Faculty Spotlight: An Interview with Academic Coordinator, Meirah Shedlo
Meirah Shedlo is the Academic Coordinator in the Office of the Dean, Stern College for Women. Meirah graduated from Stern as Valedictorian in 2013 with a history major, and served as a Presidential Fellow the following year. She now coordinates academic enrichment programs through the Dean’s Office, including events for the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program. This past semester, she attended her 100th honors event! Meirah is also currently completing her master’s degree at NYU.
Racheli Moskowitz: Can you tell us a bit about your experience at Stern as a student, and what led you to study history?
Meirah Shedlo: I’ve been fascinated by history ever since I was young, and my family would take trips to local historic sites and museums. So, I wanted to pursue that interest in college.
I really enjoyed the classes that I had the opportunity to take here. My honors mentor, Dr. Douglas Burgess, teaches classes in Piracy, International Crimes, Atlantic World—a range of topics that overlap with my interest in American history, as well as legal history and human rights. I found delving into those subjects to be really exciting.
During my summers, I interned in museums – the Maryland Historical Society and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. That gave me a chance to study history beyond textbooks, to work with artifacts and do original research with primary sources like letters and diaries. I loved having the chance to personally connect with the history through these items.
I am interested in the intersection between history, policy, and public service—so at the Smithsonian, I interned specifically in the Division of Political History to learn more about the interaction of those fields. History isn’t a purely academic study of past events that are over; the effects of many historical events continue into the present day. I found that fascinating and also crucial to understanding current events – why as a country we have the debates that we have, and encounter the issues that we do.
RM: How did your areas of study influence your choices when you graduated?
MS: After graduation, I started working here in the Dean’s Office; I found that I really liked working in an educational atmosphere where people have intellectual conversations about all kinds of issues, and debate the intersection between academic disciplines like history and literature and how they influence our lives today.
I chose to pursue an MPA degree in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy at NYU, a degree that provides a background in management and public affairs, so I can serve the community in the best way possible – whichever sector I work in. That’s something I felt combined many of my interests and skills, and nonprofit background. I’ll be finishing that degree in May.
RM: What made you decide specifically to be part of the Presidential Fellowship–to continue at Stern after you graduated?
MS: I thought the fellowship sounded like a great opportunity because I was interested in experiencing nonprofit work in a higher ed setting. I specifically wanted to work in the Dean’s Office, and the Honors Program played a really large role in that. I loved being an Honors student – the enrichment events, writing the senior project, and the coursework. I thought it would be great to work on that for current students; watching the past fellows who worked with Honors, I thought it was amazing that they were able to coordinate the events and join us for them.
As part of the role, I run the Peer Tutoring Center, as well as the Frontiers programs, where students can take tailored seminar classes at Einstein, Cardozo, and Ferkauf to see what it would be like to be a graduate student in those fields. I’ve also been given the freedom to come up with my own workshops and panels and research fairs, and all kind of things I get to do based on student feedback. And, anything I would’ve enjoyed as a student – I can make that happen!
As fellows, we also had leadership seminars where we learned negotiation skills and financial literacy, among other things, and I thought it was a lot of fun to experience that with everyone as part of a cohort. We had speakers like President Richard Joel [YU president at the time], Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, high level YU administrators… It was a great experience for my first year as a college graduate, and to do it within the framework of YU, where as a student I felt empowered to take on leadership roles – it was a fantastic first job experience for me.
RM: What goes into planning an Honors event, from the inception to actualizing it?
MS: I’ve definitely found, being on the other side, that it’s a complex process–more than I appreciated as a student! Dr. Wachtell and I work together to brainstorm a list of events that will appeal to the range of students that we have in the Honors Program—with a variety of backgrounds, career goals and personal interests. For the cultural events, we’re asking—what are the new shows on Broadway, what are the current cultural events that are being promoted in the city? We look at all the offerings and think about what people would appreciate. We try to do things that are a little different than what students would normally have a chance to do. For example, we went to a very creative show produced by the Women’s Project Theater and heard from the artistic directors not only about the show, but their work supporting female playwrights.
Once we’ve identified options for events, I’ll look into the logistics, find out if they can accommodate our large number–we’re asking for 100 tickets at a time because we want as many students as possible to have the opportunity to go! We also have to choose dates that work around chagim, midterms, finals—finding dates that will work around as many students’ schedules as possible. We think about when museum tours are available, the process for security clearance at the UN – there’s a lot to consider!
RM: You recently attended your 100th Honors event! Do you have any favorites?
MS: It’s so tough to choose! The cultural events are definitely a highlight. I’ve gotten to see a lot of incredible performances that I wouldn’t have had the chance to see otherwise. For example, when we saw The Heiress on Broadway, which starred Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens, it was a huge deal. I remember my friends and and I all rooting for the characters, getting really into it.
I’ve also loved the dance performances: we’ve meet ballet dancers and gone backstage to see the costumes, hear about how many shoes they go through, their commitment to what they do, and everything that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen; it makes you appreciate the performance so much more.
RM: What’s it like to finally attend the event you’ve put so much time into making?
MS: I love it! The most exciting thing for me is once we’re in the theater, we know that every student’s taken care of and has their ticket, and we all get to enjoy together. And it’s so special to hear everyone’s feedback afterwards about the show or speaker; students will seek me out to tell me they really enjoyed it, or it was something they’d never seen or heard before and it really made them think. It makes me really happy to play a role in something I loved so much as a student, and to help current students have that experience. Since I still attend the events, we can have those conversations about what we’ve all just seen together.
RM: Do you have plans to continue at YU?
MS: I’ve had a really wonderful experience. I started in a term position that was originally just for a year, and this is now my fifth year! Year by year, I’ve been able to expand my role. I’m hoping to use the skills I’ve gained through my graduate program and through the years of working here to have as much of an impact as I can.
RM: What does YU, as an institution mean for you?
MS: I think YU is a very special place; it’s a warm and close-knit environment of students who share common values while also contributing their unique skills and viewpoints. It’s a wonderful place to be a college student: to test out your abilities, to take on leadership roles, and to grow academically and personally. You can develop relationships with your professors, with the staff; Dean Bacon’s door is often open, and if she’s free, she’ll chat with students who stop by. That’s really unparalleled. As a fellow, I used to meet with the president and vice president to get their advice, something that just doesn’t happen in many other colleges.
We also play a role in the broader Jewish community, as an institution balancing a strong commitment to Jewish learning and values, along with a strong general studies curriculum, learning from the best of what the world has to offer globally.
It’s a great environment in which to be a student, and to start a career!