Category: Student Perspectives (page 3 of 9)

Facing Your Fears at Heller

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Over the last two years at the Heller School, I found myself face to face with one of my biggest fears: public speaking. I’ve given many presentations during my time at Heller, but I’ve always been a ball of nerves in the days leading up to each one. Yet I’ve challenged myself to tackle my fear of public speaking, and I have also found useful ways to cope with the anxiety. As I approach my final presentation, the presentation when I present my thesis, I can’t help but think of how proud I feel to engage in public speaking despite my discomfort with it.

Whenever I give a presentation, I always make sure to do my “power pose” right beforehand. This helps me to feel more assertive and strong. It might even seem silly, but from my experience, striking a “power pose” can help improve confidence. It’s a small act, but it makes a difference for me when I am delivering a presentation. In fact, many social psychologists describe the benefits of striking a powerful stance, and emphasize that it can be a helpful “life hack”.

I’m also preparing to present my thesis with lots (and lots and lots) of practice. It may also sound simple, but it is very true that “practice makes perfect”. It is important to feel comfortable with the material I’m presenting and feel comfortable and confident in the way I want to convey my findings and analysis. This, of course, helps cut down on my anxiety, as I grow more and more comfortable telling my story. Practicing my presentation with a friend also provides me with useful and helpful feedback. It is so helpful to do a test run (or two) before the big day! That way, you have some time to iron out any wrinkles that might pop up in your practice presentations.

It is also so important to remember that Heller is an environment in which your thoughts, ideas, and experiences are welcome. Your professors and classmates you are presenting to are eager to hear from you. They are listening with interest, openness, and curiosity. You will simply not find a hostile audience at the Heller School. Instead, you’ll be met with an audience who want you to succeed.

These are the practices I am keeping in mind as I approach my final presentation at Heller. Relatively simple acts, like striking a “power pose”, can make a world of difference. A healthy amount of practice is always my best route. And lastly, I am keeping in mind how receptive, curious, and interested my Heller audience will be to hear about my thesis.

Finals Are Over, Now What?: Sazia Nowshin

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Ahh, the time is here (for finals to be over with). These past couple of months have been a challenge, with short breaks, long exams, and a pandemic happening ALL AT ONCE. It will probably take us all some time to truly recover from this whirlwind of a semester. But, there are some things we can do to momentarily let us escape the struggles and hard work we have put into being present during these trying times:

  1. Literally escape. Go on a vacation (safely, vaccinated, and per CDC guidelines) and leave your office chair with the indent on it from hours of zoom class. Even if it is a road trip, in which you will be confined to your car and basking in the glory of nature, the escape will be worth it. And remember, a vacation may be a financial investment, but the ROI on your mental health could be worth it.
  2. Return your textbooks, or even sell them. Perhaps this should have been the most pertinent one to address, but vacation is on my mind.
  3. DO COURSE EVALUATIONS. Actually, I changed my mind. This is the most important and should be done as soon as possible. We all want our grades on time, and we want our professors to know how much value we received from their classes and their instruction. I know I was excited to fill mine out to gush about the wonderful TAs I had this semester.
  4. Read a book. If you don’t want to escape via vacation, fulfill your wanderlust instead in a sea of words. A literary escape is just as valuable. Next on my list is All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage!
  5. Talk to family, especially if you haven’t interacted much with the time you had to dedicate to your studies during this time.
  6. Take up a new hobby. Granted, hobbies can take time and dedication but that is why it is important to take up something you are passionate about! I will personally explore the world of programming and try to learn a language or two (like Python) before the next semester.
  7. Sleep. I know you haven’t. I know I haven’t. I know we are all contributing to a detrimental cycle of mass sleep deprivation and we must do what we can to catch up!
  8. Just breathe. You finished. You did that. Relax and take the weight of your classes off your shoulders because you overcame the most pivotal exams of the semester.

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.

Hello Heller! Kyle Doherty’s Acceptance Story

Kyle Doherty Headshot

Kyle Doherty, MA SID’22

My Heller admission story does not begin with my own acceptance to Brandeis, but my partner Ran’s. She accepted an offer to Brandeis’ MA in  Psychology program around the beginning of June, so we planned our move to Waltham. I had graduated in May of 2019 with a degree in psychology too, but had decided to take a gap year before going back to school. A little after the year deadline I set for myself, I was more confused than I was when I graduated. I knew I wanted to go back to school to get a graduate degree, but I was uncertain on the type of program I wanted to apply to. As I was doing research for possible schools for a Spring 2021 or Fall 2021 start, I found the Heller School when scrolling through the Brandeis website.

As I flipped through the webpages of all the Heller programs, I was fascinated by what I saw. I was interested in so many of the programs, but also in the existence of a school that prioritizes social justice and equity. The Sustainable International Development program particularly caught my eye because of experiences I had the previous four summers. when I would travel to China to live with Ran and her parents before returning for college. Those trips exposed me to the need for development, by showing just how privileged my American life had been. When visiting their home village, many of the houses lacked sewage, had holes in roofs, and electricity was unreliable. Thinking back to those times and seeing the current development projects occurring there such as roadbuilding and agriculture projects, I decided I would apply to Heller the next cycle. When I went to go check if Heller had spring admission, I was shocked to see that they were still accepting applications for the fall. In that moment, it all came together: my interest in social psychology from undergrad, my love for traveling, and a commitment to disrupt oppressive norms and policies. I knew I had to take advantage of this situation and immediately got all the required materials ready in just a few days. 

The wait for a decision was agonizing as it was the middle of the summer, a pandemic was raging around us, and we were also moving at the same time. It had been a long two days of moving in the July heat as I sat down to catch my breath. Flopping down on the nearest elevated surface, I chuckled when realizing that I was the first to sit on the couch my partner Ran and I had just put together. The air conditioner blared in the background as I opened the Gmail app on my phone (even when handling much more pressing issues like putting together furniture, I still like to keep my digital inbox in order!). As the screen flickered to show an unread email from ‘The Heller School’, the exhaustion I felt moments ago evaporated instantly. Not letting anyone know what was going on, I stealthily thumped in my email and password before hitting the scariest enter button of my life. If I did not get accepted here, I would not know what I would be doing for the rest of 2020. My anxiety turned to jubilation as I saw a financial aid award letter load in slowly because we had not had the chance to install wi-fi yet. I looked over to Ran with a blank look on my face and said “Well, guess I got in”, before cracking a huge smile. Seeing her exhaustion melt away too, she jumped up and gave me the most epic high five into hug combination I had ever experienced. 

After coming off the initial rush of the acceptance I took a day or two to make sure Heller was the right choice for me. It did not take long to make my decision because they had already won me over during the application process. Once accepting the offer and settling into our new place, it was time to enjoy our last month of summer before becoming graduate students.

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.

 

Letter to My Past Self with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As my time here at Heller comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on what kind of advice I’d give to the version of myself who first came to Brandeis in 2019. I’d have quite a lot to tell her about classes, projects, friends, and new experiences, so I decided to write a letter to my former self.

Dear 2019 Sami,

Congratulations! You just began your time at the Heller School. You’re about to have a very meaningful experience. This experience will also be challenging, rewarding, stress-inducing, and so inspiring. Sometimes, the experience you’re about to begin will be difficult and overwhelming, but please remember to hang in there! Difficult experiences are often the most rewarding, and they will lead you to feel such immense pride in yourself and in the work that you’re going to accomplish. Remember never to give up, and that it is ok to be exhausted because it means you’re working your hardest!

Remember, Sami, that everyone here is in the same boat as you. Sometimes it’ll be tempting to think that everybody except you knows exactly what they’re doing. But don’t be fooled! All of your fellow classmates are learning and growing alongside you. You’ll receive so much support from them, too, and you’ll be able to happily support them back. As a group, you and your fellow Heller students will evolve and expand, personally, professionally, and academically. Remember that they don’t know more, or less than you do. Instead, you are all offering your very own unique contributions to your cohort’s experiences.

Please keep in mind how important it is to take care of yourself and make ample time for self-care. Rely on the emotional support offered by your friends at Heller. Meet with classmates outside of the classroom and give them space to tell you all about their perspectives. If cultural differences feel out of your comfort zone, allow yourself to handle the discomfort and learn from it. Your classmates are the best resource you’ll find here at Brandeis!

Lastly, 2019 Sami, never lose sight of your goals and ambitions. They’ll change, of course, during your time at the Heller School. Your perspectives will broaden, and your ideas will grow, and your capacity to learn will evolve. You’re about to have one of the most amazing experiences of your life! So get ready, you’re about to transform in all sorts of ways you can’t even imagine yet.

Yours truly,

2021 Sami

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.

Building Meaningful Connections Through Zoom With Hannah Lougheed

 

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

“let’s grab coffee and hang out!” has become,”I’ll send you the link to my Zoom room.”

It feels awkward and burdensome to try and casually virtually hang out with folks these days, because there is nothing casual about it. You have to set up the link, log on, wait for them to jump on, admit them, wait for their mic to connect, then invest more screen-time into something that once felt so effortless (for an extrovert anyway). You talk over each other, forget to un-mute and inevitably have wifi issues.  I used to recharge by being with people – not anymore. Body language helped me to understand someone’s feelings on a subject – impossible now. Bumping into a friend on a walk sparked such joy in my day – now I’m lucky if I even encounter an individual in a week.  Woe is me.

BUT!

Without this cumbersome technology, this would have been a much more difficult year. The isolation is difficult – as I’m sure you can attest to as well – but technology has provided a way to stay engaged with others. How, then, have I and others managed to build meaningful connections through Zoom-only friendships while at Heller? I think to start, we need to understand that everyone’s definition of “meaningful” is different. Breadth and depth are varied in each interaction we have. For some, a 10-minute breakout room during class provides enough of a meaningful connection to last a month. While to others **cough cough: me**  we require more people time to charge our social-meter.

So, what have I done personally to adapt to this new platform? I immediately sought out interest groups outside of my classes to join. The Heller Student Association (HSA) and  Brandeis Graduate Christian Fellowship groups are where my search began. Meaningful connection – both online and off, usually begin with a shared interest. In this case, the guesswork was removed, as I knew we all shared interests through these groups. Upon attending the first meeting for each, I worked hard to stay extremely present in the moment. I silenced my phone and set it aside, closed out my email application on my laptop, and shut my room door. I have found that one of the worst inhibitors to meaningful connections through Zoom is a whole different scope of virtual distractions. I reminded myself, “if I wouldn’t text or check my emails while face-to-face with someone, why should I not afford them that same respect through Zoom?”.

I am also a big proponent of keeping your video on while on Zoom, especially if there are only a few of you. I thrive on eye contact. Not the kind of eye contact that’s too intense and makes you feel uncomfortable (we all know those people), but the kind of eye contact that expresses your smile all the way through your face, or your intensity when talking about a passionate subject. I can talk to my wall any day with no response, but I want to see if what I said made you laugh, or think, or express concern.

This all boils down to the idea that meaningful connections can still happen through Zoom, but by seeking out opportunities to connect outside of obligations, removing distractions, and keeping your camera on, you can help facilitate an environment where these connections may grow more easily. If you have any additional tips that have worked please pass them my way!

« Older posts Newer posts »

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)