When in conversation with Laura Slabin, one thing is immediately clear: she enjoys a challenge. She speaks with enthusiasm about the numerous roles she has held at Google over the last 15 years, and – after mentioning in passing that she spent a year in college studying in Tokyo – obliges when asked to say something in Japanese (while modestly insisting that she is only proficient and not fluent). Although there are many things that set Laura apart, there is also something that she has in common with thousands of others who have achieved success across the United States: she attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel as a teenager.
Laying the Foundation
Though she had attended sleepaway camp from age eight, Laura said that the independence that she experienced during her summer at High School in Israel – following her sophomore year in high school – was an entirely new experience. “In summer camp it was always a structured day, and our High School in Israel program had structured time but then also unstructured time, when there was an opportunity to do your own thing,” she said. “It was independence at the next level.”
A St. Louis native, Laura had only been to Israel once before, on a family mission around the time of her bat mitzvah. Studying at High School in Israel, though, was entirely different. “My time in Israel was my first extended experience living abroad,” she said. “Following my summer in Israel, I spent a summer living in Japan, and then attended the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown due to my interest in better understanding the global landscape.” At Georgetown, Laura earned a degree in International Economics, as well as a certificate in Asian Studies. After graduating, she worked in strategy consulting before attending Harvard Business School, where she earned her MBA. After Harvard, she worked at several traditional media companies before moving onto Google.
During her tenure at Google, Laura has held a number of positions – spending time on the business side, on the tech side, and as Chief of Staff to the CIO – before recently being named as the Director, Responsible AI & Human Centered Technology. “I’m the type of person who enjoys new challenges and who enjoys learning new things,” she said. “As I was thinking about my next role, one of the things that drew me to the Responsible AI org is the huge responsibility that we have to society and to the world to get this right. In this role, Laura said that she’ll be helping ensure that products that use AI are inclusive, safe, and transparent while mitigating harm that can come from machine learning.
One thing that has never changed regardless of her role, is the gratification she gets from positively impacting people – both directly and through her work on Google’s products. “I’m proud of the impact that I’ve had on my colleagues,” she said. “I do a lot of mentoring and helping people on my team develop, and there is satisfaction in seeing their success and helping them remove roadblocks.” In addition, she said that one of the reasons she has stayed at Google is because of the unique opportunity that the company has to reach billions of people. “Google has products that are used by billions of people, and I’ve been lucky enough to work on those products,” she said. “When I think about the time that I spent working on the Google Maps team – we helped people around the world get were they wanted to go. We helped businesses by enabling them to be on the map and be found. And most importantly we helped in times of crisis – helping people navigate during a crisis, or even alerting people that there was a crisis unfolding.”
Enjoying the Journey
One of Laura’s favorite things to do is travel; she has been to over 30 countries and said that her experiences at High School in Israel helped develop her interest in international travel and cultures. “In my roles at Google, it has always been important for me to think about the experiences of people everywhere so that we build for everyone, and I think my international experiences have helped me appreciate differences,” she said.
Even though it was over 30 years ago, she still remembers the impact that the program’s curriculum had on her. “What I thought was amazing was that instead of opening a history book and looking at pictures and reading, I got on a bus, sat on the dirt, and my teacher explained what happened at that particular site,” she said. “Having that tactile experience was memorable and an amazing way to learn.” Now married with two children of her own, Laura said that she hopes that they will take advantage of High School in Israel when they are old enough. “I would like to give them the experience of living and learning among fellow Jewish kids and spending an extended time in another country.”
A Connection to Israel’s History
“My summer at High School in Israel was a wonderful experience on so many levels: independence, academic, cultural, etc.” she said. She adds that – even though there are so many educational and travel opportunities available for young adults today – she would encourage any Jewish teenager to explore High School in Israel programs. “When I am making decisions, I always want to choose what I am less likely to ‘regret’ – it is impossible to do everything, but the High School in Israel experience is unique and so someone deciding to go should think about how they might feel about missing out on that unique experience.
As for her own children, Laura said: “I think it is important for them to be well-versed in the history of the region. I hope that they feel a connection to Israel’s history and I hope they view Israel as a safe haven for Jews.”
This article originally appeared in Jewish National Fund-USA’s B’Yachad Magazine.