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Prepared to Lead: New Skills and New Perspectives I Gained in the Professional Development Institute

Read this story on the Jim Joseph Foundation Blog

Shayna Kreisler was a participant in BBYO's Professional Development Institute, which was designed to increase the capacity and commitment of talented, early-career Jewish professionals. Each PDI participant received an MBA scholarship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and a Certificate in Informal Jewish Education from Hebrew College in Boston, as well as mentorship through a community of practice--all while fully employed for a minimum of three years by BBYO. Shayna currently is the senior program director of the 14th Street Y.

Three years ago, I was brought to the 14th Street Y, in the east village of New York, as the Senior Program Director. A large part of my charge upon arriving was to expand and grow our cultural programming, called LABA: The laboratory for Jewish Culture to the next level. I proposed to do this by creating a business plan, complete with a staffing structure, identity and marketing strategy, and to create a programmatic vision that would integrate LABA throughout Y programs while at the same time expanding its reach to a wider community. In one of the first strategy meetings focused on LABA at the 14th Street Y I was reminded of a case study from my Strategic Marketing class at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. The case asked us to evaluate a sneaker company and make recommendations on ways that it could become one of the biggest brands on the market. This real life case of taking LABA to the next level felt very familiar, and I was well prepared for my assignment. That class was part of the Professional Development Institute (PDI), a program offered by BBYO to its staff, with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation.

I first learned about PDI at a luncheon for BBYO at the Pearlstone Retreat Center just outside of Baltimore, MD. At the end of the meal, there was a short presentation about BBYO’s new initiative, PDI. We were told that it would offer the opportunity to earn a Master’s in Business Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management and a Certificate in informal Jewish Education. Having returned to BBYO after completing a Master’s in Education, the last thing on my mind was going to graduate school. And yet, as the head of Human Resources described the program, I found myself intrigued by the prospect of acquiring business administration skills in combination with Jewish education—and how this specialized education could enhance my role as Director of Education for BBYO International. With the support of my supervisor, I applied and was accepted to participate in the inaugural class of PDI.

Those of us in PDI’s first cohort willingly entered the uncharted territory of a brand new, untested program – we were the innovators who paved the way for our colleagues to follow; all while balancing full-time work with near full-time schooling and still trying to live our lives. We utilized every free second to complete analysis and make recommendations on marketing, business development strategy, IT issues and more with teammates from across the world. Those free seconds came in the wee hours of the night and during free time at conventions and conferences, after long days of work, and always on the weekend. PDI became the lens through which everything occurred, by very clever design. Up until this point, my career had been focused on advertising and the arts in education. Classes like Strategic Marketing and Human Resources were entirely new areas to explore. The classes, teams, and papers—and the non-class work of navigating personalities and building trust (often from a long distance)—have impacted my work deeply. The knowledge I gained through courses on organizational development, human resource management, and strategic marketing helped shape how I approach my work and overcome challenges. Applying lessons and skills learned in class to real time work was imperative to my development as a professional. So too was the opportunity to work with individuals outside of BBYO and the Jewish world.

In addition to earning an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, through PDI I also earned a certificate in Informal Jewish Education with Hebrew College. While I was very familiar with educational theory, I gained a much deeper understanding of the Jewish communal world. I had worked in the Jewish Community for five years when I entered PDI, but only knew my own “corner” of it. Through coursework on Jewish thought, history and the development of the North American Jewish Community, I was able cultivate a voice and a perspective of my own, enriching and informing my day-to-day work and the perspective and curiosity with which I continue to build my career.

Beyond all of this, as a PDI student, I had the pleasure and privilege of working with a mentor and the Center for Leadership Initiatives. The opportunities for mentorship and leadership development were key factors in my decision to apply for this incredible experience. The close professional relationships built with my cohort, mentor and the CLI team connected me to other leaders and new perspectives. This positive experience—and its influence on my work—drives me to serve as a mentor to other young professionals.

My PDI experience helped me become the professional I am today. I developed tactical skills through coursework in budgets and finance, micro economics, strategy and operations management. I also built leadership skills and developed traits crucial to real world success– grit, determination, tenacity, confidence, deep critical thinking and listening skills and a desire to constantly innovate and overcome challenges.

BBYO and the Jim Joseph Foundation’s investment in my development has achieved its goal—and achieved outcomes. Today, LABA is a catalyst for the 14th Street Y, a driving force and engine for innovation around Jewish engagement in the 21st century. We have engaged more than 11,000 people over the past three years in meaningful cultural experiences inspired by ancient Jewish texts. Part of the success we have seen with LABA was born from my participation in this first cohort of PDI. My desire to learn and absorb the world around me will never be quenched and I will forever pay forward my experience by sharing what I have gained, working to be the best possible supervisor and leader, and by helping others to develop their own leadership, professionalism and voices.

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