Tag: Why Heller? (page 1 of 2)

Why Study Gender Policy?

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

At a very young age, we learn to identify distinguishable characteristics both through innate and formal education. Differences in skin-tone, size, hair color and texture; there exists a long list of traits that individualize each person. However, gender is believed to be clear-cut and stagnant, at least according to mass opinion: “God made man, and from man’s rib came woman”. Seems simple enough – yet this archaic archetype is just that, old and outdated.

So it’s no surprise that gender-specific policy has followed this binary and misaligned trajectory. Gendernormativity dictated socially acceptable gender identification until the mid-20th century. Even in the 60s and 70s during the social awakening of the US, when gender expression started to be publicly challenged, people were confined to their assigned gender and expected to continue to behave accordingly.

Society and policy alike have a lot to say about what constitutes a woman and what is her expected role in the home and the workplace. Women are expected to be model mothers and devoted contributors to the market, but denied the tools to do both effectively. When she abides by the system, a woman is reprimanded – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are detrimental to her survival. When she tries to navigate outside of the system, she is chastised – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are, again, detrimental to her survival. Welfare and FMLA, two government-sanctioned programs created with the intent to benefit women, only further constrict them, especially BIPOC women.

As such, many of the core threats to our civil structure stem from gender-based inequity. One in four girls skip school when they are menstruating because they do not have access to feminine hygiene products; they then fall behind in school and are unable to break the cyclical trends of poverty. A white woman’s work is valued at seventy-two cents to the white man’s dollar, which still out-performs the Hispanic woman’s 52 cents. Paid parental leave is not federally mandated and for many women, especially in blue collar professions, pregnancy is grounds for extermination.

Women are not given the same tools as men to succeed. The XX Factor identifies five dimensions of women’s lives that, if achieved, can positively impact her: economic empowerment, education, health, personal safety and legal services. If just one of these five dimensions is enhanced, a woman’s well-being and livelihood are dramatically shifted. But health, education, personal safety: are these not basic necessities allotted to citizens? Why are women still struggling? Our system is broken, and its effect is women’s demise. We must restructure our foundation to eliminate the imbalance prevalent in our Western culture to dismantle the extortion of women’s freedom.

My Experience with Fulbright

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

I was fortunate enough to be granted a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) pre-Covid, and fulfilled my 9-month term in 2019, just months before everything began shutting down. So, in this brief blog post I want to look back on the application process, my Fulbright in-country experience, and how it prepared me for Heller.

This next sentence will make a lot more sense if you have already read my Scuba-Diving blog post – but if you have not had the chance, I encourage you to now! So, the very day I had completed my Scuba Diving licensure in Honduras, I was relaxing with friends on a remote beach with very limited wifi. I walked towards the small make-shift restaurant and haphazardly refreshed the inbox on my phone.  As my eyes adjusted from the sunlight I realized I had an email from the Fulbright Commission. I read, then reread the email just to make sure. Well, I’ll be darned! Looks like I’m movin’ to Brazil!

My surprise stemmed from three thought processes: 1. I had already applied for a “special” Fulbright round for Brazil that had opened the summer prior and was not accepted 2. The odds of being accepted were still not in my favor 3. I had truthfully forgotten, as I had submitted the application the September prior (and it was now April). I had almost completely written off any hope of getting a Fulbright.

So, let’s talk about the application process that even got me to that point. As I said, I applied twice (as I was rejected the first time). The application itself is not unlike a college application, but the hardest part is most certainly the personal statements and/or statement grant of purpose. Both of these short essays had to be less than one page, but I must have edited mine (for both applications) 10-15 times with about 5 sets of eyes reviewing my revisions. All of that to say, begin early on your application and find people who you trust to help you edit and revise.

Once it commenced, my scholarship sent me to Brazil. As there were a number of potential universities in which I could be placed, I had to wait until a few months prior to finding out where within Brazil I would be heading. Tres Lagoas, Mato Grosso do Sul was where they sent me and three other ETAs. Geographically speaking, I was extremely close to the border of Paraguay, and was next to the Pentanal. My job as an English Teaching Assistant meant I worked closely with my program manager, who was an English professor. Classes were mostly held in the evenings, so during the day I would involve myself with the community as much as possible by going to Crossfit and Muay Thai classes,  getting coffee with my students and friends, volunteering, and walking around downtown. Then, in the evenings I worked alongside my program manager to help him where needed in class. I ended up working around 10 hours each week as an ETA, then the rest of my time was mine to hold informal community English classes or fill as I would like.

I would be happy to expound more on my experience, both the pros and cons, to anyone who is interested. But, in the spirit of brevity, I will continue along. So, Fulbright prepared me for Heller in a number of ways. First, it helped me write strong applications because, as I said, I had revised my Fulbright apps many times. Fulbright has also added richly to my internal experience bank, so I am able to relate and speak up on specific subject matters within my classes my confidently. Overall my experience with Fulbright was one I deeply treasure, and be it Peace Corp, AmeriCorp, Fulbright, or any other organization, having the ability to invest in something bigger than yourself and enjoy life while doing it is always an investment worth pursuing.

Sami’s Top Five Moments at Heller

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As my time at Heller gradually comes to a close, I can’t help but to reflect on my best experiences over the last two years. Coming to grad school for the first time, you’ll have quite a lot to look forward to! And to give you a sneak peak, I’ve listed my top five Heller moments of success, learning, and friendship (in no particular order).

  1. Completing my Master’s Thesis. For nearly a year, I’ve been working on my thesis for my COEX capstone, our last project before we graduate. The final paper ended up being over forty pages long (!), but it took a great deal of re-working, tweaking, and editing to get there. I loved the experience of working with my advisor, Dr. Quintiliani, all of the academic support I received from professors and Brandeis’s research librarians, and of course the emotional support and cheerleading I was given from my friends in COEX.

2. Getting to know the area. I have enjoyed getting to know Waltham, Boston, and the surrounding area so much! After moving to Waltham, I had such a good time getting familiar with Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. As a big museum nerd, I was very happy to visit places like the MFA and the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum. Only twenty minutes from Waltham are places like the deCordova sculpture park and Walden Pond. The greater Boston area is such a wonderful place to be a student.

3. Getting out of my comfort zone. At Heller, I’ve been pushed far outside my comfort zone many times. I’ve found this to be an enormous opportunity to not only learn about a subject, but also to learn more about myself. I’ve engaged in sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that I quickly realized were helping me to grow as a student and as an individual. Having fellow students’ varied perspectives has brought so much value and meaning to my time here at Heller.

4. The cultural exchange. Students come to the Heller School from all around the world. I’ve learned so much from people whose languages, cultures, backgrounds, and religions were different than mine. Thanks to the COEX program, I now have a best friend from Egypt, and as a result I often find Arabic words sneaking into my vocabulary and my appreciation for Middle Eastern food expanding.

5. Specific projects. I feel very proud of the work I’ve completed as a Heller student. There are a few projects that particularly stand out. In Professor Tamaru’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding”, I enjoyed writing an op-ed on revolutionary Indian women that was later published on Professor Tamaru’s blog. I was also so excited to write a paper regarding various women’s influences on Malcolm X for Professor Sampath’s “Democracy and Development” course. In Professor Madison’s “Intersectionality and Bioethics” class, I had so much fun engaging in a group debate concerning the pharmaceutical industry.

My experience at the Heller School has been rewarding, challenging, and eye-opening. I’ve found my experiences here to be so valuable and have contributed so much to my growth as a student, a professional, and an individual!

Nine Reasons to Love Heller

In light of the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings placing Heller ninth for health policy and management and social policy, I thought I’d share nine reasons why I love Heller. Everyone has a different story of what attracted them to Heller, but these are what I’ve come to appreciate about Heller in my time here as a staff member.

  1. An interesting and passionate group of prospective students. I’m sure that at some schools, reviewing applications or talking to prospective students can sometimes be a snooze, but that is never the case at Heller. The students I talk to all have fascinating stories: they’ve worked in the Peace Corps, founded their own companies, worked as doctors in their home countries for twenty years… it really runs the gamut! Students who are interested in Heller are passionate, enthusiastic, and dedicated individuals, and speaking with them about their backgrounds and career aspirations is always a lot of fun.
  2. Our peers agree: we’re top-notch. Heller is consistently ranked a top-ten school in social policy by US News and World, which reflect peer assessments of deans, directors, and department chairs at 276 schools of public affairs. For 2022, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and for health policy and management. Heller is one of only two New England graduate schools of public affairs to be ranked in those specialty areas.
  3. Diversity is more than a buzzword at Heller, it’s a commitment. When you join Heller, you’ll become a part of an incredibly diverse community: last year, we welcomed students from 53 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), and 41% of our incoming domestic students were students of color. Moreover, Heller is home to many students with disabilities, students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and students from a variety of religious backgrounds. This diverse environment challenges every student to consider new points of view and offers the unique opportunity to learn not only from our experienced faculty but students who are nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, policy analysts, and more.
  4. The Boston area is a great place to be for graduate school. I may be biased because I moved from Atlanta to Boston for my graduate education, but I truly think the Boston area is a great place to be when you’re getting your master’s degree. The MBTA system (which connects to the commuter rail line that goes right to campus) makes the city easy to explore, and the city is filled with intelligent, passionate people in a similar place in their lives, whether they’re studying engineering at MIT, or music at Berklee. The Waltham area is great because if you choose to live in Waltham, you’ll be able to find more affordable living, but if you want to live in the city, it’s easy to commute to campus. Once you’re in Waltham, there’s plenty of restaurants and beautiful paths along the Charles to keep you busy.
  5. The history of Ford Hall. The term “Ford Hall” at Brandeis generally refers to two periods of direct action led by black students and other students of color with the goal to promote racial justice and build a more inclusive, equitable and diverse student experience at Brandeis. The first Ford Hall took place in January 1969 and was an 11-day student sit-in; the second Ford Hall (commonly written as #FordHall2015) took place in November 2015 and was a 13-day student sit-in. Heller students were involved in both events as well as sustained efforts during the interim years to promote policies and structures that advance diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. At the Heller School, the second Ford Hall resulted in hiring an Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the creation of Heller Forward, and the creation of Community Day, a biannual, day-long workshop event centered on Heller’s commitment to eradicating social injustice and ensuring a more inclusive culture. To me, this shows that Heller students are truly engaged within their communities and that Brandeis and the Heller community are responsive and willing to change and adapt to student needs.
  6. Rose! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Heller’s resident barista, Rose. Heller has a Starbucks located in the Zinner Forum (more on that later), and Rose is a constant presence and probably most people’s favorite person at Heller. She’s extremely friendly and somehow manages to remember everyone; I still remember how excited I was when I realized she had memorized my daily order because it made me feel like I truly belonged at Heller. In the past year of working from home, I’ve missed starting my morning with a cup of tea and a conversation with Rose.
  7. Living up to the motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice”. One of the things I love most about Heller is that even though I’m not a student, Heller consistently pushes me to learn. In January, faculty, staff and students participated in Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, and the 7-Day Neurodiversity (ND) Inclusion Challenge just wrapped up last week. Heller’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity also maintains a list of books, articles, documentaries, movies, and even music meant to help advance knowledge and understanding on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice as well as inspire positive and equitable social change. As someone who considers themselves a life-long student, I really value the emphasis that Heller places on educating yourself for the social good.
  8. The Heller magazine. Maybe it’s because I’m perpetually nostalgic for my teenage years, but I love a good magazine, and the Heller magazine is no exception. I read every copy cover to cover, and it’s genuinely a pleasure to read! I walk away even more impressed with the work our faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni are doing. Some of my favorite articles from the past few issues include: Peak InspirationWho Is Your Social Justice Hero?From Social Policy to Sesame Street, and 2020 asks us: If not now, when? 
  9. The views from Zinner Forum. The Zinner Forum is a huge, multi-story open space that connects the two wings of Heller (and is where Rose’s coffee shop is housed). When we’re in-person at Heller, we use the Zinner Forum for pretty much everything: orientation, Coffee with the Dean, community events… but when it’s not being utilized for an event, it’s a great place for students to study, socialize, and grab a bite to eat. One of the walls of the Zinner forum is made entirely out of windows with beautiful views of the wooded area outside. In the fall, the views of the changing leaves are absolutely stunning, and in the winter, watching snow fall outside the windows is so soothing.

So there you have it: my top nine reasons to love Heller. I hope that you join us in the fall and make a “Top Nine” list for yourself!

Scuba Diving and Grad School: What’s the Difference? Hannah Lougheed

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As you’ve gone about your daily life, I’m sure at least once or twice you have thought, “man, scuba diving and graduate school sure do have lots in common!”. No? You haven’t thought that? Weird. Well, as someone who has spent significant time underwater, I would love to draw some parallels for you between jumping into an unknown darkness with mysteries lurking about  (ie. grad school), and scuba diving.

First, a brief backstory: Most individuals who grow up in a cold, suburban, landlocked environment do not have significant exposure to large bodies of water. I was one of those individuals. My exposure to the world of diving was limited to what I had seen on National Geographic and Bubble Guppies. But, I knew I was curious, and I knew I wanted a skill set that would allow me to travel and to see parts of the globe. I took an Open Water (aka: scuba babies) class through my local YMCA. Let me tell you, nothing beats the rush of diving literally a few feet below the surface in a chlorine bath while the silver sneakers water aerobics class is ongoing at one end, and children are actively multitasking (learning to float while at the same time, urinating) at the other.  But, for the sake of word count, let me fast forward to the part where I am living on a tropical island and swimming with whale sharks.

At the ripe age of 23, I moved by myself to Utila, Honduras with a snorkel and a dream and enrolled in a program to become a certified scuba instructor. After four months, and hundreds of hours working on both underwater techniques, and knowledge in the classroom – learning everything from theories to gas mixtures – I had done it.  At this point in my story you may be thinking, how does this relate back to the graduate school process?

Here it is: investing in yourself is a scary thing; financially, the time commitment, the “is this even going to pay off?” thoughts – those are all natural and important to the process. You know the saying, “big risks lead to big rewards”? Well, I would argue – not always. I took a big risk to quit my job and move to an island to pursue scuba diving. Was that in my 10-year plan? No. Did it pay off exponentially with a huge reward? Also, no. But, scuba diving, like graduate school, is an investment with payoffs that reach far beyond what can be measured in a traditional sense. The months I spent living on a tropical island and diving every day were incredible. I swam with whale sharks and dolphins. I learned how to hunt lionfish (an invasive species) with an underwater Hawaiin harpoon and prepare them the traditional way to eat. I gained confidence, met incredible people, and grew closer to nature.

If you come into graduate school with a rigid checklist of things you must accomplish, you may miss other opportunities along the way. Hard skills are so important – and I am in no way minimizing that, but be open for that whale shark encounter: that unexpected moment when you learn something new, or how to make your voice heard, or deepen the understanding of your innate worth as a human on this planet.

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.

Hello Heller!: Hannah Lougheed’s Acceptance Story

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As my parents and I were directed to move to the side and wait with the crowd of other hungry onlookers to be seated, I casually refreshed my email inbox on my phone and found I had an “update on my Application” from Brandeis University. We were at a chain restaurant that boasts an Americanized Italian cuisine, and up until that moment my mind was consumed solely with thoughts of chicken and gnocchi soup, but this certainly broke my hunger haze. I anxiously logged into my admissions page to see – I was in! It was my first graduate school acceptance letter up until that point, and I was ecstatic.  I informed my parents of the good news, to which they congratulated me, and then we returned to waiting in silence for our buzzer to ring. Sorry, a little anticlimactic – I know.

The Lougheeds are a pragmatic people; we celebrate, then quickly and systematically come back down to Earth. As we slid into our faux leather, well-worn booth, we began looking at what Heller had to offer in terms of cost, opportunities, etc. How naive we were to spend considerable time talking about what the physical campus and city of Waltham could offer for social activities and outdoor recreation. But, to be fair, this discussion took place in January 2020 when COVID-19 had yet to find a daily permanence in our vernacular.  All that aside, by the time we had consumed half our body weight in pasta, we had discussed many of the pros and cons of the Heller school.

At this point in my story you may be thinking, “Wow, is she a paid sponsor for Olive Garden?” To that, I would respond, pass me those affordable and delicious never-ending breadsticks and just hear me out.

As I emerged from my pasta-induced coma the next morning, I was delighted to see multiple emails welcoming me into the Heller family. I was showered by warm smiles, stories of the impact that Heller has made on students and faculty alike, and a sense that this graduate program was different from the others to which I had applied. I also deeply appreciated that this program was seemed to uplift students to succeed, whereas others boasted about their competitiveness and challenging material within the program. To be candid, I was sold on Heller but still had one reservation: name recognition.

I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, then moved to rural south-central Pennsylvania when I was young, so my exposure to higher ed institutions had been limited. I have always been starstruck by institutions with “big” names and dreamed of dawning a sweatshirt that proudly read “Johns Hopkins” or “Harvard” so the world knew I had “made it”. So, sillily enough, one of my major reservations for attending Brandeis was that many people, at least in my small circle, had never heard of the school. I reached out to meet with my undergraduate academic advisor and general giver-of-great-advice human and he reassured me that Brandeis does have great name recognition within academia, and that I would be foolish not to go to a school that fit me well just because the name is not “big” enough.

I spent considerable time still assessing my options, but found that the Heller school was a perfect fit. My advice and something I am working to change in my own thinking: do not let names alone guide your path. For grad programs, jobs, etc. You are special and your value is not validated by a name on your resume, but by who you are innately.

Hello Heller!: Andrea Tyree’s Acceptance Story

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

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

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

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

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

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

“There has been an update to your application.”

…that’s it?

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

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

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.

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.

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