Tag: Acceptance Story

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.

Hello Heller!: Daniella Levine’s Acceptance Story

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

After a week of working remotely (in what my organization called at the time a “work from home test-run”), I was in the midst of a post-work debrief with some of my colleague friends when the email notification popped up on my phone.

I’d been getting bombarded by Brandeis and other academic institutions for weeks at this point with reasons why I should consider their school and the special opportunities they had to offer. Yet, I was confused – wasn’t I the one who should be wooing them – sharing my value add? Suffice to say, when another email came in from Brandeis, at 5:20 on a Friday afternoon no less, I was skeptical that it would be a significant update. But when I opened the email and saw that it carried news, I suddenly could not hear what the four boxes on my screen were saying. Logging into my account without trying to signal any emotional change in my face for fear that someone on my call would ask what was happening, I tried to keep my face stoic and unchanged.

Ultimately, however, my face betrayed me as my expression quickly transformed to reveal what the letter said: I was accepted. Interrupting my friends (which is common for me and my stream of conscious style) to relay the news caused the whole screen to erupt in celebration. Good news was hard to come by those first couple weeks (months) of the pandemic, and being able to share my excitement in real-time with the women who had spent the last four years inspiring and uplifting me was such a gift. Then came the screenshots and texts to family and friends alike, all eagerly awaiting any news.

Heller’s commitment to social justice and equity drew me in and is what has sustained me over the last year. They not only practice what they preach, they actively work to do and be better and I am so lucky to be a part of the change, surrounded by driven and like-minded peers, faculty, and professors.

Hello Heller!: Sazia Nowshin’s Acceptance Story

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

One fateful Friday in late February of last year, I was leaving my workplace to go back to campus and received an email from Brandeis regarding an “update on my application.” As I was walking down the stairs to the backdoor exit, I opened the email and went to my application. Thinking back on it, I’m sure I should have been more nervous. But at the moment, I was so tuckered out from a long day’s work, I opened up the email as casually as possible. However, when I discovered that I got into Heller, I stopped in my tracks immediately. I remember texting my closest friends and FaceTiming my parents. 

Congrats on brandice,” my friend told me, whose ability to remember the school I applied to mattered more than spelling Brandeis wrong. 

I remember my sister being ecstatic over text, and my parents having extremely different reactions. My father’s first question immediately was “how much does it cost?,” a question that Heller Admissions can help answer for prospective students and parents (please don’t judge my shameless plug). My mother, on the other hand, was bawling at the idea of me moving to a different state for school. Nonetheless, I believe they were all proud of me.

Once I received my decision from Heller, I was faced with a difficult decision. I had to choose between this program and another social policy program in New York. Either way, I would have had to move because I had lived at home all my life, needed to change my environment to really focus on my graduate education, and experience new things in life overall. After weighing my options and consulting with many people whose opinions I value, I ended choosing Heller. 

The biggest factor that caused me to hesitate with Brandeis was name recognition. The other program was from a school that all my friends knew and had a high ranking in social policy programs, and no one but my professors had known of Brandeis’ esteemed academic reputation. But name recognition only gets you so far, in my opinion. One should choose their program for what it truly offers. With Heller’s program, I would be able to experience the vast opportunities the Greater Boston area has to offer and the diverse student body of Heller. The program at Heller was also better for me in terms of financial aid and the opportunity to network with those in the international development community, which is the field I strive to have a career in. 

When it comes to choosing which program or school one wants to attend, what really matters is if one believes they can make the most out of where they are attending.

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.

Hello Heller!: Andrea Tyree’s Acceptance Story

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Fun fact: I accidentally ignored my Heller acceptance letter for an entire week. Ironically, this came after weeks of obsessively checking my email in hopes of seeing “The Heller School” in my inbox and months of gushing over the school to anyone who would listen. But you know what they say: a watched pot never boils. Needless to say, when I finally saw that name in my inbox with the subject “Application Update,” my stomach leaped into my chest.

So many thoughts raced through my head before I opened the email. My journey to Heller had been a long one. After obtaining a B.A. in Political Science from Howard University, I went directly into the Peace Corps, serving as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in East Timor. I entered the Peace Corps with hopes of finding direction in the human rights field. Yet my time in the tiny Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste showed me the immense impact of community development when led by the community itself. Though I cared about a number of human rights crises around the world, nothing struck my heart quite like my own community’s crisis: racial discrimination and police brutality against Black Americans.

After my time in the Peace Corps, I was determined to follow my passion and make a difference for my community. I came back to my home, West Virginia, and worked for an anti-poverty nonprofit, learning the powers of organizing and policymaking. I knew I wanted to continue my education in order to make a more substantial impact for racial justice and, luckily, I had a mentor who guided me toward a Master’s in Public Policy. When searching for the right school, my priority was to find a school that emphasized the impact of policy on communities. The Heller School quickly rose to the top of my list.

Yet it wasn’t until I visited the Heller School that I fell completely in love. A normal campus visit usually involves one (short) meeting and maybe a class visit. However, my morning at Heller involved a campus tour, three separate meetings with assistant and associate deans, coffee with a current MPP student, sitting in on a COEX class and viewing second-year MPP student summer internship presentations. On top of all of that, I was encouraged to organize calls with professors skilled in my area of research. Prestigious professors, like Anita Hill, took time out of their day to speak with a prospective student to brainstorm research ideas! By the time the application deadline came around, I had already begun praying for an acceptance letter.

Back to the infamous email: I took a deep breath, attempted to embrace the mantra of “everything happens for a reason,” convinced myself that I would be O.K. with any decision, closed my eyes and clicked.

“There has been an update to your application.”

…that’s it?

“Well, that’s anti-climactic,” I thought.

The suspense was definitely lost but my patience was rewarded as I went through the admissions portal to find my prayers had been answered. I was accepted… with a scholarship!! I’ll spare you the cheesy details of my reaction (spoiler: it involved jumping on my bed and blasting “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen) because it’s the reactions of my father and mentor that I remember most. The joy pouring from my dad as he gave me a bear hug and the tears from my mentor on the phone solidified the feeling that this was it. I had applied to other prestigious schools in the Boston area, but I knew firsthand that no school would share my values, and value me as a student, like Heller. After only a month as an MPP student, I still believe this to be true.

Hello Heller!: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Acceptance Story

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

I found out that I was accepted into the Heller School on my birthday! At that time, I was living in Washington, D.C., working for the federal government. I remember getting onto the green metro line and seeing that I had received the alert that my application status had been updated. My excitement and eagerness meant that I only waited a few days to accept my invitation. In the end, I didn’t even finish the application process for the other two schools I had initially applied to because I had already gotten into my first choice with a great scholarship. It felt like the decision was already made – The Heller School was a school that I wanted to go to and that also wanted me.

Before starting my dual programs, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland (Eswatini), where I ran a social enterprise in rural communities and worked with university students who were interested in starting community-based social enterprises of their own. This introduced me to social impact-driven businesses or social enterprises, essentially what I see as the “good side” of business. As I started looking at various graduate programs, I was searching mostly for MBAs focusing on nonprofit management, social impact, and social entrepreneurship. I was specifically looking at programs where I could gain tangible skills and academic knowledge to support the work that I had done in the field, especially because I wanted to learn the ins and outs of businesses so that I could best support the communities that I had started to work with.

Another factor in my graduate school search was my desire to continue my education at a school that supported Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. I looked at schools that had a strong Coverdell Fellows program and a strong community, both at the university level and the local city level. I found that Brandeis had a commitment to RPCVs by offering generous scholarships. I saw that there was a community of service-driven individuals with a commitment to international development and knew that I had found a second home.

During the application process, I had the opportunity to come to the Brandeis campus and visit Heller. The class that I shadowed was Carole Carlson’s social entrepreneurship class and it instantly confirmed that this was where I needed to be. (As I was a student, this ended up being my all-time favorite class at Heller.) Over the summer after my acceptance but before classes started, I decided that I wanted to add the Sustainable International degree as a dual degree. While I was traveling in Belgium with limited service, the MBA Admissions Director at Heller was very accessible and provided me with all of the documents I needed to go through the process. It made me even more confident and excited about my degrees. I felt extremely supported by the Heller staff to help me achieve my dreams.

There are two main decisions in my life that I have never had to second guess – joining the Peace Corps and completing my Social Impact MBA and MA in Sustainable International Development.

Hello Heller!: Doug Nevins’ Acceptance Story

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I had considered applying to programs at the Heller School for several years before I actually took the plunge. As an undergraduate alum and Brandeis staff member, Heller was always on my radar, but I wanted to be sure of my interests and goals before committing to graduate school. After considering applying to programs in education policy, law, and international affairs, I decided that an MPP was a perfect mix of interdisciplinary subjects, applicable to my current interests and flexible enough to explore new territory.

Funnily enough, when I received my admission update from Heller I was already on campus at my job in undergraduate admissions. Having been on the other end of sending decision letters for many years as an admissions counselor, it was a great feeling to receive one myself! I was so excited to be admitted to Heller.

Since I already knew the Brandeis community well, I had no doubt that I would enjoy my time at Heller. Still, I tried to learn all that I could. I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and openness of everyone I interacted with at Heller. For instance, after attending an admissions event, I emailed a thank you message to Mike, the MPP program head, who promptly invited me to a book talk at Heller that same evening! I walked up the hill from my office, was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a cocktail hour preceding the talk, and then spent an hour listening to a fascinating lecture about the 2018 midterm elections. In all my conversations with current students there and at other events I attended, everyone was gracious, friendly, and clearly passionate about Heller.

I ultimately chose Heller not only because of my long-term connection to Brandeis and positive associations with the university, but because Heller is its own unique community. The commitment to social justice and inclusion is real, and the academic culture is collaborative and fun in addition to being rigorous and engaging. I have loved my first year at Heller, and feel just as excited as when I first opened that email!

Hello Heller!: Sami Rovins’ Acceptance Story

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins, COEX/MS’21

I was halfway out the front door to go to work when I got the email from Brandeis letting me know there was an update to my application. I held my breath and opened up the application status page. When I saw that I had been accepted to the Heller School, my top choice school, I let out a happy scream so loud it woke up my dog. I was thrilled and immediately called my parents to share the good news. I spent the rest of the morning joyfully texting friends and struggling to contain my excitement while at work. 

The next day, I officially accepted my offer to study at the Heller School. I felt proud, anxious, thrilled, and excited all at the same time. For the past year, I had been envisioning this moment, and it was certainly worth the wait. I felt completely ready in that moment to begin my degree in Conflict Resolution & Coexistence (COEX).  

My journey to Heller had begun almost three years earlier when I first started researching graduate programs and came in contact with Sandy Jones. Sandy is COEX’s Deputy Director, and she was happy to guide me every step of the way for months until I finally submitted my application. I credit Sandy greatly with my decision to study at the Heller School; interacting with her was my first glimpse into how individualized my time at Heller would be. It was clear Sandy cared about me, my interests, and my goals. I felt encouraged knowing Heller could provide this type of graduate school experience. 

Ultimately, I also chose to study at Heller because COEX seemed to be a truly unique program perfectly tailored to what I hoped to focus on in my career, and I knew I wouldn’t find the same degree anywhere else. Having built trust with Sandy Jones and other attentive staff members at Heller, I felt very comfortable in my decision to accept Brandeis’ offer of admission. I could tell I would be joining a true community, not just a degree program. 

I was right – the community at the Heller School serves as friends, colleagues, and mentors to each other. From the start of our orientation, I immediately felt motivated by my classmates and knew I was listened to with genuine interest. We are a kind, caring, funny, and hard-working community at Heller. This was clear to me from the very start, based upon my many, many emails and Skype appointments with Sandy. 

I remember the day I was accepted to the Heller School so vividly, and I still experience that same excitement and joy when I think of my school, my classmates, and my professors now. It was clear to me from the start of my application process that Heller is a place where everyone is welcomed, cared about, and listened to and the Heller School has repeatedly proven itself to be exactly that place.

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