Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership by the Forward

Beyond Content: Reasons for Grad School

By Dr. Keren E. Fraiman

There is significant research about the increasing demand for graduate education across all industries. In some cases, individuals are looking to obtain skills or tools for advancement in their field. Graduate education, however, has the potential to offer so much more. Our work suggests that, even beyond content, as a student your experience will be meaningful, motivating, and refreshingly relevant to all aspects of your life.

Recognizing the potential to impact Jewish life, several years ago, Chicago-based Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership set an audacious goal: To be the world leader in Jewish leadership training, providing sophisticated, holistic graduate and certificate programs for professionals across the globe.

We sought to empower Jewish communal professionals, dedicated community volunteers, educators, and seekers of learning, with the knowledge, skills, and tools to make significant impact, both within and beyond the Jewish community. Why? To ensure that Jewish communities have the agility and expertise to thrive in our rapidly changing world.

Today we are proudly on our way, with Spertus students and alumni serving Jewish organizations of every size and description, in our hometown of Chicago, and—without exaggeration or hyperbole—around the world.

We believe in community, starting with the way students learn. In many of our key programs, students progress through the curriculum with like-minded learners who work or are seeking to work in the ever-more-diverse Jewish nonprofit sector. Local students meet weekly and international cohorts come together in real life at twice-yearly seminars.

Across our programs, graduates rate the lasting friendship and support of their cohort among the most valuable aspects of the program, along with the guidance of skilled faculty members (all accomplished academics and real-world industry practitioners) and the professional mentors paired with each student. There is no doubt that the content covered in the MA program provides knowledge, skills, and tools essential for adapting and growing in today’s shifting marketplace. However, it is the opportunity to learn together in a diverse community of highly committed Jewish professionals — to share ideas and be challenged within a Jewish context—that extends the value of the experience long after graduation. Our alumni not only continue to support each other outside the classroom, but the Spertus experience has become a point of connection for advancement and growth as individuals transition to new opportunities.

What might your fellow cohort members do? We brought together some local students from Spertus Institute’s MA in Jewish Professional Studies (MAJPS) program to share a taste of their work.

Caleb Bromberg, pictured left, is the Youth Engagement & Curriculum Coordinator at Temple Sholom Chicago, where he shapes the Jewish educational experience of tomorrow’s young adults. His love for Jewish learning is unquestionably contagious. He has been researching education trends and adapting them to a Jewish context, adding a social justice focus, and reinvigorating the ways that Hebrew is taught. Out with workbooks, in with participatory learning!

Joelle Swatez, center, is passionate about weaving Jewish meaning into the ways people live. As Director of Development and Operations at University of Chicago Hillel, she helps students build Jewish lives on campus, a process complicated by the need for students to navigate the complexities of today’s political climate. Before stepping into this new role, she fed the hungry and nourished their spirits as the coordinator of the Jewish United Fund’s Uptown Café.

Lauren Silverman, right, serves as Senior Young Adult Engagement Associate at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. She helps recent college grads, Birthright Israel alumni, and young Jewish adults find connection—to each other and the Jewish community.

Thanks to a generous outside donor, tuition-offsetting fellowships are available to students like Caleb, Joelle, and Lauren. Funds are awarded on a first-come basis to employees of Jewish agencies and organizations who are committed to continuing their Jewish community work.

The 2020-2021 North American cohort of the MAJPS program begins March 22, 2020. For those who have worked in the field for 12+ years, the next cohort of the accelerated executive version of the program begins June 7, 2020.

This opportunity comes at a time when trained Jewish professionals are in high demand. A report by the Bridgespan Group estimates that 75-90% of Jewish nonprofits will need new executive leadership by 2024 (by the way, the date of Spertus Institute’s centennial). The study cautions that without field-wide programs that train the next generation of Jewish leaders, the demand for new executives will be difficult to meet.

“The experience of our graduates proves that professionals working in today’s Jewish community benefit greatly from the relevant leadership training provided by this program,” said Spertus President and CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell. “But in the current economy, the agencies and organizations for which they work just don’t have the funds available to subsidize professional education.”

“Participants in Spertus Institute’s graduate programs will be driving the vibrant Jewish organizations our community needs today and in the future,” said Dr. Bell. “With these students in mind, we are committed to serious and applied academics, advancing Jewish leadership, the welcoming nature of our nondenominational orientation, and the ways in which we all can make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Find more information about Spertus Institute and its offerings (including grad programs in Jewish Studies, Jewish Professional Studies, Jewish Education, and a range of Certificate and Professional Development programs) at spertus.edu.

Dr. Keren E. Fraiman is Spertus Institute’s Dean and Chief Academic Officer. A former Schusterman Israel Scholar and IDF officer, whose work has been supported by the US Institute of Peace, she teaches The Role of Israel in Jewish Life in Spertus Institute’s MAJPS program.

Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community. Spertus Institute’s Center for Jewish Leadership is supported by a generous grant from the Crown Family.

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Beyond Content: Reasons for Grad School

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