Hello Heller! Serina Herron-Smith's Acceptance Story

Serina Herron-Smith

September 21, 2023

Serina Herron Smith HeadshotThe sun was setting, illuminating the roof of the Massachusetts State House from where I could see it in the conference room and I couldn’t wait to get home. At the time,, I was participating in a public meeting for my job, and in the conference room, lunch had just wrapped up and now we were getting ready to begin the policy roundtable. I’d checked my application status during lunch and now there was no way I'd be able to focus on the task at hand – a decision had been made on my Heller application.

Only a few people knew I had begun to apply to grad school, but at that moment, I wished I could text my family and my best friend and let them know that my most anticipated response was waiting for me when I got home. I’d been familiar with Brandeis – and the Heller School – due to having discovered it during a midnight Google search years ago when I first completed my undergraduate degree (what can I say? I’m a night owl!). A close friend of mine had told me how much she wished she had gotten some work experience before applying to grad school, so I left the webpage and forgot about it. For five years.

Fast forward to October 2022 and I finally felt ready to go back to school and further my education. In (another) burst of productivity in the middle of the night, I started five grad school applications and drafted emails to request recommendations from professors and my manager. I had the honor of working with two Heller alumni and I’d heard from each of them about how wonderful Brandeis is and how special Heller is. It solidified my decision to make Heller my top choice, however, I decided not to let them know I was applying – it would be a fun surprise to share with them later if I was admitted.

Finally free from the confines of the conference room, I was anxious. I tapped on the window of the bus as I made my way home, and I took the stairs up to my apartment to use up some energy. I even dropped my keys a few times trying to open my door. Finally inside my little studio apartment, I gingerly made my way to my laptop and opened it. I signed in and hovered the mouse over the “view admissions decision” button and took a deep breath. I whispered to myself “please, I really want to go here”, and clicked.

The first person I called was my mom. I went from sitting on my couch, to a dining room chair, to pacing back and forth. I let out a shaky laugh while she called my dad to come to the phone and put me on speaker. The happiness they felt for me was palpable, and I was ecstatic. It’s a special kind of feeling to know that your hard work has paid off and that you’re on the cusp of starting a new chapter of your life.

Ultimately, I chose Heller for its community and commitment to social justice. You could argue that there’s universities all over the country where you can learn development, but Heller was the only school I found that emphasized social justice, sustainability and equity as being core to their mission. Between the heartfelt testimonies from my coworkers and the personal anecdotes on the Heller Blog (hi, everyone!) I knew what my choice would be, and I’m glad, even if I waited five years to make it.