The Queen of Syms: Saying Farewell to Claire Zakheim
Any student who has walked by Professor Claire Zakheim’s door can easily tell how much time and energy she devotes to her students. With the long lines coming out of her office and streaming down the hallways, students know that being able to meet with Zakheim is worth the wait.
For the past 23 years, Professor Zakheim has done everything possible to help her students. Whether by finding creative ways to get a student into the right class, meeting with students far later than she had to, or even by working to arrange internships for students over the summer, helping students has been Zakheim’s top priority. She has been the first in her office in the mornings and the last one to leave at night, giving her own personal time to help students. Both the students who have met with her and the faculty with whom Zakheim has worked through her YU career agree that she has given her heart and soul to the students of Yeshiva University. Her complete dedication to making sure students are on the path to success will be missed once she makes Aliyah this summer.
Initially, Zakheim was a professor in Sy Syms School of Business, teaching statistics and other Syms courses. Even before Syms had an official department for academic advising, a few professors, including Zakheim, would work overtime a few times a week to assist students with their schedules. Eventually, she became a full-time academic adviser and joined the supportive and dedicated staff of academic advisers at YU. However, Zakheim didn’t drop her role as a professor just because she was an advisor; until last year, she was a full time advisor while teaching 3 Syms classes.
As the head of Syms academic advising for both Wilf and Baren campuses, Zakheim quickly mastered both the Syms and YC schedules, professors, and curricula, in order that she could give the best possible advice to her students. Dean Frederic Sugarman has worked closely with Zakheim throughout his years as an academic advisor and Dean at YU. He remembers how Zakheim would give students specific guidance based on their specific strengths and needs. “She was very fine at figuring out matches between a professor and a student,” said Sugarman. “She would ask students if they were nervous about a math class that they had to take because she knew certain teachers were slower and would give more time.”
Most every student who has met with Zakheim can testify to her devotion to making things work in the student’s favor. Ofir Afenzar met with Zakheim at the beginning of his YU career to get advice about his major and to lay out his requirements. “We met three times in one week, and at no point did she seem like she wanted to give up; she really wanted to help me out,” Afenzar reflected. “I will always be grateful for her help.”
Oftentimes, Zakheim would bend the rules slightly or find out-of-the-box ways to make sure students had the schedule they needed. Jacob Herenstein remembers meeting with Zakheim on his first day of YU to try to get into a certain course. “She moved me into her earlier class, even though it was way overcrowded, so that I could pick up the class I wanted. She really helped me in my first week, and we have had an amazing relationship ever since,” remembers Herenstein.
Beyond her strengths of giving the right advice regarding schedules and classes, Zakheim would genuinely connect with the students she met with. “She had the ability to understand people,” explains Sugarman. “ There would be a big line to meet with her, because she would listen to you, and she would work with you.” Zakheim viewed meeting with students as more than just a job. She exhibited genuine care for her students, and did everything in her power make sure her students would succeed.
Zakheim’s undivided dedication to her job is most evident in the time she has invested in her students. Dean Michael Straus, whose office is right next to Zakheim’s, recalls that he often found her staying late to advise students. “There were many times when I was here at eight o’clock at night, and I happened to walk outside, and she was next door, and I’d say ‘what are doing here?’, and she'd say, ‘well, a student is coming here at 8:30,’ and I’d say ‘Claire, why are scheduling students at 830?!’ She’d say, ‘this student couldn’t do it at any other time, and I needed to meet with him.’ She treated students as if they were her sons and daughters; that’s what professor Zakheim is all about.”
Zakheim is also known for the hours she has put in outside of YU. “When I get up in the morning, there often is an email from her, from 2:00, 2:30 in the morning. Then sometimes I’ll log on at 6:00am, and sometimes there’s a email from 5:30am,” says Straus. Dean Moses Pava explains, “I don’t know if she’s even been sleeping in-between. She works 24/6.”
Zakheim recently received a plaque at the Sy Syms Gala Awards Dinner as an expression of the students’ and faculty’s gratitude for her many years of selfless work and devotion to Syms and YU.
Debra Pine will fill Zakheim’s position as the future head academic adviser for Syms. As hard as it will be to replace Zakheim, Syms will be in goods hands with Pine, as she also has a strong drive and enthusiasm for helping the students who come in her office. “Debra Pine is superb; not good, superb,” said Straus. There will also be a new advisor replacing Pine.
Professor Zakheim will be making Aliyah towards the end of June with her husband Dov. They will be joining their children and grandchildren already living in Israel. “[Aliyah] is something that she has wanted tremendously,” says Straus. ”It’s well deserved and we are going to miss her dearly.