By Stefanie Zelkind
For more than three decades, the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program has invested in exceptional graduate students training to exercise leadership in the North American Jewish community. Nearly six hundred graduate students have participated over the years, and whether they were in the early cohorts of the 1980s or are currently enrolled in graduate school, participants have typically described the impact of this program on their lives as a gift that keeps on giving.
Applicants to the program are typically drawn to the financial award, funded through a partnership of the William Davidson Foundation and the Wexner Foundation, which supports graduate studies in Jewish Education, Jewish Professional Leadership, Jewish Studies, and the Rabbinate/Cantorate. But as fellows make their way through the Fellowship experience, and then tap into alumni opportunities, they come to understand that the gift of the Fellowship goes well beyond financial support. The gift of the Fellowship can be summed up in the following way – the 10Ps of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars (WGF/DS) Program.
Program: The WGF/DS Program provides a four-year, cohort-based, immersive leadership training experience. Traveling at the speed of trust, fellows undertake a journey with their cohort as they learn about themselves and one another, examine different aspects of leadership, develop and sharpen their professional skills, and engage in meaningful discussions about Jewish values, learning, and life.
Professional development: “My graduate training through school gave me the tools to be an educational scholar, while my training through the fellowship gave me the training to be an educational leader in the wider Jewish community.” From public speaking and presence to engaging in difficult conversations, fellows and alumni learn from experts and have opportunities to practice in the “brave space” of the WGF/DS community.
Practical tools: A closed listserv facilitates rich dialogue communication as fellows and alumni develop and share “best practices” and resources with one another, often across sectors and denominational lines.
Pluralism: The WGF/DS Program celebrates the diversity of Jewish life and pluralism, a core value of the Wexner Foundation. Many fellows find that the WGF/DS Program is the first (and sometimes only) opportunity they’ve had to engage with Jews who affiliate differently, observe differently, believe differently – and yet share a deep commitment to pluralism.
Pocketbook: The financial support of the Fellowship is significant, with an annual award of $30,000 for two years and the opportunity to apply for an additional year of funding. With this support, Fellows and Alumni are often in a far better financial position upon graduation than they would have been otherwise. For some, the financial award is what makes going to graduate school full-time possible.
People: The program is powerful and the financial award substantial, and yet Fellows and Alumni report that the best part of the WGF/DS program is the cohort. Deep relationships are forged early on and cultivated over the years of the Fellowship, providing a strong foundation for professional relationships after graduation.
Peer support: From case consultation protocols to mentoring, peer support is baked into the design and structure of the WGF/DS Program. Class cohorts held Zoom reunions well before COVID-19, affinity groups meet regularly on issues both personal and professional, and informal professional relationships continue to flourish as the community grows.
Personal growth: “While the investment in my education helped me grow as a professional, the Wexner/Davidson experience helped me grow as a person.” Over the course of the Fellowship and throughout the Alumni experience, participants focus on individual growth goals, enjoy opportunities to stretch and challenge themselves, engage in self-reflection and receive feedback from caring cohort members.
Pathways: When we welcome new Fellows into the WGF/DS Program, we tell them that the gift of this Fellowship is one that keeps on giving and that we will travel the long journey ahead together. Fellows begin the program as entering or first-year graduate students with their whole career ahead of them – and all of the opportunities and challenges of that moment. When they graduate from the Fellowship, many find professional positions through the WGF/DS network, often with other Wexner alumni who appreciate the shared values, language and training experiences they hold in common.
Pivot: We’d be remiss not to mention the P of the moment, the COVID-19 pivot. We made the difficult decision in March 2020 not to accept a new cohort because of the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic. We doubled down on our work with current Fellows and Alumni, supporting them as they faced new challenges in their leadership, moved our gatherings online and rolled out a series of initiatives addressing the range of needs in both the personal and professional realms. Yet, the need for strong, strategic and thoughtful leadership is now perhaps greater than ever – and this drives our decision to onboard a new class in Spring 2021. The Fellowship program will run virtually until it is safe to travel and gather again.
Applications for Class 33 of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars (WGF/DS) Program are open now. For eligibility criteria and application information, please click here. A WGF/DS Virtual Open Houses will be held on December 7 to give prospective applicants an opportunity to ask questions about the application process and program; click here for further information and to register.
Stefanie Zelkind serves as the Director of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program and is a proud (another P!) member of WGF/DS Class 16. Stefanie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.