TJF Community Impact Grant helps students at UVA adjust to college life

Transitioning to college life as a first-year student can be a challenging endeavor. For new undergraduates entering the University of Virginia over the past two years, that transition has, at times, been overwhelming. In addition to figuring out what supplies to stock up on and how to find their dorm room, new students had to cope with a global pandemic that shut down in-person classes, events, and traditional orientation programs. One might imagine then: how are new students supposed to make valuable connections and friendships as they start their collegiate journey?

Enter the Brody Jewish Center’s Chutzpals Mentorship Experience, a student mentor-mentee program to help new Jewish UVA undergrads adjust to college life.

“The Chutzpals mentorship experience was designed in 2020 with the goal of connecting incoming Jewish students to an older student who could serve as a mentor to them throughout their first year of college,” said Annie Weinberg, Springboard Innovation Fellow at the Brody Jewish Center.  

The program is simple: first-year and second-year students complete interest forms with information about themselves and what they are looking for in the mentoring experience. Brody Jewish Center staff then match these students based on academic interests, personal interests, hometowns, and more. Once matched, students are provided with opportunities to meet one-on-one and in small and large group settings before the start of the semester and throughout the year.

“Chutzpals has been a wonderful program for me!” said Hannah Mikowski, a current mentor and former mentee of the program. “Having an older Chutzpal was a great way to help integrate me into Jewish life in college. My younger Chutzpals have allowed me to provide all the knowledge that my mentor showed me. Hopefully, it will help navigate them through their first year”  

The Tidewater Jewish Foundation’s Community Impact Grant of $3,750 helped the program run a variety of functions, from one-on-one coffee dates between mentors and mentees to an on-campus scavenger hunt. Additionally, the grant allowed the program to be flexible to meet the needs of the students.

“This grant has allowed us to respond to student needs and embrace the iterative process of trying new ideas out and seeing what works and what doesn't,” said Weinberg.  

“TJF is honored to provide ‘seed money’ for start-up costs of new or innovative projects,” said Naomi Limor Sedek, President and CEO of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation. “Fostering this type of innovative engagement, especially with young adults and students in college, will teach lifelong skills that they can take with them to integrate with any Jewish community as they launch their professional careers.”

So far this year, the Chutzpals Mentorship Experience has matched 40 mentees and mentors. The program’s popularity, forged in the desire to build meaningful connections at college, can be traced to the fact that it started during the pandemic.

“We believe the popularity can be attributed, in some part, to the desire first-year students had to connect meaningfully with UVA and know a friendly face before coming to Grounds," said Weinberg. “Many of these students who were coming to UVA in August 2020 hadn't even visited the campus before attending the university. The same could be said for many of our students in August 2021, who didn't have an in-person orientation.”

With its success and the deep impact that the program has had with students and staff, Weinberg hopes to keep the Chutzpals Mentorship Experience growing for years to come.

“Chutzpals is still adapting and growing as a program,” said Weinberg. “We're fine-tuning the processes and the event and initiative planning aspects of the program. We're so grateful to TJF for supporting this crucial work.”