Tag Archives: Cohort

Wire & Fire Series: Building community one network at a time!

One of my many goals for my year at Harvard has been to not only bask in the glory of the genius that surrounds me but to engage these ‘brainy’ peers/alumni/professors in coffee or lunch meetings; my hope in setting up these coffee sessions is to learn a little bit more about the holistic human behind the impressive credentials and experiences. It was during one of these meetings that a recent alumni of the Mind, Brain, and Education program lamented, “I wish I had more meetings with people and built meaningful relationships last year.” This person was so caught up in course work, talks, events, and projects, that she confessed putting genuine human connection on the back burner. Now she makes it a point to caution current cohort members, lest we fall into the same trap. It is very easy to prioritize personal growth over community-building even though, more often than not, the places we go are heavily dependent on the people we know!

When all is said and done, there is no resource out there that is kinder and more generous than another human. Even better if that human is a former colleague or friend. With that in mind, the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council [DIAC] subcommittee for this cohort (a.k.a The Dream Team) – Yanela, Jordan, Rachel, and Mona (with unconditional support from Mandy, our Program Administrator) – set out to establish this core community by highlighting each member’s personal and professional diversity.



Yanela Cruz, MBE ’16


Jordan Freeman, MBE ’16


Rachel Hanebutt, MBE ’16

profile pic 2014

Mona Anchan, MBE ’16     (DIAC Rep)







Mandy Farhoodi Moberger, MBE Program Administrator







The activities and events planned to achieve this were cleverly titled the Wire & Fire Series, as a nod to both the neuroscience element of the program and the famous saying, “cells that fire together, wire together” based on the work of psychologist, Donald Hebb. It also denotes the committee’s dedication to provide several avenues for cohort members to connect and interact with each other in order to build deeper and stronger bonds.


The first phase of the series is Member Spotlights, which are scheduled to begin in mid-February. The spotlight series will showcase one cohort member every day in order to highlight the rich mix of background and experiences that exists within the group. Once started, the Spotlights will run each day in the semester until every member in the cohort has been featured. The next event that will begin in early March will include several coffee and tea gatherings with professors, alumni, and affinity-based peer groups. The third will be a “fishbowl” event that will further the progress made in the previous two events by allowing an avenue for people to connect with each other based on future professional interests. In addition, there are talks about doing a talent show and a musical event in service to the same cause. The committee is also working towards jump-starting awareness and active conversations around the topic of disability since it is an area that does not have the same visibility as the concepts of race, gender, sexuality, and identity at HGSE.

As we begin our spring semester full of hope about building a strong and tight-knit cohort community to last us a lifetime, here is a sneak peak into one such resonant story that patiently awaits in our daily e-mails and Facebook notifications to brighten our days and enrich our lives:

Today’s Spotlight isERIN MERNOFF !
Mona Anchan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. Mona has toggled between the research and teaching professions for the last ten years. In addition to her role as a Neuroscience and Psychology researcher, Mona has also taught science and math as a high school classroom teacher, tutor, and college instructor. She is on a quest to find avenues to bridge the theory-practice divide between neuroscience and education. She is actively seeking to connect with kindred spirits with the same mission.
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There’s no place like “Hugsie”

joey & HuggsyHugsy? Like Joey’s stuffed penguin from Friends?

Or maybe Hug-Z,  Jay-Z’s cuddly cousin we haven’t heard about! However you spell it, it sounds like a blanket of thousand marshmallows cascading you on a snowy winter’s day…so soft, so warm, an all-embracing bubble of kindness and compassion. That’s Harvard’s Graduate School of Education or HGSE, lovingly referred to by students as “Hugsie” for the ethereal feeling it generates among all who frequent the one block that is Appian Way. I felt it on that cold March day as I set foot on this campus as one of many prospective students at an Open House, and I feel it even more so now that I have spent five long but amazing months as a student here.

Born and raised in India, I was always taught to pick a lane and stick to it if I ever wanted to go somewhere or be somebody. Of course, I never listened! “If you put one leg in one boat and one leg in the other, you will go nowhere and you will drown” is one of the many nuggets of wisdom I heard almost everyday growing up. That’s one way of looking at it. “What if a big awesome ship comes by and picks me up? Then I’ll have something better than two boats and I’ll reach my destination faster,” little me always wanted to say but deferred out of respect to my elders. Well, they may not exist in abundance but there are havens for people who like to pledge their allegiance to more than one discipline and one interest. The Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) cohort at HGSE is one of those havens!

MBE Pie Party 1__Nov 20 2015

MBE 2015-16 cohort at the MBE Pie Party

Having lived under the poverty line for more than six years after my family came to this country, I developed a whole new appreciation for people who generously dedicated their lives to education as a means towards liberation and enlightenment. Since then, I started my dream of starting a school for children in low-income households. As I began to be trained as a neuroscientist, this dream shifted into a different type of school – a school whose methods, operations, and pedagogy was based on neuroscientific research. As I began teaching at a high school, reality reared its attractively-challenged head and my dream came crashing down. How on earth was I going to do this? Where would I start? Who would even understand my mission and goal? Nothing that existed came close to my vision for a school. Looking back, it seems silly that I thought I was alone in this journey. In MBE, I have found scientists, educators, managers, artists, and a variety of other kindred spirits who are fearlessly balancing themselves on the cusp of multiple boats, and are for the most part, WINNING!

But what makes HGSE unique is not just the rapport you build within your own cohort. Professors, coordinators, alumni, and many other permanent members of the community constantly advise us to capitalize on the sea of human potential that we encounter in the form of peers, and that is exactly what I set out to do during my Fall semester. I chose mostly elective classes in non-familiar areas such as policy, entrepreneurship, and technology to complement my  existing knowledge and networks. As a result, I experienced first-hand the reasons behind the gaps between different disciplines as well as professions. But the magnitude of learning, growth, and networks that tagged along with this challenge is so immensely valuable that words cannot do it justice.

A801 section

My A801 section buddies when we’re not disagreeing and debating with each other!

My HGSE colleagues have taught me to truly respect and utilize the value of my peers while being genuinely open and true to myself. I wake up everyday excited to learn things I know nothing about from people in HGSE and beyond. From constant battles about the necessity and feasibility of 21st century skills in an International Development context in my A801-Education Policy Analysis and Research section, to collaborating with the Harvard Graduate School of Design to introduce a design thinking workshop for the HGSE community, and so much of everything in between, the synapses in my brain have formed at an exponential rate since I started this journey in August.

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Happy campers at the Design Thinking Workshop we organized for the HGSE community.

The multitude of interactions and conversations with my peers and professors has taught me to be brave about my vision for a better school, but they have also opened my eyes to the many underlying issues I need to tackle first. But most importantly, they have shown me that I am not fighting alone. We’re all in this together!


Mecca, Eden, “Hugsie”….call it whatever happy place you will! I have never looked back and as this new semester starts, I am hungry for more.

Mona Anchan is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. Mona has toggled between the research and teaching professions for the last ten years. In addition to her role as a Neuroscience and Psychology researcher, Mona has also taught science and math as a high school classroom teacher, tutor, and college instructor. She is on a quest to find avenues to bridge the theory-practice divide between neuroscience and education. She is actively seeking to connect with kindred spirits with the same mission.

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A Supportive Network: The I.E.P. Cohort

Of the many things that have been going on recently, there’s one from two weekends ago that I’m still happy about — our cohort retreat. Sometime toward the end of the fall semester, a couple of students came up with the idea that we should all try to get away before the spring semester began to take a step back, reflect on how we’d used our time in the first half of the year here, and develop a community even stronger than the one we already have. So we spent a weekend in Petersham, at the Harvard forest, split between three wonderfully quiet community living houses and peppered with a whole lot of laughter. As great as it was to be involved in planning the retreat and thinking about all the things we could do together to build a stronger cohort, it was also just really nice to be around everyone, staying up late and playing games and chatting, and particularly listening to personal reflections at the end of the retreat. Being away allowed us the time and space to speak with people we might otherwise rarely run into, to play games and talk about our lives with people we otherwise might only see in class, and to appreciate how blessed we are to have such an incredible cohort.

The summer before grad school began, I spent hours worrying about whether this was the right decision. I worried that I wouldn’t fit in — that there  would be too many crazy smart, hardworking, passionate people who I might not connect to. But those fears have long since disappeared, because there are so many things to love about our the people we surround ourselves with every day — the classmate who took this great picture, the phenomenal planning committee who thought of all the little details and then some more, friends who listen to worries about classes and the job hunt, others who help you dress up for the masquerade ball (another blog post about that coming soon!), thoughtful colleagues who always have snacks ready in three-hour classes, supremely talented and brilliant friends who surprise you with their insights. All of the above, and great conversations and laughter.


Kim Fernandes is a Master’s candidate in the International Education Policy program. Having taught previously in Mumbai, Kim hopes to return to India after graduation to support government and low-income private schools. 


What is a Cohort?

At HGSE you hear the word ‘cohort’ constantly.  Students, professors, and admissions brochures refer to it as if it was the secret ingredient in HGSE’s award-winning recipe- and in a way this is true.  As a perspective student I kept thinking “okay, this cohort is clearly important, but what exactly is it?”

A cohort is a group of students studying in the same academic program.  Like undergrad, your class is determined by the year in which you and classmates will graduate (HGSE Class of ’15).   Your cohort is the group of students in your program concentration and class year (IEP Class of ’15).

There are fifteen cohorts on campus- one for each of the concentrations, as well as the Ed.L.D. and Ed.D/Ph.D cohorts.  Initially, you’ll get to know members of your cohort through proximity; members the same cohort spend a significant amount of time together throughout orientation.   During the semester, you’ll see the same familiar faces as you complete curriculum requirements and become involved with interest groups and student organizations on campus.  Cohorts develop internal communications systems and become an integral part of your social circle and support network while at HGSE.  But the truth is, no one can accurately describe a cohort because each cohort is unique.  A cohort is a community and each member of that community contributes something different to the overall shape and character of it.

You’ll receive text blasts, Facebook notifications, and mass emails inviting you to chili and board games at Laura’s, a tailgate before the Harvard football game, hikes in New Hampshire, library crawls (how else are you going to see all the libraries and reading rooms on campus?), study groups, local concerts, redsox games, and Askwith lectures. Your cohort will help drive your intellectual, professional and personal growth during your time at HGSE, and it will be what gets you through all of the late nights, long papers, and group projects.

Your cohort is your biggest cheerleader, most honest critic, some of your best friends, but it is not your competition.  HGSE students expect to become leaders and innovators in their chosen fields. We recognize that the best leaders are collaborators and the most important innovations occur across disciplines.   HGSE is about preparing you to make an impact, and your cohort will be one of your most important resources as you embark on this journey.

Me with Tim, also in the Higher Ed cohort, after we hiked Mount Chocorua in New Hampshire.

Me with Tim, also in the Higher Ed cohort, after we hiked Mount Chocorua in New Hampshire.

Ashley Litzenberger is a Graduate Assistant in HGSE Office of Admissions and Master’s of Education candidate in the Higher Education Program. Prior to attending HGSE, Ashley worked in Israel on projects that promoted peace dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth. She looks forward to exploring the ways in which colleges and universities facilitate intercultural dialogues. 

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