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Course Options at HGSE: An Embarrassment of Riches

What do Taco Bell, butterfly ballots, and union agency fees all have in common? (No, this is not a political joke.) These are all topics that, one way or another, have been covered by my classes at HGSE this week. Having researched my curricular options before I arrived on campus, I figured I would take a diverse array of courses during my time here. Never did I imagine, however, that I would be discussing Taco Bell’s effectiveness as a company in my entrepreneurial leadership class, analyzing the 2000 Presidential election using regression techniques in my statistics class, or debating the intricacies of agency fees in my policy class. The available courses here, in addition to their depth and breadth, truly stunned me, and if I could do this program three times over, I still would only scratch the surface of the list of incredible classes I want to take.

The Master’s program at HGSE is divided into thirteen cohorts, which run the gamut from Mind, Brain and Education to Technology in Education to School Leadership. Most cohorts require a few core courses, either prescribed specifically or to be chosen from pre-selected lists, but all leave plenty of room for electives. That flexibility, combined with the ability to cross register at the Kennedy, Law, and Business Schools, should have been the first indication of the plethora of options to which I was about to be exposed. It was not until Course Previews, though, when I was knee-deep in notes and open computer tabs, that I realized the extent of options available to us. For any education-related topic­­­ — program evaluation, urban schooling, prototyping, race theory, financial management, neurodevelopment — you name it, we got it. So, how did I tackle the daunting task of narrowing down my long desired list of fall courses to a mere four?

To begin with, I did some serious career research. The Career Services Office at HGSE offers wonderful resources for identifying your career goals, such as online workshops, virtual Q&A sessions, and gap identification methods. Participating in the gap identification process, for example, helped me realize that I should take a research methods course in order to gain necessary skills for research analyst positions. Next, I took full advantage of the Course Previews program. HGSE offers two days of Course Previews before the start of each semester, where each professor gives a 30-minute rundown of his or her course. These previews are a great way to see the professors’ teaching styles and get a better idea of the course content and expected workload (it’s good to know if your midterms would all be due on the same day, for example). Finally, the last step in picking my fall courses was talking to my advisor. HGSE pairs each of its students with a faculty member, whose job is to guide you academically throughout your year, and, if you’re lucky, provide free baked goods. My advisor has been extremely helpful, as, due to her years of student feedback, she could speak to the courses that were too similar to one another and the ones that overlapped slightly, yet still had important, nuanced differences.  

In the end, I settled on four classes that fit my professional, personal, and academic goals. I love waking up each morning knowing that my class discussions will challenge me, surprise me, and, no matter what, reinforce that I not only made the right decision in my course selections, but in my choosing of HGSE.

A glimpse into Stephanie’s life at HGSE…

HKS event

Stephanie recently attended a panel discussion with former White House Chiefs of Staff at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Law library - inside

HGSE students have access to all the libraries on campus. This is the inside of the Harvard Law School Library, where Stephanie spends a lot of her time studying.

Stephanie photo

Post and photos by Stephanie Straus

An Ed.M. candidate in the Education Policy and Management program, Stephanie Straus is looking to pursue K-12 policy research positions post-HGSE. As a Cambridge veteran, she is happy to share her favorite running trails and dessert spots. 





Welcome to campus: A tale of 3 buildings

The first week at HGSE was a blur of stimulating presentations, free food, and lots of new faces. As overwhelming as it could have been, I noticed right away that it was all grounded in a spirit of connection and building community. One common message students heard from faculty and staff was, “Reach out. This is your community.” They didn’t just say it—they showed it too. Every professor I met smiled and introduced themselves, eager to hear about my past experiences and interests. Every staff member—from the library to the Career Services Office—pointed me towards helpful resources and went above and beyond to answer my questions, hear my story, and ask follow up questions.

As any urban design student will tell you, space impacts experience. The fact that the HGSE campus is fully contained on one quiet, tree-lined street probably impacts the intimate, welcoming experience that I have had so far. For prospective students who haven’t visited Appian Way, I want to take you on a tour through the three main buildings on the HGSE campus.

Monroe C. Gutman Library, affectionately called “Gutman

Gutman photo

Gutman Library on a sunny day in October

If the HGSE campus was a human body, Gutman would be the heart. This is the building that many students, faculty, and staff find themselves gravitating towards first thing in the morning, between classes, before student clubs, and to grab a cup of coffee. The Commons cafe offers delicious, affordable food and there’s something for everyone: sushi, soup, pizza, sandwiches, salads, and hot entrees everyday plus coffee and baked goods to keep you going through moments of exhaustion. The Office of Student Affairs is situated on the first floor and they can answer most student questions or at least point you in the right direction. Gutman is also the HGSE library and has a diverse range of resources and study spaces, including outdoor patios, quiet communal spaces, group study spaces, and even a fireplace. If you visit HGSE, make sure you try the chocolate chip cookies at the The Commons. You will not be disappointed!

Larsen Hall


G08 photo

Professor Tivnan in a typical lecture hall in Larsen

Larsen Hall houses classrooms and faculty offices. I have a Research Methods lecture in Larsen Hall room G08. The room makes it easy to pay attention—there is a surround-sound audio system and multiple screens so there isn’t a bad seat in the room. The built-in, wrap-around desks offer tons of electrical outlets so I can charge my electronics during class. Multi-tasking win!

Longfellow Hall

Longfellow photo

One of the entrances to Longfellow Hall

Longfellow Hall is home to many student service offices: the Admissions Office, the Financial Services Office, and the Career Services Office. It’s also home to Askwith Hall, a beautiful, historic lecture hall that hosts the Askwith Forums and several large lecture classes.  In my first month at HGSE I have attending several events in Askwith Hall; “Education and Transformative Justice: How is September 11 Significant,” hosted by the Office of Student Affairs and “HGSE 4 Help: A Benefit Performance for Disaster Relief,” hosted by HGSE students.

Post and photos by Cecelia DeKorne

Cecelia_TeamPortraitCecelia DeKorne is an Ed.M. candidate in the Human Development and Psychology program and is interested in how adult development principles can be used to improve organizational culture. Cecelia is excited for the year ahead and plans to explore the many libraries on campus, learn as much as she can about organizational psychology, and try every type of cookie at The Commons! Cecelia is a Graduate Assistant at the HGSE Admissions office and will be posting throughout the 2017-2018 school year. 

Housing, food, fitness, and more!

Congratulations on matriculating! Now that you’ve decided to join the HGSE community this fall, Arpi and Gabi are back with a Q&A with some practical details for studying and living at HGSE and the Cambridge/Boston area. Food, fitness, and clubs, here we go!

Q1: What types of clubs and organizations are available for students at HSGE?

LAEF 2017 Conference

Gabi (HDP ’17): I have been a part of the Latin America Education Forum, a student organization dedicated to fostering productive dialogue around educational issues in Latin America. Throughout the year, we hosted movie screenings and debates, and a few weeks ago we had our main event, the Latin America Education Conference. It’s been a great opportunity to meet interesting people and learn more from their countries and my own. Cultural clubs are lots of fun here.

Arpi (MBE ’17): I also joined a cultural club, the Armenian Society at Harvard, which is based at FAS but open to the entire Harvard community. There are lots of clubs at the other University divisions that are open to the whole community, so chances are if you’re interested, you’re allowed to join! On our campus – and apart from those that are cultural and identity-based – there are also some clubs that apply their work on local and national levels. Just this year a group of students started a club called EduAct that is taking their activism and promotion of sound education policies on a national level, and often organizes on campus with professors as well. If there isn’t a club for your interest or mission, you can always form one through the HGSE Office of Student Affairs.

Q2: What kind of food will I find on campus and nearby?

Gabi (HDP ’17): You can find all sorts of food nearby! Darwin’s Ltd is one of my favorites for coffee and sandwiches (the Brattle is delicious). Border Cafe is a Mexican bar that understands student life and offers nachos and dip for free when you order other things. Algiers is a cute cafe on Brattle Street that makes you feel like you’re on a temple far away from Cambridge (which sometimes is everything you need). I also love going to Christopher’s, near Porter Square, for hamburgers and the occasional beer.

Arpi (MBE ’17): Gutman Cafe is among my favorite places to eat around campus. The staff are wonderful, the food definitely gets a thumbs-up, and thank goodness their prices are grad student-friendly. I love exploring the other schools’ cafes as well, since some of my courses are cross-listed at the other graduate schools. The Ed school contingency in my Law seminar usually grabs dinner together at the HLS (Harvard Law School) Pub on Wednesday nights after class (conveniently when they have trivia night), which is an awesome place to grab a bite to eat, and is open to the Harvard community. So even in a short walk’s distance, or if you want to stay on campus, your food options are not limited at all.

Q3: What exercise facilities and recreation opportunities are available?

Kayaking on the Charles River

Gabi (HDP ’17): People around here love to go jogging outside, and it’s great to exercise around the Charles River when the weather is nice. When that’s not the case, there are gyms around. I usually go to Hemenway Gym for Zumba, spinning and hip hop lessons–they are so much fun and help me remember that my body is not just this thing that takes my head to meetings. There are also more sporadic activities: I’ve been kayaking with a group of friends and heard of some people who have gone ice fishing and skiing around the area.

Arpi (MBE ’17): Harvard has two gyms on this side of the river, open to anyone who gets a membership – the MAC (Malkin Athletic Center) near Mt. Auburn St., and Hemenway by the Law School. I enjoy going to Hemenway since it’s a short walk from HGSE, although the MAC isn’t too much further for me to complain about it. For the really dedicated, there is also a November Project group based in Cambridge that does workouts one morning at week at the Harvard Stadium across the bridge, and they are fantastic! There are also lots of students who take classes – as an extracurricular and for credit – at the Harvard Dance Studio just a few minutes’ walk from HGSE. They have classes for all ability levels – and when I say all ability levels, I mean they even tolerate me with my two left feet and embarrassing lack of coordination.

Q4: How did you make plans for housing?

Gabi (HDP ’17): I’m an international student and was not familiar with the area at all, so my first priority was to find a place where I could feel safe. My second concern was to find somewhere practical so that I could maximize my limited time around here. Cronkhite made a lot of sense for my set of criteria: I reserved the room online and was able to get settled a couple of weeks before classes started. But even though Arpi and I live in the same dorm, there are so many other options available, from Harvard Housing or not.

Arpi (MBE ’17): I knew I wanted to live close to campus, since I wanted to spend as much time as possible at HGSE and attend as many lectures and events as I could. Of the Harvard housing buildings open to HGSE, Cronkhite was the closest to campus (being two blocks down Brattle Street from Appian Way). It was the best option for my price range and preferred move in/move-out dates (note that leases at Cronkhite tend to run the entire calendar year, from July to end of June the following year). This happened to work perfectly for me since I started my campus job in the summer. But there are plenty of students who commute from Boston or even further, including a cohort member who commutes from Rhode Island since he was based there prior to coming to HGSE. If you would like any referrals of students who commute from these different distances, let us know and we’d be happy to put you in touch.

Q5: How did you meet and get to know the members of your cohort?

One of many HDP Happy Hour events!

Gabi (HDP ’17): There were so many events going on in the beginning of the year, I couldn’t tell when exactly I got to know them. There were some that were specific to the Human Development and Psychology program and some for all of the Ed School. I was always on the lookout for other people from HDP and, to be honest, am still getting to know some members of my cohort. We have a regular Happy Hour event every week and every now and then we have special outings–a few weeks ago we watched a basketball game together, and last weekend there was a party at Prof. Rick Weissbourd’s house (our program director).

MBE at John Harvard’s Brewery

Arpi (MBE ’17): Well, it’s hard for my cohort members to not see each other because so many of our classes and interests have overlap (and that’s the case for pretty much every cohort here), so meeting your cohort members is not a problem at all. Orientation week was a great time for us to go on outings together in Cambridge and the Boston area and to get to know each other. Even before then, my cohort organized a few outings since some of us moved into Boston before orientation. We went to the Lawn on D, John Harvard’s brewery, and explored the Harvard campus together. As soon as classes started, the outings turned more into study sessions and study breaks, but we always find a way to meet up at least twice a month. Although, I’d be remiss to not give any credit to Mandy (our program administrator, “P.A.”, who also works with HDP) for organizing some of these study breaks!

Q6: Do you have an internship? How did you find it?

Gabi (HDP ’17): I am a Research Assistant at Agency by Design, one of the many projects at Project Zero (also called “PZ”). I am interested in creativity, and ever since before coming I knew that PZ studied themes around the intersection of arts and education, so I knew I should look for something over there. They had an Open House at the beginning of the semester, where I was able to get more familiar with the specific projects and people who worked there. I tried out for two projects before finding the one that was a good match for both me and the team.

Arpi (MBE ’17): I decided to have a campus job rather than an internship this year. Because I have a research background and less of a professional background, I wanted to prioritize gaining some professional experience while being at HGSE. Talk to CSO (the Career Services Office) early in the year, or even in the beginning of the summer, if you’re interested in such opportunities – they know exactly where to look and who to call based on your interests.

Q7: How do you find out about all of the events happening at HGSE, Harvard University, and across the broader Cambridge/Boston area?

Gabi (HDP ’17): So. Many. Newsletters. You will be flooded with emails about events from your cohort, HGSE, Harvard, research groups, labs, museums, etc. Gutman Library is always filled with posters about lectures. Facebook is a constant source of events in Cambridge, Boston, Somerville and surroundings. It is common for interesting events to cross your path when you least expect, so it’s good to leave time in your schedule to accommodate these pleasant surprises. Trust me, finding things to do will not be a problem.

Arpi (MBE ’17): For lectures and academic events, the Harvard Gazette newsletter is fantastic. It compiles events from across the university into a central calendar and highlights some of the big events of the day in the email. I also echo Gabi – there are lots of email newsletters, and they are fantastic. My favorites this year have been those for Askwith forums at HGSE, the Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior, and the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School. If you have an interest, there’s probably a newsletter for it.

We’re so happy you’ll be joining our community in the Fall! Congratulations again on your admission and your decision to enroll – we’ll be seeing you soon!

Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.

Arpi Youssoufian is a masters candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. A biologist by training, she is fascinated by the classic nature-nurture debate in the context of learning development, and wishes she could take every class in the HGSE course book. She hopes to pursue either a neuroscience doctoral program or medical school to bridge research and practice in the future.

We FINALLY Got a Win!

The 2016-2017 School Leadership Cohort is a good group of competitive individuals. We are always looking for ways to be strategic, efficient, and win! I truly believe we have taken leadership to a brand new level at HGSE. We have turned one class project into a gallery showing, published book, and a presentation at AOCC (Alumni of Color Conference). We have come together to support each other in times of academic, professional, and personal needs. But one thing we have yet to accomplish, is a win. For some reason, during every competition entered, SLP has never won. During the softball season, we had a team with the best team spirit, yet we never won a game (we even had cheerleaders and team hype music). During the HGSE basketball tournament, we made it to the semi-finals round and lost by one point in overtime. We tried so hard, yet we could not pull out a “W”, until….the Class Gift Challenge! (The Class Gift Challenge asks current HGSE students to donate funds to go towards financial aid opportunities for the incoming class at HGSE.)

Each year, students compete to see which cohort can reach 100% contribution to the class gift first. This cohort wins a “not a pizza party.” I am proud to say that the 45 members in the 2016-2017 School Leadership Program ALL contributed to the class gift fund within 48 hours of the competition opening! We finally earned our “W” and of course the bragging rights to go along with this win. I was most proud to be told that this was the FASTEST a cohort has EVER reached 100% participation. Although it took us long enough, I think this was a good win for SLP!

celebration emoji


Rashaida Melvin is a Master’s of Education candidate in the School Leadership Program. She has taught for three years and is excited about moving from the classroom into leadership. Rashaida is looking forward to serving both teachers and students in the future.  

Wait it’s the holidays and I don’t have a statement of purpose?!?

If you’re looking to apply for an HGSE master’s program, we’re about a week and a half away from the deadline. Confession time: as a classroom teacher, winter break is the moment when I finally got serious time to work on my Statement of Purpose. I had a few jumbled paragraphs, and I had thought about why I was applying, but between lesson planning, grading, four fall weddings, writing letters of recommendation, and being a person, I hadn’t made great progress.  

Thank goodness for a two-week winter break.

I had attended an HGSE session about the application process in November. At the session, people asked questions that made it clear they were on their eighteenth draft, or that their purpose was impressively specific — they wanted more inquiry-based STEM instruction…by female teachers…in Bangladesh. I sat there silently panicking that I had missed the boat and feeling like my “I want more kids to learn more” purpose wasn’t good enough. An admissions officer said the best Statements of Purpose made her cry, no big deal.

If you’ve already had your next door neighbor and your grandmother read your latest draft, this post isn’t for you. Go enjoy winter and eat cookies or ice skate or something. For those of you who are more like me: you can do this.

Here’s what I did:

  1. December 22 & 23: I sat down with my notebook and free-wrote for five notebook pages over two days. There are descriptions of the macro problems in education I see and my “how to” for addressing them, stories about specific students I’ve taught, an explanation of why I teach, questions about education that I don’t answers to yet, lessons I’ve learned about schools and kids and teachers,  what I’m good at, and a list of things I want to be able to say about my career when I retire. Then, I read what I wrote and noted the themes. Overall, I tried to answer three questions provided by HGSE:
    1. What is motivating you to go to grad school?
    2. What skills, beliefs, and experiences do you bring? How did you get to this point?
    3. Why Harvard? How do you know this is a right program?
  2. Dec 26-28: I tried really hard to write but I was home and enjoying my family and my high school friends and Netflix and powering through the last few college recommendations I had to write. It took getting into a new space (for me, a coffee shop) to get me started. It also took starting in the middle — I couldn’t come up with a beginning moment to dive deep into. I found that answering “why Harvard” and “why now” clarified my more general “why grad school.” This process was two long mornings; once I had something to work from, it became much easier to work in smaller time chunks in between being a good family member.
  3. Dec 29 & 30: Frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to begin, I took a break from writing and went to Twitter and my smart teacher friends to read and think about education more broadly. Through my reading, I found a program I thought was really cool that wasn’t workable in my education context. Describing what I liked about the program, why it wouldn’t work, and how that mismatch pushed me to want to do grad school became my beginning, which further clarified my purpose. It wasn’t orthodox, but it worked for me (I guess!).
  4. Dec 30: I knew I had it when I could say my reason for going to grad school in one (long) sentence to the last friend I saw before leaving Minnesota.
  5. Jan 2: Once I had in all the things I wanted to say, my statement was pretty disjointed because I had written it without a clear plan and over multiple days. I sat down and followed the advice I give to high school juniors and reverse-outlined what I was saying. From there, I wrote why I was including each piece. That helped me clarify my thinking and condense my writing.


    Making it make sense (#5)

  6. Jan 3: This is where I should have given it to other people to read. I did not. Don’t be like me. Make anybody else read it (see #8).
  7. Jan 4: I did, however, read it aloud and to myself repeatedly, trying to make it sound smooth and stay under the word count.
  8. Do not, under any circumstances, read it after you are done submitting it before hearing back. I found a mild typo in a sentence I had wordsmithed to death and spent two weeks haunted by a misplaced “for”. Even if I hadn’t found an actual error, rereading made me feel trite. A year out, it feels meaningful again, but it wasn’t helpful at the time.

I would have loved to have done this process over the span of months, but this weeklong intensive is what I had. Writing in the same places I worked on college applications in ten years ago (my bed, the kitchen table, and the coffeeshops of south Minneapolis) added an extra level of reflection. 

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

Pressing the Button: Passing on Good Advice for Deciding When To Apply and What Program to Pick

To those of you who don’t have it all figured out:

I thought about applying to grad school for three years before I pressed “submit.” I had the GRE scores all ready to go, but I wanted to have a clear vision of exactly what I wanted from life and thus grad school before I applied. I also wanted to have a deep understanding of teaching and learning in a few real world contexts. Secretly, enough people had been skeptical of my plans to teach that I also half-expected to wake up one day done with teaching; grad school would be a pivot to something else. However, neither that perfect clarity nor that frustration with the classroom ever came, and those GRE scores expired and I had to take it again when the moment was right.

Once I did decide to come, my motivations were more questions than preparing for a role; I had to dive deep into the acronym alphabet soup that is the HGSE Master’s Program to figure out which one would best fit what I wanted from my experience here.

I was lucky to have wise counsel along the way, especially from HGSE alums. In particular, I had amazing guidance from my assistant principal, who did an earlier version of the Instructional Leadership strand of the Learning & Teaching (L&T) program in late 1990s. If you’re sitting there debating about whether to actually do it, or still don’t know if you’re more AIE or MBE or TIE, two helpful pieces of advice he told me helped me decide when and what:

#1: Think about the money, but also think about the time. When do you have a “spare year” to do this?

In my case, I’m in my late twenties, and I know my willingness and ability to up and leave goes down every year. I don’t have a ton of “spare years” left. I decided I had hit the sweet spot of professional experience, future direction, and personal ability, even though none of them were as “perfect” as I hoped they’d be when I pressed submit. Doing a full-time masters is both a professional and a personal decision.

#2: When in doubt, choose the more flexible option. 

Obviously, if you want a certification, want to work in higher ed, or look at a program where every requirement fills you with joy from head to toe, you have a clear program choice.

However, I wavered between Education Policy & Management (EPM) and the L&T program because both look at improving student learning through different levers. They’re both very customizable programs, but L&T felt even more open. HGSE is a candy store for education nerds, and I’m appreciating being able to adapt my plan as I discover things I didn’t even know I wanted to do. I could do that with EPM, too, and I think I’d have a very similar experience in practice. However, for me-on-the-fence-a-year-ago, the slightly-more freedom L&T offered offset some of the anxiety I had about having an only 85% clear vision of what I wanted from this experience. 

Bonus piece of advice, from me: if your GRE scores are about to expire, that is not a terrible reason to make this the year you apply. If you thought you hated that test the first time you took it, having to relearn special triangles six years later, again, is even more infuriating.

Good luck with the soul searching, the writing, and the scramble!

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

A Purple Chair


Sitting on the purple chair in Gutman and staring out to the corner of Appian Way and Brattle Street. I just waved to some familiar faces. Months ago, I didn’t know this would be the chair I wrote my paper on first-generation programs, or where I’d engage in a twenty minute dialogue about educational rights of children in the midst of countries in warfare, or where I’d watch Sesame Street clips of Game of Thrones (Game of Chairs) and Star Wars (S’more Wars) parodies as a study break. But here I am, typing, seeing new friendships, and imagining my disruptive impact as I listen to Ed Sheeran.

I spoke to Mike Esposito (Ed.M. ’15) of the Harvard Financial Aid Office in the beginning of the semester and he shared with me something that has deeply resonated; our knowledge is a sphere, and the space around the sphere is the unknown–as we learn more, our sphere grows, but as we understand more, we become more aware of what we don’t know. Relatively speaking, the more we know, the less we know since the sphere’s surface area interfaces with more space.

Everyday is another discourse on a new educational movement, theory of change, and critique. The continued perspective is humbling. As my sphere grows, I need to keep traveling around my newfound world of understanding. Vigilance in intertextuality is the proverbial airplane–and I’ve racked up a lot of air miles. Although traveling is fun, it can be exhausting. I can feel the rich experiences in my DNA, but also the exhaustion stealing my love. With two weeks left to go for finals, I’m enduring the last leg of traveling before I can return to my mental palace and replenish. Yes, the workload is rigorous, but a few more connecting flights through tackling another 15 and 20 page paper will land me home–well, maybe after another break as I fall back into the purple chair.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

Work Hard, Play Hard


When I look at this picture, I see a woman who is committing a difficult task: balance. I feel this way everyday. This semester I am taking 16 credit hours, completing a required 250 hour internship, and doing all of the readings, projects, and assignments that come along with those classes. That’s just my responsibilities for school. Let’s add on being the Master’s Tri-Chair for the Alumni of Color Conference (AOCC), being an Admissions Ambassador (which gives me the great opportunity to write these blogs!), being a Communications Fellow, attending office hours, listening to speakers, attending debates, and all of the other amazing opportunities that this Harvard education provides. This does not include eating, sleeping, and maintaining a social life with my friends and family that are both here in Cambridge and in other areas of the country.

How do I balance all of my responsibilities and still have time for me? I plan EVERYTHING. It is simple in theory, yet requires a great amount of discipline to follow. In the few months that I have been here, many people have told me that I am very efficient. I never realized this characteristic before being here, but I am glad this strength decided to show up during this time!

Here are a few ways I maintain sanity while everything continues to move around me:

1. Plan to have a calendar.


I know I already said this but it is important. At the beginning of the semester (or anytime really, you could even start now!) go through all of your syllabi and write down the due dates for all of your assignments on a calendar that you can access on any device (Google Calendar, iCalendar, etc.).

2. Plan your breaks!


I am a firm believer in work hard, play hard. If you spend time putting all of your assignments on the calendar it can be discouraging. So in order to make yourself feel better, find one weekend a month to take a break from work. I only encourage one weekend, however if you need more time for yourself, then take it! I always find little moments here and there for me. But scheduled weekends cannot be touched by work. Sometimes you just have to be selfish for your own well-being.

3. Plan when you are going to actually do the work! 


Now that you are encouraged by your scheduled breaks, go back to your calendar and set dates to complete the assignments. For example, if I know that my paper is due Thursday, I am going to schedule time before Thursday to actually work on that paper. This decreases stress because you aren’t working up until the last minute on an assignment. I know this is an idea that may seem unrealistic to those procrastinators out there. Well, guess what? I am a procrastinator too! But because I value my scheduled weekend break so much, I am motivated to stay on schedule so that I can still take my break. I also live by my calendar these days. I used to always use a “mental” calendar, but having all of my obligations in one location is everything and helps keep me sane!

4. Do things that make you happy!


I love Monday nights with my SLP softball team Resting Pitch Face! So refreshing and rejuvenating!

This is so simple, yet can be so hard. Pamper yourself! If this means you have to rearrange your budget to get your nails and hair done, then that is just a sacrifice that is worth taking. If you need time to work out twice in a day, then make time for it. The things that I used to do to make myself happy are different now that I am back in school, in a different environment, and surrounded by different people. It took some time to rediscover this for myself but I am glad that I did. I personally enjoy lighting candles and binge watching something on Netflix or spending hours catching up with all of my friends.

5. Be aware of your mental health, it’s important!


A lot of people don’t take mental health seriously. I do! I am a firm believer that it is ok to seek help! The type of help may look different for individuals (some may go to friends, some need time with their pets, others to therapists, or even a mixture of all!), but either way you have to invest in yourself. Sometimes speaking and having someone listen can drastically change your perspective on life. Transitioning to being back in school is difficult. It is ok to feel challenged during the transition back to being a student again. It is NOT ok to suffer in silence by yourself. There are plenty of people who are willing to help. Help comes from your personal support system, your new friends and classmates who are probably feeling the same way, faculty and staff, and of course Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services. The Counseling and Mental Health Office even have animal therapy. Although I have never tried it, I think it would be pretty cool to play with a therapy dog one day. I know that would definitely be a happy place for me!


Rashaida Melvin is a Master’s of Education candidate in the School Leadership Program. She has taught for three years and is excited about moving from the classroom into leadership. Rashaida is looking forward to serving both teachers and students in the future.

One year later

I first visited Appian Way around this time last year to attend the Diversity Recruitment Program (DRP). During DRP, I heard powerful voices from faculty, staff, and students articulating their stance on complex challenges in education and their day-to-day agency on all students’ behalf. I was amazed by others and second-guessed my ability. I remember combating my imposter syndrome with a phone call to my mentor and check-in with my closest friends. I ultimately decided to apply and you can guess how that turned out.

One year later, I found myself on the student life panel addressing attendees of this year’s DRP. It was surreal. Although I felt much more comfortable in Askwith Hall this time around, my impression of those around me did not shift. I met a prospective student who works specifically with low-performing students to understand their deepest needs. I connected with another prospective student who worked for several community based organizations–she worked with traditional age college-going students and veterans. I chatted with someone who hopes to champion international education policy, and she asked me how one’s intersectionality exists in spaces like HGSE.

I shared something with those in attendance at the student panel at DRP that I realize is truer every moment I spend here. An alumnus of HGSE and I had a chat about content of knowledge and the unknown. Imagine a sphere. The sphere itself represents the content of knowledge you have acquired. The space around the sphere is the unknown. As you continue to learn, the sphere grows in size. But as it grows, there is more surface area that interacts with the unknown space around it. Thus, the more content you learn, relatively speaking, the more aware you are of just how much is unknown.

If you’re looking into HGSE to confirm your theories and acquire the Harvard laurel, I’d encourage you to pause. This place has a habit of converting your answers into many complex questions. The personal resolve you have to dive into what matters deeply to you is what sustains you here, not molding your learning only to confirm your hypothesis. I hope that’s a nugget that you find helpful, especially because you might just find yourself here next year in the class of 2018, sharing your own journey to HGSE on a student panel.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

Charter Schools, HGSE, and Me

One of the best things about attending HGSE is having access to so many cool (and free!) events and lectures. Recently, I attended a charter school debate through HGSE’s public lecture series, Askwith Forums. The event, “More Charter Schools? The Massachusetts Vote and the National Debate,” gave voice to the two opposing sides on a state ballot question that could lift the cap on creating new charter schools in Massachusetts. As a TEP (Teacher Education Program) student, I am spending my year interning in a 6th grade classroom at a Boston Public School. As a future educator, it’s really important to me to learn about issues that may affect my students’ lives and schooling experiences. And as a brand new Massachusetts resident, I found the forum to be personally informative as I prepare to vote this November.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can live stream any Askwith Forum online or you can watch the recorded sessions afterwards. This is from the Askwith Forum I attended:


Sarah Mintz is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Teacher Education Program, pursuing licensure as a middle school English teacher. She comes to HGSE from Washington, D.C., where she worked at an independent school and a non-profit serving incarcerated youth. Outside of education, she loves to spend her time cooking and exploring the city with friends.