June 1, 2022

Giving Young Professionals that Final Push

Odelia Yatzkan, vice president of external and alumni relations, meeting with students in the Shalem accelerator

It might seem strange to kick off a career-development program for ambitious young professionals with a speech about leisure. But for this group, a speech that explores the evolution of the concept of recreation from Aristotle to the Roman empire and then connects it to our understanding of work today is a familiar, even obvious approach.

Or, as the speaker and Shalem College Vice President of External and Alumni Relations Odelia Yatzkan puts it, “it’s classic Shalem.”

“For the ancient Greeks, leisure meant engaging in intellectual conversations and exploring new ideas. They believed that this kind of activity was much more vital to the individual and society than the practice of skilled labor,” explains Yatzkan, who founded and directs Shalem’s new program for graduates, Shalem Plus, which launched in March of this year. “But already in ancient Rome, learning had become more utilitarian: It was less about what it contributed to human flourishing and more about what contributed to the nation’s economic and military might. In this environment, narrow skillsets naturally came out on top.”

Ultimately, she says, Shalem Plus is designed to help this elite group of future leaders straddle both worlds: that of ancient Greece as well as of ancient Rome. “The goal is to help them combine their drive to achieve real-world impact and advance their state with their commitment to constant learning and the relevance of ideas to what they do.”

Fortunately, adds Yatzkan, for a goal as vital—if unconventional—as this, Shalem had a willing partner. “The Gracefield Foundation believes deeply in Shalem’s mission that an education centered on deep learning in the Jewish and Western canon is a springboard for developing visionary leadership,” states Yatzkan. “And what’s more, they also recognize that helping Shalem graduates, whether through financial or professional support, is a key to fulfilling that mission. They see that so many of our alumni are doing incredible things, and with just one last bang of the hammer, so to speak, we can push the nail in.”

She notes that after the success of last year’s Gracefield Fellowship, which offered a select group of graduates both a scholarship and a two-week residency to make meaningful progress on an academic, professional, or personal project, the foundation approached Shalem with a new idea. Why not, they suggested, run two programs instead of one: a fellowship for graduates pursuing advanced degrees and in need of funding, time, and space for writing their theses, and an accelerator for graduates in the professional realm with the potential for real influence. Shalem leadership was game, and through an ongoing dialogue with the foundation, it developed the two programs.

Focused on the particular needs of graduates who have already been working for several years, Shalem Plus aims to strengthen participants’ ability to leverage their talent and positions into even bigger impact. It includes a quarterly mastermind class, in which graduates tackle professional problems together; a seminar focused on specific areas of interest; mentoring by seasoned professionals in relevant industries; and the opportunity to shadow a professional in his or her own work environment. Each graduate also builds an individual work plan for accomplishing position-specific goals.

An added benefit, Yatzkan adds, is the chance the program grants to its donor to develop a connection to Shalem graduates and “the joy of following them as they fulfill their dreams.”

For many participants, however, the best part of the program is simply the opportunity to bring challenges to a table with bright, motivated peers from a diverse array of fields. “The fact that Shalem graduates tend to think broadly and draw from multiple disciplines is a real help to participants who need to move past sticking points,” says Yatzkan. “They consistently tell me that their conversations widen the lens through which they view their positions and their fields.”

Graduates currently participating in Shalem Plus include a project manager at a startup for novel cancer-treatment technology, the head of an elite pre-military leadership academy for secular and religious youth, a national project manager for the Prime Minister’s Office, and the director of regional development and international partnerships for an organization that brings innovation to Israel’s socio-economic periphery.

“All these graduates are already helping to improve the character and shape the future of the state,” says Shalem President Russ Roberts. “They’re increasingly reaching the point at which elevating their abilities can translate into transformative impact. As the college founded to prepare citizens for lives of influence and service, it is our responsibility—and our great privilege—to give them that critical boost.”

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