Author: samirovins (page 2 of 3)

Exploring the Boston Area with Sami

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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

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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.

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary Part 2

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’m working with Shadhika this summer as a Project Intern. Shadhika is a women’s empowerment organization based partly in Denver, and in various sites throughout India. Our goal is to increase the agency and autonomy of women and girls through comprehensive education projects. Now that I’m about a month and a half into my internship, I’m noticing the pace of my work speeding up as my responsibilities expand and evolve. I am currently working on a project to monitor and evaluate Shadhika’s programs from a human rights-based perspective. A regular day for me looks like this:

7:30 am – I meet with my supervisor via Zoom. She is located in Pune, India, and since there is a nine and half hour time difference, we generally speak early in the morning.

8:45 am – I grab another cup of coffee and a slice of toast, and dig into Shadhika’s records to analyze grant reports from 5 years ago. Since I can’t be at our project sites in person, these reports help me get a better sense of our programs.

10:00 am – I hop onto Zoom again for a staff meeting. We’re a small staff of seven people, so we have the opportunity to chat and catch up before getting into work-related discussions. I also give a short presentation on what I think are key takeaways from analyzing the reports I read earlier, and I’m excited to receive feedback from the rest of Shadhika’s staff.

11:50 am – Unexpectedly, I see an email from the Executive Director of Shadhika. She’s read the document I wrote and offered encouraging feedback and thoughtful questions. I feel great that she takes the time to dive deep into the work I’m doing!

12:35 pm – The “what am I going to have for lunch?!” debate begins…

2:00 pm – After grabbing one more cup of coffee, I respond to my ED’s comments and questions on the document I produced. I feel confident about the work I’ve completed and grateful for the constructive feedback I’ve received so far.

3:15 pm – I take a much-needed break and take my dog for a walk in the woods. It’s a beautiful Summer day!

3:45 pm – I begin the next step in my long-term project and start gathering research on other programs using similar human rights-based frameworks.

5:10 pm – It’s been a long day, but a fulfilling one. I call it quits and move on to some Netflix-ing while my dog snoozes next to me on the couch.

At this point in my internship, I feel more focused in my goals and more engaged in the work Shadhika is doing. Although this internship has often been challenging, I find myself learning and growing more with each challenge I tackle. I appreciate that despite being many miles away from all of the other staff members, I feel connected to and supported by my supervisor, my Executive Director, and everyone else working at Shadhika.

Heller Reading List: Sami Rovins Shares Her Favorite Readings

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

The readings I encountered in Professor Firchow’s course, “Theory and Analysis of Conflict Resolution and Coexistence” were especially compelling. In this debate-centered class, we read a lot of material that made me think critically about a range of topics related to conflict resolution and peacebuilding. While discussing the topic of civil resistance, Professor Firchow assigned us to read Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s 2011 study. Their study focused on the effectiveness of 323 different nonviolent campaigns that took place between the years 1900 and 2006. Their findings indicated that civil resistance campaigns are significantly more successful than campaigns that are violent. Chenoweth and Stephan contended that nonviolent campaigns are successful because they include participation from a wide array of citizens, because they encourage regime defections, and because they employ a diversity of strategies and tactics.

I was struck by this study because it clearly contributed significant and concrete data to the field of civil resistance. The authors did so by surveying a wide array of nonviolent campaigns taking place over 106 years. The 323 campaigns Chenoweth and Stephan analyzed demonstrated that nonviolent resistance campaigns against authoritarian regimes were twice as likely to succeed as violent movements. Nonviolent civil resistance also increased the chances that the overthrow of a dictatorship would ultimately lead to peace and democracy. They also found that during those 106 years, countries in which nonviolent campaigns failed were about four times as likely to later transition to democracy as countries where violent resistance movements took place. Essentially, Chenoweth and Stephan argue that nonviolent resistance is not simply the “moral” thing to do, but it is also the most effective means of creating change.

I found the authors’ arguments convincing and appreciated their use of data collected over a vast number of years. Their findings were a huge contribution to the fields of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. I also think the authors’ arguments are so valuable now more than ever, considering the protests we’ve witnessed across the US. These protests have predominantly been nonviolent, yet there have been incidents of violence and looting as well. For those of us who are fighting and hoping for change, Chenoweth and Stephan’s study could not be more relevant today. I also appreciate this aspect of the readings we were assigned in Professor Firchow’s class. These readings provide for intellectually stimulating debate in the classroom, but they also serve a very practical purpose as we move forward in our careers as peacebuilders in this world.

Get ready for orientation with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Before my first semester at Heller began, my COEX cohort started to bond during our orientation. One particular highlight from orientation was our visit to Plymouth Plantation. We had the opportunity to learn Indigenous boat-making, interact with actors portraying 17th-century villagers, and glance into the complicated history surrounding Massachusetts’ early settlers and the indigenous people whose land they settled on. Orientations for Heller’s programs will be held online this year, but there are certain things we can still expect to learn and gain from the orientation experience.

Heller faculty and staff are always eager to engage in thought-provoking discussions, and always happy to answer any questions that pop into students’ minds. During this year’s virtual orientations, we can anticipate having the support of Heller staff and faculty in this same way. You should feel empowered to ask them about your schedule, class topics, resources for graduate students, and your career aspirations, just to name a few. You will be meeting people virtually who are extremely passionate about their students, classes, and the Heller community as a whole.

Orientation is also an exciting opportunity to meet the people who will make up your cohort over the next few semesters. Orientation will introduce you to your new community and your support systems. I recall meeting many people on those first two days of orientation who are now dear friends and colleagues. My advice is to be as open-minded as you can, as you’ll be meeting many people from many different places and backgrounds. It’ll soon become clear how much you can benefit from the relationships you’ll build with your classmates starting those first days of the semester when orientation takes place.

Lastly, virtual orientation will be an excellent introduction to what your experience over the next year (or two) will look like. For me, I was nervous and worried before starting at Heller, but orientation was a means of easing my fears and making me feel comfortable in this new experience. Not only is orientation a way of meeting your classmates and Heller staff and getting your questions answered, but orientation is also a way to introduce you to Waltham, to what you can expect academically, and to all the options and opportunities you’ll have as a Heller student.

Although Heller’s orientations will be held differently this year, there are many aspects of orientation that won’t change. You will meet and bond with your classmates and pave the way to lasting friendships. You’ll also meet Heller staff and professors who will be eager to answer any and all questions you may have about schedules, your academic interests, or the support you may need. Orientation is a thorough introduction to the Heller community overall, and an integral way to begin your time as a Heller graduate student.

Campus Connections: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’ve made many connections during my past year at Heller who have changed and enhanced my life personally, academically, and professionally. One of the connections I’m most thankful for is my friend Hadeer. She and I come from different backgrounds and grew up in quite different places, but our friendship was nearly immediate, and over the course of our first semester at Heller we grew a strong bond. I have learned so much since connecting with Hadeer last Fall, and I continue to value her friendship tremendously!

On the surface, Hadeer and I might seem like two very different people. She grew up in Egypt, and I am from Philadelphia. My family is Jewish, and Hadeer was raised Muslim. Yet we quickly bonded over our shared interests and goals. From our mutual love of cheese, to our shared taste in music, to our career aspirations, we learned about each other and so many similarities popped right out. I think this is the true beauty of many Heller friendships. Seemingly different people are brought together into a context where their similarities matter more than their differences.

Hadeer and I first met during Heller’s orientation. Then, as classes started, I quickly witnessed how eloquent, passionate, and informed she is. Many times, Hadeer has demonstrated her natural way of making me feel that my interests and opinions are especially valuable. She is always a “safe space” and I know I can express to her any problems I might have without feeling judged.

The range of what I’ve learned from Hadeer is wide, and I’m very thankful for that: from adding Arabic words to my vocabulary, to enjoying all the musical artists she’s introduced me to (like the duo Amadou + Mariam from Mali). Hearing Hadeer’s thoughts on international development, peacebuilding, and feminism has been endlessly enlightening for me. My friendship with Hadeer is a perfect example of what it’s like to make friends at Heller. You will share and trade ideas, passions, and interests. You’ll learn bits of new languages and gain new perspectives. You will meet wonderful people who you ordinarily might never come across.

I appreciate my connection with Hadeer in particular because it’s a multi-level friendship. We connect with each other on school, philosophy, food, and our mutual love of dogs, just to name a few. We offer each other emotional support and always lend an ear when it’s needed. Our differences are not irrelevant to our friendship; Instead, we use our differences to learn from one another and gain insight into each other’s experiences. I feel lucky to have forged a friendship with Hadeer early on in my time at Heller. She has been such an excellent resource for me in so many ways – not only personally, but academically and professionally as well.

Heller To-Do List: Sami Rovins Goals for the next year

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

My Heller “to-do” list is long, but a few events in particular come to mind. Before my time at Heller comes to a close, I’d love to throw a party and invite my cohort and other fellow Heller students in different degree programs over to my house. Heller students are a tight-knit group, but we are all so busy that we don’t always find the time to relax and unwind together. Throwing an off-campus get-together would be the perfect opportunity for that. As graduate students, we can become so hyper-focused on school that we sometimes lose sight of other important aspects to our lives. It’s so valuable to socialize with each other and to find the time to relax after a busy week at Heller. It also feels important for us to celebrate our accomplishments together as a group. We all work so hard throughout the week, and a party on the weekend would be our chance to unwind and ultimately get to know each other even better.

I would also love to attend more Graduate Student Association (GSA) events. In the past, I’ve felt hesitant to join for a few reasons. Either I had way too much work, or I felt too tired at the end of the day, or I was anxious about socializing with people who I didn’t already know. But once the event happened, I would realize that attending it would have been a positive experience and would have enhanced my day: the GSA provides a wide range of events, and it seems there is truly something for everyone. My bucket list also includes spending more time in the office of Graduate Student Affairs, which is very close to the Heller building on campus. There’s always something delicious to eat there, and it’s a terrific place to spend some time if you need a break from Heller’s building.

Another outing I’d love to go on with my cohort is to spend a beach day at Walden Pond. Only 25 minutes from campus, Walden Pond is the perfect place to spend a fun and relaxing Spring or Summer afternoon. This type of off-campus adventure is also on my Heller bucket list because I know how much my fellow classmates would enjoy it. I’d love the opportunity to drive over to Walden Pond with a group of Heller friends. It would be yet another way to unwind, relax, and get to know each other away from campus and the context of school. Walden Pond is also a significant and historic place to visit in the Boston area. Visiting it with Heller friends would be a great opportunity for all of us to get to know our new home better. I hope to have the opportunity to check off Walden Pond and all of my bucket list items before my time at Heller comes to an end!

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