“My parents are both Mexican Jews, but my mom grew up feeling like she had missed out on formal Jewish learning,” Schmidt said. “Sending me to Sinai Akiba ensured my ability to explore my Judaism, and simultaneously put me in the best position to thrive academically.”
Thrive was exactly what Schmidt did, graduating from Sinai Akiba in 1998 before matriculating to Harvard-Westlake and then on to Emory University in Atlanta. She maintained her Jewish connections as an undergraduate, serving as president of Emory’s Hillel. After completing her degree in psychology and women’s studies, she moved home to Los Angeles and accepted a full-time position at Sinai Temple.
“I was program director, which was an incredible first job,” she says. “They put a lot of faith in me and gave me a lot of responsibility.”
Two years later, Schmidt was ready for something new, so she packed her bags and headed to New York City, where she began working for the Cancer Research Society. She found the field of public health fascinating and ultimately decided to pursue a master’s degree in the subject at Columbia. Today she serves as research manager for the Division of Emergency and Transport Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“I work with doctors interested in doing clinical studies. My job is to help them refine their research questions – and, at the end of the process, to help them publish their results,” Schmidt says. “What I do pertains directly to skills I built at Sinai Akiba: thinking critically, writing effectively and asking crucial questions.”
Indeed, Schmidt says, it was her formative years at Sinai Akiba that planted the seeds for her current professional success. “I was privileged to have the best teachers,” she recalls. “I think kids need great teachers who know how to make subjects jump off the page. Heather Lipman was a prime example of that for me. She was an amazing math teacher and always made the assignments so much fun. My job requires me to use math and statistics every day.”
The list of Sinai Akiba instructors who had an impact on Schmidt is extensive and includes Renee Kraus, Patty Green and Marcia Fellner. “I have special memories of Ms. Fellner teaching me how to read in 1st Grade,” she says. Schmidt also remembers Donna Kerman, her 2nd Grade teacher, fondly. “She had us put on a show, Charlotte’s Web, and I played Templeton the rat. People still come up to me and comment on my performance!”
Though two decades have passed since her Sinai Akiba days, Schmidt remains grateful for its enduring influence. “I met my life-long best friend there, in pre-K,” she says. The school also equipped her with the tools to make a positive difference in the world. “Any time you give someone an education that empowers them to make good choices and participate in community, you ultimately change the world for the better.”