NEW YORK — Yechiel Malik was born and raised an hour’s drive from New York City, but until age 10 he spoke only Yiddish.
He grew up in an all-Hasidic village in New York’s Hudson Valley, and for most of his school years his primary focus was Judaics, with only minimal secular studies.
“No one around me spoke English,” Malik recalled. “Maybe I picked up a word here and there — but my entire world was Yiddish speaking.”
Today, Malik not only is fluent in English, but he is pursuing a college degree in Yeshiva University’s new two-year associate’s degree program. Driven by his passion for photography, Malik has his eye on a career in business and marketing, hoping to use his artistic passions to gain financial security and stability.
Malik’s road to college was not easy, beginning at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy/Yeshiva University High School for Boys. Coming from a strict, yeshiva-only background, just getting to the point where he could start high school there required major academic catch-up.
“Ninth grade was an arduous journey,” Malik recalled. “I spent a lot of sleepless nights in high school. It was like boot camp for me. I spent every waking hour studying. I was determined to follow through on the strong commitment that I made to myself.”
A turning point came at the end of his freshman year. Biology had been Malik’s most difficult class, and despite his intense work, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed far away. In late spring he sat for the New York state-mandated Regents exam – and surprised himself by getting an excellent grade, far surpassing his expectations.
“I put everything I had in me into that test,” he said. “It took me a long time. I was the last person to walk out of that classroom. When I received my score, I knew without a doubt that there was no limit to what I could accomplish.”
With that confidence, Malik turned his sights to college. The Yeshiva University associate’s program offered business and management, liberal arts, and Torah and Talmudic studies in a highly structured academic environment, giving students plenty of one-on-one support. It was also that rare place where a student could obtain an associate’s degree while remaining ensconced in an Orthodox Jewish environment. Malik decided it was an ideal fit.
“The unique structure of the program allows for each student to identify, point, shoot and collect the future they desire,” Malik said. “The program is fully equipped with staff that can help each student achieve the goals they set for themselves.”
Y.U. administrators say the idea behind the associate’s program is for faculty and staff to help students build on what they do best while providing ongoing, personalized attention to help students reach their personal and professional potential.
“Our focus is on student success,” said Paul Russo, the university’s vice provost and dean of the Katz School. “We want as many students as possible to move on to a bachelor’s program and, for those who choose to begin working, to build a career on their passions, individual talents and values that undergird the Y.U. experience.”
Launched at the start of the 2017-18 academic year, the Associate of Science in Management program has 35 students and is cohort-based: All students start the program together and attend the same classes. There are no electives or course catalogs to consult. The program focuses on developing key skills to succeed in a business environment and provides students opportunities to gain hands-on experience through exposure to actual businesses operating in New York.
The program runs for six consecutive semesters — fall, spring and summer two years running — and operates separate programs for men and women at the Wilf men’s campus in Upper Manhattan and at the Beren women’s campus in Midtown.
Students enjoy full access to the university’s resources — participating in clubs, playing on NCAA sports teams and attending Jewish studies courses with the wider university community.
Malik said that when he was considering his options after high school, he was drawn to the Y.U. associate’s program because it offered more structure than a traditional college program while still being quite diverse. Naturally creative and keenly interested in New York business, art and culture, Malik was especially interested in the program’s hands-on, out-of-the-classroom integration of real-world experience with a supportive academic environment.
“I feel like I have access to the best of both worlds,” Malik said, “which is a rare opportunity in life.”
Russo, the Y.U. dean, said there are many young Orthodox men and women for whom a two-year program is the ideal entry into college. This program was designed for them.
“The program is challenging and requires students to work long, hard hours, but we are so glad that we have a talented and trained faculty to carrying out this mission,” Russo said. “We are also deeply appreciative to Drs. Mordecai and Monique Katz for their ongoing commitment to the young men and women in the associate’s program and to the university.”
(This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Yeshiva University, the world’s premier Jewish institution for higher education. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.)