Students at Cornell University don't have to wear a "nice Jewish girl" T-shirt or a kippah to express their Jewish identity this year – all they have to do is show off their keys. Thanks to the innovative thinking and support of Cornell Hillel Board of Trustees member Ben Weiss and Cornell Hillel professionals, Jewish students have added a red plastic tag to their set of keys as part of Cornell Hillel's new "iJew" campaign. The tags, which students swipe through electronic scanners at Hillel-sponsored events, allow Cornell Hillel to track student participation at its programs, and give students a chance to win an iPod.
When Weiss, a Cornell alumnus and founding president of the university's Jewish Student Union, first approached Executive Director Ed Rosenthal and his colleagues with the idea, they were admittedly a little skeptical.
"Everyone was a little scared because it hadn't been done before. Would students think it was like Big Brother watching them?" Rosenthal said.
"My first reaction as a program director was, 'Wow, this is exactly what we need in terms of getting the data about student participation,'" said Dan Yagudin, program director at Cornell Hillel. "But my second thought was, "Oh no, how are we going to sell this to the students?'"
But together with Rabbi Aaron Levy and Development Director Jennifer Hoos, Rosenthal and Yagudin looked at the student population at Cornell and saw that most already carried several keytags, including one from the university itself. So drawing on the popularity of the iPod digital music player, they developed the iJew campaign, in which students would swipe the keytags at Hillel events and be entered in a monthly drawing for an iPod. The campaign kicked off at Hillel's orientation barbecue and immediately proved popular.
"With very worried hearts, we introduced them at the barbecue. When we handed out almost 1,000 tags, we breathed a sign of relief," Yagudin said.
"They love it. They want to have it," Rosenthal added. "I haven't had a single student respond negatively."
Since the campaign has only been underway for one week, it is too early for the Cornell Hillel professionals analyze the data, but they are excited about the possibilities it will afford them in providing information to donors, planning new programs and reaching out to uninvolved students.
"It has real capabilities to help Hillel in general. The data analysis will allow us to move from the anecdotal data we've been using to track attendance," Rosenthal said. "We can also sit down with student leaders, strategically analyze the data and help them to improve their programs."
Many non-Jewish students have signed on as well, which reflects Cornell Hillel's reputation as a sponsor of exciting campus-wide programs.
"One of our points of pride here is that our programs are popular with non-Jewish students, which in turn attracts more Jewish students," Yagudin said.
"There's a real buzz about Jewish life on campus right now," Rosenthal agreed. To find out how to launch a similar campaign on your campus, contact Cornell Hillel Executive Director Ed Rosenthal at firstname.lastname@example.org.