True Life: Reflections of 2nd Year Graduate Student

Ronunique Clark, MPP'23

April 20, 2023

Ronunique ClarkGraduation is a little less than a month away, and I am not sure if the time is moving faster or slower… but it is moving! When I began my journey to graduate school, it was a stressful one. I questioned myself a lot: is this the right move? Should I just wait another year or so? Did I choose the right field to go into? Every doubtful question went through my mind as I navigated statements of purpose, interviews, and gathering all the required application materials.  I only applied to 5 different programs, because I learned my lesson applying to multiple schools in undergrad and being on a time crunch. The Heller School was my first acceptance letter into a graduate program. I was proud but I was also terrified, maybe because the acceptance letter made it real. I said to myself, “Oh, we are really doing this, actually?” And that we were!

I graduated from Boston University May 2021 and began my semester at Heller in August 2021; orientation was on the day of my 22nd birthday. I know what you are probably thinking: only a 3 month break between undergrad and grad school? I mean, what can I say, I was working off momentum and under my own philosophy that if I do it all now I won’t have to do it later.  However, please be reminded this is what worked for me and everyone’s journey into higher education is different.

My time at Boston University really shifted my prospective on navigating a campus and courses. I had to constantly remind myself that I could not bring any academic doubts or baggage that I faced in my undergraduate program to this one. This was a new opportunity, a new place, new people, a new chance to test out my knowledge, and new avenue to work on my passion. I remember sitting in my first semester classes, listening intently to the introductions of my cohort and professors. I noticed that many people would end their introductions with what their field interests and passions were. I realized I did not really categorize my interests  just yet. I knew I came to graduate school to bridge the gap between government services and resources for communities however what does that mean exactly. I had to ask myself what government services and resources? Who are the communities I plan to serve? How do I ensure that I am providing solid recommendations and support when cultivating policy solutions for said communities? Once I was able to answer questions, it became easier for me to navigate courses and utilize the skills being taught connecting them to my passions. I have been able to participate within my class discussions and courses on the impact of insufficiencies with our government services and resources, understanding how to address the problem, what is the solution, and how the solution will be beneficial in the long term.

Another important aspect of navigating the Master of Public Policy program here at Heller is realizing the importance of networking amongst faculty, staff, and peers. Heller has a wide range of students, faculty, and staff who come from different cultural backgrounds and have different career fields and interests. Networking is key because you are able to connect with individuals from a array of backgrounds and are able to ask for guidance or assistance in your career goals and initiatives. When I had to start thinking about my final capstone project, I was concerned I would not be able to find a reviewer who had the expertise I desired. When my capstone professor suggested I speak to a particular professor, I was extremely nervous to reach out. They don’t even know who I am, so why would they even want to assist me? Come to find out: it was never that serious! Staff and faculty do not care if they only met you in passing or if an email is the first encounter, as long as you approach respectfully, curiously, and politely, they love to connect and/or assist if their schedule allows. Putting yourself out there can feel daunting and scary, but once you do it, you will not regret it.

As stated earlier, Heller is a place of many different people from all across world, representing 62 countries! When in a space this culturally diverse, it is easy for differences to arise in the way you may speak, write, present, and connect. While I love the staff and faculty, it was my peers who taught me the importance of creating safe spaces in the classroom, in organizational roles, and within the larger Heller community. No one should ever feel as if they are less than or behind because they do not have the same culture or cultural understanding as someone else.  To me, creating safe spaces means: 1) acknowledging someone’s culture respectfully, and not making someone feel  uncomfortable if they write or speak a certain way, 2) remembering that everyone’s background is different, so just because you believe or know something, that does not make the other person incorrect, and 3) never belittle someone for not knowing, teach them instead. As some who constantly practices creating safe spaces, coming to a small diverse program like Heller challenges me to always treat others the way I want to be treated and to embrace not only my own culture/background, but to do the same with my peers as well.

This blog is typically out of scope of what  I normally chat about, so thank you for taking the time to reflect a little about my graduate school journey  :). Thank you Heller, for the last two years. I have grown not just as an academic but as a overall better person.