Student Spotlight | Gratz College

Student Spotlight

In the nonprofit world, leaders sometimes find themselves running organizations without formal training in nonprofit management. Gratz offers its online master’s program to students around the world who are already working in the field. Here, we spotlight three of these students.

Elizabeth Christy had a green thumb and a penchant for teaching, but the job of her dreams seemed to be just beyond her reach.

Christy earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Temple University in 2010, but she had a hard time landing a permanent job in Philadelphia. She picked up part-time and seasonal work with compost, gardening and landscaping firms, yet struggled to find her niche.

“I knew I wanted to work in environmental sustainability, but what I kept finding was that the nonprofits didn’t have enough money to hire me full time and the for-profits were only hiring for half the year,” said Christy, who grew up in Philadelphia. “I was waitressing and bartending just to survive. After doing that for years, I got really discouraged and thought I would never find work in my field. I was afraid I’d be a career bartender with a degree in environmental science.”

Then Christy’s fiancé received a job offer in Pasadena, Calif., and the couple moved to the West Coast in late 2014. Christy spent a year volunteering and networking and, in 2015, she and business partner Marianne Zaugg launched Eco Urban Gardens, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that works with individuals and schools to cultivate gardens and create healthy and sustainable communities.

The organization’s first big project was a grant-funded partnership with a local high school. Eco Urban Gardens developed curriculum and started a club at the school, where students built raised gardening beds, installed a drip irrigation system, and learned about seeds and composting.

“Our mission is to educate these students in nutrition and environmental sustainability, and to bring the farm directly to their front door,” Christy said. “We do that by growing food, by installing farms at the school, by teaching the kids to grow organically.”

The ultimate goal is to have the school take ownership of the project, noted Christy. That has proved more difficult than anyone anticipated.

“We realized that schools don’t have the time or expertise to keep these projects going,” she explained. “What we ended up doing was partnering with the school district to create a Career Technical Education program for students who want to go into fields like agriculture, nutrition or landscape design.”

That program will launch this fall. Christy is hoping to use the model to expand the program into more schools. Eco Urban Gardens also works with homeschooled students in grades kindergarten through third, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) high school, and homeowners who are interested in transforming their properties into farms.

As Eco Urban Gardens flourished, however, Christy realized she needed to go back to school. She enrolled in Gratz’s Nonprofit Management program in 2017—and immediately began putting what she was learning into practice.

“I realized I had plant knowledge and I knew how to teach, but I had no experience running a business,” she said. “Everything from my master’s program I use on the job, immediately. There’s a direct correlation between what I’m learning and what I use to run my organization.”

Christy will graduate from the program in May 2019, and she’s already looking forward to the next 20 years of sustainable gardening.

“I would like the programs we’re developing at Eco Urban Gardens to become national,” she said. “I’d love to be in schools all over California and beyond.”


Zachary Schaffer’s dream job was working with a political campaign.

Originally from the Philadelphia area, Schaffer earned a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and political science from the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated early in December 2015, just as the 2016 presidential election was heating up.

“I applied for and had offers from a number of political campaigns in 2016,” he said. “But something was calling me to work with the Jewish community, so I gave up what I thought was my dream job in politics and listened to my heart.”

Schaffer took a job as Community Strategy Associate for the Israel Action Network, a project of the Jewish Federations of North America. There, he supported Federation efforts around the country in intergroup and interfaith relations, civil discourse, and Israel advocacy.

He also racked up a list of volunteer leadership roles in organizations including the Columbia University Beta Theta Pi chapter, Brooklyn Young Democrats Jewish Caucus, and Friends of Roots, which works to connect Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. In January, he was elected President of Friends of Roots, and he credits his Gratz classes with helping to prepare him to lead the organization and its fundraising operations

Then Schaffer, who had attended teen programs at Gratz College more than a decade ago, learned about its Master of Science in Nonprofit Management from Dodi Klimoff, his childhood Hebrew school teacher and current Executive Assistant to the President of Gratz College. He began his coursework in early 2017 and immediately began putting concepts into practice.

“All the skills I was learning from Gratz, from strategic planning to human resources, have been helpful,” he said. “I was immediately applying the skills I was developing at Gratz.”

In March 2019, Schaffer was hired as executive director of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents—the first in the organization’s 10-year history. Schaffer is tasked with bringing together the presidents and officers of dozens of Jewish leadership bodies and ensuring that they have the leadership skills they need.

“We convene one of the most diverse cohorts of Jewish institutional leaders in the entire country.” He said. “There are too few opportunities for young Jewish lay leaders to develop a peer network, build relationships across institutional differences, and develop the technical skills necessary for board governance and leadership.”

“The relationships and network we are cultivating are incredibly powerful,” Schaffer said. “We are bringing together leaders representing organizations across the ideological, political, and religious spectrums. We are engaging them on a continuous basis and building authentic and resilient relationships. In this way, we’re really strengthening the institutional fabric of the Jewish community now and into the future.”

Schaffer credits his nonprofit management courses for helping him prepare for his interview for this new role. “The coursework has been tremendously helpful now that I am leading a nonprofit organization,” he said. He is set to graduate in December 2019 after completing a thesis that examines a new pedagogical framework for Israel education in the American Jewish community

Schaffer’s goal is to expand the Council of Young Jewish Presidents.

“I’ve very excited to be in this position,” he said. “I have the opportunity to take a nonprofit organization with a ten-year history of success and put new systems into place to accelerate its growth and realize its full potential. Thanks to Gratz, I am much more confident in my capacity to take on this challenge.”


Jacob Sztokman manages his career from two continents and three time zones. 

The 49-year-old father of four lives in Modiin, Israel, but runs a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that cares for women and children in the slums of India. When he’s not in the air or visiting off-the-grid villages in India, Sztokman devotes his time to studying nonprofit management through Gratz’s online master’s program.

“I’m constantly traveling to India and to America, and I’m running an organization full-time,” he said. “I’m often telling my professors that I can’t login to courses for a week at a time because I’ll be in a village somewhere. I’m always asking for an extra day or two to complete schoolwork, but the payoff is immediate. Working on this degree enhances the work I’m already doing.”

Originally from Australia, Sztokman made Aliyah to Israel at age 23. He holds two bachelor’s degrees, in psychology and anatomy.

Sztokman worked in marketing for 15 years—until, during a visit to Mumbai in 2011, he was deeply moved by issues of poverty and illiteracy among the children. The following year, he started Gabriel Project Mumbai, a non-profit that works to empower women and children in some of Mumbai’s most vulnerable communities.

“Gabriel Project is an organization that cares primarily for children in slums and underserved villages in India—and, by extension, the children’s families,” Sztokman said. “We work on community development, health, education, nutrition and economic empowerment. The idea is a holistic approach to development. It’s not just education, not just health care. When all those aspects work together, that’s when you have real development.”

Three years after starting Gabriel Project, Sztokman went back to school, earning a master’s degree in international development from Hebrew University. In 2018, he started on his second master’s, this time through Gratz.

“I was running a non-governmental organization, but I didn’t have any background on what it means to run a nonprofit,” he explained. “I felt that, for my personal growth and also to learn the best ways to manage the organization, I needed to get the master’s in nonprofit management.”

By studying at Gratz, Sztokman also learns how to incorporate Jewish thought into his organization. Gabriel Project relies heavily on Jewish volunteers who travel to Mumbai in eight-week service tours, and its vision emerges from the Jewish ethical drive to advance social justice and alleviate human suffering.

“I believe that I already have the right approach to the project,” Sztokman said. “From this degree program, I’m learning the tools and techniques to grow the organization and do a better job in representing the beneficiaries, the children. I’m learning better fundraising techniques, better management techniques. This program is showing me the things I’m not good at and helping me improve. And the things I am good at, I’m learning to do even better.”

-- MAY 2019