Brandeis University, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

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Learning Across Borders

Lisa Lynch

Lisa Lynch
Dean and Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy
The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Brandeis University


The Heller School’s Sustainable International Development and Coexistence and Conflict programs are based on innovative and flexible interdisciplinary curricula that draw from scholarly research in economics, political science, history, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology. The focus of our programs is the application of this knowledge to the real-world problems of those most vulnerable and displaced in our society. This includes those who struggle with poverty, inequality, social exclusion, war and conflict, environmental degradation, human rights violations, and preventable diseases. Learning across borders is achieved by the composition of the Heller student body, a faculty of renowned scholars who are seasoned international development practitioners, and a significant field practicum experience within host organizations throughout the world. Heller is truly a global community embracing and celebrating the world’s cultures and religions and learning from each other.

Heller has students from over 60 countries, with two-thirds from developing countries. What kinds of backgrounds do these students have?

More than half of our students are from countries outside the U.S., and many of our domestic students have spent considerable time abroad. Examples include a leading human rights advocate from Liberia, an engineer linking biodiversity conservation with energy access in India, an organizer of a nongovernmental organization in Togo educating youth in nonviolent protest, a community development officer for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, and an HIV/AIDS program officer from Oxfam Hong Kong.

There has been plenty of debate about the value of a higher education degree. What is it about Heller that makes it a worthwhile investment?

If you’re going back to graduate school as an experienced professional, you don’t want to be jammed into somebody else’s cookie-cutter notion of what courses you’re supposed to be taking. The ability of Heller to provide flexibility is a large part of our value proposition. The fact that students in our Sustainable International Development program can take management classes in our MBA program, health courses in our International Health Policy and Management program, negotiations and conflict resolution in our Coexistence and Conflict program, and classes and workshops in women’s and gender studies provides a wealth of options and access to an extraordinarily rich and diverse learning community.

For someone interested in studying international relations today, why go to a school of social policy like Heller?

This question is best answered by Heller’s 2012 commencement speaker, economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen. At a time when the world has been in a deep recession and the needs of the destitute have expanded, Professor Sen argued that the preparation a student receives at a school such as Heller will be critically important. In his words, “The world needs social policy and social engagement for combating social exclusion and economic and social inequality and disparities of various kinds. Human societies have always flourished through people helping each other. It is in social engagement and policy that we come closest to the philosophy of mutual help and support.” He concluded that in this time of global needs we need graduates focused on action and committed to social justice.

The Heller School
The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Brandeis University
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