Transforming Jewish Student Life

Grants and Contracts Details


Jewish student life has a long history at UK, with a Hillel campus presence dating back to 1938. Hillel’s current active membership of more than 30 students represents a small fraction of the Jewish students on campus, but many of our Jewish students are not currently affiliated with any Jewish organizations. Based on the experience of our colleagues in other faith-based student organizations, we believe it is essential to have a dedicated professional staff member to guide the committed core group of students to broaden their appeal and reach to other students. UK’s focus on student success hones in on four pillars: academic success, financial stability, wellness, and belonging. A strong Office of Jewish Student Life, including Hillel, will directly impact the latter two pillars. In addition to improving the overall environment of diversity and inclusivity for all students on campus, Jewish students, faculty, and staff will find a community to support their overall wellness along with people who share similar histories and values. An investment from JHFE will focus on two priorities: 1) a full-time staff member to serve as UK’s first Director of Jewish Student Life and 2) programming support. Our plan is to expand our current program based on models we have observed at other universities, where essential components include a Director of Jewish Student Life, program funds for events and activities, and support for student recruitment and professional development activities. Hillel and other Jewish student groups are drivers for recruitment and building a Jewish student population. We hope to grow to having a connection with 75-100 UK students after the first year of establishing a full-time dedicated staff member to Jewish student life, with 50 of those students actively engaged and participating in regular events/programming and more growth in later years. We see potential for additional growth among graduate and professional students at UK who are significantly underserved in Jewish student life. Further, UK’s Hillel intends to serve not only UK students but also other Jewish students in the Bluegrass area, including students from Transylvania University, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Centre College, and Eastern Kentucky University. Without dedicated outreach to these groups, current participation is rare. There are many unrealized opportunities to culturally advance Jewish and non-Jewish students, and a full-time staff member will allow many of these opportunities to come to fruition. Currently, Dr. Janice Kuperstein volunteers as the Faculty Advisor to Hillel, but her time is limited as her primary role at UK is to serve as the Associate Dean for Clinical Engagement and the Chair of Rehabilitation Sciences in the College of Health Sciences. She also participates as a member of many university committees. Dr. Kuperstein tries to meet with prospective students during campus visits; however, due to her faculty commitments, there are many missed opportunities of engagement with potential students. We believe that a dedicated staff member in the position of Director of Jewish Student Life would be available for these types of meetings and recruitment. In addition, our virtual presence through social media is limited due to relying on students to maintain and promote messaging. This is another example of a missed opportunity as we recognize the power of social media in the lives of today’s college students. A significant portion of our JHFE request is to hire a new Director of Jewish Student Life. The candidate we seek will have a master’s degree in Jewish Studies, Community Leadership, or a related course of study or experiences. A Director of Jewish Student Life will serve to connect and support all Jewish student groups on campus and will lead Jewish student engagement programs and accompanying promotional efforts to highlight Jewish life at UK and beyond. The director will support recruitment and advising for prospective and current Jewish students and engage with their families; coordinate special events to promote donor support for Jewish student life initiatives; and serve as a representative to local, state, regional and national networks, including national Jewish student organizations, such as Hillel International. Among the first tasks assigned would be to work with campus and community Jewish leaders to develop a formal student recruitment plan. Such a plan would include creating opportunities for Jewish student engagement, growing involvement in Jewish life among current students, working with campus recruiters and leadership to assure clear communication of Jewish student life to potential applicants, and strengthening the campus-community relationship. Capitalizing on Hillel’s history and experience, we recognize that students relate best to other students, and peer networks are an effective means of connecting unaffiliated students with Jewish opportunities. At UK, we are aware that many of our Jewish students are engaged in fraternities, sororities, and other extra-curricular groups that include Jewish students who are currently unaffiliated with Jewish life on campus. These networks can become focal points for recruitment. As opposed to just planning events, the core student leaders will be encouraged to get to know the unaffiliated students and then connect them to existing Jewish experiences and co-create new ones. Such an approach has proven very effective on other campuses; however, the students must have meaningful supervision from a professional staff member who provides guidance and facilitates resources. This is a critical piece that is currently missing at UK and would be a primary role for the Director of Jewish Student Life. We have begun to work on relationships and programming, but without the attention of a full-time staff member devoted to Jewish student life, we have been unable to capitalize on opportunities. For example, UK Hillel has a close relationship with other faith groups on campus through the Religious Advisory Staff. This group works together on interfaith activities. Each of these groups has 1-5 full time staff members to facilitate the work of their student ministries. They regularly plan faith-based and interfaith-based activities to engage students. Such activities require planning that simply cannot be placed on Hillel’s student leadership. Our colleagues in the faith community regularly have food-based events for students – a known way to draw college students – including a big push at the first of the year, regular weekly meals, and another push around exam times. This takes both planning and funds. We expect that the Director of Jewish Student Life would facilitate recruitment and engagement through planning similar events with Jewish students. Due to the recent loss of access to a private home where Hillel provided rent subsidy for Jewish students to host Hillel activities, we have moved our activities for this academic year to the Gaines Center - three historic buildings that are intended to serve as a link between UK and the surrounding community. The Center provides the opportunity for congregant meals in a more home-like atmosphere. As the University expands the scope of diversity and inclusivity efforts, plans are underway to provide space for the Office of Jewish Student Life within the University’s new Student Center. To round out our vision for robust Jewish student life on campus, including a living-learning community, President Capilouto is leading fundraising efforts to establish a privately-funded Hillel house on or near the University’s campus. Ultimately, it is our vision that this house will become the focal point of Jewish life on campus.
Effective start/end date11/1/1812/31/21


  • Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence: $231,672.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.