Michele Brettschneider, ’90, loves helping people. As president and co-founder of YogaJam, she spends her days working with teens, adults and underprivileged youth to find balance and strength in their lives through yoga.
“I have always been interested in health and fitness and enjoy yoga for its spiritual, calming and meditative benefits,” says Brettschneider. “I think yoga has become so popular lately because people are looking for a way to provide some calmness or centeredness in their chaotic lives.”
The idea for YogaJam came about when she and her yoga partner taught yoga classes at a charity event at a middle school in Yonkers, N.Y. “The yoga class was successful, and the kids wanted more, but we learned that the kids had no after-school programs. Parents couldn’t afford programs, and the school couldn’t afford to provide them,” she explains.
YogaJam’s mission is to provide free yoga programs to underserved and at-risk youth.
“We are currently teaching in several afterschool and community programs,” she says. “Recent studies have shown that yoga helps at-risk youth with anger management and stress and helps boost self-confidence and better school engagement.”
A Philadelphia native, Brettschneider has had successful careers in both journalism and law prior to studying and teaching yoga. She credits Lehigh with giving her an outstanding education that prepared her for the career paths she pursued.
“I was looking for a small to medium-sized school that felt large enough to meet new people and have new experiences, yet was small enough to get to know professors and have small classes. Lehigh offered an interesting mix of courses to study. I think the things that attracted me to Lehigh 30 years ago still attract many students today,” Brettschneider explains. “I also liked that the university was geographically close to my home in suburban Philadelphia, as I’m very close to my family.”
Brettschneider always loved to write. In high school, she was an editor of her high school newspaper, so soon after arriving at Lehigh, she started to work for the student newspaper, the Brown and White.
“Writing for the Brown and White really solidified my decision to major in journalism. I spent all four years writing for the paper and eventually became sports editor,” she says. “Being part of the Brown and White was a tremendous experience and really shaped my career. Now newspaper layouts are done on a computer, but when I was at Lehigh, we would be up all night for newspaper deadlines, laying out the paper on large boards in the basement of the Brown and White office. It was an amazing experience learning not only journalism, but also how to work together in groups.”
Studying journalism also helped spark her interest in law and prepared her for law school at the University of Pennsylvania. “As a journalism major, we were required to take the course Freedom of the Press taught, at the time, by Professor Perry Zirkel,” she says. “I always say it’s the course that changed my life. I found the intersection of law and journalism fascinating. It was my first course that touched on legal topics. After the course, I became a teaching assistant for Professor Zirkel, who became a mentor to me at Lehigh. This made me realize how rewarding a legal career could be and how useful my journalism background would be in preparing me for that career.
“As a journalism major, I had an excellent writing background coming into law school, which requires you to write extensively,” she says. “My years as an editor on the Brown and White taught me leadership skills, self-confidence and especially how to express my views in a clear and concise way. One of the strengths of my Lehigh education was being mentored by faculty. This was invaluable to me as a student in shaping my goals. I think all of these skills really helped me to excel in the Socratic environment of law school.”
After law school, Brettschneider practiced corporate law in Philadelphia at Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen. After three years at the firm, she moved to New York City and practiced corporate law and health care law at Golenbock, Eiseman, Assor and Bell for another three years. She then went in-house as assistant general counsel for two years at Kenneth Cole.
“Lehigh prepared me well for the world outside the classroom,” she says. “The university challenges you to think creatively, to problem solve, to be a leader, to work with your peers and to look beyond the classroom—all skills you need in today’s world.”
A resident of Scarsdale, N.Y., Brettschneider enjoys spending time with her husband, Fred, and two daughters, Morgan and Haley. She also actively volunteers with the Westchester Jewish Community Services, where she serves on the Emerging Leadership Council, United Jewish Appeal Westchester, Westchester Reform Temple and the Pleasantville Cottage School, a residential treatment program for boys and girls ages 7 to 16. She was formerly on the board of the Women’s Division of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Besides practicing yoga, Brettschneider loves to attend the theater, ski, hike and watch the Philadelphia Eagles and Flyers.
“I may live in New York now, but I grew up in the Philly suburbs, and I’m a die-hard Philly sports fan,” she says.
Brettschneider would tell any student considering Lehigh that if he or she is looking for a small to medium-sized school that will give one small classes and access to professors, the university is likely a great fit.
“You will work hard but always be engaged and learning, with an amazing alumni network there to support you during school and into the workforce,” she says. “Lehigh is a special place where you will meet new people who will become lifelong friends.”
She adds, “I feel that it is important to give back to the place that was so important to me and has shaped me as an individual in so many ways. I’ve done a variety of things in my life. Whether it’s writing, law or philanthropy, I credit my Lehigh liberal arts education in giving me the confidence, leadership skills and creativity to succeed in all of these various endeavors.”