Category: Academics (page 2 of 5)

Joining the Heller Community: Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

The decision to go back to school was one that I did not make lightly. I had a steady job that supported my lifestyle and even allowed me to pay off some of my undergraduate debt. I had to make the choice to leave my full-time employment while friends, family and neighbors across the country were forced to question their financial stability and there was no certainty about the future.

“Community” drives my work. It is what motivated me to participate in student community engagement and social advocacy in college, what attracted me to the work I did post-graduation at Boston’s Jewish women’s fund, and what supported me during the last thirteen months.

One of the reasons I initially chose Heller was the notion of community. The opportunity to continue to grow in Boston was appealing, but it was the promise and allure of the Heller community that really won me over. So, when it became evident that we would be virtual for at the very least the first semester, I was wary about committing to Heller. How would I be able to connect and benefit from the community when there would be a slew of physical and emotional barriers?

I am in awe of the collective network my cohort has been able to cultivate. This has not been an easy year. With an onslaught of racial killings, a corrosive election cycle, and a pandemic plaguing the world there have been many things that could have further alienated us, on top of the virtual restrictions. Yet I have felt seen, supported, loved, and valued by my classmates. They have been a shoulder to lean on, a supporting hand, an ear to complain to, and a voice to follow. There is a common respect and an unspoken bond that link us to the greater cause, with the understanding that we are living through an unprecedented time in regard to policy and beyond. If anything, this year has sparked absolute transparency that may not have come about as organically without the current circumstances – rife with conversations of privilege, trauma, and injustice. I am empowered by my peers and am so grateful for their generosity, honesty, and vulnerability over the last year.

We joke frequently about what it will be like to actually sit next to each other during class, or what grabbing a drink will be like in person when we don’t have to act as our own bartender. If this year has been an indication of the year to come, I look forward to seeing what’s next.

(Half of) A Week in the Life of a Heller Student

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Working as a Graduate Assistant in Heller Admissions, prospective students often ask: “what is it like to be a Heller student?”. My response is always, “in what way?”.  Are you curious to discover the number of hours you should set aside weekly for assignments and readings? How to get involved in clubs and other social groups? Student job hours? Or, perhaps you are seeking to uncover what the course content is like? Well, I am hoping this blog post serves as an example to help answer all of the above. **As a disclaimer, this is my own personal experience, and I in no way claim to speak on behalf of others at Heller.

Monday: I am naturally an early morning person, and spend around two hours each morning reading and working on assignments before class. So, I am up around 6am and prepare the readings for the classes to come. I log onto Zoom around 8:55am to be ready for class to start at 9am. This class, entitled, Immigrant Integration in the United States: Policy, Practice and People is technically part of the Public Policy Masters. However, as a student at Heller, I am able to take courses across disciplines to fulfill elective requirements. This class, with around 25 students, lasts just under 3 hours and concludes at 11:50am. I try to intentionally keep Monday afternoons as open as possible, as it is my set aside family time. But, I usually end up working on assignments or readings for around 2 hours at some point in the afternoon or evening.

Tuesday: One of my student jobs includes working as an English Language Programs Tutor (ELP), so I meet with two tutees this morning, one at 7am-8am, and the other from 9am-10am. I also spend time working my GA job this morning, working from 8am-2pm (with an hour break for the tutee). Each week I spend 3 hours as an ELP, and 7-8 hours as a GA. At 2pm my role switches back to a student, as I jump into my Women, Peacemaking and Peace-building class. This course is part of the Masters in Coexistence program, and while it fulfills a gender requirement for my SID degree, I am always impressed by the quality of the content and walk away having learned so much. This class goes from 2-4:50pm and has around 35 students.

Wednesday: This is my “Zoomiest” day. 9-11:50am I virtually attend Bioethics and Intersectionality. This class is a requirement for the MS GHPM program, my second degree. Last week, from 12:30-1pm I attended a small “Coffee with the Dean” event, as I deeply value networking and love to socialize. Then, from 1pm-2pm I have a meeting with the Heller Student Association (HSA). This year I was elected to be the co-coordinator for events, but will take on the role as co-chair of HSA for next year – this is a great way to get connected and to invest in your graduate school experience. Then, from 2-4:50pm my class, Strategic Management takes place. This is an MBA course. As someone who is interested in leadership, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to take this course, which also counts as an elective. My day is not done yet! From 5:30-7pm I meet with my Brandeis Graduate Christian Fellowship pals. This is the highlight to a long day, and another way to get connected.

Thursday: After working on assignments for a few hours, I log into my 9am class, Randomized Controlled Trials (aka Advanced M&E). This is a SID class with about 10 students. This class is much more technical than theoretical, and I have been intentional to include a good mix within my electives to sharpen my hard and soft skills.

Facing Challenges This Semester

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced this semester was spring break, or lack thereof. Having just graduated from my undergraduate institution last May, I was accustomed to having a week-long spring break that consists of going somewhere to escape my current struggles at school. With the exception of the pandemic, spring break was always a time for me and my family to go to New York City to visit family. I never realized that graduate school meant that I would graduate from week-long breaks to a one-day break. Of course, this accounts for the time during the break that I would be doing work, in which then the break does not really become a break. But, I digress!

As much as I would love to have longer breaks, the one that I received this semester taught me the value of relaxation and doing absolutely nothing. Yes, nothing. Nothing can mean lying in bed all day, binging Schitt’s Creek, or playing with your roommate’s dog (which doubles as pet therapy). That being said, having this short break allows me to do nothing as well as time to think. Yes, there is not much time to plan and book a whirlwind vacation on some tropical resort, but it alternatively gives me time to think about my role in my program. It gives me time to think about all the places I can go with my degrees, and where exactly I will end up. Nothing does not have to mean nothing. In graduate school, we make the most out of what we have, even if that includes nothing.

I used to be so much more excited about spring break, and now I look forward to a day off of Zoom. But, I see it as a rite of passage, as a form of “adulting” of sorts. This does not mean I will never find myself on a beach in Hawaii, but it does mean I am finding ways to keep myself motivated in graduate school while focusing on my studies. With current circumstances, much of the time we spend is indoors or in limited interaction. That being said, even if you want to do “nothing,” you always have the option to do it from a more tropical location.

 

How Can Map-Making Impact Social Policy?

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I wouldn’t call myself a gifted geographer. I can’t name every state or national capital, identify every country on a map, or give directions from the Brandeis campus with any consistent accuracy. Nonetheless, for whatever reason (perhaps stir-craziness and fantasizing about travel while stuck at home during the pandemic?) I have been on a bit of a cartography binge. Exploring potential travel or post-graduation relocation destinations on Google maps has been a favorite pastime (or procrastination technique); and, like many people, I’ve also relied on interactive maps to keep up with new developments related to Covid-19. This interest spurred my decision to take Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) last semester, and Applied GIS this semester. Through these courses, I’ve gotten a better sense of the landscape of GIS as a tool and professional area. I thought I’d use this blog post to share some map-related items of interest, and to encourage prospective students to consider pursuing GIS courses at Heller.

So, in no particular order, here a few interesting mapping examples:

StoryMaps

ESRI, the software company which makes the GIS software used in Heller classes, offers the online StoryMap platform as a way for researchers to create visual narrative blogs. Many feature relatively simple maps, but are still dynamic and engaging as an approach to visual storytelling. While my own academic interests are more aligned with social and political geography, I’ve really enjoyed StoryMaps focused on nature and wildlife, like this one about grizzly bear habitats in the American West.

Mapping Inequality

This incredible, and disturbing, resource illustrates patterns of residential segregation (red-lining) created by federal home loan programs in the post-war United States. This map also serves as an example of the GIS technique of georeferencing, in which images (in this case historical maps depicting the infamous color-coding of neighborhoods which reinforced segregation) are joined to maps containing geographic coordinate information.

MapScaping Podcast

I was introduced to this podcast in the GIS courses at Heller. It’s a great resource to learn about the geospatial community, including new techniques and professional development opportunities.

“On Exactitude in Science” (easy to find a translation online, or in a library)

One of my favorite writers is Jorge Luis Borges. His (extremely) short story “On Exactitude in Science” is a wonderful commentary on the tension between precision and practicality in gathering and presenting data, and reflects the fact that the presentation and use of social information is culturally coded (in this case the culture is that of a fictional civilization) and contentious. It’s always fun when things I encountered as an English major are relevant to my Heller coursework!

I’ll close by emphasizing again how useful some basic mapping skills (and my GIS skills are certainly still those of an amateur) can be for students of policy, conflict studies, and international development. GIS, and data visualization in general, are becoming increasingly important to practitioners in the fields for which Heller prepares its students. I definitely encourage everyone to consider taking a GIS course.

 

Changing the World 101: Policy Analysis

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

I applied to graduate school because I believed I had the right temperament, measurable drive, and agile flexibility to challenge policy. But I felt like I was lacking the tactical skills and knowledge one gets most often from education to excel in the field. So, I was excited to start school in the fall. The prospect of online classes felt like another hurdle, but not one that couldn’t be conquered. My fears did not surround the platform itself, rather my own ability to remain focused and engaged when not in the rigorous academic setting of a classroom and instead mostly confined to my bedroom. As the days got colder, the temptations to forego schoolwork and answer the bed’s beckoning call became harder to ignore. Course topics got more convoluted and difficult.

Yet Policy Analysis continued to make sense. The integration of quizzes and activities allowed me to stay on top of the concepts in class. I’ll admit, if you ask me to define “triangulation,” I may falter – but I can clearly describe the processes by which we conduct a cost-effective analysis. I can identify the work happening at an NGO and explain how it differs from work at the municipal level and the people employed in each sector. I can distinguish between different modes of analysis and when best to use a case study and meta-analysis.

While all of this is so helpful, the most important thing I walk away from Mike’s Policy Analysis class with does not center around one theory or research process. It has taught me to be confident in the unknown. The policy realm is ever-expanding and changing, and that means that nothing is ever completely solidified. Before Heller, I assumed that policy work meant that I needed to fully grasp every component before I could commit to a task. This sample course has provided a secure and nimble foundation for policy work. That is not to say that there aren’t many necessary and vital models and concepts that need to be addressed, as there are quite a few, but this class helped to illuminate who and how one becomes active in policy. Now that this is done, I am ready to really delve into the meat of the work. I have learned that because some of this work is dense, it requires more attention (and maybe a second or third read). But I came to graduate school because I believed I had the right temperament, measurable drive, and agile flexibility to challenge policy. And now I can add confidence to that list.

Hello Heller!: Hannah Lougheed’s Acceptance Story

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As my parents and I were directed to move to the side and wait with the crowd of other hungry onlookers to be seated, I casually refreshed my email inbox on my phone and found I had an “update on my Application” from Brandeis University. We were at a chain restaurant that boasts an Americanized Italian cuisine, and up until that moment my mind was consumed solely with thoughts of chicken and gnocchi soup, but this certainly broke my hunger haze. I anxiously logged into my admissions page to see – I was in! It was my first graduate school acceptance letter up until that point, and I was ecstatic.  I informed my parents of the good news, to which they congratulated me, and then we returned to waiting in silence for our buzzer to ring. Sorry, a little anticlimactic – I know.

The Lougheeds are a pragmatic people; we celebrate, then quickly and systematically come back down to Earth. As we slid into our faux leather, well-worn booth, we began looking at what Heller had to offer in terms of cost, opportunities, etc. How naive we were to spend considerable time talking about what the physical campus and city of Waltham could offer for social activities and outdoor recreation. But, to be fair, this discussion took place in January 2020 when COVID-19 had yet to find a daily permanence in our vernacular.  All that aside, by the time we had consumed half our body weight in pasta, we had discussed many of the pros and cons of the Heller school.

At this point in my story you may be thinking, “Wow, is she a paid sponsor for Olive Garden?” To that, I would respond, pass me those affordable and delicious never-ending breadsticks and just hear me out.

As I emerged from my pasta-induced coma the next morning, I was delighted to see multiple emails welcoming me into the Heller family. I was showered by warm smiles, stories of the impact that Heller has made on students and faculty alike, and a sense that this graduate program was different from the others to which I had applied. I also deeply appreciated that this program was seemed to uplift students to succeed, whereas others boasted about their competitiveness and challenging material within the program. To be candid, I was sold on Heller but still had one reservation: name recognition.

I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, then moved to rural south-central Pennsylvania when I was young, so my exposure to higher ed institutions had been limited. I have always been starstruck by institutions with “big” names and dreamed of dawning a sweatshirt that proudly read “Johns Hopkins” or “Harvard” so the world knew I had “made it”. So, sillily enough, one of my major reservations for attending Brandeis was that many people, at least in my small circle, had never heard of the school. I reached out to meet with my undergraduate academic advisor and general giver-of-great-advice human and he reassured me that Brandeis does have great name recognition within academia, and that I would be foolish not to go to a school that fit me well just because the name is not “big” enough.

I spent considerable time still assessing my options, but found that the Heller school was a perfect fit. My advice and something I am working to change in my own thinking: do not let names alone guide your path. For grad programs, jobs, etc. You are special and your value is not validated by a name on your resume, but by who you are innately.

How Sami Rovins Manages Self Care (And How You Can Too!)

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As a grad student, relaxation can sometimes seem impossible. I’ve found that learning how to relax and unwind is a skill that requires practice! And it’s such an important skill to have. Being able to unplug from school is crucial to maintaining your sanity and a sense of self. I find myself getting “lost” in my Heller-related responsibilities sometimes, but learning to relax and unwind after a long day of classes and assignments has been so valuable. Sometimes, I find myself feeling guilty when I “clock out” and turn my focus away from grad school. But it is so important to remember that taking care of your mental health and engaging in quality self-care will help to improve not only your mindset, but also, ultimately, your work at Heller.

Meditation is easier said than done, but in my experience meditation has been such a valuable tool for self-care. At first, I felt intimidated, but gradually I came to learn that meditation simply requires practice. One helpful meditation tool is an app called Headspace. This app provides meditations ranging in time from as short as one minute to much longer guided meditations. Taking time daily to center yourself and focus on your thoughts can improve your mood, which will help to improve your performance as a grad student.

I also recommend connecting with your classmates outside of Heller. Making connections that revolve around more than classes is so rewarding! Try to find other students with shared interests that don’t involve just your career aspirations and academic goals. A great way to meet people is through the Graduate Student Association. You’ll also be able to meet graduate students from other schools at Brandeis this way. Building relationships is another rewarding way of maintaining your sense of self during times when you might feel lost in a mountain of schoolwork.

Don’t forget to treat yourself! There are plenty of places to eat in Waltham that are perfect for a delicious bite to clear your mind. I love to stop by Kung Fu Tea on Moody Street to indulge in a bubble tea or mango slushee. Or you can hop across the street and grab brunch at another favorite of mine, a restaurant called In a Pickle. A bit farther from campus is another gem, a tiny Mexican spot called Taqueria El Amigo. Taking yourself out for a meal, or enjoying it with a friend, can be truly rejuvenating!

There are many ways to refresh yourself and clear your mind while studying here at Heller. My recommendation is to continually practice this skill. Relaxation and self-care are so crucial to being a good student, a good employee, and a good friend. Make sure to take care of yourself by unplugging and shifting your focus, because it’s too easy to get lost in school-related worries and stress!

A Week in the Life with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

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!

Facing Challenges with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I would not describe myself, traditionally, as someone who has sought out coursework about finance or accounting. As I’ve referenced in prior blog posts, my undergraduate career as an English major did not prepare me directly for certain types of courses I’ve taken at Heller, and in fact, was guided in part by an effort to avoid quantitative coursework. Since beginning grad school, I’ve rediscovered the potential for mathematical thinking and data analysis to actually be fun, and I’ve really enjoyed courses involving data visualization, like Evaluation for Managers and Intro to GIS. 

This semester entails a new kind of challenge, as I am enrolled in not one or two but three courses involving finance and economics – Managerial Accounting, Financial Management, and Public Finance and Budgeting. This schedule, which I would have undertaken as an undergraduate only in an anxiety dream, is one that I have actually been excited about since enrolling in the Social Impact MBA. Working in non-profit settings after college demonstrated to me the importance of financial decision-making and budgeting and the degree to which these considerations are almost more central for managers and analysts in non-profit, mission-driven organizations than in traditional corporate settings. Following politics and policy debates has motivated me to learn more about economics and the role of government economic intervention – for example, I’d like to better understand the details and competing priorities contained within President Biden’s stimulus proposal. I also wouldn’t mind having a better than half-baked take on Gamestop! 

One of the best things about Heller has been the variety of coursework and many skills which they engage. In the MPP and MBA programs, and I imagine in all Heller master’s degrees, writing- and research-intensive classes are balanced with courses in statistics, economics, and finance. Many classes integrate a combination of these skills, since analyzing data AND being able to communicate your analysis effectively is necessary for many management, research, and analyst roles. I’ve found it helpful, as a graduate student in a professional degree program, to redefine my understanding of a liberal arts approach to education – while as an undergraduate I took advantage of academic flexibility to focus largely on humanities courses, in graduate school I’m enjoying the holistic approach taken in my core coursework. While I won’t be offering any stock tips in the near future, I’m excited about this semester and about future coursework in Corporate Finance and other related areas. 

 

How to Get Ready for Grad School in Less Than an Hour a Day: A Guide by Andrea Tyree

 

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Preparing for graduate school can feel overwhelming. After the high of acceptance passes, you’re hit with some tough questions Where will I live? How will I pay for it all? Am I ready for class discussions?

Personally, that last question hit me hard. I worried that I wouldn’t be as politically savvy or knowledgeable as my classmates. Now half a year in, I can assure my past self—and you—that you are fine. Chances are, if you’ve made it into one of Heller’s graduate programs, you know enough about the issues within your field to get by. But if you’re like me and want to be as prepared as possible, do it in the least stressful way: listen to podcasts.

Okay, I know at least 25% of you just rolled your eyes cause it’s 2021 and podcasts are done to death. I know, I know, I know… But that’s also what makes them so great! No matter what you’re interested in, there’s a podcast for it. Need to up your financial game? There’s a podcast for that. Want to better understand race relations? There’s a podcast for that. Want to watch The Office while you’re driving? There’s a podcast for that (and it’s fantastic).

So if you’re looking to prep for grad school by catching up on current events, history, politics, breakthroughs in medicine or science, or anything else, try listening to a podcast in your spare time! With the help of some of my classmates, I’ve put together a starter list of useful podcasts for incoming and current students:


  1. Up First by NPR

I recommend this for anyone who feels like they don’t have enough time in their day. This 10-15 minute NPR podcast is a great listen while you’re getting ready in the morning. It reviews some of the top (usually national) news stories that will help you feel prepared for that 9:00 am class.

  1. Today, Explained by Vox AND/OR The Daily by The New York Times AND/OR Pod Save America by Crooked Media

If you want a deeper dive into current issues (or hear about more than 3 topics), then any of these podcasts are great alternatives. The episodes run a bit longer (~30 min to 1 hour), but if you want to hear a thorough breakdown of the news, these are three podcasts I recommend.

  1. Worldly by Vox AND/OR Global News Podcast by BBC

Tired of hearing only about American politics? Want to stay on top of what’s going on in the rest of the world? Check out one of these podcasts! Worldly deep dives into the issues by placing them in the context of history and politics, while Global News provides daily updates on various issues.

  1. Justice in America by The Appeal

If you’re interested in criminal justice, then this is the podcast for you. It covers a wide range of topics within the criminal justice system and examines each piece’s impact on impoverished communities and communities of color.

  1. Code Switch by NPR

Truly one of the best podcasts out there. It explains how race affects everything, provides a platform for the most marginalized and underrepresented to speak their truth, and puts it all into a digestible format. If you’ve been wondering how to be a better ally to people of color or understand how their struggles affect all of us, then this podcast is for you.

  1. Adulting by WNYC Studios

Okay this isn’t a serious podcast about politics, social issues, or current events, but I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning one of the most hilarious podcasts out there (imo). If you need a good laugh, want to feel seen as a struggling grad student/adult, or just need a distraction from the state of the world, this podcast is for you. Plus, if you’re not a Michelle Buteau stan, what are you doing?

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