couldn’t help but pick up phrases from my classmates who speak French, Swahili, and Mandarin (just to name a few.) I can even properly insult someone in Arabic, if the need ever arises. I’ve studied Hindi over the last few years, and I’ve made friends who were able, as native Hindi speakers, to offer to practice conversation with me. I’ve also had fun finding similar words that exist in languages that may seem unrelated at first.

The cultural exchange I’ve had with my COEX classmates also extends to food. Every culture celebrates food in its own special way. Last fall, we held a potluck where I got to try an Iraqi stew, Egyptian shakshuka, Amish friendship bread, and baba ganoush. If I hadn’t met my friends here at Heller, I may never have had the opportunity to try and learn about new food and the cultural significance that surrounds them.

My COEX classmates have also come to Heller with very different professional experiences, which informs the way I’ve learned outside of Heller’s classrooms. My friends have told me about working as educators and tour guides, as businesspeople, as Peace Corps Volunteers, and as workers in complex conflict zones such as Syria. Personally, I worked for a variety of non-profit organizations before coming to Heller, and my classmates were just as interested in hearing about my professional experience as I was about theirs. Hearing about my classmates’ professional experiences helped me to better contemplate and understand my own career aspirations. Exchanging these ideas and information with each other was an incredible, and very exciting, learning experience for all of us in the cohort.

When evaluating grad schools, it is equally important to consider the lessons you can learn outside of the classroom as the knowledge you’ll gain from your professors. I have gleaned so much from my COEX friends, and this information has been both professionally valuable as well as culturally enriching to me personally. The cultural exchange that takes place between Heller students is endlessly informative, exciting, and fulfilling. My friends at Heller have been some of my favorite teachers.

A Whole New World: COEX to MS-GHPM

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Last year, as a COEX student, I decided to add an additional degree and to begin the MS Global Health Policy this year as well. As someone with almost zero experience or background in science or health, I nevertheless felt up for the challenge. But as the semester began, I felt intimidated by the material that left me feeling extremely out of my element. I’m the sort of student who can easily write a 15 or 20 page paper, but I have a lot of trouble with quantitative topics. I had found myself way outside of my academic comfort zone, and I felt worried. I hadn’t even taken a math class since 2007, and now I was suddenly trying to figure out equations and unfamiliar symbols. It felt like I would never catch up to my classmates who are more math- and science-oriented.

After the initial panic set in, I decided to take action and figure out what I would need to do to stay afloat in my classes. The Global Health Policy and Management degree is something I truly want, and something I know I’m capable of achieving with hard work and determination. I decided to talk to others and find the resources I’d need to thrive as a student in this program. I attended my professors’ and TAs’ office hours whenever I could. Then, I spoke to Sandy Jones, who was also my advisor in the COEX program last year and is also the Executive Director of Global Programs at Heller. Connecting with Sandy made a big difference, and she was able to point me in the direction of very valuable resources. She informed me that peer tutors are available to MS students at no extra cost. Having an individual tutor for my “Regression Analysis” and “STATA” classes has made a world of difference! I think it is also a great example of how Heller strives to support its students in a variety of ways.

Making these types of connections and finding these sorts of resources has made a huge difference in improving my first semester as a Global Health master’s student. I am definitely not 100% comfortable with quantitative topics yet, but having professors, staff, and peers at Heller to support me has made a world of difference. Now, I feel more confident in my ability to tackle difficult topics that are far beyond my usual comfort zone. At Heller, you are not simply on your own. Thankfully, there is a large pool of resources to draw upon whenever you need support or guidance.

Changing the World 101: Sami Rovins’ Favorite Classes

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Professor Lempereur’s course in Responsible Negotiation is a core component of the COEX curriculum.  Throughout my first semester at Heller, we learned to negotiate in different scenarios with a variety of (often challenging) people. Some negotiations were in-person, others could only take place by video chat, demonstrating how difficult negotiations could be based on the type of communication being used. In some negotiations, Professor Lempereur would even encourage one side to be particularly tough on the other. The goal was for our negotiations to mirror real-life scenarios that we might face as negotiators working in the world.

There wasn’t one typical or expected type of negotiation in this course. We sometimes negotiated in groups or teams, and sometimes one-on-one. At times these negotiations took place in person, sometimes by email. The negotiations covered a huge range of topics – from a legal dispute over car repairs, to political negotiations over a fictional autonomous region, to the personal and professional issues between two owners of a tech company. Our cohort didn’t simply learn how to responsibly negotiate, but we were also taught how to effectively prepare, how to debrief following a negotiation, how to properly manage our time, and how to work with (rather than against) the people with whom we negotiated.

As the final day of our Responsible Negotiation course, we played a complicated “game” called SIMSOC in which we had to simulate a society in every aspect. The COEX cohort was broken up into groups, each of which represented a different community. I was a member of the poorest community. While each group was given certain resources to begin the SIMSOC game with, our group began with no jobs, money, or food, and we had no ability to travel to the other regions. We quickly realized we would have to wait until another group visited us, and so we began to prepare for the negotiations that would take place once they did.

When we finally interacted with members from the other groups, we managed to pledge votes to a political party in exchange for jobs. Soon, however, our group began to split on the topic of money. Some wanted the money we were now earning to be collective, others wanted to keep their money for themselves. This led to a heated debate and ultimately two members of our community defected to another. SIMSOC took place over the course of the morning and afternoon, and by the end, the COEX cohort was exhausted. We finished the day at the Stein, a restaurant and bar on Brandeis’ campus. It was a great way for me, my fellow COEX students, and Professor Lempereur to unwind after a long and challenging final day of class.

Back to School with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As a second-year student at Heller, I spent my summer wondering what beginning a brand new program would be like in an online context. Would it even be possible to meet new people and make friends over Zoom? I had no idea what to expect. I was worried that I would start the MS GHPM program, but I wouldn’t have the opportunity to fully get to know my classmates or professors. It was difficult not to compare my speculations about my upcoming experience at Heller to my time last year as a COEX student attending in-person classes.

Although the new semester is only a few weeks in, many of my fears surrounding making personal connections have already dissipated. In the first few days of MS GHPM classes, I felt relieved to see that as a cohort, we were managing to gradually get to know each other over Zoom. The “breakout room” function on Zoom makes a big difference in this regard. Breaking off into smaller groups of 4 or 5 students a few times during each class provides an opportunity to actually meet one another, and to get a better sense of who the people are behind each of the little boxes on the Zoom screen. In the breakout rooms, we’re able to ask each other how we’re adjusting to the new school year and how we’re handling our assignments. Ultimately, we all get a better sense of each other as individuals in this way.

A few students in the MS GHPM cohort had an excellent idea to create a WhatsApp group that everyone could join. This has served a few functions for us. In the WhatsApp group, we’re able to collaborate on ideas, share tips on assignments, and get to know each other a little better overall. We even have the chance to blow off steam by commiserating about all the work we have to complete. The WhatsApp group helps to individualize each of us, and helps to put faces and names together.

Now, a little over two weeks into the semester, I feel more confident that I’ll be able to foster and maintain personal connections with members of my cohort. Professors are also extremely accessible and often have extended office hours for students to get to know their teachers even better. It’s a relief to know that even behind a computer screen, making personal connections is not only possible, but also fun and exciting. I feel hopeful about my upcoming year at Heller, and hopeful that I’ll continue to make meaningful connections with my MS GHPM cohort, even in a digital world.

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