Tag: Classes at Heller (page 1 of 4)

Professor Spotlight: Marji Erickson Warfield and Lisa Lynch

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

Too often in academia,  you get stuck learning from a tenured professor who is out of touch with students (Netflix plug – The Chair). I attended a liberal arts university for my undergraduate degree, which allotted me the flexibility on the courses I took, choosing based on interest and professor ratings. So when entering into a more structured degree program, I was nervous about my ability to connect both with the required material and the professors.

I am about to finish my third semester at Heller, with a total of seven required courses under my belt and I have only good things to say about my time so far (taking into account that I completed six of those courses online due to the pandemic). Each professor adapted and modified their courses to support and uplift students while we were completely virtual, and have found ways to engage students who join class virtually during our current hybrid semester.

But I would be remiss if I told you I didn’t have favorites. Marji Erickson Warfield and Lisa Lynch have taken two subjects that many might cower away from and made the material accessible, entertaining and informative. In a degree that attracts policy-driven individuals, more tactical courses like research methods and economic theory can be daunting at the onset. I am in awe of the intellect and integrity both professors hold. Dr. Marji Erickson Warfield is a Senior Scientist and Lecturer at Heller. Her work is designed to understand and evaluate ways to promote the well-being of children, youth and young adults with disabilities and the adaptation of their families.  Dr. Lisa Lynch is the Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy at Heller. She is a Brandeis powerhouse and focuses her research on labor markets, unemployment, and organizational Innovation.

Both Marji and Lisa found ways to enliven subjects that might come off as dry and teach in such a way that makes the material not only understandable but demonstrate how it’s applicable to my professional goals. On top of their in-class work, they are wholly available to students outside of the classroom, through office hour appointments, events on campus and personalized emails with news or opportunities that match your specific policy interests. I have never felt like blank face in a sea of students; they go out of their way to chat in the halls and contribute to student-led initiatives. I am grateful to both professors for their inclusive teaching, and to Heller for prioritizing the hiring of such great faculty.

End of Semester Wrap-Up: Favorite Classes

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

After what feels like a whirlwind, we are finally at the end of the semester. It honestly feels weird to already be almost done because it felt like the semester went by so quickly. It was full of hard work, some stress, lots of learning and lots of great times with my friends and classmates. Some specific highlights I can recall are orientation, my first class of the year, a visit to Salem, and a Friendsgiving celebration. While looking back on the semester, I always like to reflect on the classes I took, and which ones were my favorite. This is what I would like to share in this blog post; specifically my favorite classes of the semester.

The very first class I took after arriving at Heller was actually a MPP class called Contemporary Issues in Gender and Public Policy. Even though this class was outside my degree, it ended up being one of my absolute favorites. Fighting for gender equality and gender justice are my passions, and what I want to focus my career around. I loved learning in this class all of the policies that either elevate gender equality or cause unforeseen problems that continue to disadvantage women and LGBTQ+ individuals. The professor also did an amazing job of addressing gender issues from an intersectional lens, and seeing how the impacts were different based on issues like race, class, gender identity etc. We also got the opportunity to have some speakers that are gender policy professionals and hear about their experience working in the field. It was amazing to hear about all the great work that they were doing and to hear exactly what kind of jobs you can do in this field. Lastly, our discussions in class were amazing. We all brought our different perspectives, and I left class every day feeling like I truly understood gender policy on a deeper level. Especially if you’re interested in gender issues, take this class!

One of my other favorite classes was Introduction to Geographic Information Systems. Especially in the environmental world, this software is a really important skill to have. While it seemed daunting at first, the professor really teaches the class in a very understandable and comprehensive way. He gives you a lot of confidence in your abilities to use the software and create a map that displays issues you’re interested in. It’s a great hard skill to have, and taking this class made me confident I can bring this software to my career. It also makes you think about the utility of maps in a different way; they’re applicable not only to the environment, but also health, policy issues and more! Also, even though it was a night class, we have had snacks every class, which definitely acts as a pretty great incentive to keep you more alert haha.

While I had lots of great classes this semester and learned a lot, these two were definitely my favorite out of the whole bunch. I come to the end of this semester feeling calm and content. While it was hard at times, I feel like I learned so many valuable skills and concepts that have made me more confident in my career. I also got the chance to participate in so many great events and make lots of wonderful friends. All in all? A great end to the year. 

Closing out the First Semester of Grad School

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

Finally! I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for my first fall semester of the MPP program. As I near the end of the semester, I have had time to reflect on the challenges, accomplishments, and personal goals I want to set for myself next semester.

When entering the program, I had no idea what to expect initially. Being one of the few in my cohort who began the program straight out of undergrad, I had to work around the preconceived notions and tactics I have built being a student. How would the professors be supportive? How will my cohort be supportive? What resources are offered on campus if I am having a hard time or struggling? At my previous school, grades mattered the most— if you did not receive anything over a C+, you were frowned upon by peers and professors. My professors at Heller were very supportive, responsive, and understanding. At the beginning of the semester, they all instituted that we should not focus just on our grades, but we should focus on how we connect with the material and find ourselves when writing and discussing these issues with our peers, teaching assistants, and professors. This made me more comfortable with meeting with professors outside of the classroom because I felt confident enough to ask questions and express my concerns. Additionally, although I see myself as a social butterfly, I entered Heller in a cocoon. I did not know how to really engage with my peers or start conversations that were not always school-related, but my cohort made it very easy. They all wanted to get to know each other, not just on a surface-based level, and being able to grab a seat in Zinner Forum and have a conversation with a few of my peers has made my days lighter.

After overcoming these small challenges, I can say I am very proud of myself for how far I have come in an academic space. Even though I still have a small fear of bringing my own opinions up in class discussions, I noticed I am not afraid to share more on issues that may directly or indirectly affect me. I also find myself really taking my time with the assignments I turn in, asking follow-up questions prompts, deadlines, or anything else that comes my way. During my time in undergrad, I became very self-conscious about my writing skills, but after this semester, I am more confident in working with my peers on peer reviews, making numerous drafts to get that final one, and really putting my best foot forward when writing on issues that I am passionate about.

Graduate school is still not easy, but this first semester has been very eye-opening and has allowed me substantial room to grow. My goal for next semester is to be able to lead more discussions in my classroom and also fight the urge to procrastinate when a project or assignment presents itself. I want to be able to really connect my personal experiences and passions to the research presented to me and flesh out more ways to combat the issues in a social justice manner. I am super excited to be kicking off my second semester and can not wait to see what it entails.

Succeeding in a Class out of my Comfort Zone

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

When I made the decision to come to Brandeis, one of the things I loved about Heller was the variety of classes available. There’s quantitative classes, qualitative classes, policy classes, and theoretical classes on ethics and more! One thing I promised myself when I started here was that I would make an effort to take some classes outside of my comfort zone. My background being in communications, I wanted to get some more experience with the research and data side of things.

With that in mind, I signed up for Professor Godoy’s Survey Design class in module 1. I was really worried about this class and doing well, but I decided to sign up for it anyways to learn a new skill. It was an online class, which was definitely something I had to get used to. I had to employ specific strategies to make sure I continued paying attention throughout the entire class, such as taking breaks to walk around, eat something and drink something.

In this class, you learn about how to create an ideal survey for a project. You learn about different biases that can occur both when selecting survey participants and interviewing them. You also learn about measurement errors when creating your hypothesis and designing your equation.  All of these were things I did not have experience in, so I was coming into the class completely blind.

However, now having finished the class, I can say I’m really glad that I took it. I really enjoyed the experience of getting to design my very own survey with a group and getting to apply all that I learned and put it into practice. While it was challenging, I was still able to succeed. Whenever I was confused, I made sure to ask the professor or the TA to clear up my confusion. Being able to see all the concepts at work in real life really helped to depend my understanding and it made the class less challenging in my opinion. I also feel that by the end of the class, I really gained a deeper understanding of what makes a good survey and of more mathematical terms in general.

In conclusion, take that class you’re nervous about! It can expand your skillset and even unleash a greater passion for the subject than you thought was possible.

Matching Heller Classes to Skills

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As my own job search begins to get underway in earnest, I have been thinking more about my own skills and those that I have developed at Heller specifically. I’m also thinking about the skills demanded by employers, and the degree to which Heller coursework aligns with these. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the way in which skills I’ve gained or strengthened at Heller translate to the requirements included in job listings, and I thought I would share a few examples to help make the utility of specific Heller courses seem a bit more concrete.

Skill/experience: experience with statistics and statistical packages such as STATA, SPSS, R, etc.

Countless job listings include some version of the above preferred qualification. In Heller’s statistics courses like “Data, Models and Decisions,” students learn how to construct regression models and run various statistical tests using STATA, one of the more commonly used stats software packages. Additional courses such as “Working with National Datasets” and “Evaluating Survey Data Using Stata” expand upon fundamental skills and introduce students to other software platforms such as SPSS.

Skill/experience: experience conducting qualitative research including surveys, focus groups, interviews

Many research-oriented jobs, as well as jobs in consulting, program management, or international development, will require some amount of qualitative data collection and analysis. Core courses in Heller degree programs, such as “Research Methods and Evaluation” in the MPP program, introduce best practices in qualitative research and enable students to practice designing study proposals. Many classes include experiential components in which students have the option to interview external stakeholders. One example is the Team Consulting Project, the MBA capstone project in which students typically conduct research to inform recommendations to a real world client organization.

Skill/experience: experience managing a budget and performing financial analysis

One of my primary motivations to add a dual MBA to my MPP course of study was wanting to take accounting and corporate finance courses. Even non-MBAs, however, will have the chance to take coursework in economics, cost-benefit analysis, and program management. In addition, students who choose to participate in the Heller Student Association or a Heller working group can gain experience managing an organizational budget. Many students will develop these skills in internships, as well. Not to mention having a crash course in personal finance during grad school!

Skill/experience: teamwork, leadership, project management

While these are skills that can be learned in many types of settings, even as someone who worked for years in very collaborative office environments, I found that my efficacy and communication abilities working in groups improved during graduate school. All degree programs will include at least some group projects, and these are a great way to strengthen teamwork, listening, and interpersonal skills. While these may be difficult to capture on a resume, the Heller degree itself conveys that you have experience working in a close-knit, collaborative environment.

As I prepare to re-enter the working world, I feel grateful for the varied practical skills I have learned at Heller. Visiting the Career Center here is a great way to figure out how to effectively communicate my strengths in resumes and cover letters. While learning for its own sake is important, and highly valued here, it’s great to know that Heller is preparing students to work in settings where we can take on challenging, real world issues.

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.

Looking ahead to your Capstone with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Let’s be honest, the process of planning, completing, and presenting your Capstone and Master’s Thesis can be completely overwhelming! To make things a little easier for you, I’ll outline the steps I took to complete my Thesis and present it to the school.

  1. The first step is the planning process. Ask yourself: what do you want to research? What type of work would you like to do? Which organizations could you see yourself working with? If you’re going with the Summer internship option, be sure to ask your Practicum Program Manager for a list of organizations where Heller students have interned in the past. This will help you narrow your search and will also help you make connections. Your internship experience will likely determine the course of your Capstone paper. In my case, working on educational programs for girls in India revealed a gap in teaching sex education to young people. This led me to my final Thesis topic, the need for Comprehensive Sex Education for Indian youth.
  2. Writing a 40-70 page paper may feel totally impossible at first glance. I found it helpful to break my paper into chunks, and only think about one section or subject at a time. Breaking a large paper down into smaller parts is a simple tool that can make a big difference in the writing process. Be sure to conduct thorough research and take thoughtful notes while you do. Staying organized is half the battle!
  3. As someone who often feels uncomfortable with public speaking, the notion of presenting my research and findings to the entire COEX cohort was definitely intimidating. As a result, I tend to over-prepare, but this amplifies my confidence leading up to a presentation. Be sure to practice your presentation and run it by a friend or family member for a fresh pair of ears and eyes. I found it so helpful to practice my presentation in front of both Heller and non-Heller friends. Their varying perspectives gave me insight into ways I could improve my Capstone presentation.

Completing my Master’s Thesis and presenting my work during the Capstone presentations was a fulfilling and meaningful way to finish up my time at Heller. Beginning the process can be so overwhelming! But in the end, you’ll feel so proud of your accomplishments and all the hard work you’ve put in here at Heller.

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.

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!

Time Management Challenge: Summer MBA Courses

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

After enjoying a few weeks off since the conclusion of the spring semester, I’m about to begin my summer MBA semester. To somewhat repurpose the saying, I expect this experience to be both a marathon and a sprint. Heller MBAs take 16 credits over the summer, the same as we would during a typical fall or spring semester, with some credits covered by a Team Consulting Project and some earned through 3 accelerated courses. While it feels a bit strange to be gearing up for MORE work, rather than less, as the weather gets warmer and things begin to gradually reopen, I am optimistic about learning a lot and having the opportunity to focus intensely on my coursework and consulting project. This has got me thinking a bit about time management, a skill that I imagine will be tested quite a bit this summer. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in this area, per se, but I think I’ve developed a bit more expertise in how to plan ahead in classes throughout my time at Heller. Here are a few things I recommend to anyone wondering how time management and planning work in grad school:

  • Plan ahead (review the syllabus!)

Folks who have taken the MBA summer courses in the past have recommended reading the whole syllabus for each course and planning ahead. Before classes actually begin, it could be worth getting a head start on readings, talking to peers about forming group project teams, and being aware of deadlines. I’ve found this approach to be useful during the fall and spring semesters as well.

  • Use your calendar

Google Calendar is an invaluable tool. I block off time that I’m in class in addition to meetings and other activities that are formally scheduled with other people. This can be helpful to make sure days off from class are reflected on your calendar and to anticipate conflicts. Perhaps slightly less obvious advice is to put assignment deadlines on your calendar. I’ve noticed that I don’t anticipate as well when I will be particularly busy unless I do this – having two or three things due within a few days isn’t something you want to realize at the last minute!

  • Anticipate challenges and points of interest

Another advantage of reviewing course syllabi is to identify areas that will either be particularly interesting or particularly challenging for you. For instance, in anticipation of taking corporate finance this summer, I’ve spent some time on Investopedia reading up on general concepts. It helps that, hopefully, you’ll actually be interested in the material you encounter at Heller!

I’ve found that managing my time in grad school is a different process than when I was working full time. The commonality, I think, is that planning ahead and being honest with others and with yourself about what you can reasonably take on, pay dividends. Perhaps comparing this summer to either a marathon or a sprint is inaccurate – it’s more like a relay race, in which your teammates are there to help you out, and despite the rigor and intensity of the process there are still chances to catch your breath.

 

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