Professor Michael Stone remembers his years at the City College of New York, when he and a group of Orthodox Jewish students would meet on campus to socialize after class, and then quickly head to the RJJ (Rabbi Jacob Joseph) yeshivah on the Lower East Side to be on time for shiur.
Stone reflected, “That rush to class and shiur, back and forth, always stuck with me.”
Stone went on to receive a scholarship to The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where he completed his MBA. “It was an excellent experience because there was mentoring from highly skilled professionals,” Stone remarked, “but I was one of the few Orthodox guys in the program at the time.”
While Stone achieved his academic goals, something was lacking. In the myriad of existing MBA programs, Orthodox Jewish students often miss out when opportunities are only offered on Shabbos or during Jewish holidays. This is a common issue for the demographic, and he is ready to fix it.
Stone, of Teaneck, New Jersey, has created an MBA Cohort for yeshivah graduates slated to begin in January 2021. The first MBA program of its kind, intended to fit in with an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, will be offered through LIU Hudson (Hudson Graduate Centers of Long Island University). It’s a theoretical, skill-based and applied, two-year program offered at a competitively affordable price.
“There is a large population in the yeshivah community in need of parnasah,” Stone observed. Many are groomed to study in yeshivah, start a family, and perhaps join family businesses. But this can only take them so far. Without the educational background or skills to either start or further their careers, it catches up. Eventually, time conflicts with yeshivah study arise when students do enroll in a master’s program.
Stone aims to recruit ambitious yeshivah students who want to start a business, manage a family business, or work for a large organization. Graduates of the program will be “much more knowledgeable, and have the skills to either open up or own their own businesses within three to four years.”
Initially, the plan was for students to convene on campus once a week, and connect once a month for a class and mentoring session. Due to the COVID pandemic, however, Stone adapted the program, making it fully remote. Lectures will be taped so that students are assured of access at any time. “This flexible schedule is conducive if you have a shiur to attend or if you have a family at home,” he said.
While asynchronous learning is convenient for individual learners, it does not allow for a sense of community, the core of what a cohort is meant to be. To achieve this, Stone will have students meet monthly on Sundays for a synchronous (live) remote lecture and mentoring session.
Progressing through the MBA with this cohort will draw from skills garnered in yeshivah. For example, preparing and giving a drashah correlates to leading presentations. Coming from Gemara- and Tanach-infused backgrounds, Stone understands that prospective students will bring chavrusa-style learning to the table, and that “they’ll go through the program pretty smoothly together.”
Stone is no stranger to working on successful cohort programs. He has already contributed to developing business courses for yeshivah and seminary students through Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Teaneck, where he served as an adjunct professor.
Upon being invited to develop and teach business courses there, he immediately noticed a major issue: “The biggest problem was that these yeshivah students just could not write.” Unfortunately, there had been educational gaps along the way, and Stone firmly maintains that one must be proficient in effective writing, in order to be successful. So, he added a writing component to his business communication courses.
Building on this success, he transferred the concept to the LIU Hudson MBA Cohort program. Academic acumen paired with practicality is crucial to Stone’s pedagogical mission. The pool of “top-notch” professors at LIU Hudson includes MBAs and/or PhDs, as well as specific professional certifications. They are also all experienced practitioners in their respective fields. “The big debate in education today,” Stone observes, “is that universities are competing with schools that just teach competencies.” Students in the program focus on theory and application while also receiving practical marketplace training.
Upon completing the first year, students are granted a certificate and dean’s letter of accomplishment. The “capstone” – final three credits – is the culminating activity during year two. Students focus on a particular area of interest and will be prepared to enter an interview with expertise added to their professional arsenal.
The LIU Hudson MBA Cohort is currently geared towards men, but Stone knows that “all it takes is one class, and we can hopefully open this up for seminary women who want to take this route.”
Stone is dedicated to education and serving the community. He believes that learning and success are life-long ventures, and that “in order to succeed, you must have a growth mindset – you must be willing to let yourself fail in order to learn.” With a background “steeped in business,” including investment banking, serving as chair of the NYU-SPS Finance Department and starting a few businesses, Stone lives this daily. Above all, he adds, “You have to have hanaah and ahavah – you have to enjoy what you do and you have to love it.”
By Chaya Glaser