Category: Student Perspectives (page 4 of 10)

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!

Missing Home-cooked Meals: From a Very Hungry Graduate Student (Sazia Nowshin)

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Let’s face it, being responsible for yourself is not fun. The luxuries of living at “home” are far gone when one moves away for college, work, or for any other opportunity. I used to revel in the spoils of living with my parents in my undergraduate career, with access to free laundry, home-cooked meals (the lack of which is currently the bane of my existence), and a queen bed. However, when I had to move away to attend Heller last August, I had no idea what I was in for. 

Having lived at home all my life until graduate school had its perks. I had the privilege of waking up every morning to the smell of some new meal my mother was cooking or a fresh cup of chai. When I had dirty clothes, I simply put them in the hamper and did the laundry downstairs in the basement. Little did I know that these would be luxuries compared to my current circumstances. 

Who would have thought that the toughest part of moving away was moving away from my mother’s chicken curry with purple top turnips? The gravy she cooks it in is thinner and slightly spicier, saturating the softened turnips and making the chicken pieces fall off the bone. I cannot guarantee that I am not salivating while typing this but the nostalgia is so strong, I can smell it right now. To cope with this, I exhausted the many options available on Uber Eats, Grubhub, Doordash, and Caviar. If I am missing some services, please let me know… although I’d rather not know, just so I still afford rent. Leaving behind my mother’s cooking in Scranton, I explored the plethora of cuisines found in the Greater Boston area. From my favorite, the Bittersweet Shoppe on Newbury St., to Kimchipapi, I have had a taste of food that was not available back at home. However, there are times when I fondly remember my mother’s handmade pithas or even, at times, her simple chicken curry. 

To mitigate this, I started making food my mother would make at home in my apartment. FaceTime, my savior this semester, came in handy whenever the gravy to one of the curries I was making had the wrong viscosity or looked “off.” My mother, the hard-working woman she is, would answer the call at all times to guide me through the process. I remade her recipes and came up with ones of my own. The taste is not the same, but it is something. I know the journey life has taken me is one towards success, but I can never forget those who protected me throughout that journey. Brandeis is offering me an enriched and wonderful education, but it did take away eating my mother’s meals. It is a very difficult trade-off but I have been able to manage with the help of video chats and phone calls. It is not all that bad, though. I am sure there is a return on investment hiding there somewhere…

Sami’s Top Five Moments at Heller

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As my time at Heller gradually comes to a close, I can’t help but to reflect on my best experiences over the last two years. Coming to grad school for the first time, you’ll have quite a lot to look forward to! And to give you a sneak peak, I’ve listed my top five Heller moments of success, learning, and friendship (in no particular order).

  1. Completing my Master’s Thesis. For nearly a year, I’ve been working on my thesis for my COEX capstone, our last project before we graduate. The final paper ended up being over forty pages long (!), but it took a great deal of re-working, tweaking, and editing to get there. I loved the experience of working with my advisor, Dr. Quintiliani, all of the academic support I received from professors and Brandeis’s research librarians, and of course the emotional support and cheerleading I was given from my friends in COEX.

2. Getting to know the area. I have enjoyed getting to know Waltham, Boston, and the surrounding area so much! After moving to Waltham, I had such a good time getting familiar with Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. As a big museum nerd, I was very happy to visit places like the MFA and the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum. Only twenty minutes from Waltham are places like the deCordova sculpture park and Walden Pond. The greater Boston area is such a wonderful place to be a student.

3. Getting out of my comfort zone. At Heller, I’ve been pushed far outside my comfort zone many times. I’ve found this to be an enormous opportunity to not only learn about a subject, but also to learn more about myself. I’ve engaged in sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that I quickly realized were helping me to grow as a student and as an individual. Having fellow students’ varied perspectives has brought so much value and meaning to my time here at Heller.

4. The cultural exchange. Students come to the Heller School from all around the world. I’ve learned so much from people whose languages, cultures, backgrounds, and religions were different than mine. Thanks to the COEX program, I now have a best friend from Egypt, and as a result I often find Arabic words sneaking into my vocabulary and my appreciation for Middle Eastern food expanding.

5. Specific projects. I feel very proud of the work I’ve completed as a Heller student. There are a few projects that particularly stand out. In Professor Tamaru’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding”, I enjoyed writing an op-ed on revolutionary Indian women that was later published on Professor Tamaru’s blog. I was also so excited to write a paper regarding various women’s influences on Malcolm X for Professor Sampath’s “Democracy and Development” course. In Professor Madison’s “Intersectionality and Bioethics” class, I had so much fun engaging in a group debate concerning the pharmaceutical industry.

My experience at the Heller School has been rewarding, challenging, and eye-opening. I’ve found my experiences here to be so valuable and have contributed so much to my growth as a student, a professional, and an individual!

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Daniella Levine

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Dear Future Daniella,

This is not where you assumed you would be six years ago when you first thought about obtaining an MPP. Graduate school was your ticket out of Boston. You wanted a new city, a new community, a new start. And due to consequences, both in and out of your control, that did not happen. You initially applied to Heller, because it would be silly not to – a top-ranked program, small cohort size, a concentration in gender policy – Heller checked all the boxes but one. After working in Boston for four years, attending college in Worcester and growing up in Providence, I yearned for the chance to expand and grow and for whatever reason, I was determined that wasn’t possible to do in New England.

Oh, how wrong I was. I am waiting on your confirmation, but I am pretty certain I would not be as content or satisfied anywhere else. Heller’s commitment to social justice is one I have never experienced in any other institutional setting. My peers are not focused on being the best alone, we work collaboratively and with care. My professors want their students to succeed outside of the traditional classroom expectations and provides the support and tools necessary to thrive in the world of policy. The structure of Heller’s curriculum allows me to explore the nuance of women, gender and sexuality policy within a social policy framework. Intersectionality is aptly examined in every class because we cannot study policy without the acknowledgement of interconnectivity.

I came to Heller to explore the intersection of assimilation, gender and the cultural socialization on gender normativity.  Especially in the way race, workplace ecosystems and gender coalesce. I am hopeful that my work at Heller will qualify me for a position at a national think tank or research institution focused on gender disparities. Through my previous experiences, I gained a baseline understanding of the work being done to combat sexism, along with a grasp on the development side of non-profit work. I hope that Heller equipped me with a deeper and more theoretical/academic comprehension of contemporary issues to ground the work. I have no doubt that Heller helped me hone in on my critical thinking skills in my personal and professional lives. How much did you utilize the resources of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office at Heller? Were you able to learn from  faculty and practitioners like Laurence Simon and Sarah Soroui? Could you fit the Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing course in your last semester?

Heller, situated in Massachusetts, seems to be the right place for me. So where will I go next? Has my time at Heller grounded me in the Boston area? Will I move to DC? Do I find a niche within the gender and sexuality field? Do I veer in another direction? I started my time at Heller hesitant, and while I may leave with more questions than answers, I will never be questioning if Heller was the right choice. I am eager to see how I’ve grown.

Library Appreciation Day with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

After attending a really interesting library workshop this afternoon, I realized that for this week’s blog I’d like to give a shout out to the Brandeis library, especially since tomorrow (April 16th) is National Librarian Day. The library is an incredible resource for Brandeis students, and despite having not set foot in the building itself in over a year I still take advantage of their services on a weekly basis. And, after a year of studying at home without a change in scenery, I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of library study spaces next semester!

Here are some of my favorite features of the Brandeis library:

Research resources (virtual and physical)

The library has amazing resources for conducting research using primary and secondary sources. Innumerable databases and archival resources are available, as are physical primary source documents such as those held as part of Brandeis’ US government publication depository. These really come in handy if you need to find specific legislation or review the Congressional Record, as may be needed to write papers for MPP and other courses at Heller. In my experience, Brandeis has an excellent selection of books regarding 20th century US social and political history – while writing several papers in my first year, such as one on the role of left-wing organizers in the early US labor movement, I found lots of additional sources just by wandering the stacks near a book whose call number I’d found online.

…not to mention research librarians!

Two research librarians are available to assist Heller students with research, while data science librarians and other professional staff can assist with specific research needs and technology tools. An hour meeting with a research librarian will be more productive in terms of finding resources and refining a thesis than many hours spent spinning your wheels alone (speaking from experience). Heller-specific resources are available here.

Periodicals and software

In addition to academic research databases, Brandeis students have access to lots of archival newspaper records as well as free access to some current newspapers and periodicals like the New York Times. Additionally, lots of free or discounted software is available – for example, STATA, which is used in statistics courses at Heller, and ArcMap, used in Heller’s GIS mapping electives. It’s great to have a chance to learn these tools, for free, during grad school. Plus, we get a free LinkedIn Learning subscription, which is a great resource for learning how to use data science software or strengthen other technical and professional skills.

Workshops

In addition to LinkedIn Learning, the library itself offers countless workshops on a wide variety of topics. I’ve set a personal goal of doing as many qualitative and quantitative data–focused workshops as I can this semester. In just the past few weeks there have been workshops about qualitative data coding in Atlas.TI (great if you are doing interview-based research), basic and advanced Excel skills, and text mining using R.

Study spaces

As I mentioned earlier, I’m really looking forward to studying on campus again. The library has some beautiful spaces, some featuring tall windows and natural light, some nestled underground by the stacks for when you really need to hunker down. There are standing and treadmill desks, large tables for group work, comfy chairs, and computer clusters. There’s also a Starbucks location – critical!

This barely scratches the surface of what is available through the library – there’s also the Writing Center, Sound and Image Media Studios, the MakerLab, and University Archives. Brandeis is a major research university that manages to feel like a small college, and the library, with its vast yet approachable resources, really reflects that. The library should be one of your first stops if you visit Brandeis – having fun is guaranteed.

Scuba Diving and Grad School: What’s the Difference? Hannah Lougheed

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As you’ve gone about your daily life, I’m sure at least once or twice you have thought, “man, scuba diving and graduate school sure do have lots in common!”. No? You haven’t thought that? Weird. Well, as someone who has spent significant time underwater, I would love to draw some parallels for you between jumping into an unknown darkness with mysteries lurking about  (ie. grad school), and scuba diving.

First, a brief backstory: Most individuals who grow up in a cold, suburban, landlocked environment do not have significant exposure to large bodies of water. I was one of those individuals. My exposure to the world of diving was limited to what I had seen on National Geographic and Bubble Guppies. But, I knew I was curious, and I knew I wanted a skill set that would allow me to travel and to see parts of the globe. I took an Open Water (aka: scuba babies) class through my local YMCA. Let me tell you, nothing beats the rush of diving literally a few feet below the surface in a chlorine bath while the silver sneakers water aerobics class is ongoing at one end, and children are actively multitasking (learning to float while at the same time, urinating) at the other.  But, for the sake of word count, let me fast forward to the part where I am living on a tropical island and swimming with whale sharks.

At the ripe age of 23, I moved by myself to Utila, Honduras with a snorkel and a dream and enrolled in a program to become a certified scuba instructor. After four months, and hundreds of hours working on both underwater techniques, and knowledge in the classroom – learning everything from theories to gas mixtures – I had done it.  At this point in my story you may be thinking, how does this relate back to the graduate school process?

Here it is: investing in yourself is a scary thing; financially, the time commitment, the “is this even going to pay off?” thoughts – those are all natural and important to the process. You know the saying, “big risks lead to big rewards”? Well, I would argue – not always. I took a big risk to quit my job and move to an island to pursue scuba diving. Was that in my 10-year plan? No. Did it pay off exponentially with a huge reward? Also, no. But, scuba diving, like graduate school, is an investment with payoffs that reach far beyond what can be measured in a traditional sense. The months I spent living on a tropical island and diving every day were incredible. I swam with whale sharks and dolphins. I learned how to hunt lionfish (an invasive species) with an underwater Hawaiin harpoon and prepare them the traditional way to eat. I gained confidence, met incredible people, and grew closer to nature.

If you come into graduate school with a rigid checklist of things you must accomplish, you may miss other opportunities along the way. Hard skills are so important – and I am in no way minimizing that, but be open for that whale shark encounter: that unexpected moment when you learn something new, or how to make your voice heard, or deepen the understanding of your innate worth as a human on this planet.

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Sazia Nowshin

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Dear Future Saz,

Congratulations on graduating with a Social Impact MBA and a Master’s in Sustainable International Development from The Heller School! Looks like you’ve done it again. You’ve graduated with a mouthful of interdisciplinary degrees! All jokes aside, all I can ask you is how?

How did you do it, Sazia? How did you overcome the trials and tribulations of life while juggling two years of intense coursework? Finish the Strategic Management Midterm paper? Figure out which organization to do your team consulting project on? There’s so many courses and assignments we can ask you about but what matters the most is that you did it. You, a first-generation Bangladeshi-American, did it. You, a Muslim immigrant, did it. 

These past two years must have “Zoom-ed” by. With your entire first year being online and in a format you struggled to grasp at times to being in person for your second Master’s, your experience at Heller was truly one-of-a-kind. At times, it felt like weeks of classes go by in a blink, in others, you can’t wait for the weekend. I hope you were able to take time for yourself during these weeks and got a chance to breathe. I know old Saz would not shy away from retail therapy at the Natick Mall, but I do hope her future version engages in more frugal forms of self-care. 

Now comes the next big step in your life – choosing a career. Before your parents ask, ask yourself. What are you going to do now? Your interdisciplinary degrees open you up to a multitude of professional opportunities. I remember old Saz coming into Heller with the hopes of refining her skillset to become an international humanitarian aid worker. Now, I assume your interests and skills have equipped you for other routes. After two semesters, I learned so much about making an impact on a smaller scale, which stemmed from experiences like serving on the board of a local non-profit organization. At the end of the day, I know Sazia’s goals and aspirations will transcend time. They will transcend old Saz and future Saz. I want to serve underserved communities, and give a voice to those who aren’t equipped with the faculties to do so. I know future Saz will want to uphold these values. 

The possibilities are endless, and it’s scary. But it’s also so exciting. I cannot wait to see how you implement the valuable knowledge and wisdom you gained these past two years into your career. But never forget, the journey is sometimes more beautiful than the destination! Never forget the professors who left an impact on you, the specialized courses you never thought of taking but ended up loving, and the friendships that blossomed in your cohort over the past two years but will remain a lifetime. Congratulations again, Saz. Be proud of yourself.

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