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Finding Your Way

I want to share my experience of when my daughter Jessica, '16, started her journey as a Blue Hen.

Sending your first child off to college is one of those milestones that a parent looks to with a mixture of excitement, hope and fear.

I think most parents share a number of the same desires and dreams that their college-bound sons and daughters will:

- be happy and have fun

- get involved in activities and find their niche

- achieve academic success and graduate, hopefully in four years!

- find a good job or get into a good graduate school

- make friends and possibly find love

I had more apprehensions because, to be honest, the University of Delaware was not my daughter Jessica’s first-choice college. In fact, she hadn’t even visited UD before applying.

It was not until April 2012, when she was deciding among colleges, that we even set foot on UD’s campus. But it was that visit that set in motion what turned out to be an amazing college experience. Thankfully, it was a beautiful, sunny day. After a campus tour, we stopped at Hillel.

There we met some of the staff and students and heard about Freshmen Fest, a move-in early program that would help ease the transition to college life. Students told us how it helped them become more familiar with the campus and that it's where they met their best friends. That all sounded great, but honestly, the best part for me was going to be avoiding the added stress and hassle of the campus-wide move-in day.

After much deliberation, Jessica decided to attend UD, and we got her registered for Freshmen Fest. Jessica was glad she participated, but she didn't meet her best friends at Freshmen Fest. Her involvement with Hillel wouldn't really start until a year later.

In her first year on campus, Jess found her way to one or two Hillel events that interested her like making a chocolate sukkah and attending High Holiday services, but rarely ventured to a Shabbat dinner or anything else. While my husband and I made suggestions—particularly after looking at the Hillel website or receiving an email—we didn’t push her.

In the spring of her freshman year, she joined a sorority. Imagine our surprise when we learned that a number of her sorority sisters were “regulars” at Hillel. With this connection, Jessica began attending some events and dinners, including Passover seder.

In the fall of her sophomore year, she continued going to events and then learned that some of her sorority sisters were considering going on a Hillel-sponsored Alternative Spring Break trip. Jessica—who has a passion for international travel and was already planning study abroad trips to Italy and Greece—learned that she could go to Buenos Aires for a spring break of learning and helping others. So, together with UD Hillel staff member Nicole Wasilus and about twenty students, she went and had a transformative experience.

As she got to know more of the students and staff, they began to talk to her about the future. In the fall of her senior year, she served as Communications Intern with Hillel. She now had an inside look at what happened at UD Hillel on a day-to-day basis. After many coffees with Nicole and UD Hillel Executive Director Donna Schwartz, Jess learned that Hillel International was inaugurating a Springboard Fellowship, with an emphasis on innovation and social media. With her background and experience in social media and marketing, Jess was quick to apply after hearing about this opportunity.

About six weeks before graduation, she was offered the position of Springboard Fellow at University of Central Florida (UCF) Hillel. Yes, her involvement at Hillel actually led to post-graduate employment! It was so fabulous for her to know that she had a job before she even graduated. Our family was so proud when they announced her job as she walked across the stage during the Honors College ceremony.

Soon after graduation, our daughter moved to Orlando to begin her career with UCF Hillel. I don’t think she or we could have dreamed of a better first-job experience for her. She was embraced by her colleagues and the UCF students who helped her feel at home in Florida.

As her second year at UCF Hillel was drawing to a close, Jess started to look for another job. It was time to put these skills in communications, engagement and digital marketing to work. Hillel International helped the twenty Springboard Fellows prepare resumes and focus on their job search and professional development.

Imagine our surprise when our daughter expressed an interest in remaining in the Jewish non-profit world! She applied for a few positions and was hired as the very first Digital Marketing Associate at Hillel International in Washington, D.C.She moved to Arlington, Virginia, where she continues to see other Blue Hens, and regularly gets together with alumni from the first class of Springboard Fellows.

So, I guess the takeaway from our experience is not to worry if your child doesn’t immediately find his or her way to Hillel as a freshman. Although Jessica’s involvement with Hillel got off to a somewhat inauspicious start, she ultimately did connect with Hillel and, in turn made friends, got a job, and launched a new career. Oh yeah - and she met a nice Jewish guy while at UCF. Hillel had something to do with that, too.

Marilyn Sugarman

Parent of Jessica '16 and Bari '20

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