“You don’t expect someone with a low GPA to go to an international marketing competition, but thankfully I found my passion and was able to go to college, thanks to JVS Career Services,” said first-generation American, Alex Katz.
Alex was born in the United States, but his parents are from Ukraine and Azerbaijan
“Growing up, I was taught Russian by my grandparents because they didn’t know English,” he explained. “When I went to school, I went to English as a second language for a few years.” And it was in those classes that Alex was able to make lifelong friends. “I made a lot of friends, I did a lot of clubs, played a lot of video games, but I just didn’t take school as seriously as I should have.” As a result, his grades suffered.
Things changed, however, during Alex’s junior year of high school. That’s when he discovered DECA—a program that gives high school and college students a hands-on approach to marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. “That’s something that really sparked my interest in business,” Alex said. “That’s ultimately what led me to go down the path that I’m on now.”
DECA hosts annual conferences and competitions, and during Alex’s first year in the program, he and a partner competed at the district competition, before advancing to the state finals. “Unfortunately, we didn’t advance further than that, but during my senior year, I decided to go solo. I was in a food marketing competition, and I know a thing or two about food!—so I did pretty well there. I ended up getting first at district competition, second at state, and qualified for internationals.”
This newfound success came a little too late to boost Alex’s grades, though. “When I ended up graduating, I had a low GPA, and that obviously worried me. I had to go to college and do a lot of things that I wanted to do.”
Alex applied to schools he thought he could get into with a lower GPA, with the goal of transferring to the University of Cincinnati. “I got accepted to Northern Kentucky University and I received a small scholarship from them,” he said. “But it was still going to be really expensive. That’s when I went online to see if there were any Jewish organizations that could offer me a scholarship. That’s how I came across JVS Career Services for the first time.”
When asked why it was important to him to reach out to a Jewish organization for scholarship help, Alex said Judaism was a part of himself he wanted to explore and develop. “We are ethnic Jews. We celebrate Hanukah, that’s about it. But it was very important for me to become more involved in the Jewish community because I know it’s a great community that can provide a lot for me and for other Jewish individuals.”
Alex applied for a scholarship through JVS Career Services (JVSCS) and soon met with Dedra Perlmutter, a senior career coach at JVSCS. “We hit it off right away. We had a nice interview; we spoke about my goals and ambitions. But she also let me know that there were several people applying for the scholarship and that my GPA was pretty low. But she had a lot of faith in me, and spoke highly of me to the committee.”
Alex ended up getting that scholarship and was able to attend NKU his freshman year. While there, he joined the business fraternity, Phi Beta Lambda. “It was similar to the DECA program I was in in high school,” Alex explained. “I took part in the business competitions it offered and my partner and I placed first at the state competition in Kentucky, and we went to nationals in Baltimore. Doing those competitions is what made me work so hard in college.”
While living on campus he met a friend, who, years later, would let Alex know about an opportunity that became his first post-college job. In the meantime, Alex transferred to UC for his sophomore year and graduated in the spring of 2021. “I continued to receive the scholarship from JVSCS, which helped me immensely. I’m forever thankful for that.”
Alex also took advantage of JVSCS’ internship program. “I got back in touch with Dedra and told her I was looking for an internship,” Alex said. Eventually, I was placed at Camp Livingston as the communications coordinator. I was going to be able to work with Russian kids, and that would give me an opportunity to use my Russian skills—something I’ve never been able to do in a work environment.” Unfortunately, that internship was supposed to have taken place in the summer of 2020—the peak of COVID-19—and the camp was canceled. “These things happen, but I’m still honored that JVS Career Services helped me secure that opportunity and that the leadership at Camp Livingston thought I would be the right person for that position.”
When Alex graduated from UC, his friend from NKU reached out to him to tell him about a career opportunity at Fidelity Bank, and Alex once again contacted Dedra, who helped him prepare his resume, coach him on his interview skills, and optimize his LinkedIn presence. “I had a great experience with Dedra and with JVS Career Services. I was able to get a great job at Fidelity—where I’m currently studying for the licensing exams. I’ve just been really thankful and grateful that people have taken chances on me over the years.”
“I’m so glad JVS Career Services exists,” Alex said. “It’s important to have a Jewish organization that values its people and wants to bring value to the city as well. For Jewish individuals, it’s a place to go to meet other people and to seek opportunities, whether they are scholarly or professional opportunities. And as a community as a whole, it’s important that there’s a Jewish organization that brings value to Cincinnati because we want everyone to succeed and be well off in this world. If we, as Jews, are doing our part in contributing, then that should be a good sign—and others could look at us and do the same thing.”
When asked why he kept coming back to JVSCS after receiving his scholarship, Alex said it was all about the relationships he formed and the personalized attention he received. “I kept coming back to JVS Career Services because I had a good relationship with Dedra. She always believed in me, and I’m so thankful for all the opportunities that were presented to me,” he said. “I also wanted to build a relationship where, in the future, I could approach JVSCS, not only for my own career needs but also to help future students who may be in a similar position as me. Maybe not everyone has the best GPA. Maybe not everyone has the best SAT or ACT scores. Maybe not everyone did a lot of extracurricular activities. But not everything you can offer can be on a piece of paper. Sometimes there are just things that you can see or feel, and I honestly feel like Dedra believed in me. She saw my potential because, on paper, I didn’t have much.”
Alex concluded, “Everything happens for a reason. If I didn’t get that scholarship, I might have never lived at NKU. I wouldn’t have met my friend who told me about this job, which led me to where I am today. Without JVSCS, things would have been much more difficult—financially and emotionally. I wouldn’t have taken the path that I did.”