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An Interview with Board Chairperson Dr. Sharon Silverman

An Interview with Board Chairperson Dr. Sharon Silverman


An Interview with Dr. Sharon Silverman, Chairperson
of Spertus Institute’s Board of Trustees

With pride, Spertus Institute recently announced the election of Dr. Sharon Silverman as Chairperson of its Board of Trustees.

Spertus Director of Communications Betsy Gomberg sat down (over Zoom) with Dr. Silverman on the day of her election to discuss this new role, her interests and goals, and how she plans to lead.


Dr. Sharon Silverman is an educator and scholar with decades of impressive experience. She is a founding partner of the higher education consulting firm TRPP Associates, LLC, where she has worked with colleges and universities to enhance best practices in teaching and learning. A former Loyola University administrator with a passion for travel, she has served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in South Africa and a Fulbright Specialist in Kazakhstan.

About her appointment, Spertus President and CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell said, “Dr. Silverman is passionate about education and has made significant contributions in the field of student learning. She brings a history of inspiring leadership, enthusiasm for our work, and familiarity with our programs and constituents. Her appointment comes at a time of programmatic and geographic growth for Spertus Institute, which aligns perfectly with her expertise.”

Tributes in honor of Dr. Sharon Silverman's appointment will support new community-serving educational initiatives. Make a tribute >


What is it like to take the reins at this time, as we grapple with all kinds of new challenges?

Yes, that is the key question. And to further exacerbate the situation, as I take on this role, I have been moving from a home I’ve lived in for 30 years, with every part of the move made infinitely more complex because of the Coronavirus and the protests.

I can’t say that there weren’t a few moments when I wondered if this was the right thing to do in these circumstances. But it became an amazing challenge. I have the energy and hopefully the expertise, and I will be able to use them to contribute in ways that I never otherwise would have. It is allowing me—in fact compelling me—to think more creatively.

Another thing is that Dean (Dr. Dean Bell), Peter (outgoing chair Peter Bensinger, Jr.) and I have developed a really honest and productive relationship.

Spertus was selected as one of 15 Jewish organizations from across North America to participate in PRESIDE, a program that provides critical training to strengthen the partnership between professionals and lay leadership and foster growth. The three of us have been participating together in monthly meetings on a wide range of topics, as well as coaching and a challenge grant opportunity, all focused on Spertus Institute’s future.

Unlike other board chairs that Spertus has had (at for the last half century or so) you have considerable experience working in higher education. How does Spertus' work and your work align?

This is something I’ve thought about since I became a trustee in 2013. My whole career is about what works and doesn’t in teaching and learning. Best practice is actively using theory and research as a foundation for all learning. Spertus models this approach, and I can’t think of a better organization with which to work.

For some insight into my recent work, I suggest listening to an episode of the JEDTALKS podcast from South Africa, on which I was interviewed by Chaim Moch about how people learn. LISTEN HERE >

What would you like to see happen during your term? What are you looking forward to?

Here is what I shared with my fellow Trustees about what I hope to achieve:

  • Promote and advance Spertus Institute’s Strategic Plan, with its focus on knowledge and growth.
  • Keep Spertus Institute fiscally sound.
  • Develop partnerships in Chicago and beyond.
  • Meet the needs and concerns of Spertus Trustees.
  • Encourage active Trustee engagement.
  • Support Spertus leadership and staff.
  • Broadcast Spertus achievements to the world.

I also created a list “Ten Commandments” of how I plan to lead:

Dr. Sharon Silverman’s Ten Commandments for Board Leadership

Apply principles of Jewish learning and leadership.

  1. Follow my moral compass.
  2. Listen more than talk.
  3. Be humble.
  4. Collaborate not dictate.
  5. Be courageous in times of trouble.
  6. Encourage innovation.
  7. Be empathic.
  8. Seek counsel and advice.
  9. Celebrate success.

I love that list! One more question, what is most compelling for you personally about the work we do?

The main reason I said yes to this position is the importance of what Spertus does, the quality of Spertus’ programming and the enthusiasm of its faculty, students, and staff. I am humbled by how meaningful Spertus’ work is to students and participants.

I am drawn to the value of Jewish education. My own Jewish education was tremendously impactful on me as a young person, and I made sure I carried that forward for my children. As an adult, Spertus, with its nondenominational emphasis on learning, has been a key point of connection for me, and I want to help others connect and find meaning through the rich Jewish tradition of lifelong learning.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020