Category: Student Life (page 1 of 8)

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation)

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Dear future Ronunique,

The time has final come! It is May 2023 and you were able to complete not one, but two degrees during a global pandemic. Cheers to that! Even when everyone thought you were crazy for going into a Master’s program 3 months after graduating from undergrad, you were able to overcome and prove them wrong. Another exciting part is that not only have you gotten your Master of Public Policy, but your first best-friend, Mom, is graduating at the same time with her bachelor’s degree. Please hold the tears for after the ceremonies.

You made it this far, and I know it was not easy. The readings, the group work, and the e-board meetings all seemed to be happening so fast but you were able to stick to it no matter the circumstances. If no one else ever tells you, I am more than proud and 13-year-old Ronunique thinks you are very cool! What is to come next? You have gained all this incredible knowledge on how to compact social inequities, where do you go from here? I hope that you stuck with your dream of creating an initiative that will educate formerly incarcerated individuals in California on why voting matters, how to register to vote, and making sure that their votes are counted! Do you plan to go back home to the Bay Area to assist your community in the fight to end violence? Have you taken your gems elsewhere to another community in need? Are you helping the fight for access to adequate government programs? Are you doing non-profit work or working as a program manager for a government sector? Whatever you decided to do, I know you made the right decision and that you are going to do it well.

Remember your favorite quote by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it.  Because what the world needs is people who come alive.” I know you are showing up to every space alive and giving the people what they want and need. You have been more than a representation but an inspiration to others who come after you.  Do not forget to always be your best yourself in every situation. You have always been more than enough. I know you have not only impacted your own life, but others as well, which has and will always be your number one purpose in life. You were adaptable, strong, and resilient. I can not wait to see where and what you do in this next chapter. The price was high but the reward was greater.

Until then best wishes,

Ronuniq,ue

When It All Starts to Make Sense

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

*This may be true of other graduate school programs, but as I am enrolled at Heller, I write under the assumption that this is special to the Heller curriculum.*

People who go back to school must have an affinity for learning. Or at least those who choose to go back to school for a higher degree in social sciences. To take time off from income-earning to invest in education is not a lightly made decision.  And yes, in many cases the degree is beneficial and necessary to excel in the workforce. Yet, it is not guaranteed that higher education equates to higher pay. So that loops us back to – people who go back to school must have an affinity for learning.

For me, the return to school full-time brought some fear and anxiety, but overall I felt comfort and joy. Previously, when I would engage in study groups or one-off lectures, I always left feeling inspired with a yearning for more. I missed being intellectually challenged. I missed the debate and dialogue that sometimes only an academic event evokes. So my return almost felt imminent.

In undergrad, my academic path felt scattered. I enrolled in a slew of courses that seemed interesting that also fulfilled my core curriculum. However, there did not seem to be a congruent theme each year, let alone every semester that linked all of my areas of study.  So when I started to experience deja vu in my Heller courses, I was at first shocked. My course readings seemed to blend together. The lectures started to feel familiar.  I began to recognize components of my studies in my everyday life.  The work I was doing in my applied regression class helped clarify my readings in research methods. The theories discussed in my policy analysis class underpinned the teachings in my contemporary issues in gender policy course. Instead of accepting this fluidity at face value, I questioned and doubted it. It did not seem possible that I could actually identify core concepts in different classes let alone find ways to coherently employ them through interdisciplinary action. And then when I realized this was not a fluke or some construed imposter syndrome, it all started to click.

The Heller MPP program‘s curriculum design fosters accessible education, which promotes applicable learning. Each course structure enables the student to build upon the course material not just within the designated class, but throughout their time at Heller. No class, concept, or curriculum exists in a chasm. This cohesion reinforces each new idea and on a personal note, helps me to feel more confident in my skills, aptitude, and intellect. I am proud of my academic growth and I am indebted to Heller for pushing me to see beyond the class schedule binary.

Exposing the Umbrageous Underbelly of Ultimate Frisbee

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

176 terms.

From “anhyzer” to “zipper”, The Ultimate Frisbee Glossary contains 176 terms understood to most well-versed Ultimate Frisbee vernaculars. My vernacular, however, is neither well-versed in ultimate nor spacious enough to understand and memorize all 176 terms in a brief span of time. The moment you walk onto the field, the socially agreed-upon medium of communication (ultimate slang) was quite literally a foreign language to my ears. So, you may be shocked to learn that I was a bit underprepared for my first ultimate frisbee experience earlier this week.

As I strutted with my head held high onto the rugby field, now outfitted to accommodate ultimate players, I quickly realized that the Summer league I had joined to stay active and build community was not quite the casual-community-watering-hole vibe I had anticipated. No problem, I half-heartedly reassured myself, when an opportunity presents itself I can adapt. I am in decent shape and played group sports for years, how hard can this new sport be to understand?

So this is where I need to elaborate on the circumstances that eventuated my tarnished first interaction with this sport of a thousand terms. As a member of the green team, or “Green Baes” to be exact, I was tasked with donning a green shirt. Well, with no green shirt to be found in my closet hours before the duel, I figured green leggings would suffice; they, in fact, did not. So, my captain generously borrowed me a spare green shirt. Problem solved!

Problem NOT solved! The game commences, all while my knowledge of this sport is limited to my very mediocre ability to toss the disc in the correct general direction. At this point, I am just running and hoping the frisbee stays far from me. Shoot! I get passed the disc – immediate panic ensues. The other team’s best defender is in my face yelling, “stalling one, stalling two…” as I scan the field for teammates. Now, I played man-to-man defense in basketball and understand that typically you match with your equal, be it in height, size or skill level. So, in this 5-second time span (I know it was 5 seconds because there was a human yelling with each passing second into my face) I am questioning why this defender is paired with me.

I come off the field uncomfortable with the intensity with which they are treating me, a newbie. Just then, an ultimate frisbee enthusiast fan rises from their well-worn red camping chair and congratulates me on being part of the basically professional level ultimate frisbee team in the area. Uhhh… what?

You guys, I was set up. Take out your sleuth tools and solve this mystery *if this were a Dora the Explorer episode, this is the point where she would dead-eye stare at you into the screen until you respond*.  GOOD JOB! YOU GOT IT! The green shirt I casually threw on, which my captain lent me, was actually a tee-shirt jersey from the hyper-competitive ultimate frisbee league nearby. People who saw me in this shirt assumed I was a really great player, when in reality, I was still working to decode the most basic pieces of their language. Fortunately, after seeing me play for more than 5 seconds, everyone caught on that the shirt was not a testament to my abilities but rather simply a green thing to identify me as a team member. What a day. I have since purchased my own green shirt.

Life lesson: never take tee-shirts from strangers before an ultimate frisbee game as a newbie.

Fin.

Transitioning Back to Life as a Student with Sami

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Making the decision to attend grad school is a huge, life-altering choice. How do you know if you’re ready? And how can you get prepared to do your very best, especially if you’ve been out of academia for a while? To help you think further about and ultimately answer these questions, I’ll tell you about my decision to apply to the Heller School and my experience taking a break from my career in order to jump back into student life.

After working in the non-profit fundraising field for 5 years, I began to realize that I wanted to expand my career options by evolving my knowledge of conflict resolution, international development, and global health. I also wanted to focus my work specifically on sexual and reproductive health, as well as women’s empowerment in South Asia. After speaking with representatives from Heller Admissions and hearing about the different degree programs offered, I decided to apply because it was clear that I could tailor my degree to fit my specific interests and career goals. Because of its nature of flexibility and individualization, I knew Heller would be the right fit for me.

Jumping back into the life of a student after years in the professional world was a big adjustment for me. Working 9-5 each week day can feel quite different from student life. As a student, the lines between “clocking in” and “clocking out” are often blurred. As an NGO employee, I was able to leave the office at 5pm and, for the most part, leave my work at my desk until returning the next morning. For a student (especially as a student attending school entirely from home), finding the time to “clock out” was more difficult. While this was an adjustment for me at first, I eventually eased into the role of a grad student, meanwhile finding ways of structuring my days so that I could dedicate most of my time to school while simultaneously reserving time for myself, having fun with friends, and self-care.

It can be difficult to know when the right time is for you to apply to grad school. In my case, I felt that my career trajectory had hit a wall, and I was ready to gain the skills and knowledge I would need to expand and grow my career options. You may also feel ready to learn new skills and find innovative ways of thinking about conflict, international development, public policy, or global health, and Heller is a meaningful environment to do exactly that!

Back to School Nerves (like never before!) with Daniella

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Growing up, I used to get very nervous the days leading up to the first day of school. I would of course put off my back-to-school reading and subsequent project, letting my anxiety manifest in frustration over my procrastination. But once the poster or diorama was finished and packed away neatly and the distractions dispelled, the jitters fluttered back in. I liked school and I was always excited about the promise of a new school year, but something always made the transition from summer to school difficult. I’d later come to recognize that discomfort as a fear of change and the unknown, but as I grew older and became comfortable with the back-to-school routine, my nerves subsided.

This summer, I find myself hyper-focused on my physical return to school. And not just about the first day back, but about being in a classroom in general. When I started to apply to graduate programs, I was four years out of college, settled in a 9-5 routine. When the pandemic hit and I began school again in fall of 2020, I experienced, along with millions of other students, the unprecedented shift to online learning. Not only did I have to alter my perceptions of learning, but I had to find stability in an unpredictable time.

Now after a year of adjusting to online learning, I again must shift my conception of schooling,  and I’m realizing that I’m feeling nervous. Online learning was tough, but it granted me a certain level of physical comfort and protection. I settled into a schedule and workstyle that fit my needs: I mastered the time it took to make a snack and walk my dog in the ten-minute breaks, or the “I didn’t just wake up five minutes before class” look. I found ease in zoom life. Now, after a year and a half of being conditioned to fear the outside world, we are preparing to re-enter the classroom.

There are many components to in-person learning I yearn for, like the rush of being able to raise my hand or the potential of real dialogue uninterrupted by buffering or social constrictions of internet connections. However, I am wary of the mental and physical toll this adjustment will take. I do not know what it will be like to not only be back in a classroom but enter into an institutional atmosphere with rigid social and academic expectations.

I write this post because there is so much excitement around re-entry and I want to validate for myself and others that it’s okay to be afraid of the change. This is not a return to normalcy; this is a construction of a new normal and nerves can accompany that. So, on August 26th and the days that follow, I will be glad to be on campus, but I will also be prepared for any first-day jitters that may arise.

Back to School Planning with Doug

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

One month to go!

As I write this blog post, less than a month remains before classes start at Heller. For admitted students, I imagine the next month will be filled with excitement, anticipation, and impatience. If you are planning to begin classes at Heller this fall, I hope you have the chance to take a break from work and other obligations and relax, travel, and see family, as well as apartment hunt and begin preparing for classes. Here’s my advice for preparing for the academic and professional side of things, so that you can hit the ground running once classes begin.

At this point, you should be able to view the schedule of classes either on Workday or on the Registrar’s website. You can get a sense of what classes you are required to take this fall, as well as what electives are suggested, by looking at either the website of your academic program or the Individualized Learning Plan forms available for most programs on the “for students” section of the Heller website. These forms can help you to outline your schedule for the next couple semesters. While it’s not necessary to have everything planned out before you start, I found it helpful to peruse these materials before the semester began.

Some additional cheat codes regarding class registration: you can view previous semesters on the Registrar’s site to get a sense of what electives are available in the spring, and once you have access to Workday, our course administration site, you can “browse syllabi” from previous semesters to learn more about courses you might take in the future (with the caveat in both cases that it’s subject to change).

Now is also a great time to review the list of faculty in your program and see who shares your interests and chairs your concentration (if applicable for your program). You might consider reaching out during orientation to a professor with whom you aren’t taking a class this fall – that way you can meet them a bit sooner and hear their perspective in addition to that of your adviser and first-semester professors.

I’d also encourage you to view the career center website and get set up on Handshake as soon as it is possible to do so. Fall information sessions with employers will be available to register soon. I’d definitely recommend scheduling a career advising appointment early in the semester and introduce yourself to the staff.

Lastly, once you have access to Workday, you can view jobs for students and apply for an on-campus job. You can also join career-focused Heller groups on Facebook and LinkedIn (there is also a Brandeis graduate student housing group on Facebook).

While you’ll be provided with the info you need by email and once you arrive on campus, spending some time perusing the website and finding information specific to your own interests and goals doesn’t hurt. Good luck as you gear up for the fall semester!

Back to School Post-Covid

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Well friends, the summer is slowly wrapping up and I am soaking in every last minute of quality pool time with my family and friends. I am currently in an odd in-between space as I finished my internship in Missouri, am planning to visit family I have not seen for over 2 years in Canada in about a week’s time, and am now regrouping in Pennsylvania before moving to Waltham in a few weeks. As someone who trends very type-A when it comes to organization, I have to fight the urge daily to fully unpack – as I know I will then have to repack in a very short time. I thrive in constant change, but for whatever reason, packing gives me an odd sense of anxiety… I like to think that’s normal?

Anyway, as I consider what is ahead for my second year at Heller, I amSmiling young girl on a scooter filled with that same eagerness and anticipation that one feels on their first day of third grade *see attached photo*. Why third grade? Well for starters, my teacher’s name was Mrs. Wine and she was wonderful. To this day, I still love wine and I attribute that back to the love she instilled in me at a ripe young age (no one tell my mom I said that). Although I will not be back-to-school-shopping for cool new overalls or fancy new white sneaks due to budgetary concerns, I will still be rolling up to campus on some pretty hot wheels just like 3rd grade Hannah did. And by that I mean my 2004 Mercury Sable.

Prestige establishment aside, an underlying feeling this year that is new to me is that I feel as though I know many of my colleagues and professors quite well already, yet I have never met them in person. Am I excited to meet them in person? Of course! But it feels almost like online dating, where I have an idea of what the rest of their person should look like, but up until this point it is almost all imagined. Funny enough, one thing that often strikes people off guard when they meet me after only conversing via Zoom is my height (I am just a tad shy of 6 feet tall for those who are wondering).

So, the aspect I am most looking forward to with being back on campus for my second year of Heller are the informal chats before and after classes. No need to schedule a Zoom meeting or ensure your laptop is charged, I can simply run into folks and converse without the plethora of externalities restricting our interactions. Also, I am a big body language person, so to be able to read your body language to understand how you are feeling and/or how I am making you feel is important to me.

My excitement for being back in person on campus is one that 3rd grade Hannah can relate to. However, no 3rd grade Hannah could have guessed that the second-year grad student Hannah would have had the experiences she has had over the last year alone thanks to COVID. Regardless, I would like to think that I have made her proud and my goal this year is to enjoy the friendships and connections that evolve as we all enjoy being back in person on campus.

 

Yes to Summer Reading

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

A defining assignment in my Heller career came before I even stepped foot in the classroom. The summer before the program begins, in addition to some of the virtual on-boarding and orientation programs, Heller asks all MPP students to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Typically, when we think of summer reads, they are romance novels and light reads to match the airiness and warmth of the summer.

I would not say that The New Jim Crow fits the description. According to a New Yorker piece published in 2020, The New Jim Crow “[…] considers not only the enormity and cruelty of the American prison system but also […] the way the war on drugs and the justice system have been used as a ‘system of control’ that shatters the lives of millions of Americans—particularly young black and Hispanic men.” All the same, it had sat on my book list for months and I was excited for the push from Heller to finally read it. 

Not only did The New Jim Crow set the foundation for my studies at Heller, but it was also the perfect summer book. I was enthralled, as so many pieces of a broken system were weaved together by one coherent report. It sought to educate the reader without incendiary or alienating language. It brought clarity; in a time of publicized racial reckoning, The New Jim Crow meticulously outlined the past, present, and future of racial prejudice. It fostered a sense of renewal through its emphasis on the magnitude of work that needs to be done and the political vacuum that must be filled to attain retribution. It underscored shared accountability. Most of all, it provided a refreshed account of our systemic perpetuation of slavery through its digestible, direct, and transparent telling. 

Since consuming Alexander’s words a year ago, my work and studies have been grounded by the narratives of the millions who suffer under American persecution. The confines of American society conscript too many to an unjust life: they force individuals to live a life of constant fear devoid of any respect or decency. The emotional and sociological brutality of the institutional and social imbalance in the United States can entrap and torture a person, without having to place them in a physical prison cell. And Michelle Alexander uses her platform to demonstrate that too many are still waiting for physical and emotional salvation.  

Heller’s commitment to the eradication of discrimination can be seen in the requirement of each public policy student to engage with such material as The New Jim Crow. We as a nation can only be as good as our worst policy. As a school, we can only be as impactful as the effort we put in – and after I closed a heavily marked-up copy of The New Jim Crow, I knew Heller was the place I was going to learn to make a difference.

Graduate School and APA Citations… They Have More in Common Than You’d Think!

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

While trying to think of a good topic for this blog post, I got a text asking if I could begin doing citations for a group paper that is due sooner than I’d care to think about. While it’s possible that I audibly groaned, only moments later a lightbulb appeared above my head just like in a cartoon. Could something as seemingly mundane as finalizing references for a paper be a good blog post topic? – I thought. Upon reflection, I think it actually is! The grad school experience is a bit like doing citations (though perhaps just slightly more fun!) Here’s why:

It’s not so bad once you start: I’ve found that every time I’ve had to do citations, or a grad school assignment in general, the task feels so colossal I’m unsure how to begin. However, as soon as I start the task at hand, I fall into a bit of a rhythm, or at the very least gain a better sense of where gaps in knowledge and understanding exist and how to go about finding the answers. This helps the project feel more digestible.

For that reason, it’s oddly satisfying, even if frustrating while you’re doing it. Most papers I’ve written at Heller have caused some amount of stress and consternation, but I’ve learned something from doing every one, and sometimes grew fond or even proud of the finished product. Even the process of finishing a list of references brings a real sense of accomplishment – where once I had no idea how to cite Senate testimony or corporate 10-K statements, now I do (or, I at least know where to quickly look it up!)

Organizing your thoughts is a great antidote for confusion and imposter syndrome! I often find that I feel much less confident about my knowledge in a topic area until I begin writing down what I know and what questions I have. The same goes for citations – having 50 tabs open is stress-inducing, but having 50 sources listed in a word document or downloaded into Zotero (more on that in a moment) creates a sense that the structure of the paper is emerging.

Technology helps! I shudder at the thought of completing a Master’s degree in the pre-internet age. I rely on technology to organize sources and to begin taking notes and sketching out arguments. Two great tools are Zotero, in which sources can be organized into folders, notes can be attached, and bibliographies can be automatically generated; and Atlas.TI, in which PDFs of scholarly sources or interview transcripts can be loaded and annotated, with common codes used across documents to organize themes. Both are available for free through Brandeis.

Share the love: One of my professors described a bibliography as “a love letter to yourself,” meaning, if you plan to continue studying the same topics and building expertise in a given area, bibliographies from earlier assignments will be an invaluable resource. I’d also say that keeping track of sources is an important part of collaboration – even if your paper is never published, it might be shared amongst peers or even by a professor, with your permission, and as important as your original work and arguments may be, the citations themselves will provide a roadmap for future readers. This spirit of sharing and collaboration is a key part of the graduate school experience.

See? It’s not so bad. Even the seemingly dry parts of an assignment can be useful later on. Plus, volunteering to do citations on a group paper immediately endears you to your classmates. It’s the little things!

Wondering What Courses to Take? Sami Has Suggestions!

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

When I first took a look at Heller’s course list, I felt overwhelmed by so many fascinating options. Choosing which classes to take is definitely no easy task at Heller, but to make it *slightly* easier for you, I’ve created a list of some of my favorite courses. I definitely recommend taking a look at these classes (or other classes taught by these professors) when it’s time to create your own course schedules.

  1. “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” with Professor Nanako Tamaru was a truly enlightening course about the role of women in peacemaking processes. I especially enjoyed the structure of this class and appreciated Professor Tamaru’s ability to spark a fascinating discussion among classmates. I also loved our final project: An opportunity to write an op-ed that will ultimately be published on Professor Tamaru’s “Women, Peace, and Security” blog. You can find the blog and other examples of final projects for the course here.
  2. Professor Lawrence Bailis’s course on “Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing” is another favorite of mine. Each week, Professor Bailis would invite a guest speaker to tell the class about their experience and answer questions. Hearing from actual activists about their real world experiences in advocacy and organizing presenting such an insightful perspective. The variety of issues our guest speakers represented was enormous. We heard from participants in the Egyptian revolution, gun rights activists, American politicians, and leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  3. During my two years at Heller, I’ve taken three different classes with Professor Raj Sampath, and I really recommend checking out some of his courses. Each class has only one assignment: A 10-ish page paper on a subject of your choosing related to sustainable international development. I love the freedom of being able to choose my own research topic! Professor Sampath’s classes are very discussion-based, and we would often break out into smaller groups to talk about that week’s topic. The course introduced me to many social theorists and philosophers who helped inform my work as a peace-builder and conflict resolver.
  4. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I began Professor Lee Panas’s course on STATA software. I initially felt intimidated by data management and statistics, but Professor Panas has an amazing way of making his students feel comfortable and supported. STATA is a complicated and nuanced software and I wanted to add it as another tool in my tool belt. I also recommend this course because knowledge of STATA can be hugely helpful as you enter the job market. I now feel much more comfortable managing and analyzing data because of Professor Panas’s course.

There are many, many fantastic courses to choose from at Heller, and these are just four of them. I highly recommend considering these classes, but if that’s not a possibility, I certainly recommend connecting with these professors during your time here at Heller. Happy class registration!

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