Campus Entrepreneurs, Professionals Gather for 2008 Engagement Institute
August 19, 2008Comments (0)
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At the Atlanta airport last Tuesday, hundreds of students attending East Coast schools arrived from all over the country.
“We’re definitely the only Jews here,” Talia Rachman says half jokingly to her University of Texas classmates as they board the air shuttle together.
The young woman standing beside her chimes in, “Nope, we’re Jews too,” and quickly introduces herself as a Hillel professional from the Schusterman International Center. Bonds are quickly formed before the entire group is gathered.
Weighed down by their luggage, the students dragged suitcases, carried laptops and text messaged each other from various terminals. Some were already acquainted while many were facing a sea of new faces. They came together outside baggage claim and boarded a pair of coach buses marked “Hillel.”
Conversations between strangers quickly erupted as the bus pulled away from the curb and headed off on a nearly three hour journey to Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia, where the students would spend the next five nights at Hillel’s Engagement Institute.
Hillel President Wayne Firestone speaks with Engagement Institute participants.
As a part of Hillel’s Strategic Plan to double the number of Jewish students having meaningful Jewish experiences on campus, the Engagement Institute is a learning opportunity for participants of the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative (CEI), Peer-Network Engagement Internship, and the experiential educators program and Hillel professionals involved in immersion experiences such as Taglit-Birthright Israel and Alternative Breaks.
Now in its third and most successful year, this summer’s Engagement Institute was the first one at which all three groups of people were brought together for training. CEI advisors (Campus Entrepreneurs now in their second year of the program) and newly hired interns (first year Campus Entrepreneurs) worked alongside the first class of senior Jewish educators (four experienced Jewish professionals) hired as part of Hillel’s newly developed experiential educators program.
Also participating were approximately 75 Peer-Nework Interns representing 19 schools. Together, the CEI interns, Peer-Network Interns and experiential educators program share the same objective: to engage uninvolved Jewish students in Jewish life on campus.
CEI interns (also called Campus Entrepreneurs) work with their peers on a social basis while the senior Jewish educators offer more advanced knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture. The Campus Entrepreneurs receive an hourly stipend, are trained in peer engagement and are responsible for engaging fellow uninvolved students in Jewish life.
“CEI is about peer-to-peer networking,” explains Graham Hoffman, Director of Strategy at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center and the creator of CEI. “We equip Jewish students with large social networks and little to no prior Hillel involvement, with the skills to engage their peers in Jewish experiences.”
Based on the CEI model of engagement, Peer-Network Interns work on campuses which pose unique opportunities for peer-to-peer engagement.
“Peer-Network is an opportunity for campuses to pilot or focus engagement efforts,” says Lori Yadin, Director of the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative. “This internship allows campuses to on-board a more successful approach to peer-to-peer networking.”
Each Campus Entrepreneur is tasked with building 60 relationships with uninvolved Jewish students on campus throughout the course of the school year. Peer Network Interns are responsible for building 30 relationships. In large and small groups, through team-building exercises, outdoor projects and classroom learning, the Campus Entrepreneurs worked together to enrich their relationship-building skills and to learn from the previous year’s class of interns.
The Campus Entrepreneurs and Peer-Network interns are now active on more than 30 campuses including Virginia Tech where Shauna Horrell, a senior communications and psychology major, is now in her second year of the CEI internship. Though she was an active participant throughout the week, Shauna was sidelined during the ropes course activity.
CEI advisors on ropes course.
“I’m afraid of heights,” Shauna laughed as she cheered on her fellow CEI advisors from the ground.
Shauna says she’s gained great experience as a campus entrepreneur in the one year she’s been involved. In the fall of 2007, Shauna traveled to the United Jewish Communities’ General Assembly in Nashville, Tennessee, where she networked with students on other campuses and with Jewish professionals who exemplified an enduring commitment to Jewish life after college.
At Camp Ramah Darom, 150 Campus Entrepreneurs and Peer-Network Interns from 27 campuses along the East Coast attended the Engagement Institute. A smaller cohort of interns from West Coast schools will meet in Los Angeles next month for the West Coast Engagement Institute.
Jennifer Zwilling, director of the experiential educators program, explains the newly hired educators’ main objective at Ramah Darom was to build relationships with the Campus Entrepreneurs on their respective campuses (New York University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Texas, Austin, and University of Chicago), but that their presence added depth and meaning to the Engagement Institute.
“From informal conversations with students, to teachings at the Friday night tisch [social gathering], meditation circles and stories shared around the campfire, it is clear that this class of educators will be an asset not only to their campus communities, but to Hillel at large,” said Zwilling.
Also participating at the Engagement Institute were new Hillel professionals engaged in immersion experience training (those staffing Taglit-Birthright Israel trips and alternative breaks). Director of Immersion Experiences Andrea Hoffman said, “Training at Ramah Darom was a wonderful introduction to Hillel for all of our new professionals. They now have an understanding of Hillel’s vision, mission and goals, as well as the concrete tools to utilize them in their work.”
Senior Jewish educator Rabbi David Kasher speaks with Hillel students near the lake at Camp Ramah Darom.
Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone spent several days at Camp Ramah Darom, hiking with students and holding conversations over root beer floats. During one discussion, he recounted his own college memories as an advocate for Israel and Jewish learning. Firestone, who recalls being a minority on the Catholic campus where he first started college, told the interns that he had been inspired to engage the Jewish community after reading about a Hebrew professor in Russia who was jailed for teaching the language. Firestone’s inspiring story explained how one student with a passion can infect others and arouse a call to action.
On Thursday evening, Campus Entrepreneurs, professionals, senior Jewish educators and Schusterman International Center staff were treated to a live concert by Hatikvah 6, an Israeli reggae band. The band members stayed at the camp through Shabbat, hosting a jam session late on Friday evening and interacting with Campus Entrepreneurs.
More pictures from the 2008 Engagement Institute!
Learn Something Jewish: Relationship Building