Stephanie Hertz is the Assistant Project Director at the CT regional office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Stephanie oversees all aspects of ADL’s regional A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute programs, including teacher training programs, campus and workplace programs, and K-12 programs such as “Names Can Really Hurt Us.” She assists with the recruitment, training and supervision of a diverse team of 50 trainers. Additionally Stephanie developed and now co-facilitates Connecticut ADL’s first Jewish-Muslim Community Dialogue initiative. This entails facilitating ongoing conversations and relationship-building among 5 Jewish women and 5 Muslim women in the greater New Haven area. Prior to working for the ADL, Stephanie was the Program Coordinator for the Office of International Programs at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. While at Georgetown, she implemented all of the social, cultural, and educational programs serving the international student community. Stephanie has a BA in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and a MA in International Communication from American University.
- Stephanie, did you always know that you wanted to serve others and help today’s youth?
For as long as I can remember, I have had an inclination towards helping and serving others. Whether it be through practicing “deep listening” with friends and family to hosting a group of homeless men during the winter months through my synagogue, I find myself most “alive” when I’m interacting with and serving others in need. My work with K-12 youth has taken hold through my position at the ADL and I am really enjoying it. Some of our most vulnerable years are when we are in middle and high school and it is critical to provide safe and affirming spaces for youth to explore their identities and be true to themselves.
- Can you walk us through how you first got started in your career path?
When I returned from studying abroad as an undergraduate student in the West African country of Senegal (2002), I knew I wanted to facilitate similar opportunities for youth and young adults. My career, therefore, started in the field of international education. I worked for several years in Washington, DC (for both non-profit organizations and in higher education) to facilitate study abroad and exchange programs for American and international students. The advising and mentoring I provided, particularly to international students in the US, was eye-opening. I became enthralled with the idea of helping students and young people navigate cross-cultural landscapes. Having lived overseas in Senegal, and later in France, I was attuned to the complexities of living and working in environments where people spoke different languages, practiced different religions and adhered to different cultural norms.. I knew I wanted to help guide others on their own cross-cultural journeys. Years later, now working in the field of anti-bias and diversity training at the ADL, I am grateful to be able to do just that.
- How did you handle the bumps in the road? Were there any moments when you wondered if all your hard work was worth it?
Inevitably, there are bumps along the way. The field of cross-cultural and diversity education is still emerging. As the world becomes more complex technologically, students and youth are using communication platforms that adults never had. Understanding the benefits and challenges of social media is critical to being able to work with youth and meet them where they are at. How, for example, can Facebook, Twitter, and blogs be used to facilitate new partnerships between schools and students from seemingly different geographical and cultural settings? How can we encourage youth to use social media and the internet in affirming ways and not to antagonize or ridicule one another? The platforms themselves are neutral. How youth use them determine whether or not people get hurt or build up their sense of self in positive ways.
- I’m wondering if you can help us understand what you attribute your success to.
When I reflect on my career, thus far, I try to look at small moments of “success” as evidence that I’m doing good work. Hearing from a student, who shared his or her story on a student panel during ADL’s “Names Can Really Hurt Us” high school assembly program about how that moment was life- changing, tells me I am planting seeds of success in the world. Building up student leaders one conversation or moment at a time gives me perspective on how important this work is.
What do I attribute this success to? I attribute it largely to the mentors and colleagues who have guided me along the way — all of those individuals who saw something in me and encouraged me to try something I had never done before. A creative writing class, a story telling seminar, a summer internship, a presentation at a conference—all these moments have shaped me and given me the confidence to keep exploring and trying new things.
- What do teens need today more than anything else?
Teens need positive reinforcement through role models. They need to turn on the TV or watch a film and see themselves in the leading roles. Teens need to believe that who they are matters. They need to truly understand that success comes in all shapes and sizes, races, religions, and sexual orientations. We need to be teaching about current events in the classroom and encouraging dialogue around what it means to be alive and successful in today’s world.
- Stephanie, what would you tell a teen who was struggling?
I would first tell a teen that it’s okay to struggle. That growth and acceptance often come through the process of struggling. I would then ask the teenager what advice they would give a friend who was going through the same struggle. Sometimes stepping back from a situation and putting someone else in your shoes (or vice versa) can give needed perspective. I would encourage the teenager to try “doing” something different the next day. Taking one new action or micro-movement towards healing. This could be sitting at a different table at lunch or joining a new club or reaching out to an old friend. Sometimes the act of “doing” something gives us the sense that we are in control of our lives and we can make a change from within.
- What else do you want to tell us about what you do and what you want to eventually be doing?
I hope to always be working with young people in some capacity. My recent work on building bridges through interfaith dialogue has been extremely rewarding and I hope to continue this in the future. Sometimes, we simply need to create the spaces for individuals to come together and talk in order to see that we are all linked by a common humanity.
I also think that finding ways to incorporate mindfulness practices and meditation into our education systems are critical to student success. They foster learning, concentration, and overall well-being. In a world in which we are more and more glued to our gadgets and technology we need to re-learn how to be present with others and ourselves.
- Can you please share with all of us something else that I should have asked you?
I can’t really think of anything. Thanks so much for this opportunity to share a little about my journey.
- How can people get in touch with you if they have additional questions?
People can feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing others’ thoughts and perspectives on these issues.
Thanks for your time Stephanie and keep up the good work! Our youth needs more people like you!
Author and Speaker of the Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series.
* PURCHASE “THE STORM” http://tinyurl.com/glxzjaf