At Texas Hillel, we are committed to engaging students so they form strong connections with other Jewish students and discover their own Jewish identities. With this goal in mind, we work every day to reach out to students and build meaningful relationships. One way we measure the success of these engagement efforts is our attendance and engagement numbers. As of January 17, 1,322 unique students have had an interaction, such as attending an event or a personal interaction with a Hillel staff, intern or student leader, since school began in August. To be more specific, 773 students had one interaction with Texas Hillel, 252 students had three to five interactions, and 297 students had six or more interactions. We are so proud of these extraordinarily high engagement numbers because they confirm the breadth of students we are reaching and the depth of our engagement. We can attribute these great engagement numbers in large party to the success of the Campus Engagement Intern program.
Our Campus Engagement Internship program is a two-semester program that students apply to and, if accepted, receive a stipend for their work. The program aims to engage students and support them on their Jewish journeys. Every year, 10 students are trained to identify and build relationships with students who might not otherwise get involved at Texas Hillel or Jewish life on campus. Because the CEIs are involved in different communities and groups on campus, Texas Hillel is able to reach a broad demographic of Jewish students through the program. Through coffee dates, small get-togethers and events at Texas Hillel, interns connect with students by understanding their interests and connecting them to opportunities that they may find meaningful and engaging. Current CEI Supervisor Moriah Sonsino (senior in the Liberal Arts Honors Program studying International Relations and Global Studies with a minor in Middle Eastern from San Antonio) states, “Our goal is to connect to Jewish students who don’t have a Jewish connection. We want them to develop a bond to Judaism and the Jewish community while they are in college so they carry that with them into the future.”
CEIs, and the students with whom they engage, benefit both personally and professionally from the CEI program. Interns build broad social networks with a variety of students, learn to create programs and small events with meaningful Jewish content, and enhance Jewish life on campus. Additionally, with training and through their engagement work, student interns develop active listening, leadership and important communication skills. Moriah says that “Interns are trained to be active listeners and ask open-ended questions. They are the face of Hillel for Jews not involved and non-Jews who don’t know what Hillel is. These communication and networking skills are so important for future jobs and career development.”
Since two of the biggest hurdles to getting involved in a new organization is not knowing anyone or having to go to an event alone, CEIs fill this crucial gap for students by becoming a familiar face and inviting students to join them at events. Realizing this is especially true of freshmen, starting in spring 2016, freshman CEIs have been reaching out to incoming freshman and new students over the summer and continuing to engage with them into the fall. We know this freshman engagement makes a difference in new students becoming involved at Hillel and building a community with other Jewish Students. One of the students Moriah engaged with when she was a sophomore CEI was then-freshman Graeme Campbell (junior majoring in Jewish Studies from Houston). Moriah and Graeme met and connected at a Texas Hillel event and she has watched the progression of his involvement in Judaism ever since. In her words, “Graeme is practically running Hillel now” as a former member of the Executive Cabinet and currently the Jewish Student Life intern.
Every Friday at Shabbat we see the impact of our engagement efforts come to life with growing attendance averaging more than 120 students each week. We were thrilled when students set an all-time high attendance record at the first two Shabbat dinners this semester with 180 students and 160 students attending respectively. We look forward to the continuing success of the CEI program and reaching an even broader group of Jewish students so they can have Jewish meaningful experiences while at UT and go on to become leaders in the Jewish community post college and beyond.