Heidi Breeze-Harris

2016 Graduate, Co-Founder - One by One
Heidi Breeze-Harris

About

What about the MAAIS program attracted you to apply?

I came into this program with 22 years of professional experience, including 11 years as the co-founder and executive director of One By One, the first U.S.-based non-governmental organization dedicated to fistula treatment, prevention and reintegration worldwide.

I made the decision to go back to school to build a knowledge base in policymaking that would allow me to explore new avenues for my global health work. The MAAIS program promises to build practitioners, with functioning skills and networks that empower the kind of impactful work I love to do. That was a huge draw.

Choosing to enter a master’s degree program had significant opportunity costs: time spent away from family and not earning a salary while I was in school. MAAIS is specifically designed for professionals with some career foundation, and the affordability of an intense 10-month program was attractive.

What has surprised you most about the MAAIS program?

My experience with the MAAIS program has changed my perception of what qualifies as applied skills and knowledge, especially in international affairs work. I appreciated the interrelationship between topics in the program. I had an opportunity to explore issues that are often siloed in practice, but that really need to be viewed and approached with broader viewpoints and skills. One of the main examples I can give is a paper I researched and wrote about the intersection of disease epidemics and religion.

I think there is a tendency to measure the application of a class or an exercise by its specific utility in landing or succeeding in a specific job, or being a practitioner in a specific field. This kind of siloed utilitarianism is certainly more the norm and is often the easiest thing to teach to. The MAAIS program did an excellent job of teaching outside the silos, so that graduates are able to approach issues with a broader and deeper set of skills and perspectives.

The lecturers from the U.S. military in MAAIS have really driven this home for me: they are approaching today’s specific, daunting problems from the perspective of history, from regional and cultural contexts that go well beyond the seeming problem at hand. A history lesson may not seem “applied,” but embracing that contextual approach has made me a better decision maker.

How did the multidisciplinary nature of the program shift or reshape your thinking?

The multidisciplinary nature of MAAIS is one of its most important features. The challenges we face in the international arena are incredibly complex. MAAIS exposes students to a broad range of practitioners and leaders in their respective fields. There’s no plug-and-play set of solutions to the complex global challenges we all face. An effective practitioner needs three-dimensional thinking. I know that gaining skills and knowledge outside my direct fields of expertise has made me a more effective problem-solver.

How will this degree assist you on your career path?

MAAIS has truly made my “sandbox” bigger. Over the last 10 months, I have become interested in problems and issues that didn’t even know existed before I entered this program. I have been exposed to policy solutions that I didn’t know I could be a part of. The MAAIS program has given me confidence in new areas of content that will enhance where I go next.

What are you taking from this degree back into the nonprofit sector?

I have gained a richer perspective on where I fit, and where my ideas fit. Refining my knowledge and skills — recognizing that some of the things I’ve been doing all along have names. For instance, I have always taken a quantitative approach in my work. But at MAAIS, every one of my electives was in qualitative research methods. My enhanced research skills will serve me in everything from monitoring and evaluation to program design.

What advice do you have to students considering MAAIS?

First, appreciate the luxury of going back to school as a grown-up. This is an intense program. It can be challenging to be back in a classroom setting, but MAAIS allows you to spend time absorbing knowledge and testing new ideas in a low-risk environment.

Second, suspend your judgement about whether any given lesson or lecture is “useful.” In the process of learning, some tasks may not have immediately clear value. Open yourself to the possibility that everything we learn — from research to memo writing to knowledge-base growth — is “applied” in the real world. It doesn’t have to be a resume bullet point to have great value.

Finally, be present, participate and push your mind. Through this program you have the unique opportunity to connect with and learn from the amazing leaders, professionals and professors that MAAIS brings into the classroom every day.