Connecting Hertz Fellows Locally

November 21, 2023
Angela Reid
Hertz Fellows Ruby Lai and Brandon Dekosky present at the 2023 Hertz Summer Workshop at the University of California, San Diego campus.

“Once a fellow, always a fellow,” says Anne Kornahrens Ward, Director of Community for the Hertz Foundation, summing up the extraordinary lifelong support that comes with a Hertz Fellowship. 

The Hertz Community is unique in many ways—including the fact that it exists at all. You’d be hard-pressed to name a network like it, where collaboration happens freely across scientific disciplines, geography and generations. These connections are cultivated through a variety of events, including scientific symposia, professional development workshops and the annual Hertz Foundation’s Summer Workshop. 

Community Committee Co-chairs, 2013 Hertz Fellow Ruby Lai and 2010 Hertz Fellow Brandon DeKosky, were eager to build on that. “Every time I come to a Hertz event,” says DeKosky, “it’s another chance to connect with our community, catch up with Hertz colleagues and learn about what’s going on across the whole world of science.” 

Lai adds, “Community is such an important and unique aspect of the Hertz Fellowship. There are so many examples of where we are better for it. We wanted to honor that commitment to the community and bring people together even more frequently.” 

Ruby Lai

“My goal is to strengthen the connections of friendship, collegiality and collaboration among Hertz Fellows and other community members.” 

Ruby Lai Arrow Right
2013 Hertz Fellow

Founder, Foss Toilets

Lai and DeKosky articulated their vision: could we enhance engagement around the country, across all career stages and ages, by tapping into the enthusiasm of community leaders? Then they got to work recruiting local volunteers to pilot the new initiative. 

In August 2022, the Community Representative program launched, and by spring of 2023, Representatives, or “Reps,” across the country had hosted a variety of events. There are currently 23 Reps on board (most of them Hertz Fellows, some of them parents of Hertz Fellows), serving regions with a dozen or more fellows, including Houston, Seattle, and the Greater Midwest. These Community Reps are deputized to create events tailored to their region and to the interests of the fellows in that region. 

In Upstate New York, for example, 1994 Hertz Fellow Community Rep Kathleen Vaeth noted that potential attendees were geographically scattered in Rochester, Finger Lakes, Syracuse and Albany, so it made sense to organize their first event via Zoom. Using her Community Rep budget, she sent “snack packs” to her confirmed attendees, which helped unite the group in a fun and tangible way. 

In the Bay Area, two Community Reps, 2022 Hertz Fellow Rod Bayliss III and 2016 Hertz Fellow Kurtis Carsch, organized a joint event at an axe-throwing venue, finding it helpful to have an activity to center their discussions around. “I felt that technical conversations flowed naturally in between axe-throwing sessions,” Bayliss says with a laugh. 

Brandon DeKosky

“Every time I come to a Hertz event, it’s a chance to connect with our community, catch up with Hertz Fellows and learn about what’s going on across the world of science.” 

Brandon DeKosky Arrow Right
2010 Hertz Fellow

Assistant Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Casual gatherings have been successful, too. In Boston, 2011 Hertz Fellow Community Rep Max Kleiman-Weiner organized a simple happy hour at a brewery near the Charles River. Attendees included fellows from the 1970s through the 2020s and represented a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, computer science, biology and physics. 

The Community Rep program is just getting off the ground, but Lai, DeKosky, and Ward are excited about the potential for a wide range of events catalyzing new connections. “My big goal,” says Lai, “is to strengthen the connections of friendship, collegiality and collaboration among the fellows and other Hertz Community members.” 

“We hope that fellows continue to think of the Hertz network as a rich source of professional collaboration and technical talent,” says Ward. “Through local events, our Community Reps will allow fellows to easily seek each other out, even as they move from place to place and throughout their career.” Ward is building toward a future where these connections happen even more readily and more frequently. 

We can’t engineer every possible outcome, but we can create the environment where they are more likely. These local connections have the power to generate impact on a global scale.

1986 Hertz Fellow John Hilbing is among the many Hertz community representatives hosting events across the country.
2023 Philanthropy Report

We could not achieve our mission without the inspiring support of our donors. Read our 2023 Philanthropy Report for more stories illustrating the extraordinary generosity within the Hertz Community.