How to juggle classes and diaper changes

May 17, 2018

From left: Brianne Connelly, MA SID'18, with her son Quin, and Melannie Levine, MA SID'18, with her daughter Dillan.

The Spring 2018 Heller Commencement—held this year on Mother’s Day—featured more kids than ever, from ones who could walk on stage with their dad to tiny infants snuggled up against their mom’s graduation stole. What is it like to juggle classes and research with midnight feedings and diaper changes? A couple of Heller moms, who had babies while they were students, share their experiences:   

Melannie Levine, MA SID’18

Where did you live and what were you doing before you came to Heller?

Although I am originally from Southern California, Dillan, my daughter, and my fiancé, Jeffrey Harris, and I currently live in Olathe, Kansas. Prior to coming to Heller, I had been working for my alma mater, LIU Global (Long Island University), as the International Program Administrator for three years. This position had me working and living in several countries, which included Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan, India, Spain, Thailand and Turkey. I was responsible for tracking the budget expenditures during each program. I also coordinated the logistics of all travel, room and board as well as the student services including health and safety. 

What are your initial post-graduation plans?

I am the eldest daughter of four, and three of the four of us will be graduating this year. One sister is receiving her Master of Science in Nursing degree in New Jersey, and another will be graduating from high school in California – Dillan and I will be attending these milestones. Dillan will also be with me and Jeffrey as I spend my seventh summer working at a summer camp in the Rocky Mountains. I’m looking forward to her spending time playing in (and, by default, probably eating) dirt, petting horses, goats and chickens, and soaking in fresh mountain air. 

I am also in the job market, and I hope to work for an organization that does environmental advocacy work, either in Kansas where we live, or remotely. My research focused on the movement toward designating nature— as has been done with corporations—with personhood status. This would give nature legal standing in environmental issues.  

When did you have your baby and what is his/her name?

Dillan Emri Harris was born Nov. 18, 2017 in Olathe, Kansas. Her first and second names originate using letters from Jeffrey and my ancestors. It is a tradition from my side that I wanted to continue. I essentially took the available letters and mixed and matched until I found something I loved. There were several other factors that aided my search for a name but that was a major one.

What was the most challenging thing about having a baby while you were finishing graduate school?

The most challenging thing about having a baby while I was finishing graduate school was knowing I needed to devote enough time to my practicum and researching/writing my final research paper (titled: Finding the Lorax – Defining a Representative’s Criteria for Speaking on Nature’s Behalf) while knowing that every second I gave to school was a moment away from seeing Dillan learn and grow. It broke my heart that I had to keep being pulled away from her. I knew, however, how far I had come with school in terms of studies and expenses, as well as how close I was to finishing. It was a constant struggle. 

What was the best thing about it?

The best thing was that I had been approved to complete my 2nd-year practicum remotely. I was able to do this because to the organization I worked for had its few employees work out of their living rooms across the country, enabling me to do the same. This allowed for me to balance my work and life much better than had I needed to go into an office every day. I was also able to witness Dillan's tiny moments firsthand as they were occurring because I was home.

Brianne Connelly, MA SID’18

Where did you live and what were you doing before you came to Heller?

From 2005-2016, I lived and worked in the South, primarily in the Mississippi Delta. I did two years of Hurricane Katrina relief with various NGOs along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast. This was followed by eight years as a middle school art teacher, nonprofit director and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) Service Learning Coordinator in rural Arkansas and Mississippi. The six months prior to coming to Heller, my husband and I traveled to Europe and Asia.

What are your initial post-graduation plans?

I will continue working at my practicum placement through the end of the school year teaching civic engagement curriculum at Boston-area YMCA after-school sites. I also currently teach fitness classes about 10 hours a week which I will continue to do. I will be on the job hunt at the end of June. I'm hoping to stay in nonprofit work around education and community engagement. I would love to find part-time work so I can stay home with my son, part-time, too.

When did you have your baby and what is his/her name?

My son, Quin Connelly Bacon, was born on July 30th, 2017. 

What was the most challenging thing about having a baby while you were finishing graduate school?

My motivation to put my full attention into my practicum and final consultant's report was lacking and I did not work on these things while I was at home with my son like I thought I would. We ended up paying for childcare one extra day of the week so I could solely focus on my report as the deadline to turn it in approached. This put a bit of a strain on us financially. In addition, to meet my practicum requirements, I had to start my work at the YMCA when my son was only two months old.

What was the best thing about it?

Because we have the option of doing a practicum in our second year as SID students, I was able to find one that allowed me to work in the afternoons which meant I could be at home with my son in the mornings. I'm so grateful for this flexibility because it means I have gotten to spend significant time with my son. I am also SO grateful to have classmates from all over the world that have embraced my son and love him. I'm so happy he can be surrounded by such amazing people.

Laurie Coots, PhD’18

Where did you live and what were you doing before you came to Heller?

When I began the program in 2010, I lived in Jamaica Plain and worked in Waltham. We have since moved to Wayland. I previously had earned a graduate degree from Dartmouth College and figured I would do a PhD at some point. I had many colleagues with PhDs from Heller, which is how I learned about the program.  

What are your initial post-graduation plans?

I’ve been working throughout the entire time I studied at Brandeis (at RTI International – a nonprofit research institute). During the coursework, I worked part-time. From 2012 to present, I’ve juggled full-time work, and in 2014, I began juggling being a mother and full-time work. 

When did you have your baby and what is his/her name?

My daughter, Katherine Clare, was born August 1, 2014. 

What was the most challenging thing about having a baby while you were finishing graduate school?

The most challenging thing was trying to make it all work. And, the sacrifices I had to make to finish my dissertation. I proposed and defended after she was born, which meant working on this really cut into family time.

What was the best thing about it?

Motivation! I had heard a long time ago that the majority of people that earned PhDs had parents with PhDs. That’s not the case for me, but it’s powerful to consider the impact you can have on your children by leading by example. I wanted to make sure that my daughter would know that someday she could accomplish something like this, if she so chooses. That was my primary motivation to complete my PhD after she was born—so that my daughter would have a role model and know that these kinds of endeavors can be accomplished—no matter how daunting it may seem.  

Media Contact

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