The Power of the Heller Network

Calah McQuarters, MBA/MPP '24

October 31, 2023

Calah McQuarters“Anybody looking for a job?”

I practically yelled yes before she could even finish the question. It was early September and I was about two weeks into my first year at Heller. I attended a lunch meant to bring together new and continuing students in the MBA program. Most of the lunch was filled with introductions and small talk, but that question cut through all of the conversations happening around me and played like music in my ear. 

“What’s your email address? I’ll send you the job description.”

I read my email out to her and that was my introduction to Waltham Connections for Healthy Aging, Connections for short. Over the next few weeks I would meet with Elizabeth, the person that introduced me to the job and a fellow MBA/MPP Heller student, Walter, the program’s founder, and a handful of other volunteers. By the end of the month, I was hired on as the new Program Manager.

I recognize the way I found my first job at Heller was unconventional, but that’s one of the beautiful advantages of going to a close knit graduate school. You get connected to real opportunities by peers that want to see you succeed! Don’t get me wrong, I still had to go through an application and interview process to prove I was qualified for the role. And no, I wasn’t the only candidate. But having the ability to connect with Elizabeth and get a better understanding of the role helped both my confidence and preparation.

Waltham Connections for Healthy Aging is an organization working to make Waltham a more age-friendly city for seniors. Prior to starting with Connections, I didn’t really have any experience working with or for seniors, but I was up for the challenge. I also had a growing set of skills to help with the job thanks to my program! Classes like Leadership and Organizational Behavior helped me navigate new working relationships while Financial Reporting and Analysis helped me understand how to read the organization’s financial statements and budget. 

While all my courses contributed to my success at Connections in different ways. There are two courses that stand out. The first is Financial Management. I tell this story in a previous blog post, but I will share again because it truly was a highlight in both my job and class. 

“A couple of weeks ago, I was on a coordinating call for my job as a program manager at a local non profit. The team was discussing the need to hire a few new people and wanted to figure how changes in hours and pay may affect our long term budget. *Cue my moment to shine.* My boss asks me if I can work on doing some budget projections to figure out the best course of action. Now, had he asked me this in January, I probably would have been able to figure something out over multiple days and through some tears. But it just so happened that the next week I had a midterm due in financial management around budgeting out a new three year program for a non profit organization. So what may have taken me days in January really only took me an hour and a half in March because I had been learning and practicing everything I needed to know for the last two months. *sheds a tear of joy*”

The second course that stands out is Social Policy and Management through the Lens of Equity. This course shaped how I thought about approaching the initiatives I was responsible for. As a 24 year old, it was all but impossible for me to make recommendations on programs or infrastructure changes (sounds random, but very real) that would best serve seniors. But that’s what I felt I was often being asked to do. In my Social Policy and Management course, I was introduced to the practice of Participatory Action Research (PAR). This truly shifted how I not only approached my work, but also how I thought about decision making power. From that moment on, I advocated for increased input from impacted communities in all of the initiatives I was involved in. 

Initially, I planned to stay with Connections for as long as I was at Heller, but after being introduced to other opportunities (through professors at Heller), I knew it was time to part ways with Connections. But not before I could pass the torch to the next person. That person just happened to also be a fellow Heller student! See what I mean about the advantages of a close knit graduate community that wants to see you win!? 

I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve received through the Heller network and for the courses that have equipped me to succeed in every opportunity. And I look forward to the ways in which I can do the same for students that come after me.