December 2016 Faculty Spotlight
Faculty Spotlight with Distinguished Lecturer, Michael Seltzer
Individuals whose backgrounds create a seamless bond between theory and practice, abstracts and fieldwork, are what arm our students with adaptable knowledge that can be applied to innumerable situations. Distinguished Lecturer, Michael Seltzer embodies this delivery of knowledge and expertise. We speak about his first experience working in West Africa in the nonprofit sector, The New York Community Trust Leadership Fellows (which he is director of), and more.
What attracted you to teach at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs?
Our students. They represent what Mayor David Dinkins referred to in his inaugural speech as, “a gorgeous mosaic of race and religious faith, of national origin and sexual orientation, of individuals whose families arrived yesterday and generations ago, coming through Ellis Island or Kennedy Airport or on buses bound for the Port Authority.” I am committed to imparting to them the knowledge and skills they require to become bold civic and nonprofit leaders.
You have been working in the nonprofit sector for 50 years. What drew you to work in nonprofit organizations?
I came of age in the 1960s. It was a time in our nation’s history when many of us found ourselves swept up by the various social movements of that era. After a summer in West Africa, I served as a VISTA Volunteer–first in Appalachia and second in Honolulu–working with the native Hawai’ian community. Through these rich experiences, I came to understand first-hand the integral role of nonprofit organizations in furthering the cause of social justice.
Could you describe your own international background?
I have been very fortunate to work internationally since I was 19 years old. In 1966, I spent a summer in Cameroon building an elementary school under the aegis of Operation Crossroads Africa.
Its two-fold mission to this day is to contribute to the development of sub-Saharan Africa and to develop greater understanding and appreciation among North Americans of its people. Before we departed for Africa, The Reverend James Robinson, the founder of Operation Crossroads Africa, asked us to take an oath that upon our return, we would make 25 speeches per year for two years about our experience. He envisioned each of us as good-will ambassadors. To this day–50 years later, I feel a responsibility to incorporate examples of civil society from all corners of the globe into my teaching.
In addition, today, I serve as a trustee of the Gbowee Peace Africa Foundation, based in Monrovia, Liberia. Leymah Gbowee, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to end the civil war in her country, established this organization to support the development of women and youth in West Africa.
What would you say is the role of faculty at a school like ours that’s rooted in New York City but has global partnerships and influence?
All of our faculty members are devoted to preparing our students to succeed in their current and future professional pursuits. It is our job to support them with the knowledge to craft creative and innovative solutions to address the issues of our time–whether they are working on a community level here in New York or around the globe.
In addition to your teaching responsibilities, you direct the New York Community Trust Leadership Fellows? Tell us about that program.
The Leadership Fellows are a select group on mid-career professionals who work at nonprofit organizations funded by the New York Community Trust. Now in its second year, 82 individuals have completed an intensive executive certificate program with Baruch faculty and other outside subject experts. The overall aim is to equip them to effectively lead and manage 21st century organizations. In addition to their course work, fellows choose a mentor and work on an initiative of front-burner significance to the future of their organization.
More information on the program is available at trustfellows.org.