TJF Community Impact Grant helps new Jewish students at UVA adjust to college life

by | Feb 24, 2022 | Other News

Transitioning to college life as a first-year student can be challenging. For undergraduates entering the University of Virginia over the past two years, that transition has, at times, been overwhelming. In addition to figuring out what supplies to stock up on and how to find their dorm room, students had to cope with a global pandemic that shut down in-person classes, events, and traditional orientation programs. One might wonder, how are new students supposed to make valuable connections and friendships as they start their collegiate journey?

Enter the Brody Jewish Center’s Chutzpals Mentorship Experience, a student mentor-mentee program to help new Jewish UVA undergrads adjust to college life.

“The Chutzpals mentorship experience was designed in 2020 with the goal of connecting incoming Jewish students to older students who could serve as mentors throughout their first year of college,” says Annie Weinberg, Springboard Innovation Fellow at the Brody Jewish Center.

The program is simple: first- and second-year students complete interest forms with information about themselves and what they seek in the mentoring experience. Brody Jewish Center staff then match these students based on academic interests, personal interests, hometowns, and more. Once matched, students are provided with opportunities to meet one-on-one and in small and large group settings before the start of the semester and throughout the year.

“Chutzpals has been a wonderful program for me!” says Hannah Mikowski, a current mentor and former mentee of the program. “Having an older Chutzpal was a great way to help integrate me into Jewish life in college. My younger Chutzpals have allowed me to provide all the knowledge that my mentor showed me. Hopefully, it will help them navigate through their first year.”

Tidewater Jewish Foundation’s Community Impact Grant of $3,750 helped the program run a variety of functions, from one-on-one coffee dates between mentors and mentees to an on-campus scavenger hunt. The grant also allowed the program to be flexible.

“This grant has allowed us to respond to student needs and embrace the iterative process of trying new ideas out and seeing what works and what doesn’t,” says Weinberg.

“TJF is honored to provide ‘seed money’ for start-up costs of new or innovative projects,” says Naomi Limor Sedek, Tidewater Jewish Foundation president and CEO. “Fostering this type of innovative engagement, especially with young adults and students in college, will teach lifelong skills that they can take with them to integrate with any Jewish community as they launch their professional careers.”

So far this year, the Chutzpals Mentorship Experience has matched 40 mentees and mentors. The program’s popularity, forged in the desire to build meaningful connections at college, can be traced to the fact that it started during the pandemic.

“We believe the popularity can be attributed, in some part, to the desire first-year students had to connect meaningfully with UVA and know a friendly face before coming to Grounds,” says Weinberg. “Many of these students who were coming to UVA in August 2020 hadn’t even visited the campus before attending the university. The same could be said for many of our students in August 2021, who didn’t have an in-person orientation.”

With its success, Weinberg hopes to keep the Chutzpals Mentorship Experience growing for years to come.

“Chutzpals is still adapting and growing,” says Weinberg. “We’re fine-tuning the program’s processes and event and initiative planning aspects. We’re so grateful to TJF for supporting this crucial work.”

Thomas Mills