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Alumni Spotlight

The Power of an Open Heart

Justin Weiss, a graduate of the EMPA program from the BYU Marriott School of Business, has lived a life full of unexpected triumphs and hardships. Throughout all of these pivots, Weiss has embraced spiritual, academic, and professional opportunities by keeping an open heart.

Justin Weiss stands in a suit and smiles.
Justin Weiss graduated from the BYU Marriott MPA program.
Photo courtesy of Justin Weiss.

Being raised in a mixed-faith home in California, Weiss had an unconventional upbringing. “My dad is Jewish, and my mom is Catholic, and, no, that’s not the beginning of a joke,” Weiss quips. “Growing up in an interfaith home, we had a lot of love and respect for members of all different types of faiths.” This acceptance was one of the foundations that later motivated Weiss to find and join a religious community.

The main catalyst that awakened Weiss to his spiritual journey was his heart surgery as a teenager. A heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) caused Weiss’s heart to beat far more rapidly than it should. Before going under anesthesia for the procedure, Weiss became fearful about what would happen if he did not survive. “I asked God to protect me, and in return, I would dedicate my life to Him,” Weiss says.

After surviving and recovering from the intense surgery, Weiss kept his end of the promise. “Because of my heart surgery, I was very aware about what I was feeling in my heart,” he recalls. He struck up a conversation with his friends who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was soon invited to a youth conference where he heard other teenagers share their testimonies.

“Everything seemed to click,” he said. Weiss was baptized a few weeks later. After joining the Church, Weiss’s new religious identity helped him experience the world through a different lens.

Toward the end of high school, Weiss considered his options for college. “I was planning on attending a university in California since I lived there at the time, but I had some friends who were going to BYU,” he says. “Even though I had no idea what BYU was, I learned more about it and realized it was a great option.” Weiss applied and was accepted in the summer of 2003. Although his decision to attend BYU was unexpected, he embraced the opportunity.

Keeping his heart open not only landed Weiss at BYU but also prompted an unexpected twist in his career path. While he originally wanted to be a doctor, Weiss’ plans shifted after some reflection. “Because of a poor grade in a chemistry class, I knew it was time to recalibrate to see if medicine was something I really wanted to pursue,” he says. “I realized I loved service, and a friend introduced me to the idea of being a city manager through the MPA program.”

Weiss gradated with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 2010 and then entered BYU Marriott’s EMPA program with the Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics. The program deepened Weiss’s interest in a city manager role. “Basically, you are the CEO of a city, and you try your best to enrich the lives of citizens by practicing business principles in the public field,” Weiss explains. “The thought of serving resonated with me because I could take my skills and help the community where I decide to raise my family. That’s what’s driving me.”

Following his graduation from the MPA program in 2013, Weiss and his family moved to Fate, Texas, where he assumed the assistant to the city manager role. However, Weiss faced a difficult decision after the first year. “My sister had committed suicide that year, and I had lost my brother in a car accident a couple of years before that,” Weiss shares. “There were a lot of traumatizing events going on in my life, so I veered and stepped away from it all.” Wanting a fresh work environment, Weiss changed careers to be a healthcare administrator at a nearby skilled nursing facility.

After some time away, “there was a new mayor and city manager, and I was in a better place,” he says. Weiss assumed his previous role and was later promoted to assistant city manager. He worked there up until a few months ago. Now, Weiss works part-time as the economic developer manager for the city so he can spend more time with his family and pursue other endeavors.

Justin Weiss, his wife, and two kids dress as a beekeeper and bumblebees for Halloween.
Justin Weiss and his family get ready to go trick-or-treating.
Photo courtesy of Justin Weiss.

Since transitioning to part-time, Weiss has taken on two unexpected hobbies—beekeeping and book writing. At the same time when Weiss was learning the ropes of raising bees, his son was learning the alphabet. So he wrote an ABC book in the context of beekeeping. “At first, I had huge imposter syndrome because I had done nothing like this before. But I realized if no one bought the book it wouldn’t matter because it was something special for my kids from their dad.”

Weiss published B is for Beekeeping: An Alphabet Book last year. “It exceeded all of my expectations,” Weiss admits. “It's been amazing just to see how every step of the way, everything tied together quite nicely.”

Justin Weiss reads a page in his book to a group of children.
Justin Weiss wrote an ABC book about beekkeeping.
Photo courtesy of Justin Weiss.

Weiss’s ability to maintain an open heart despite significant and unanticipated trials led him to opportunities for growth, and he plans to keep opening his heart to new experiences. “I love learning and trying new things because I enjoy figuring things out, even if I’m not the best at it,” Weiss comments. “That makes me happy.”

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Written by Maggie Olsen

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