The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

PhD Careers

Michael Levine, PhD'85

Chief Knowledge Officer, Sesame Workshop

Over the decades, Michael Levine, PhD’85, has rubbed elbows with civil rights activists, politicians, philanthropists, Hollywood celebrities and the most prominent child development researchers of his generation, all in a quest to improve child policy at every possible turn. From his office at Sesame Workshop in Lincoln Square in Manhattan, where he serves as chief knowledge officer, he looks back on a career that spans countries, sectors and disciplines.

“I made a choice to go to the Heller School because the school had heart and soul,” he says. “At Heller, social justice was in the DNA. The folks who walked the halls of Heller in the mid-1980s were mentors, activists and scholars who had been present at the very beginning of social justice policymaking. My upbringing was steeped in the civil rights movement and the War on Poverty, and Heller was a logical extension of that.”

Read more about Levine's work

Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD’77

President, The National Governing Board of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS)

To say Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD'77, has been a trailblazer in the field of life sciences innovation would be more than a bit of an understatement.  In her nearly four-decade career, she has played a central role in making Massachusetts a global leader in the life sciences; helped companies like Pfizer, Merck and Novartis bring dozens of lifesaving products and therapies to health care providers and patients around the world; helmed several companies; and been named one of the “10 Most Influential Women in Biotech.”

At Heller, Windham-Bannister found the support and challenge she needed to thrive. She recalls fondly how Norman Kurtz, now professor emeritus, made statistics come alive for her. “He really just made it fun and interesting,” she says. “He went a long way in bringing out for me more of a love for math and science. … I just had a great experience at Heller. The faculty, the students — the community was fantastic.”

Read more about Windham-Bannister's work. 

Marianne McPherson, PhD'09

Director of Implementation, 100 Million Healthier Lives

McPherson is a key leader of a small team charged with keeping the massive movement on track. She does a bit of everything, from coordinating resources for members, to developing the website and a measurement platform and providing leadership to the wide network of participants. “I really enjoy helping to connect the dots across a variety of issues. I love being able to support the diverse collection of members who together are transforming health and wellbeing with a core focus on equity.”

Read more about McPherson's work. 

Anne Douglass, PhD'09

Associate Professor and Executive Director, the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at the University of Massachusetts Boston

“I went into Heller to pursue what I was most passionate about and learned things I knew nothing about before, like organizational theory with Jody Hoffer Gittell. The immersion in organizational science research and theories of leadership have proved to be most influential in shaping my ideas and bringing them to fruition.”

Read more about Douglass' work. 

Joseph Wronka, PhD'92

Representative to the United Nations, People’s Decade for Human Rights Education

As a representative to the United Nations in Geneva for the International Association of Schools of Social Work for roughly a decade and professor of social work at Springfield College for 25 years, Wronka has spent his career advocating for underrepresented populations and researching and advancing human rights policy around the world. Wronka was initially inspired by his father to develop a humanistic way of thinking and acting in his life and was encouraged by Heller Professor David Gil to undertake the task of reading and comparing federal and state constitutions to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights which then motivated his dissertation topic.

Read more about Wronka's work.

La Verne Reid, PhD'99

Professor, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at North Carolina Central University

In addition to teaching and mentoring students, Reid partners with North Carolina state health agencies to design training programs to increase the cultural competency of healthcare providers working with HIV patients.

"I talk about my experience at the Heller School a lot with my students because we are very interested in health inequities. Heller exposed me to the language that policymakers use, and it's totally different from that of health inequality. I learned to speak that language and examine those differences. After receiving my PhD from Heller I worked with the North Carolina legislature, helping them understand how using data could inform their decision-making. Heller gave me access to that world. I learned the way policy is decided upon, and I understand that now. Heller opens doors."

Read more about Reid's work.

Steven Huberman, PhD'79

Founding Dean, Graduate School of Social Work at Touro College

"When Dr. Bernard Lander, the founder of Touro College, approached me to establish the graduate school twelve years ago, I initially said no. There were, and are, many outstanding schools of social work in New York and Boston. How could we compete with those, and from scratch too?"

Read more about Huberman's work. 

Carol Hardy-Fanta, PhD'91

Former Director, Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston

“My dissertation experience was wonderful. Most people encouraged me not to write a book as my dissertation so that I could finish the degree quickly, but my advisor, Deborah Stone, said, ‘If you want to write a book, write a book.’ She was very supportive, and she eventually connected me with an editor who published my first book in 1993. As the first person in my family to graduate college, I appreciated the fact that my professor encouraged someone like me to write a book, even though it was hard. It meant a lot to me. And writing Contested Transformation was even harder, but I felt like it was a book that just had to be written.”

Read more about Hardy-Fanta's work.

Freada Kapor Klein, PhD'84

Partner, Kapor Capital; Co-founder, Project Include

For decades, venture capitalist Kapor Klein has worked to reduce bias, harassment and discrimination in work environments through both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. “I wouldn’t be doing this work for this many decades if I weren’t fundamentally an optimist. I have been and remain an advocate for social and racial justice, and therefore I am an optimist.”

Read more about Kapor Klein's work. 

Mary Grant, PhD'00

President, Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate

Grant was named president of the museum in September 2017. She was formerly the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and previously ran the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams for 12 years before taking over at UNC-Asheville in January 2015. 

Read more about Grant's work. 

Fernando Torres-Gil, PhD'76

Director, UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging

Torres-Gil's research spans important topics of health and long-term care, disability, entitlement reform, and the politics of aging. He is the principal investigator for the Ford Foundation-funded Latinos and Economic Security project and a member of the board of the American Association of Retired Persons.

Read an example of his work in Time magazine. 

Joyce Lane, PhD'03

Co-founder and first President, Black Occupational Therapy Caucus

Lane was recognized as one of the American Occupational Therapy Association's “100 Influential People.” She is a longstanding educator and collaborator on issues that highlight the need for social justice. She has studied the impact of policy decisions on professional development and has incorporated policy development in her work with mental health organizations in Illinois. 

Read more about Lane's work.