Hannah Slabodkin was set to spend this summer in the molecular biology laboratory at Princeton University collecting data on an enzyme involved in cancer metastasis for her senior thesis. Aleeza Schoenberg planned to use her creative writing skills to support the media efforts of Ankuri, an Indian nonprofit that provides employment, education, and job training to women. Hannah Bein, president of the University Glee Club and musical director of the all-female a cappella group Tiger Lilies, was exploring opportunities in arts management.
As their summer plans started evaporating due to the pandemic, a team of Princeton alumnae, students, and staff from Princeton Hillel’s Center for Jewish Life (CJL) developed an idea raised by alumna and parent Dina Brewer to put together an intern-matching program.
Team member Ron Miasnik, a rising junior, entrepreneur, and computer science major, told NJJN that the plan was to reach out to professionals from the extended Princeton community and ask if they would take on a Princeton student for a minimum two-week internship or mentoring opportunity, either paid or unpaid.
“It seemed like a tangible way we could improve the pandemic experience of our students,” Miasnik said. And an hour after sending out a survey to assess student interests and skills, they had 35 responses, which made clear, he said, that “this was an issue with real urgency.”
Immediately, parents and CJL trustees reached out to their networks for mentors. Mentors would benefit from the labors of a smart worker and, at the same time, contribute to a student’s career development by providing them with work experience and professional wisdom.
“We are placing students at the organizations that need it the most, where students can be big fish in a small pond,” Rabbi Ira Dounn, senior Jewish educator at CJL, told NJJN. “It is really meaningful to students to be able to contribute tremendously and actually do real work.”
Over 60 students — not all of whom were Jewish or active in CJL — applied for a match. Approximately a third of the applicants had been matched as of the first week in June, another third had withdrawn, and Dounn expects the final 20 students to be placed soon.
“Once we had everyone’s interests and what they wanted in an internship, we could leverage our Rolodex, tap into our network, and find matches,”
Normally the only internships offered by CJL are in partnership with the university’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement, but Dounn said the situation required that they adapt for the sake of the students.
“One of our many goals at the CJL is to give support to our students in the variety of ways they need it,” he said.
Slabodkin, a rising senior from Buffalo, N.Y., who is majoring in molecular biology, has started several internships set up by CJL. She’s working three paid projects, including several for the Buffalo Jewish Federation, such as planning a virtual reading of the play “Speak Truth to Power: Voices From Beyond the Dark” for the Holocaust Resource Center and working on a survey about communal needs for the Jewish Community Relations Council. In addition, she’s digitizing documents, photographs, and family records that Alice Roth — mother of CJL Executive Director Rabbi Julie Roth — has collected for a family tree.
Thanks to the program, Schoenberg, a rising junior and psychology major from Newton, Mass., will use her creativity to help market a line of books published by Language Lizard on American English idioms, illustrated with pictures from many cultures.
“I’m really thankful to the CJL for pairing me and doing such a good job of fitting with my interests and strengths,” she said.
And Bein, a rising junior and history major from Riverside, Conn., applied for the CJL matching program when she realized that the Covid-19 crisis would stymie her hopes of finding an arts management internship. They matched her with Amy Zacks, director of philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer, for a four-week internship to help with communications and social media, including the launch of their Facebook page and the creation of blog posts.
“It is a great opportunity to learn about working at a nonprofit in general, fundraising, and what administrative and philanthropic work looks like,” she said. Also important to Bein: working for an organization “whose mission I care about — building Jewish community.”
Bein is particularly grateful for the lifeline CJL tossed her.
“It wasn’t clear at that point what was going to come from that, but it definitely made me feel a lot better having someone look out for us.”