The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Student Profiles

Heller MBA students are a special crowd. We believe that our program attracts people who are uniquely innovative, hardworking, collaborative, warm and dedicated to social change. Our students hail from diverse backgrounds and professional experiences but all of them cultivate the skills and professional relationships here at Heller to graduate and manage for a mission. 

John Valinch, MBA/MPP'19

While working at UNITE HERE, a hospitality labor union, Valinch realized that he wanted to influence policies to benefit workers more broadly, particularly in job fields or geographic areas without the capacity to organize, as well as build up his management skills. The Heller School, with its social justice focus and dual MBA and MPP degrees, was a natural fit.  

“I’ve been blessed to not only find influence and insight from my own personal experiences, but also learn to understand and work on the institutional and interconnected roots of those problems, finding strength, love, and resilience in community as we build new futures together,” Valinch says.

Leila Quinn, MBA/MPP'19

"Growing up, my family was priced out of our neighborhood. I chose Heller's dual degree program specifically because I knew that in order for me to advance social justice in housing policy, I needed to understand business, economics, history, and so much more. The skills from both degrees will make me a better advocate and policymaker."

Max Brodsky, MBA'20

AmeriCorps VISTA Alumnus

“I took a service year with AmeriCorps*VISTA and ended up being placed at Brandeis to help oversee programs that work with low-income community centers here in Waltham. Serving with VISTA is something I found to be incredibly important. I was able to fine-tune more of what I hope to be as a leader.” While serving with VISTA, Max Brodsky also took a director role at the Chesterbrook Community Foundation, a Waltham nonprofit engaged in similar work.

“I learned while I was running the nonprofit that there’s so much I don’t know,” he says. “I’d already earned a master’s in education while I was in New York City, but that only teaches me how to convey information, to help children achieve their learning goals and understand educational standards. It doesn’t help me run a balanced budget, or manage operations, or build formal HR structures.”

Joel Pugh

Joel Pugh, MBA'20

AmeriCorps alumnus, Recipient of the Heller Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship

“There are so many things about this program that I’m looking forward to. Just this morning I had to tell myself, ‘it’s okay if you don’t do everything.’ I’m looking forward to the Board Fellows program, and I’m really excited about the entrepreneurship competition series. The thing I’m most excited for is being surrounded by people who have similar ideas about wanting to make an impact. I haven’t experienced that before coming here, and it’s really exciting to me.”

Ajai Scott

Ajai Scott, MA SID/MBA'19


"I knew my life's work would definitely involve youth development, definitely with a mission-driven organization. And I knew that Heller had that opportunity for me to live out my interest and passion for business. What does that look like? It could eventually look like me starting my own nonprofit organization, or a program partnering with existing youth-driven organizations that are already out there. I want to continue to be a voice for everyone that is facing intersectional inequities across the U.S."

Sylvia Murray

Sylvia Murray, MBA/COEX'18


In this video, Sylvia says, "I was working at a nonprofit that I founded in the peacebuilding field in Southeast Asia, and I was really looking to get a deeper dive into the practice and the field. I felt like I was really plateauing in my skills as a manager and as a nonprofit leader. I wanted to combine my peacebuilding foundation with a deeper dive into leadership skills, and the Heller program in COEX/MBA really matched those into a field of peace leadership that I'm emerging into now."

Josh Cramer-Montes

Josh Cramer-Montes, MBA/MA SID’17

Reflections on COP21 (UN Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference, Paris)

"As leaders, we must develop a diverse skill set. It’s not enough to have book smarts and passion for a cause. Good intentions coupled with a lack of emotional intelligence or the humility/knowledge of how to localize things for different contexts can cause more damage than good. Leadership and communications skills are also needed to navigate competing interests and perspectives, which can be one of the most challenging parts of working in the social sector. Heller has helped me strengthen these areas through courses like Planning and Implementation (from the Sustainable International Development program), Leadership and Organizational Behavior (from the MBA program) and Responsible Negotiation (from the Coexistence and Conflict program). These programs are complementary, not in competition—each can add valuable skills to a student’s quiver."

Jennie Kelly

Jennie Kelly, MA SID/MBA’17

Kelly joined two Heller classmates to found WorkAround, a startup that connects refugees around the world with online work. The startup won several pitch competitions and made it to the final rounds of Mass Challenge in 2017. “It’s great fun, but it’s a lot of responsibility,” says Kelly. “Being in touch with all of these people — they often tell me about their circumstances or why these jobs are so important to them, and I really feel like we have a responsibility for this business to succeed and keep providing them with work. People are depending on us.”

Program Director Carole Carlson describes the students who are attracted to the Heller School generally and the MBA program in particular.