Tag: Virtual Experience

Finals are over, now what?: Sazia Nowshin

Sazia Nowshin, MBA/SID’22

Ahh, the time is here (for finals to be over with). These past couple of months have been a challenge, with short breaks, long exams, and a pandemic happening ALL AT ONCE. It will probably take us all some time to truly recover from this whirlwind of a semester. But, there are some things we can do to momentarily let us escape the struggles and hard work we have put into being present during these trying times:

  1. Literally escape. Go on a vacation (safely, vaccinated, and per CDC guidelines) and leave your office chair with the indent on it from hours of zoom class. Even if it is a road trip, in which you will be confined to your car and basking in the glory of nature, the escape will be worth it. And remember, a vacation may be a financial investment, but the ROI on your mental health could be worth it.
  2. Return your textbooks, or even sell them. Perhaps this should have been the most pertinent one to address, but vacation is on my mind.
  3. DO COURSE EVALUATIONS. Actually, I changed my mind. This is the most important and should be done as soon as possible. We all want our grades on time, and we want our professors to know how much value we received from their classes and their instruction. I know I was excited to fill mine out to gush about the wonderful TAs I had this semester.
  4. Read a book. If you don’t want to escape via vacation, fulfill your wanderlust instead in a sea of words. A literary escape is just as valuable. Next on my list is All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage!
  5. Talk to family, especially if you haven’t interacted much with the time you had to dedicate to your studies during this time.
  6. Take up a new hobby. Granted, hobbies can take time and dedication but that is why it is important to take up something you are passionate about! I will personally explore the world of programming and try to learn a language or two (like Python) before the next semester.
  7. Sleep. I know you haven’t. I know I haven’t. I know we are all contributing to a detrimental cycle of mass sleep deprivation and we must do what we can to catch up!
  8. Just breathe. You finished. You did that. Relax and take the weight of your classes off your shoulders because you overcame the most pivotal exams of the semester.

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!

“The New Normal”: Things Doug Nevins is Excited About Reopening in Boston

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

As vaccination rates increase and a return to something approaching normalcy feels attainable, I’ve been reflecting more about the things I’ve missed the most during the pandemic and am most excited to do again. I thought this would also be an opportunity to highlight some fun activities in the Boston area which prospective and admitted students might find interesting. While I hope that political and business leaders take a cautious, public health-focused approach to reopening, I also hope that the local institutions I love are able to come back strong in the coming months. So, presented here are the things I am most looking forward to reopening.

Movie theaters

One of my favorite things about the greater Boston area is the high density of independent cinemas showing both first run and classic or cult movies. Unlike some of the bigger chains, most of these have remained closed for almost a year. While quarantining has created ample opportunity to catch up on Netflix and the like, I really miss the communal experience of watching a classic movie (or humorously bad cult movie) in a theater – not to mention the popcorn. My favorite cinemas, the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square and the Somerville Theater in Davis Square, host screenings of classic and contemporary independent movies, as well as book talks, concerts, and other events. The Brattle in particular holds some nostalgic value for me – I can still remember attending their annual Bugs Bunny film festival as a kid, as well as numerous matinees and late-night screenings in college and since. I honestly can’t wait to go the movies again!

Live music venues

The Boston area is not lacking in great options for seeing live music, but this has also been steeply curtailed during the pandemic. Fortunately, many independent artists have found creative ways to perform online, and I feel like I’ve discovered more new music in the past year than for several years prior! Still, nothing beats local, live music, or the opportunity to see a nationally touring act live. I’m particularly looking forward to going to shows again at places like Toad, a tiny bar venue in Porter Square near the commuter rail station from which I commuted to Brandeis; the Burren, an Irish pub in Davis square which hosts informal Irish folk sessions and Beatles brunches; and the Sinclair, a Harvard Square complex where I’ve seen performances by some of my favorite indie rock and hip-hop groups.

Gyms

Ok, so gyms are technically open in some cities, but I have not been for a while. We’ll just say it’s because of Covid. But, now that more cities in Massachusetts are opening gyms, and given that the Brandeis gym is open with all appropriate safety measures taken, I’m hoping to get back into the habit. Having access to a gym is a great perk of grad school, and one I plan to take more advantage of in the coming year.

Outdoor seating

It is somewhat cold in Massachusetts in the winter, I’m afraid. However, it’s beginning to feel like spring! This past summer lots of restaurants and bars in the area created extensive outdoor seating, helped in part by street parking, and sometimes entire streets, being converted to seating and pedestrian-only areas (Moody Street in downtown Waltham, for instance). I’m hopeful that this trend towards greater walkability and shared outdoor space continues post-pandemic, and I’m definitely looking forward to it this summer.

I know the pandemic has been difficult for everyone in different ways, and that feeling able to engage in some of the activities mentioned above is a privilege. Still, I hope everyone reading can stay connected to their communities and begin to resume some of the activities they enjoyed pre-pandemic in the coming months.

The Final Stretch: Sami’s Last Semester

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

After a year and a half at Heller, I’m finally approaching my last semester as a grad student. It can feel sometimes like I have one foot in Heller and one foot out the door. I’m still focused on my assignments and school projects, while also thinking about potential jobs and what my next moves might be. Do I want to move back home to Philadelphia, or try living someplace new? What kind of work environment do I see myself thriving in? What are the next steps I should take to reach my goals?

This is an exciting place to be in my life, but it is also challenging. It can be hard to stay focused and motivated when I’m so close to being finished with my degrees. I keep myself on track in a number of ways. First, I stay as organized as possible so nothing slips through the cracks. I do this with the help of my Google calendar, a journal, and many, many sticky notes. For me, it’s much harder to forget a task if it’s written down on a list!
To keep focused, I also make sure to find the time for self-care and socially distanced time with friends. In the COVID era, it’s so easy to feel isolated, which shifts my focus away from my school work. Seeing friends and engaging in self-care is just as important to maintaining motivation as keeping organized and on schedule. Spending time chatting in a friend’s backyard leaves me feeling refreshed and provides me with a much-needed breath of fresh air. This picks my spirits up, and allows me to renew my motivation so I can get back to work.
I also make time to think about potential future jobs, moving away from Waltham, and starting a new stage of my life. I find that it’s important to set aside this time, otherwise thinking about these topics seeps into the time I need to spend on writing my Capstone paper, for instance. Setting aside time to think about the future, rather than trying to suppress these thoughts, allows me more time to concentrate on the work that still needs to get done.
I know that my last semester at Heller will be difficult for many reasons. The classes will be challenging, I’ll be worrying about future plans, and I’m sure I’ll feel nostalgic looking back on my previous semesters. But I feel prepared knowing that I have the skills and resources to take care of myself and to stay on track.

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!

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.

Stuck at Home? Start Exploring Boston!

Even though the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston may be re-opening this week, many of us aren’t yet ready to start exploring everything that Boston has to offer. Luckily, many Boston attractions are hosting virtual tours, giving people the opportunity to experience the cultural institutions that make Boston so special. If you’re on the fence about whether the Boston area is the right setting for your graduate studies, or if you want to get started on exploring before your move, today I’m sharing some of my favorite museums and attractions around Boston that are currently hosting virtual tours.

1. The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum

Interior courtyard with palm trees enclosed by a white stone building

Courtyard, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Photo: Sean Dungan

Every time a friend or relative visits me in Boston, this is at the top of my list of places to take them. It’s unlike any museum I’ve ever been to— the lush courtyard in the middle surrounded by beautiful Venetian architecture as well as it’s unique blend of Asian, European, and African art make it feel completely separate from the rest of Boston. As an added point of interest, it’s also the site of the largest art heist in history. In 1990, thieves stole $500 million works of art, including pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt. As you explore the museum, keep an eye out for the empty frames that the museum has left hanging.

2. The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

Interior of an old brick building with various inventions lining the walls and exhibit space

Interior of the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation. Photo by: Mark Spooner

This museum may not be as well known as some of the larger museums on this list, but I consider it a hidden gem. I hadn’t visited it until I started working at Heller, but it soon became one of my favorites. It’s the site of America’s first factory, and the museum holds artifacts of the industrial revolution from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and provides insight into Boston’s role in the Industrial Revolution, as well as a look into Waltham’s history. While the collection itself is more interactive, the museum website has a variety of pictures and videos to let you experience many of its exhibits.

3. The Peabody Essex Museum

Large scale sculpture of a face in an open room

Maritime Hall, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem. Photo by: Ken Sawyer

While not strictly in Boston, the Peabody Essex Museum is one of my favorite museums to visit in the area. They have an eclectic collection featuring artists from around the world and often have immersive, experiential works that make visiting it worthwhile during your time in Boston. Currently, you can view their collections of Chinese, maritime, Oceanic, African, and Native American art, including photographs, sculptures, paintings, and jewelry. Fashion aficionados will also appreciate the Alexander McQueen dress on display— there really is something for everyone!

4. The Boston Common and Public Gardens

Aerial view of a large park with a small stone gazebo in the middle

Parkman Bandstand, Boston Commons, Boston. Photo: Abhi Suryawanshi

While this isn’t a museum, it’s certainly worth a visit while you’re in the Boston area as an important historical site. The Boston Common was originally founded as a common grazing area for cattle (hence the name), but eventually developed into the first public park in America. Over the years, it has been used for numerous protests, from the American Revolution to Black Lives Matter protests, and both Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II have delivered speeches here. Across Charles Street lies the Boston Public Garden, which is part of the Emerald Necklace string of parks designed by  Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed Central Park in New York City). During the spring, tulips lining the walkway to the George Washington statue and blooming cherry blossoms make for an amazing photo opportunity.

5. Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum

Exterior of a building with a glass wall, through which you can see Dora Garcia's artwork She Has Many Names

Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum. Photo by: Dona Garcia and ProjecteSD

I would be remiss if I didn’t feature Brandeis’ very own Rose Art Museum. They always have thought-provoking exhibits, but I’m particularly fond of their permanent collection, The Undisciplined Collector. It’s a wood-paneled room filled with artifacts and artwork that’s meant to evoke the feeling of stepping into a 1960s living room. If you’re a fan of mid-century furniture or design (or maybe just really liked Mad Men), be sure to check this one out.

The location of your graduate school can play a huge role in your experience, and in my (perhaps slightly biased) opinion, the Boston area is a great place to be during graduate school. There are tons of cultural events and attractions, and there’s never any shortage of things to do, both in the city center and the neighborhoods and suburbs surrounding Boston. Even while you’re stuck at home, there’s no limit to what Boston and Waltham have to offer!

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