Robert Snyder initially thought he wanted to work in a for-profit, corporate business space when he was a college student at George Washington University, but his plans changed when he began to realize the impact of higher education on the lives of so many students and felt that his business acumen might be useful in that sphere. Snyder hasn’t looked back and has spent 27 years in higher education, currently serving as a manager of the Georgetown University Business Design and Optimization Group, the university’s internal management consulting team. He’s also an active volunteer, just now wrapping up his first two-year term as chair of the board of directors for Hillel at George Washington University.
How did you get involved with GW Hillel?
I’ve worked my entire professional career in and around higher ed institutions. So that’s now about 27 years, I have been a functional leader in a variety of areas, from enrollment, admissions, to student affairs, to advancement, the president’s office, athletics and things like that, across the board at three different institutions, including my current one, where I’m currently a leader of the university’s internal consulting team. We do project management and change management and financial leadership … to help move forward initiatives of our senior leadership. To how I got involved, I often refer to myself as an accidental tourist in higher education. Most of my formal education is in business. And while I thought I wanted to go formally into more of a corporate or for-profit environment as an undergrad at GW, which kind of connects back with my work at Hillel, I was sort of struck by higher education and how it really does change the world for many students. And so that was a great way to use my business and organizational skills, but in an environment that meant a lot more to me than perhaps just making money. And the rest is history.
What motivated you to want to volunteer and be a part of the board?
First of all, it does go back to my mentor. My mentor is someone who’s been involved with my personal and professional life since my undergraduate days at GW and is very involved in the Jewish community himself. I saw him as a role model for lay and volunteer leadership, to be able to advance our people and the movement further, in a special way. I think that was the initial impetus. But I looked at the opportunity further. I said, this is a really great opportunity to get back to GW as well, to a place that’s meant so much to me and help to support the future students and the future leaders in our world. And what better way to do it than to advance people in my own faith. That’s so important to me and my family as well.
What then motivated you to step up and become the chair of the board?
What motivated me to step up as chair was first answering the call of my predecessor, [former chair] Louis Mayberg, and also answering the call of my fellow board members that we needed to have a new generation of leadership for the board after all that Louis brought to the organization, especially opening our new building three and a half years ago, [I was motivated] to help them move it forward into the post-building world. And thinking about now that we’ve worked so hard to open the new building – it’s an amazing space for the Jewish community at GW and in D.C. – how can we take the organization to the next level with that building in mind, and then also continue to be motivated by giving back and building my skills and giving back to the university. (Louis Mayberg is a member of the owners group of Mid-Atlantic Media, publisher of Washington Jewish Week.)
How have you and the board been dealing with antisemitism in these higher education spaces since Oct. 7 and helping students?
Let me let me start by saying, we are certainly seeing record levels of antisemitic activity on college campuses and worldwide, and any of that is deeply concerning and troubling. And I acknowledge it’s absolutely impacting the day-to-day lives of our Jewish students at GW, as well as elsewhere … We will continue to be a presence for our students and our community in that supportive environment by giving them space to just be among each other. We recently launched a mental health expert program, where we have mental health-trained graduate students under professional supervision providing one-on-one and small group activities for our students. We’re also helping educate our students about how to live in this world, which I think is probably the most powerful thing we can do. Because our role is not just to set them up for success while they’re students, but to make sure that they’re set up for success for the future, which I think aligns with the role of the board.
You have a variety of hobbies including frequent concert-going and spending a lot of time exercising and being outdoors. Can you speak about what those hobbies mean to you?
I see it all as a way that if I am going to take care of the people around me, whether it’s my fellow board members, or our staff at GW Hillel, or our student leaders, or anything else, I have to take care of myself, first and foremost, to be a better person for all of them. I’d say what my hobbies allow me to do is to take better care of myself so I’m available to everybody else and can be present for them and supportive of them. Whether it’s going to concerts, which is also just a great way to connect with my friends and see the world, having gone to concerts around the world, or pushing myself physically through running and swimming and indoor cycling, again, it all comes back to if I take care of myself, I am in a better position to take care of others.
How does your Jewish identity impact you on a day-to-day basis?
I was raised as a Conservative Jew by a very strong family in that way. And so, it’s been a very big part of my day from the religious part of Jewish life since I was a young child. And I think fast forward, what I’ve figured out is how do I apply that religious identity to what it’s like to be a cultural Jew, how to celebrate the traditions and connect with other Jewish people. And I think that’s evolved into where my key Jewish values are. And the two that I always point out, and that even bring me back to my work with GW Hillel, are first, Tikkun Olam, repairing the world for the future. I think it’s more important than ever, for where I see the power of my work and our work at GW all together, to make this world a better place. And what we’re doing there – we’re helping create and support future leaders for this work … The other one, and this is another one that goes all the way back to my family background, is tzedakah, the value and the importance of charity.