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Early Indicators Show Hillel Approach Effectively Engages Emerging Adults

by Hillel News |May 04, 2010|Comments
Emerging adults report.

An independent study finds that Hillel's innovative approach to engaging emerging adults is "effective in reaching large numbers of previously less-connected Jewish students and facilitating their personal Jewish growth."

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The Jim Joseph Foundation commissioned a team to study Hillel's Campus Entrepreneurs and Senior Jewish Educator initiatives, these two initiatives create peer networks on campuses and place mentors with extensive Jewish backgrounds on selected campuses to provide in-depth, meaningful Jewish education. The Jim Joseph Foundation has provided a five-year, $10.7 million grant to underwrite these programs

"The goal of this report is to contribute to the conversation about Jewish education and emergent adulthood. In the foundation's work with grantees which serve young adults, we consistently ask ourselves what forms of Jewish education engage these young adults in meaningful, authentic and relevant encounters with their Judaism," states the Jim Joseph Foundation President Al Levitt.

The independent evaluation of the Campus Entrepreneurs/Senior Jewish Educator Initiative was conducted on ten campuses in 2009 by Research Success Technologies and Ukeles Associates, Inc., which included Drs Steven M. Cohen, Ezra Kopelowitz, Minna Wolf, and Jack Ukeles. The study included interviews, site visits, an analysis of Hillel's relationship-tracking data, and the largest survey to-date of Jewish college students (2,846 respondents).The study also included a control group of five campuses with neither the CEI nor SJE initiative. This summary of findings was adapted by Hillel for this document.

The initial evaluation of this project indicates early success: In the past year, 8,000 students across ten campuses have been impacted by this work. "This success demonstrates that Hillel can scale this initiative more broadly and adapt its methodologies throughout our global network," says Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone. "We also believe that the relevance of this initiative goes beyond Hillel. The methodologies are transferrable to other organizations working with young adults. Hillel now seeks to build on these successes and scale this initiative more broadly, adapting its methodologies throughout our global network."

Hillel's Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative interns are previously uninvolved Jewish students, from broad and diverse social networks. They are hired by Hillel and trained to use relationship-based engagement methods in building and developing their own social networks to each connect at least 60 of their uninvolved Jewish peers to Jewish life. Senior Jewish Educators are talented educators with deep Jewish knowledge and authentic Jewish personalities who serve as mentors and teachers for at least 180 students' Jewish journeys, focusing particularly on those students who are not already involved in Jewish life on campus. SJEs will work on 10 campuses in 2010-2011.

The evaluation found:

  • Senior Jewish Educators and CEI Interns facilitate Jewish growth. By engaging in conversation about Jewish ideas and big questions, CEI interns help students increase their involvement in Jewish life. Senior Jewish Educators deepen students' sense of Jewishness. The educators help students growtheir Jewish confidence, sense of belonging, and knowledge.
  • Senior Jewish Educators and CEI Interns reach significant numbers of students from a wider spectrum of Jewish backgrounds than those typically active in Hillel. On the ten campuses evaluated in 2008-2009, these initiatives reached an estimated 8,000 Jewish students. Of these, about two-thirds (over 5,000) came from moderate or weak Jewish educational backgrounds.
  • Senior Jewish Educators enable continuity of Jewish experiences or "follow-through." SJEs are able to engage alum of Taglit: Birthright Israel and other immersion experiences, directing students from one meaningful Jewish experience to the next. Most CEI Interns find reaching out to their peers to be a meaningful Jewish experience akin to the experience of Jewish camp counselors, who facilitate transformative experiences for campers through which they too grow the most.

"While the immediate impact of Campus Entrepreneur Interns and Senior Jewish Educators can be measured by tracking the number of relationships built and Jewish connections created, its significance extends far beyond these data points," explains Jennifer Zwilling, the director of the Senior Jewish Educators Program. "CEI Interns and Senior Jewish Educators encourage students activelydefine or expandtheir Jewishness. This principle of self-efficacy lays the groundwork for students to continue to find their own meaning in Jewish life long after they graduate."

Some of Hillel's next steps include:

  • Expanding the number of campuses with Interns and Educators from 10 to 20.
  • Scaling the methodologies developed by the Interns and Educators to campuses throughout Hillel and experimenting with a variety of other models.
  • Redefining the work of Hillel professionals away from creating programs to serving as Jewish teachers, conversationalists and mentors.
  • Broadening our understanding of student leadership to include those who create Jewish life for themselves and their peers, both within and outside an organizational structure, and offering training to equip student leaders to more effectively build Jewish life within their social networks.
  • Partnering with other Jewish institutions to teach and learn together as synagogues, federations and seminaries begin to experiment with these methodologies.
  • Hosting, in conjunction with the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Third Space Conference in New York City on June 20-21, 2010. This conference will invite others working with Jewish emerging adults to further discuss and develop language and methodology of learning Torah with emerging adults.

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