USC Hillel Colleagues Dave Cohn ‘17 and Rachael Cohen ‘21 Reflect on Zschool Studies

Colleagues Dave Cohn ‘17, Allen & Ruth Ziegler Executive Director of USC Hillel, and Rachael Cohen ‘21, Assistant Director of USC Hillel, are both graduates of the Zelikow School of Nonprofit Management and USC Dual Degree MPA and MAJNM program.

Dave shares, “I came to HUC after 8 or 9 years in different professional positions. I had a strong inkling I was looking to pursue a Hillel career but had no professional time at Hillel before grad school. I chose to pursue an internship at Hillel at UCLA during grad school. It proved to be such a match and it grew into more. I had great mentorship and it led to a Hillel career at Emory before I came back here.”

Rachael was a Hillel International Springboard Fellow before attending HUC. She recalls, “When I started, I immediately sought out Dave. Our class visited USC Hillel on Wacky Wednesday. I remember our first coffee during the first semester and I felt grateful to have him as a mentor. We checked in every six months; he seemed to genuinely care about my career.”

Dave and Rachael work closely together at USC Hillel. One of their top priorities for the year is to implement a series of high-level immersive training experiences for their colleagues. They are proud of their talented team that transformed Hillel in a way that met, and continues to meet, the needs of a pandemic-era campus. They are working to create a staff culture that is supportive and promotes high performance. Dave and Rachael explained that having been through similar training has only enhanced their work together.

Rachael oversees the Hillel professional team and does primarily student-facing work, including student engagement, leadership development, and programming. She utilizes the design thinking method she learned in the Zschool as she works on her engagement strategy. Reflecting on when she was offered this job, Rachael shares, “I really think of it as a beshert moment. I knew I wanted to stay in SoCal, I knew I loved Hillel, and I was excited to take on new challenges. I started the job with no supervision experience and I’m now supervising four professionals. Had I not gone to Zschool, I would not have been equipped with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to take on this challenge.”

Dave loves how each day is different, which is one of the reasons he sought out this job. He shares, “One of the aspects that drew me to Zschool is that it trains people who want to wear a lot of hats and have variety. Being at USC adds to this because it’s one of the most exciting campuses in the world. It is special to be here.”

Dave adds, “There is real academic rigor in a Jewish grad program combined with extensive practical exposure through internships and community connections. Zschool does it in a blend that you can’t find anywhere else. It also gives you access to so much more than any other grad program in the field can offer through the USC partnership – I have a full USC degree. We are now serving a campus we have a genuine connection to. My advice is to immerse yourself as much as you want in the campus culture – you have access to resources, faculty, coursework, libraries. If you are really ambitious about getting the most out of your grad school experience, that is a special asset. I also have a huge alumni network. It’s all about relationships. If you go through these experiences planting seeds, building relationships, and treating everyone you meet as your teacher, you never know what that translates to down the line – it can produce some pretty incredible things.”

Rachael agrees, “Networking opportunities have been truly amazing. Grow your network in places you wouldn’t necessarily think you’d end up and keep cultivating relationships. Grad school introduced me to a peer of mine, Marlee Goldshine ‘21, and we are considering launching our own business because of our Capstone project. It taught me how to build a business model. I came in with a lot of soft skills and Zschool gave us hard skills to make the soft skills valuable.”