I graduated college on May 19, 2013. In the following weeks, I cleared out the apartment I shared with my three closest friends and moved across the country to St. Louis, Missouri, where I started my first full-time job at St. Louis Hillel at Washington University. The first month of work was a blur as I became acquainted with the wonderful, encouraging team at my Hillel and we prepared for the fall semester. I approached each task with confidence, and my students and staff could tell how excited I was to begin my work. After all, I had been an active student leader at Tufts Hillel for four years. Hillel had taken up my free time for so long, I thought, how different could it be to do it full time?
As anyone who has transitioned from being a student to staffer can attest, the answer is “VERY DIFFERENT.” The gravity of my work did not hit me until my first day at Hillel Institute. As I met other professionals and attended a few sessions on student engagement, leadership development, and programming, I realized how little I actually knew. How could I, a twenty-two year old barely out of college, help students navigate their adult Jewish life when I was still figuring out my own Jewish identity? What could I teach them? Where would I find the best programs? How would I know I was a successful “engager?” What if I failed? For the first time, I seriously thought about how many components went into being a Hillel professional, and I felt overwhelmed and underprepared but unsure of how or who to ask for help. My stress bubbled over during lunch with a Hillel International HR associate when he asked me how I was and I responded by bursting into tears.
But this isn’t a sob story – the next few days changed everything, and New Professionals Institute (NPI) was a big part of that. It was fun, educational, inspiring, and challenging all at once. I met many new young campus professionals who were just as nervous as me. We got tips from current professionals while learning about Hillel’s engagement strategies, programming ideas, best practices and working with student leaders, working with our supervisors, and so much more. I couldn’t take notes fast enough. At the conclusion of NPI, I finally felt that I was ready to take my Hillel by storm.
After a successful first year, my Institute and NPI binder is still sitting on my desk. Its contents have become worn from constant use. I have pulled it out countless times, whether I needed to rethink my work-life balance, think about tikkun olam, or teach a student about relationship-based engagement. But the most useful resources I obtained at NPI were the connections I’d made to other professionals around the country. They were the friends I could call up if I needed advice about a program or engagement strategy, or even if I’d had a long day recruiting for Taglit-Birthright Israel and just needed to talk. Having people to talk with who were in similar situations at other Hillels – people who cared as much as I did about our students and our work – was the most valuable asset I had throughout the year.
I feel lucky every day to be part of an organization that cares so deeply about nurturing the growth of its professionals, especially its young leaders. As a member of the NPI Planning Team this year, I can’t wait to give our new professionals the help I received last August. The importance we place on helping guide our newest members is an important reminder that while we may work miles away from each other, we are all part of the same team.
Miriam Ross-Hirsch entered the Jewish professional world as the Programming and Engagement Associate at St. Louis Hillel at Washington University in July 2013. Originally from Warwick, NY, she holds a BA in sociology from Tufts University. She loves traveling, art museums, and reading in coffee shops.