Tag: Community (page 2 of 2)

Peace Corps + Heller: A Perfect Combination

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

Editor’s Note: This is a bittersweet post, because it’s Elizabeth’s last one for the blog. She graduated from the SID/MBA dual program at the end of last year, but remained on staff for the summer while she was looking for a job… and she was offered a full time position as a Program Manager for Social Entrepreneurship for All starting last month! Congratulations again, Elizabeth, but you will be so missed!

Walking the halls of Heller, you will inevitably come across a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. These students and leaders are recognizable because they will inevitably have stories of living overseas, starting their conversations with the iconic “When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in….” It’s an identity that comes with leaving the US behind to spend 2+ memorable years as a grassroots international development worker in another country. 

As a member of this elusive group, I can proudly say that my Peace Corps experience in Swaziland (now called Eswatini), has been a life-changing experience that has defined my career path and time at Heller. As a recent Heller graduate who completed the Social Impact MBA and Master’s in Sustainable International Development (SID) concentrating in Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Management, I brought my experiences from my Peace Corps service into all of my conversations and projects, both inside and outside of the classroom. 

I officially started my service as a Youth Development Volunteer in Swaziland, a small landlocked country in southern Africa in 2013. But because of my family and upbringing, I knew in high school that I wanted to join the Peace Corps. As a first-generation American-born citizen, I was raised with a strong commitment to service, as exemplified through my family trips to Vietnam, where we worked in rural communities by building homes, supporting school children with school supplies, and advocating for health and hygiene.

The natural progression for my love of service grew into joining the Peace Corps. Throughout my three and a half years, I worked primarily on supporting students at a children’s home. I also ran a handcraft social enterprise supporting over 70 women and men in three rural communities. It was my first introduction to managing a business, and I was responsible for everything from creating a budget and international marketing strategy to planning trainings for the artisans. I was challenged but thrived, learning through this experience, that I loved the social impact part of enterprises. I decided to stay a third year in Swaziland to work with Enactus, an international organization working with youth social entrepreneurship, where I helped develop the communications and programs of the organization to increase impact with the students we worked with and the communities we served. 

I returned to the US and knew that I wanted to pursue a Social Impact MBA to further my education and to learn more about how to run a business so that I can best support other entrepreneurs around the world. At Heller, the MBA classes have helped me better understand business strategies, financial management, and even business pitches. My SID classes have helped me focus my work on Southern African countries like South Africa and Swaziland. 

I even was able to help plan the annual Social Impact Startup Challenge and Hult Prize competitions, encouraging other students across all programs with ideas to start businesses. Last year, I was also asked to present in front of an audience at Brandeis University’s Africa Culture Night, where I was able to highlight my experiences in Swaziland. It amazes me how much my service has changed my life and directed my time at Heller and as I move forward into my next job as a Program Manager for Entrepreneurship for All, I am excited to bring my Peace Corps and Heller experiences to create maximum impact for entrepreneurs and their communities.

Socializing while Socially Distancing: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

The thing I miss most about being in-person at Heller is the spontaneous interaction with fellow students, faculty, and staff that happens in the halls, Zinner forum, and at the front desk of Heller Admissions when people say hello to me during my shift. As much as I’ve missed having opportunities to grab coffee with friends at the Heller Starbucks, discuss assignments after class, or chat with my fellow Somerville residents on the commuter rail, it’s been great to keep in touch with people via virtual and socially distanced hangouts.

The MPP program faculty have been sure to plan opportunities to meet as a cohort and talk about how our summers are going. We periodically have “tea” with the director, Mike Doonan, over Zoom, and check-in with smaller groups by concentration. As MPP students, we’ve arranged a Zoom happy hour each week and have been able to meet many of the incoming students virtually, while I’ve also been able to take part in trivia and other virtual ice breakers with the incoming MBA cohort. I recently had a chance to discuss my summer internship, and hear about other students’, during a Zoom meeting with faculty and career services staff. It was great to hear what amazing projects people have been involved with despite the challenge of remote work.

I’ve also attended Zoom birthday parties with friends from Heller, watched humorously bad movies and Tiger King, and met up with classmates in Somerville and Waltham parks as the weather has gotten warmer (with six feet between us). I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much my MPP cohort has kept in touch, and I’m excited to begin a new academic year virtually knowing that the camaraderie and collaborative spirit of Heller endures.

The Start of a New Year

Growing up, the start of the new school year was always my favorite time of year. I loved buying new notebooks and highlighters, decorating binders, and adding in meetings and important dates to my agenda (can you tell I was a bit of a nerd?). To me, the new school year meant a fresh beginning, a clean slate. The struggles of the last year were wiped away, and I was now able to re-invent myself however I chose: maybe this year I would try out for a school play, or learn an instrument, or join a new club.

This year feels a little different (for starters, we are still dealing with the struggles of last year). As yesterday morning’s nationwide outage of Zoom effectively demonstrated, there will certainly be even more challenges ahead of us this school year. Heller is embarking on an ambitious project: not how to adapt our community and our academics to a virtual environment, but how to improve it. How to make something that is not an imitation of the past, but something that envisions a better and brighter future.

It’s difficult for me to not feel that there is some parallel between this project and the current state of the world. All across the nation, all across the world, people are asking themselves, “How could this be different? How could this be better?” Demanding change is often seen as complaining, or as nit-picking, but I see it another way: asking for change is a result of indefatigable optimism. To demand change, one must believe that things can be better, that there is always room for improvement, that each moment is an opportunity for a new start…

Which leads me back to the beginning of the new school year. Tomorrow, our incoming students will begin their first classes at Heller. These students come from all over the world, from every background imaginable: we have students who have worked in U.S. embassies, students who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, students who are refugees, students that have spent years working for top research institutes, students who grew up halfway around the world. The following week, our application for the next entry terms will open. Over the next months, my team and I will be reading applications from students from all over the world. We’ll get a chance to dive into your personal stories, read recommendations from those that know you best, have conversations with you at our virtual events. Our students come from such diverse backgrounds, and yet they are united by the idea that the world can be better, that we each have the power to change not only our own lives, but our community and our society.

There are challenges ahead, but I am confident in the Heller community’s ability to not only meet them, but exceed them. If you are reading this, I am confident in your ability to exceed them. In spite of it all, I think that the 2020-2021 academic year is going to be a very good year.

Campus Connections: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’ve made many connections during my past year at Heller who have changed and enhanced my life personally, academically, and professionally. One of the connections I’m most thankful for is my friend Hadeer. She and I come from different backgrounds and grew up in quite different places, but our friendship was nearly immediate, and over the course of our first semester at Heller we grew a strong bond. I have learned so much since connecting with Hadeer last Fall, and I continue to value her friendship tremendously!

On the surface, Hadeer and I might seem like two very different people. She grew up in Egypt, and I am from Philadelphia. My family is Jewish, and Hadeer was raised Muslim. Yet we quickly bonded over our shared interests and goals. From our mutual love of cheese, to our shared taste in music, to our career aspirations, we learned about each other and so many similarities popped right out. I think this is the true beauty of many Heller friendships. Seemingly different people are brought together into a context where their similarities matter more than their differences.

Hadeer and I first met during Heller’s orientation. Then, as classes started, I quickly witnessed how eloquent, passionate, and informed she is. Many times, Hadeer has demonstrated her natural way of making me feel that my interests and opinions are especially valuable. She is always a “safe space” and I know I can express to her any problems I might have without feeling judged.

The range of what I’ve learned from Hadeer is wide, and I’m very thankful for that: from adding Arabic words to my vocabulary, to enjoying all the musical artists she’s introduced me to (like the duo Amadou + Mariam from Mali). Hearing Hadeer’s thoughts on international development, peacebuilding, and feminism has been endlessly enlightening for me. My friendship with Hadeer is a perfect example of what it’s like to make friends at Heller. You will share and trade ideas, passions, and interests. You’ll learn bits of new languages and gain new perspectives. You will meet wonderful people who you ordinarily might never come across.

I appreciate my connection with Hadeer in particular because it’s a multi-level friendship. We connect with each other on school, philosophy, food, and our mutual love of dogs, just to name a few. We offer each other emotional support and always lend an ear when it’s needed. Our differences are not irrelevant to our friendship; Instead, we use our differences to learn from one another and gain insight into each other’s experiences. I feel lucky to have forged a friendship with Hadeer early on in my time at Heller. She has been such an excellent resource for me in so many ways – not only personally, but academically and professionally as well.

Heller To-Do List: Sami Rovins Goals for the next year

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

My Heller “to-do” list is long, but a few events in particular come to mind. Before my time at Heller comes to a close, I’d love to throw a party and invite my cohort and other fellow Heller students in different degree programs over to my house. Heller students are a tight-knit group, but we are all so busy that we don’t always find the time to relax and unwind together. Throwing an off-campus get-together would be the perfect opportunity for that. As graduate students, we can become so hyper-focused on school that we sometimes lose sight of other important aspects to our lives. It’s so valuable to socialize with each other and to find the time to relax after a busy week at Heller. It also feels important for us to celebrate our accomplishments together as a group. We all work so hard throughout the week, and a party on the weekend would be our chance to unwind and ultimately get to know each other even better.

I would also love to attend more Graduate Student Association (GSA) events. In the past, I’ve felt hesitant to join for a few reasons. Either I had way too much work, or I felt too tired at the end of the day, or I was anxious about socializing with people who I didn’t already know. But once the event happened, I would realize that attending it would have been a positive experience and would have enhanced my day: the GSA provides a wide range of events, and it seems there is truly something for everyone. My bucket list also includes spending more time in the office of Graduate Student Affairs, which is very close to the Heller building on campus. There’s always something delicious to eat there, and it’s a terrific place to spend some time if you need a break from Heller’s building.

Another outing I’d love to go on with my cohort is to spend a beach day at Walden Pond. Only 25 minutes from campus, Walden Pond is the perfect place to spend a fun and relaxing Spring or Summer afternoon. This type of off-campus adventure is also on my Heller bucket list because I know how much my fellow classmates would enjoy it. I’d love the opportunity to drive over to Walden Pond with a group of Heller friends. It would be yet another way to unwind, relax, and get to know each other away from campus and the context of school. Walden Pond is also a significant and historic place to visit in the Boston area. Visiting it with Heller friends would be a great opportunity for all of us to get to know our new home better. I hope to have the opportunity to check off Walden Pond and all of my bucket list items before my time at Heller comes to an end!

Graduating During a Pandemic: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Experience

Class of 2020 – Graduating this past May, my cohort had it differently than most Heller graduates. I think the word that I would use to describe the majority of this year is “surreal”… When March hit, COVID-19 was escalating quickly and it was clear that all of our in-person classes would need to move online immediately. It felt like that the transitions of all of my classes (including ones I was a student in or a teaching assistant in) to online happened quickly and dramatically – one day, we were in class, and then the next, the Heller building was closed.

My Operations Management class was one of the first classes to transition online.  Fortunately, many of the MBA classes are also already taught through the Heller School’s Executive Physician’s MBA, which contributed to a seamless transition. Regardless of the graduate program, every professor had to adapt their classes, whether that included introducing an offline component, uploading additional documents onto LATTE, or utilizing Zoom functions such as breakout rooms for added smaller group discussions. All of the professors were also very flexible with the students, readjusting different classroom requirements and projects to accommodate the changes and challenges that the students were facing. There was also a request for constant feedback from the professors and the Heller Administration to provide insight to the professors and helped them adjust their classes as needed.

I think that one of Heller’s strengths through the pandemic is that there was a push to maintain the sense of the Heller community. There have been official and unofficial events to continue to connect with people the Heller community. For example, the Heller Student Association planned an exciting Heller Trivia Night event which included hundreds of students, staff, alumni, and prospective students. In planning for this event, I recruited my core group of friends from my MBA program – and we won first place!  In true Heller form, my team also decided to donate our winnings as gift cards to Healthy Waltham to help the Waltham community. The Dean also hosts consistently hosts Heller-wide “Cocktails with the Dean”, which is a great chance to see the faculty and staff of Heller in a casual environment.

Over the past few months, my friends and I have managed to stay connected across states and often countries through using Zoom. We will have Zoom calls to check up on everyone, weekly movie nights, and even recently had a fun “Powerpoint Presentation Party” where we presented powerpoints about obscure and interesting topics. While we cannot be in person to connect, I am grateful for technology connecting people I haven’t seen in a long time.

Elizabeth in a cap and gown smiling next to the Heller School Sign

Ready for graduation!

As a 2020 Heller Graduate, the entire graduation process also felt “surreal” at first. Because we were not going to receive the cap and gown until after graduation, I borrowed a cap and gown from a recent graduate to take photos at Brandeis. I think this was the beginning of everything feeling “real” to me. While I watched the online graduation ceremony, it was still disappointing not to be able to see my classmates and my family who were supposed to fly in for the graduation. To help make the graduation more personal, I had two Zoom calls, including one for family and for friends to celebrate. One added benefit of the online ceremony was that I was able to have my extended family, including my grandparents, watch the graduation. Even my Zoom calls were able to bring together from different aspects of my life – high school, college, Peace Corps, and graduate school. In this sense, regardless of the disappointing aspects of graduation, there was still a silver lining! I was able to see and celebrate with more people across the US because of technology. Brandeis has promised an in-person ceremony next year and I am hopeful it will help make the graduation feel more real!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

For me, starting grad school was simultaneously an overwhelming, exciting, confusing, and invigorating experience. I certainly had no clue what to expect. So, what advice would I give to someone just beginning their Heller journey?

First, I want to remind incoming Heller students to stay calm: you are here for a reason, and you should be confident in your ability to do important and impactful work here. At times, you may slip into comparing yourself to other students, measuring their professional backgrounds and experiences against yours. But here at Heller, we are all in the same boat. No one is doing “better” or “worse” work than anyone else, and Heller is certainly not a competition. Essentially, everybody has the same goal of being a benefit to their communities, their nations, and the world.

Another piece of advice I can give is: the cold weather isn’t as horrible as everyone makes it out to be! Granted, I am from the Northeast and therefore used to the cold. Be sure to buy good, sturdy snow boots, especially if you intend on walking to Brandeis, or around Waltham and Boston. Get waterproof gloves, wool socks, a warm hat that covers your ears, and a waterproof coat— these items are definitely necessary to get through winter in Waltham comfortably.   But remember, winter will always come to an end and Massachusetts summers are beautiful.

I would also recommend that you explore Boston and the surrounding areas as much as possible! I sometimes get stuck in “campus mode” and spend all day tucked away in Heller. It will make a huge difference to your mental health if you find time to explore outside of Brandeis. The historic Walden Pond is only a 20-minute drive from Waltham, Cambridge has wonderful bookstores, and Salem offers everything from cute vintage shops to museums about witches. Leaving campus helped me to clear my head, and ultimately allowed me to perform better as a student. Exploring is also a great way to gain ownership over your new home and a way to feel more present and “at home” in Massachusetts overall.

The last piece of advice I want to emphasize is about cultivating relationships at Heller. I am prone to shyness, and in my first few weeks at Heller, I felt reticent to begin fostering significant relationships with professors and with my cohort. My advice to you is: Don’t hold back! Again, everyone is in the same boat and we are here at Heller for the same reasons. Share your interests and experiences with your classmates and with Heller faculty. Take advantage of professors’ office hours, attend on-campus events, and make weekend plans to unwind with your cohort. The opportunity to foster and cultivate relationships is one of the most valuable things Heller offers to its students. Ask your professors questions, even if you think it might sound silly. Listen to the members of your cohort as they describe their unique experiences. I am so very thankful for the people I have met during my first year at Heller. I have met faculty who sparked new interests within me, and friendships I am certain I will maintain throughout my life. Studying at Heller is a significant experience that we all share – cultivate those relationships and let them flourish!

Campus Connections: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I was excited to start graduate school at Heller partly because it was an opportunity to meet lots of passionate, engaged, and friendly people. Connecting with peers and making new friends is a huge part of the Heller experience, and it’s impossible to walk around the building without seeing several familiar faces. When I visited for the MPP accepted students’ day, one of the first people I met at Heller was Norman, one of the Heller admissions graduate assistants. Later, we spoke on the phone and I was able to ask extensive questions about the MPP program. Being able to connect directly with current students was a big factor in my decision to attend Heller.

Having the opportunity to become friends with second-year students has been a great part of my first year at Heller. The two MPP cohorts organized social activities including bar nights and primary debate watch parties together, which gave us the chance to get to know second-year students better, and the graduate assistant job in Heller Admissions has also given me the chance to meet students in other programs. In part through hours spent at the admissions front desk, Norman and I got to be friends, and have kept in touch during the recent period of remote learning and social distancing. We share an appreciation for unintentionally funny bad movies, intentionally funny comedy, and politics (despite the occasional political disagreement). He was one of the people who strongly advised me to consider applying for the dual MBA program (and patiently answered numerous questions during my period of indecision). If not for the chance to hear from Norman and other dual degree students further along in the program, I would not have considered it as strongly.

I think the ease with which I have been able to make friends at Heller, not just in my cohort but across years and programs, is a testament to the close-knit and welcoming community at Heller. Everyone here wears a few hats — Norman was the TA for my strategic management course, for example — so there’s a good chance that your new friends and classmates will also be your coworkers, TAs, or group project partners. The collaborative and non-hierarchical culture at Heller facilitates moving between these roles comfortably. I am fortunate to have met so many great people in my first year at Heller, and these relationships have made my time here thus far all the more rewarding.

 

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