While the articulate 22 year-old Political Science and American Studies major claims that people may mostly know him from the Northwestern Political Union he co-foundedor from his position on the Hillel Leadership Council, he is also the co-editor in chief and co-founder of the Northwestern Interdisciplinary Law Review. He is the co-founder of the Northwestern Christian-Jewish Dialogue. He sits on the National Executive Committee of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He received a Marshall Scholarship to do graduate study in the United Kingdom. He wears glasses. He has brown hair and eyes – like most guys on campus. He is also changing Northwestern, one community at a time.
“I’m just trying to cultivate relationships with people where I try and understand what their perspective on the university is and work with them on different projects,” Kleiner says. “I think that all students have a huge amount of power at this school and the choice we make is whether we want to identify those opportunities or we don’t want to invest the time and energy.”
In person, Kleiner is relaxed, casual and friendly. He’s the first to ask about my winter break during our first interview. It’s an atmosphere that makes me feel like I’ve known him for several months – something that Kleiner believes his mentor President Henry Bienen also employs.
“I think he [Bienen] gets a bad rap for not being accessible to students. He’s not always just hanging around Norris but he takes a genuine interest in tons of people who come in and talk about their interests,” Kleiner says. “He’ll respond to emails within 30 seconds of you sending him one. He’s surprisingly really interested in what the students are doing on campus, which often times gets neglected in discussing him.”
Last quarter, Kleiner and Bienen taught a class on the U.S. Intelligence Community together and Bienen wrote Kleiner a recommendation letter. However, Kleiner insists their relationship is more student-teacher than anything else.
“We’ve talked about different things in terms of school policy but the idea of trying to build relationships with people on campus because you want to be influential isn’t what I try to do,” he says.
The service learning communities Kleiner created at Northwestern are his primary impact. His Northwestern Political Union meets only once a week to debate politics because he wants his activities to be “less meeting intensive, more focused on doing the thing we set out to accomplish.”
“The way in which I would try and impact campus is just by doing stuff that I enjoy and then that and trying to build learning communities,” he says. “I try and find things that I enjoy and other people would enjoy and try and build a community around that”
Learning communities, like debate clubs, create synergy between the learning happening inside and outside the classroom, according to Kleiner. “The university context is one of a few times in your life where you have the opportunity to genuinely try and learn from other people without the pressures of a job or a mortgage,” he says. “I only have my own experience, and it’s important for me to be able to be exposed to different people’s world views.”
Kleiner doesn’t see himself as Mr. Intimidating Over-Achiever. According to him, he uses the same opportunities open to almost all Northwestern students. He decided to teach a seminar because there wasn’t a class on U.S. intelligence, a subject he just happened to be interested and knowledgeable in. With so many topics to learn out there, he doesn’t see it as something too special, he just turned an obstacle into a solution.
“Find a way to pursue your passions into something. That’s what every student group on campus is, every thesis written by a student, every art project created,” he says. “It’s just exertion of someone’s passion. If there’s something you’re passionate about, you have the freedom to pursue that. Don’t take your limits on that.”