Volunteers Drive Community
From John Hertz's first board of directors to today’s mentors and summer workshop organizers, volunteers have defined the Hertz Fellowship experience. One characteristic they’ve all shared is a deep commitment to the Hertz Foundation’s success.
Hertz Fellows Jessica Seeliger and Shannon Yee have been instrumental in the evolution of the Hertz community. Seeliger, an associate professor of pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook University in New York, and Yee, an associate professor in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, recently discussed what volunteerism has meant to them and why they are hopeful that more fellows will join their ranks.
SEELIGER: My first volunteer experience with Hertz was to help organize the first retreat with Jeff Gore; Jeff really did the heavy lifting. It was Jeff’s idea to create the engineering challenge. Today everyone takes the engineering challenge for granted, but at the first one we recognized just how perfect this event was for Hertz Fellows. Nobody thinks it’s geeky or silly; it’s just a classic problem that requires a team to break it down and solve.
YEE: That was part of the growth of the Hertz community and the genesis of the summer workshops. We had our first workshop, crafted and sponsored by Ray Sidney, at Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The subsequent retreats, crafted and sponsored by Louis Lerman, and workshops were self-organized by in-school fellows. I was a first-year grad student when I helped organize a West Coast retreat in fall 2009; it was my first leadership role. Then I chaired the second workshop in Charlottesville, Virginia. When we started building the community, we didn’t have any staff support, so it was purely volunteer-based. We wanted to inspire and bring other fellows into volunteer leadership roles.
SEELIGER: One prominent impression from those early retreat days was the involvement of Ray Sidney. From the start, he was committed to fostering the nascent idea of a fellow as being greater than individuals. He saw the unrealized potential to be greater than the sum of the parts, which I think has become just amazingly clear through the many projects and start-ups and everything that the fellows have done together since.
YEE: Hertz volunteers have agency, and they rise to the occasion. Hertz Fellows are leaders in their fields by nature. When we create opportunities for fellows to get involved, they will step up.
SEELIGER: It wasn’t until I joined the board that I had the full sense of how incredibly committed Hertz volunteers are. So many passionate people are working behind the scenes. It inspired me to see people like Steve Fantone, CEO and founder at Optikos, and other fellows and friends who are unquestioningly committed to the mission and the future of the foundation. A passion for the Hertz community is a huge driving force. The best volunteers inspire us by asking questions that make the fellowship and the community experience better. That’s what’s kept Shannon and me going for so long; we just believe so much in the potential that we want to keep encouraging new people to get involved.
YEE: Many Hertz Fellows and friends work behind the scenes to create opportunities within the community. Collaborations, jobs, projects — we work together to prime the pump so that the next generation is ready to work together to support each other.
SEELIGER: Being an active member of the Hertz community through volunteer work has been a tremendous learning and networking experience. Direct access to the community — a group of people who think in deep ways — is a privilege. We volunteer for free, and the payment is the opportunity to work with such incredible people. Anyone committed to broadening participation and paying it forward should consider working with the foundation to do that.
Learn more about Shannon and Jessica.