During his first year at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Andrew Coonin was not particularly involved with his campus Hillel. Only a year later, Coonin, now a sophomore, frequents the North Carolina Hillel several times each week and is working to create a Jewish theater troupe on campus.
Why the change? Coonin is one of 10 students on his campus participating in Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative (CEI), an internship program that employs students to develop new ways to enhance Jewish life on their campuses while connecting with other uninvolved Jewish students.
“Because we create our own initiatives, we are given the chance to combine fun things we like to do around campus and in our lives and put together something we feel Hillel isn’t giving to our community right now,” Coonin said.
The CEI program was created as one approach toward fulfilling the goal of Hillel’s recently completed Strategic Plan to double the number of Jewish students who have meaningful Jewish experiences and who are involved in Jewish life. Seven campuses are piloting the program – North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Northwestern University; University of Arizona; University of Maryland, College Park; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of California, San Diego -- but Hillel hopes to expand to other campuses in the future.
Each Campus Entrepreneur works towards a year-end goal to build relationships with 60 uninvolved Jewish students by utilizing existing social networks and previous leadership experience.
“This has become an amazing opportunity to meet new Jews on campus, get more involved within the Jewish realm at my school and revolutionize the way students see Hillel as a Jewish organization,” said Arya Marvazy, a campus entrepreneur and junior at the University of California, San Diego.
As part of his experience, Marvazy, along with his cousin and fellow UCSD campus entrepreneur, Debbie Razi, founded a local chapter of the Jewish Organization for Persians and Americans (JOPA) on their campus.
Initiatives that Campus Entrepreneurs have created have included a pre-Rosh Hashanah dinner, an apples and honey party, an intramural dodge ball game and Skits-for-Kids, a student group that performs humorous vignettes for children in local hospitals all while advancing Jewish values and helping create meaningful Jewish experiences for others. To date, the 74 different Campus Entrepreneurs, in total, have engaged about 700 uninvolved students in Jewish life on campus.
Besides extensive leadership experience, developed social networks, a dedication to Jewish values and a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 3.0, student entrepreneurs must be eligible to take part in a winter Taglit-birthright Israel trip. After the trip, the students will create follow-through programming for the other participants from their campus.
In order to prepare for their experiences on campus, the Campus Entrepreneurs and their supervisors gathered together in August for one of two national training sessions. Whether in Phoenix, Ariz or in Clayton, GA., for the 2006 Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly, each training session included team building, group development, Jewish learning and exploration. For many, these sessions were the first time the students attended a Jewish conference or immersive experience.
“It is truly hard to put into words how amazing the week was for me,” said one student. “I really learned a lot about myself and how I want to help create meaningful Jewish experiences for others at my school.”
Keri Copans, program director and Campus Entrepreneurs supervisor at the Hillel at the UCSD participated in the training that took place in Clayton, GA. “These students were given the tools to make a difference,” she said. “They really feel they are making a change on campus.”
For more information about the program, please visit www.campusinitiative.org.