Tag: Community (page 1 of 2)

Back to school (Unlike ever Before) with Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Ever since Heller moved to remote classes in spring 2020, I’ve been looking forward to the semester when we return to in-person classes. At first, we hoped to return in the fall, then spring, but as the gravity of the pandemic situation became clearer Heller students settled into the rhythms of online learning, growing used to unexpected benefits like being able to engage in class discussions (or digressions) using Zoom chats, and sleeping until 8:45 for a 9 AM class.

Still, many Heller students, myself included, continued to hope for a return to in-person classes prior to our own graduations. In my case, I’m happy to be able to spend my final semester at Heller back on campus. I type this blog post sitting at the admissions front desk, a spot where I spent many hours during my first months at Heller, but had not revisited for over a year until just a few weeks ago. As today is a holiday, the building is largely empty, but on class days I enjoy striking up impromptu conversations with students and staff passing by the desk, and stepping outside to say hello to friends and take a welcome break from mask-wearing. Lunch time events, such as activity fairs and community-building sessions, have begun to take place again, and though we have not yet returned to the days when event organizers enticed students to attend events by providing free pizza and other snacks, Heller has hosted a couple “coffee with the Dean” hours complete with free Dunkin Donuts.

Being back in a classroom feels very different. There are aspects of the Zoom experience that I miss, but overall I find that conversations flow more easily, time passes more quickly, and it is easier to meet classmates in person, even with our faces obscured by masks, than as tiles on a screen. As a course assistant for an MBA class, I assist the professor in managing dual-mode instruction (in which some students join an in-person class over Zoom). It has been an interesting and fun challenge to troubleshoot classroom technology, and I’ve felt privileged to be included in meetings about dual instruction and to contribute feedback on successes and challenges. I have found that graduate school includes many unexpected learning experiences in addition to those indicated on course syllabi – experiencing the ins and outs of hybrid pedagogy firsthand is one such lesson.

Is being back on campus perfect? Does Heller feel the same? I don’t think it possibly could. The world, and all of us, have changed as well. But I feel grateful to be at Heller, a community that has stuck together and made the best of things throughout the pandemic period. Although some days I grumble to myself a bit that I have to get up around 7 AM and navigate traffic before 9 AM classes, as soon as I see a familiar, half-covered face on campus, or have an impromptu chat with a new acquaintance, I’m reminded how great it is to be back!

FAQs for Prospective Students, from Sami

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As a Graduate Assistant with Heller Admissions, I hear from so many prospective students interested in studying at Heller. Often, they have similar questions to ask me about the admissions process and the Heller experience. I’ve narrowed it down to the top three questions I’m most commonly asked to help you to streamline the process of completing your application, to improve your application to Heller, and to make important decisions about your plans to study in grad school.

  1. Based on my professional/academic background, should I apply to Heller? Yes! One of the things I like most about Heller’s admissions process is that it is truly holistic. Instead of looking at just GRE scores, or reference letters, or grades, the Heller Admissions department takes everything into consideration. If you’re worried about a lack of professional experience, for example, or less-than-ideal grades during a semester of undergrad, keep in mind that we take into account the whole package that an applicant has to offer. We know you can’t simply be boiled down into grades or test scores, and we want to see who you are, and how you intend to change the world after your time at Heller.
  2. What should I write about in my statement of purpose? What you write about is entirely up to you, but keep in mind that we want to get to know you in a meaningful way through your statement of purpose. Tell us what inspires you to apply to graduate school, and what a degree from the Heller School will ultimately help you accomplish. Convey to us who you are as an individual, a student, and as someone who wants to make their mark on the world through positive social change. Tell us what you are passionate about, why you’re passionate about it, and what you intend to do about it.
  3. What is life like for a Heller student? Life as a Heller student is both challenging and rewarding. At times, your work load will certainly be intense. But all of us are 100% capable of getting our work done, and getting it done well – That’s why we’re all here! I simply can’t even describe how rewarding it is to turn in an assignment that felt completely impossible at first glance. Life as a Heller student is also about the community you’ll find here. The friendship and support you’ll gain from your classmates will be your most valuable tool as a graduate student. There will be challenging moments during your Heller experience, but there will be far more rewarding moments filled with accomplishments and a strong sense of community.

As we get closer to the 2022 application launch date (early September!), I hope these are helpful to all of our prospective students, and remember: you can always contact us with any of your questions!

Building Community around the World

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

This blog post today comes to you from Springfield, Missouri (pronounced Missour-ah). You may be thinking, “Springfield, like from the Simpsons?”, but no, the Simpsons are allegedly based off of a city in Springfield, Oregon. Although I have yet to run into Marty Byrde (any Ozark fans out there?), I have met some pretty incredible individuals during my 12-week stint living in this new location. The next natural question would certainly be, why are you living there? So, to remove the absolute gut-wrenching suspense you must be feeling in anticipation I will tell you – I am here for my summer practicum.

So, chances are pretty good that at some point in your life you will have to enter into a foreign place and create community. Maybe you already have numerous times, or maybe graduate school will be one of the first major steps outside of your geographical zone of comfort. I would like to put forth my tried-and-true, simple-yet-effective tip for building community in a new place. Also as a disclaimer, *wow, how odd would it have been if I had stated what is to follow even 2 years ago*, but these tips work best when not accompanied by a pandemic. As a testament to the uncertainty of our future, and to ensure this post remains relevant in the years to come I will add, these tips also work best when not accompanied by a meteor strike, alien invasion, or black hole as well.

Okay, so let me establish some credibility with you before I launch in. There is nothing worse than someone giving advice on something they know little to nothing about, amirite? I have traveled both nationally and internationally, totally alone, to places including Atlanta, Georgia; Utila, Honduras; Chemnitz, Germany; Tres Lagoas, Brazil; Deventer, The Netherlands; and now, Springfield, Missouri. Sometimes I travel with others, or meet folks at my destination, but often I am arriving knowing no one. How then does one make friends quickly and sometimes without being fluent in the language?

Here is it, the tip you have all been on the edge of your seats to read: I find a church (or another house of worship) and a gym literally the day after I am settled in.

Why these spaces? First of all, they are universal and it is an easy connection point.  These physical locations are outward embodiments of aspects of individuals typically not discussed upon general introductions. I like to stay active and care for my body, just like those around me at the gym. I also like to stay engaged spiritually, just like those around me at the church. BAM! Easy conversation starters. “So, how long have you been coming to this gym/church?”. They respond (and if they’re well versed in social norms will likely ask), “and how about you?”. That’s when you can hit them with the fact that you just arrived in the area.

The second reason I really like this method is that, unlike a restaurant or mall, these places are extremely conducive to conversation. Moreover, folks are not generally under super strict time constraints when venturing into a church or gym. This allows for deeper questions and eventually social media/cell phone number exchanges. I have found that when people discover that you are new to the area they want to help you feel connected.

The last piece to this puzzle is, of course, intentionality on your part. I am a pretty assertive and dominant personality type as is, so I will literally say, “Hey, if you guys hang out outside of this gym/church, please invite me along!”. It can sound pushy, but I am telling you – it works!

I have made many friends in many places with this simple method. It is scary to be vulnerable in new spaces, but if you are a community seeker like myself, you will find way more acceptance than rejection along the way.

I also want to acknowledge, this method works for me, but not everyone may be comfortable or able to join a gym or church. The principle behind community building is not always the exact location, but more so the method for joining new spaces. So, go out there and find community – however you comfortably can!

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.

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!

Navigating Challenges in Graduate School with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Life can be interrupted when you least expect it. So what happens when grad school gets interrupted? Life events don’t pause, and life doesn’t seem to care that you’re a busy grad student. Whether you’re dealing with an illness or injury, the loss of a family member, or even a bad breakup, how can you make grad school manageable while dealing with other difficult life events?

I have recent personal experience with this. I had an accident which resulted in my tailbone breaking (ouch!). Winter in Waltham can be tough sometimes, and I fell after slipping on a patch of ice on one particularly chilly evening. In a split second, I was in a great deal of pain and discomfort. Shortly after, my graduate student fears began to creep in when I realized school would now be even more difficult.

I had to spend most of my time laying down, making it almost impossible to get any of my work finished. I could hardly sit through a 3-hour class or even a 1-hour meeting for a group project. I felt worried that maybe this injury would delay my upcoming graduation from Heller.

So, what would I recommend doing when life rudely interrupts your plans? In my case, I felt it was important to be as proactive as possible. I quickly contacted Sandy Jones, the Executive Director of Heller’s Global Programs. She is an incredible resource here at Heller, and she is eager to offer support to students. She was able to contact all of my professors to let them know I may need extra time completing assignments over the coming weeks. It is so important to have someone to advocate for you when you truly need it!

At Heller, I feel very lucky to have professors, staff, and fellow students who are understanding and patient when something inconvenient arises. Of course, I do still have that typical “grad student guilt” when I put myself and my health above my responsibilities as a student. Luckily, my friends and classmates remind me that self-care is a priority, and my professors have been so understanding when I can’t attend class or submit an assignment on time.

Life happens! And you never really know when an illness, injury, or personal tragedy might strike. It’s been comforting to know that at Heller, you’ll find a community of helpful and understanding people to help you through. Don’t feel shy to share with your classmates either! No one at Heller is here to make negative judgments about you, your choices, or your needs. It’s great to know that Heller is a tight-knit community of people who will be there for you when you need it most.

How Social Justice Oriented is Heller? Andrea Shares Her Thoughts

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Disclaimer: This blog post reflects my personal views and experience in Heller’s MPP program. I cannot guarantee that it reflects the experience of all students of color throughout all Heller programs.

As a Graduate Assistant in the Admissions Office and a current student in the Masters of Public Policy program, I have the pleasure of interviewing many prospective MPP students. What’s interesting is that you all want to know one thing: Is Heller really the social justice school it claims to be? As a Black student and active rabble-rouser in the MPP program, I know the answer to this question very well: Yes.

First, let me be real with you, Heller is not perfect. There is a serious lack of diversity among staff and faculty that has been acknowledged by Heller leadership and is being addressed. The diversity within the MPP program is also lacking. However, this has increased every year during the past 3-5 years, which gives me hope. Both of these issues can easily lead to students only learning from a white, liberal perspective. To counteract this in the short-term, professors are transforming their syllabi to reflect a greater diversity of perspectives. It’s apparent by the way Heller addresses its shortcomings that, through all of its faults, this school still holds true to its motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice.”

I’ve been blown away by the awareness of those whom I have encountered on staff and faculty regarding racial and economic disparities within America. (Note: The MPP program mainly uses a national lens. I cannot speak for the SID, COEX, or GHPM programs, but I would hope that they are just as aware.) Yet as good-intentioned and—for lack of a better term—woke as Heller staff and faculty are, intentions do not always reflect impact. For all of their awareness, they can still be blind to how these disparities affect their students.

The Fall 2020 semester was mentally and emotionally exhausting for many of us at Heller. I saw that this was particularly apparent among the students of color within my first-year cohort. Not only were our families and communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also had to continually watch people who looked like us be killed by the police with little to no retribution. Moreover, we had to discuss these topics and other forms of oppression during class as if we weren’t personally affected by them. It was exhausting.

Our professors’ intent was to shed light on the drastic disparities experienced by people of color in America. Yet their impact was an endless stream of emotionally draining conversations, that, while important to have, are not easy for those with lived experiences to walk away from. It’s not easy for us to turn off these topics in our head and focus on normal coursework. Heller needed to understand this.

The students of color throughout Heller’s MPP program came together that semester to write a letter to Heller leadership requesting more support from faculty and staff, such as: providing more spaces for us to heal together, in-class acknowledgment of our lived experiences, safe pathways for students to vocalize their needs, and more. To our surprise, Heller leadership responded immediately and worked with us to implement the changes we requested. We felt seen and heard by those in positions of power. There is still much work to be done, but that experience was confirmation that we had chosen the right school, a school whose commitment to advancing social justice stands firm, even if it has to reevaluate its own system to do so.

FINALS!: It’s Crunch Time for Doug Nevins

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As another semester draws to a close, Heller students find ourselves in the midst of another finals period. Returning from Thanksgiving break to a marathon session of exams and other assignments is a bit of a rude awakening, but luckily the end is in sight!

In my first year as an MPP student, my midterms and finals mostly consisted of research-based papers and policy briefs. Getting back into the swing of academic research and writing was a challenge after years of being out of school, but ultimately I felt like I was reviving skills I had used frequently in college. Having been an English major, I wrote a lot of essays in college! Exams, not so much. Now, as a first-year MBA dual degree student, I have found myself confronting both papers and exams, both take home and “in-person” (over Zoom). This is a new challenge entirely and has required me to rediscover study skills long neglected since high school. Flashcards? Check. Moments of frustration about a persistently confusing concept? Check.

The best thing about studying for exams at Heller is that everyone is in the same boat and that studying need not be a solitary activity. As much as I have sometimes found that the most productive use of time is to rewatch lecture videos, review textbooks, and drill accounting and econ problems on my own, in general, I have found it even more beneficial to hop on Zoom with a friend or two and go over course content together. This would be my number one recommendation for future Heller students. No matter how well you think you understand a concept, you’ll feel more confident once you’re able to explain it to someone else. I often find that when I study with friends, our collective intelligence (I recommend the Leadership and Organizational Behavior course if you’re interested in this concept!) far exceeds our individual knowledge of the material.

This same principle holds true for writing papers. Part of the appeal of studying public policy for me was the prospect of discussing topics with curious, knowledgeable, and critical peers. This has definitely been the case at Heller, where I know that my MPP classmates will offer insightful comments and feedback on my ideas for research papers and projects. I’m actually looking forward to the last few assignments I have, once I’ve completed my more quantitative finals because I’ll have the opportunity to dig into a policy area of interest.

The finals period is no picnic, but the supportive culture at Heller makes it manageable. Faculty care about our learning and growth, and assignments are intended not to trip us up but to help us confirm that we understand course concepts and can apply them. As weird as it is to be taking exams again, I know this process will help me feel more confident upon leaving Heller that I’ve gained new knowledge and skills. Plus, we have a long, well-earned winter break at the end of the finals period! Good luck to my fellow students – we’re in the home stretch!

Time to Give Thanks

I have a confession to make: Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that, in all honesty, I hate it. I’ve been a vegetarian for eighteen years, so the turkeys, hams, gravy, green beans (with bacon), collard greens (with bacon), and other traditional Thanksgiving foods hold very little appeal to me. I live about a thousand miles away from the majority of my family, and going home so close to winter holidays is usually not an option for me. Throw in its decidedly problematic history, and it all adds up to a holiday I’m not particularly interested in celebrating.

With that being said, I think there is something lovely about the idea of a day set aside for giving thanks, especially in these times, where there is so much to be unhappy, or disappointed, or discouraged about. With all the problems in the world, it’s nice to have a day where I take the time to recognize all that there is to be thankful for. So, without further ado (or futher maudlin reflections), here are some things that I find myself truly thankful for this year.

My co-workers. Oh no, is that cheesy? Even if it is, it’s true and I have to give credit where credit is due. I had only been at Heller for seven months when the pandemic forced us to move to working from home, and it would have been so easy for me to feel isolated and disconnected if not for my amazing co-workers. I speak to the other staff members on the admissions team at least once a day, and we have a weekly staff meeting where we share our accomplishments and what we’re working on this week, as well as catch up on what we’re watching on Netflix (I recommend The Queen’s Gambit!). The larger Heller community also frequently meets up for Coffee with the Dean, and I’ll admit that the Election Week Conversations with the Dean is one of the only things that kept me calm that week. Since this is, after all, a blog post, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the amazing graduate assistants that write for this blog and share their experiences with all of you. Which leads me to…

The fourth season of Netflix’s The Crown. I’m a huge British history buff, but to be honest; I know way more about the Tudor, Jacobean, or Elizabethan era than I know about contemporary British history. The Crown has been a fun introduction to a time in British history I hadn’t known about for the last few years (for example, I had heard of the Profumo Affair, but didn’t know any of the details), but the fourth season was absolutely incredible. For those not watching, this season focuses on Princess Diana’s introduction and marriage to Prince Charles; it may seem silly to say that I don’t want to spoil anything since the events themselves happened forty years ago, but even if you know the outlines of the story, the storytelling still manages to take you by surprise.

This blog. I’d wanted to start an Admissions’ Blog since almost my first month at Heller, but it never quite felt like the right time. Then, when the world as we know it came crashing down in March, it seemed like the perfect time to launch. My goals at the offset were two-fold: first, that it would be a place to share authentic experiences about Heller, and second, that it would help students with the application process, especially students who may not be familiar with the graduate application process. I would like to think that we’ve met those goals, and more. I’m thankful, again, for our student bloggers for sharing their stories and experiences, and allowing me to see a side of Heller that I don’t always get to see.

The rise of TikTok. Yes, TikTok is a massive time thief, but I have to admit that I am thankfulfor it. In these times of isolation, I find myself incredibly grateful for people all over the world who are trying to make others laugh or trying to teach strangers how to bake bread. TikTok truly has something for everyone, and I’ve found myself reconnecting to old friends by sending them videos that remind me of them. I also learned how to make an absolutely incredible butternut squash curry, and it’s now my go-to weekday lunch.

All of you. Again, I know this is terribly cheesy, but it is true. As of today, this blog has had its best month yet in terms of visitors and views. There are so many people, from all over the world (this month we’ve had readers from Columbia, Switzerland, Ghana, India, Tanzania, Germany, and so many more), who are interested in learning more about Heller. And if you’re interested in Heller, I know that means that you are interested and passionate about making the world a better place and creating meaningful change. It’s been a dark year in many ways, but every time I see the statistics for the blog, I’m reminded of just how many people there are out there that want to make a difference.

For this post, I’m opening up the comments: I’d love to hear what you’re grateful for!

 

Learning from your Heller Classmates

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’ve learned so much during my time at Heller so far— but the education I’ve gained outside of the classroom has been just as valuable to me as the lessons I learned from my professors. Heller students come to Brandeis from so many different countries and backgrounds, and bring their own personal experiences and knowledge with them to Heller, and I’ve really, really enjoyed the new perspectives they’ve helped me to gain!

As a self-described “linguistics nerd”, I can’t get enough of learning new words to add to my vocabulary. Surrounded by my COEX cohort, I couldn’t help but pick up phrases from my classmates who speak French, Swahili, and Mandarin (just to name a few.) I can even properly insult someone in Arabic, if the need ever arises. I’ve studied Hindi over the last few years, and I’ve made friends who were able, as native Hindi speakers, to offer to practice conversation with me. I’ve also had fun finding similar words that exist in languages that may seem unrelated at first.

The cultural exchange I’ve had with my COEX classmates also extends to food. Every culture celebrates food in its own special way. Last fall, we held a potluck where I got to try an Iraqi stew, Egyptian shakshuka, Amish friendship bread, and baba ganoush. If I hadn’t met my friends here at Heller, I may never have had the opportunity to try and learn about new food and the cultural significance that surrounds them.

My COEX classmates have also come to Heller with very different professional experiences, which informs the way I’ve learned outside of Heller’s classrooms. My friends have told me about working as educators and tour guides, as businesspeople, as Peace Corps Volunteers, and as workers in complex conflict zones such as Syria. Personally, I worked for a variety of non-profit organizations before coming to Heller, and my classmates were just as interested in hearing about my professional experience as I was about theirs. Hearing about my classmates’ professional experiences helped me to better contemplate and understand my own career aspirations. Exchanging these ideas and information with each other was an incredible, and very exciting, learning experience for all of us in the cohort.

When evaluating grad schools, it is equally important to consider the lessons you can learn outside of the classroom as the knowledge you’ll gain from your professors. I have gleaned so much from my COEX friends, and this information has been both professionally valuable as well as culturally enriching to me personally. The cultural exchange that takes place between Heller students is endlessly informative, exciting, and fulfilling. My friends at Heller have been some of my favorite teachers.

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